Why Drafting Two Elite Tight Ends Is the Secret to Best Ball Success in 2018

With best ball draft season in full swing, I’ve been a big advocate of a contrarian strategy in drafts this year in my  MFL10 drafts: grab two elite TEs early. This strategy is blasphemous to many great best ball players, and for good reason one could argue. Spending significant draft capital on a “onesie” position like TE can be seen as a poor use of early round picks.

Similar to the QB position many “best ball” experts preach waiting on TE and simply grabbing 3 of them later to capitalize on their random, TD-fueled spike weeks. This approach is certainly viable, especially when you can grab players like Tyler Eifert in the 12th, Jared Cook in the 14th, and Charles Clay in the 15th. However, I firmly believe pairing two elite TEs like Gronk, Ertz, and Kelce early in drafts this year is a league winning strategy.

The Basic Concept:

My biggest motivation for utilizing this strategy in drafts this year is the strategy’s success last year. Bold players won many leagues by understanding one simple concept: Gronk and Kelce were being drafted alongside WRs whose production they were likely to match or outperform. Treating both as receivers, this belief ended up being accurate: Kelce finished as what would have been the WR9 and Gronk finished as what would have been the WR11. Factoring in the positional scarcity at the TE position, pairing Gronk and Kelce together gives you a definitive advantage over your opponents at the TE position. Each has a WR1 ceiling, and on top of ensuring dominant TE production, you will also get dominant flex production.

As an added bonus, pairing them together essentially ensures that none of your other league mates will be able to “guarantee” elite TE production (outside of drafting Ertz this year), further enhancing your competitive advantage.

Gronk Plus Kelce: Last Year’s Production

Gronk and Kelce both settled into the 2nd-4th round range last season, so analyzing their pairing from last season makes the most sense. Looking at win rate data per elite best ball player Gentan Schulteis (@GentanSchulteis), this pairing was incredibly fruitful last season:

Drafting both of them and keeping just 2 TEs yielded a 21.8% win rate (!), and drafting both of them but adding a 3rd TE yielded a 17.3% win rate. For reference, the average win rate in MFL10s is 8.3%, so pairing Kelce and Gronk together allowed you to massively outperform the average MFL10 player. With this strategy, I would certainly recommend stopping your roster construction at just 2 TEs, as a 3rd TE would be wasteful and unlikely to crack your starting lineup very often.

This recommendation is supported by the data, as drafting just Gronk and Kelce yielded a win rate that was 4.5% higher than drafting 3 TEs. It is important to note that while the Gronk + Kelce win rate was similarly productive in 2015, Kelce’s ADP was not in the 3rd and 4th round as it was last year so that data is largely irrelevant. Their poor performance in 2016 demonstrates that there is certainly a risk involved in investing high picks in TEs largely due to the position being highly exposed to injury risk.

Last year this strategy would have been best utilized when Kelce’s ADP was in the 4th round early in the offseason, however, it was still an elite strategy even when Kelce had risen to the 3rd round. Here are two teams of mine that finished in 1st place by utilizing the strategy:

1st Draft: Gronk at 2.06; Kelce at 3.07

2nd Draft: Gronk at 2.11; Kelce at 5.02

As you can see, both teams had their fair share of busts yet were carried by the Gronk and Kelce duo. Furthermore, these rosters are indicative of the dirty secret in best ball: you can miss on a lot of players, as long as you hit on a few (I know this sounds obvious, but so many players believe their entire team has to be a home run. All you need is a few hits to win leagues). Based on how ADP has been this year, I firmly I believe that pairing the rounds 2-4 TEs like Gronk, Kelce, and Ertz will once again carry teams full of misses to championships.

How it Looks this Year:

Like I mentioned before, the 3 TEs that this strategy works with this year are Gronk (ADP 29.29), Kelce (ADP 28.14), and Ertz (ADP 38.51). In fact, this year may be the best year ever for this strategy, as paring two of these TEs is even cheaper than it was last year. Once again, we can reasonably expect all three of these TEs to out produce or at the very least match the production of the WRs around them, particularly Tyreek Hill (ADP 27.16), T.Y Hilton (ADP 33.06), and Brandin Cooks (ADP 37.77).

Zach Ertz can even be found falling into the mid-4th round at times, where the choice comes between him and his Eagles teammate, Alshon Jeffery, who he out targeted (7.86 targets vs. 7.5 targets) and outproduced (14.46 fantasy points vs 12.24 fantasy points) last year on a per game basis. Here are two examples of drafts this year where I have been able to pair two of these TEs together:

Draft 1 (March): Gronk at 3.01, Kelce at 2.12

Draft 2 (April): Gronk at 3.08, Ertz at 4.05

Drafted back in March and April, neither of these drafts look perfect or particularly dominant (I rarely go 3QB, so it is just a coincidence that both of these drafts have that construction paired with the early TE approach). There are plenty of picks I regret in hindsight and even more players who will certainly end up being busts. But as 2017 proved, both rosters are likely immediate contenders, warts and all, because of their elite TE pairings.

Utilizing this early TE strategy allows you to maximize the potential points on the board in the 3rd and 4th rounds while still being able to effectively fulfill your skill positions due to the great values at RB (Ex: Collins, Miller, Duke, and Lynch) and WR (Ex: Tate, Sanders, Marvin, Stills, Albert Wilson). Even if/when these values at other positions rise in ADP, having two elite TEs will still give you a significant competitive advantage over your league mates because of all of the reasons I discussed earlier. Go enter a best ball draft today, and win by utilizing this strategy. 

Thank you for reading my debut article with DFF. You can find me on Twitter @DFF_RyanB.

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Lover of all things fantasy football with a bestball and dynasty emphasis. Always happy to answer questions, and I welcome any kind of feedback. Follow me on twitter at DFF_RyanB.

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    • Jerry

      June 14, 2018

      Does this work when wr/te are 1 position

      • Ryan Barlow

        June 14, 2018

        I think it still does, but some of the benefits are certainly minimized. If WR/TE are combined, the positional scarcity/”keep away” factor is rendered obsolete, as grabbing 2 elite TEs does not give you a competitive advantage over league mates at a position that is incredibly difficult to get elite production from. Where I do think it can work is the fact that Gronk/Kelce/Ertz are all going in a range where they have greater (or comparable) upside than the WRs going around them. Gronk would’ve been the WR3 in ppg and Kelce the WR7 in ppg last year. Overall they were WR11 and WR9 respectively. If they are both being valued below this, go out and draft both of them.


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