The Fallacy of Tight End Premium
The tight end position in fantasy can be one of the most infuriating to figure out during a season. The position is notorious for scarcity, top-end talent, inconsistency, and injuries. There is a lot of support for the idea of securing a top tight end — such as Travis Kelce (KC) or Zach Ertz (PHI) — early in a draft since it provides a weekly advantage and minimizes the headache [of course, Rob Gronkowski (NE) owners in 2018 can attest that this strategy may have downsides]. Because of these issues, efforts have been made to resolve the problem and increase the value and consistency of the position. This led to the creation of TE Premium settings in leagues. The most common adjustment is to increase points per reception (PPR) to 1.5, while RBs and WRs remain at 1PPR. The logic of this change is to increase TE scoring, raise the value and ADP of the position, and reduce the dependency on touchdowns. Another popular TE premium setting is to create two designated TE spots in lineups. This requires more TEs to be drafted and an additional advantage over opponents if you secure multiple top players.
The majority of leagues now have a TE premium component, with the vast majority being an increase in PPR scoring.
This article will examine these two types of TE premium leagues to determine if they meet their intended goal and if they are a worthwhile addition to your fantasy leagues.
In order to examine 1.5PPR scoring for TEs, the point totals for the top 24 TEs in 2017 and 2018 were compared with standard, 0.5PPR, and 1PPR scoring. Player point totals were projected for a full 16 game season based on their point per game scoring. A standardized score (Z score) was calculated to compare the distribution between the scoring systems. A Pearson R correlation analysis, which describes how closely related two different categories are, was used to compare the standardized scores. The Pearson R test shows the relationship between two variables, with 1 being perfectly correlated, 0 is not related at all, and -1 being correlated in opposite directions (think pool usage in a Minnesota winter).
1.5PPR Premium Results
As can be seen in the graph below, there is essentially no difference in the distribution of scores between the 1 and 1.5PPR scoring systems for 2017 and 2018. The correlation between the two systems is 0.9974, meaning that they are nearly identical in their distribution. The distribution separates more between standard (R=0.9463) and 0.5 (R==0.9848) scoring when compared with 1.5, but the correlation remains very high.
Correlation between PPR scoring (Pearson R coefficient)
|Std vs. 1.5PPR||0.9974|
|0.5 vs 1.5 PPR||0.9848|
|1.0 vs 1.5 PPR||0.9463|
So what does this mean? If there is practically no difference in the distribution among TEs, then there is no increase in value within the position. The 5th ranked TE does not become more valuable than the 15th ranked one by changing the PPR scoring total because they are affected equally by the increase. More points do not equal more value. Let’s use QB as a comparison. QBs clearly score more points than any other position, but there is no need to draft them near the top of the draft. This is because the value above a replacement level QB is not enough to justify an early draft pick. While TEs do have a top tier worth drafting early, an increase in PPR scoring does not widen this gap to make them more valuable.
So if there is no value bump within the position, a 1.5PPR scoring system is only worthwhile if it increases the TE position compared to other positions. This would be to use a TE in the flex position instead of a WR or RB. In 2018, a “replacement level” (36th ranked) WR scored 152 PPR points. Only 11 TEs scored more than 150 points using 1.5 PPR scoring. Even if we look at the 48th ranked WR (138 PPR points), there are only 13 TEs who surpassed that total. So, barring a team having two elite TEs (who should arguably be played in the TE/Flex slots anyway), it is highly unlikely a team would be able to use a TE in a flex spot consistently over a replacement WR.
If the argument for 1.5PPR is to increase scoring at a position that tends to be low, then it makes sense to make the change. But if more scoring is the goal, then leagues might as well increase scoring for all positions since there is not much rationale for making TE unique.
Two Tight End Slots
There is another approach to increase the value of TE, which is having two designated TE slots. Similar to a Superflex (QB allowed in flex), this has a legitimate effect on the value of TE in a draft. This is because it adjusts the replacement level TE from the 12th ranked to the 24th.
Tight End Points/Game Value Above Replacement
|PTS/GM||VBD 1TE||VBD 2TE||PTS/GM||VBD 1TE||VBD 2TE|
Note: VBD=Value Based Drafting (or Value Above Replacement)
Per the chart, we can see the value above replacement increases by approximately 2-3 pts/gm for the top end of the position. This would change Travis Kelce’s (TE, KC) — the top scoring TE in 2018 — from a draft range of the RB8 up to the RB4. This would boost his value into the first round of fantasy drafts, and bring other top options (e.g. Zach Ertz and George Kittle) into the early second round.
This approach clearly increases the value of the position, which is further enhanced by the need of teams to draft three TEs for insurance and bye week streaming. The problem is that this does not make the position any less ugly. The majority of managers will be rolling out terrible options at the position, potentially in both starting slots. One could argue this exacerbates the original problem versus solving anything.
So what’s the solution?
Alright, we have established that increasing PPR for TE has minimal effect and two TEs may only double down on the misery. The solution depends on the preferences of you and your league. If the league is committed to a TE slot, it may be most logical just to keep the traditional slot with no changes to the scoring amount. This will keep all parties generally satisfied and sustain what is a traditional fantasy lineup.
But my recommendation is to eliminate the TE slot altogether and add an additional flex spot instead. This allows for TEs to be drafted for the value that they actually offer, both in the NFL and the fantasy points they give your team. Increase TE scoring to 1.75 or 2 PPR to enhance their value (compared to other positions) and 10-15 TEs will be drafted and most likely played during the season. Fantasy football is about creating a team you believe has the best opportunity to succeed. Allowing for optimal adaptability with more flex spots is how to do this. Certainly beats useless point setting changes…
Data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com
I appreciate you reading. You can find additional content in my DFF archive, and I can be found on Twitter @DFF_Tom. Happy to discuss all things fantasy, dynasty, and football.