Sunday, July 28, 2013

2013 Tight End Tiers and Consistencies

Goodbye, Aaron Hernandez. Goodbye young Antonio Gates. Please get healthy, Rob Gronkowski. And good luck with drafting a tight end this year. Unless you get unquestioned number one Jimmy Graham, Gronk, Gonzalez, or Witten, you have little to no idea what you're getting. But that's why I'm here, folks.

The top tight end last year, Jimmy Graham, scored in double digits just SIX times. And Gronkowski scored in double digits just seven times: a far cry from what was supposed to be the deepest and best tight end class we've seen in a while. But instead we ended with tight ends who scored on average worse than kickers. And you all know how I feel about kickers. So let's take a look at some interesting stats.

Gronkowski missed five games yet scored just five points less than number one tight end Jimmy Graham. When healthy, Gronkowski is clearly the best the position has to offer.

Tony Gonzalez, now 36, had just a 2.8 yards-after-catch average, evidence of him slowing down. Yet he did manage the third most points for a tight end.

Kyle Rudolph had five double digit games last season. He also had seven games with two or less points. He finished ninth overall.

From week five through week twelve, Jermichael Finley never caught more than four passes. But in his first four games and last three he averaged 5.3 catches per game. Not half bad in other words. And now Greg Jennings is gone.

After Colin Kaepernick's first start where Vernon Davis put up 83 yards and one touchdown, Davis caught SIX passes in the next SIX games.

Jason Witten accumulated 110 catches but just three touchdowns to show for it.

And here's the kicker (pun intended):
  • The top 10 tight ends averaged a total of 116.4 points for the season. The top 10 kickers meanwhile averaged a total of 148.7 points for the season.
  • The difference between the 1st and 10th kicker was, as expected, a very low 30 points. The difference between the 1st and 10th tight end is just 47 points. In comparison, the 1st QB and 10th QB was 74, the 1st RB and 20th RB was 158, the 1st WR and 20th WR was 79, and the 1st DST and 10th DST was 81..
So what this means is that at least last year, having the best tight end was not nearly as beneficial in comparison to the field as was the top QB, RB, WR, or even the top DST! The tight ends last year were simply mediocre and essentially almost as useless and unpredictable as kickers. The big question is if that will remain true this year. 

With tiers, you will be helped in deciding if you think Jimmy Graham is worth a third or fourth round pick. And it should help you figure out just how much value the tight end has this year. For me, if I can get Witten or Gonzalez in the fifth to seventh round, maybe I'll bite. At least I know I should get around 60 yards per week from them. As for anyone else, I admit, I have no freaking clue. It's that bad. Like the sweater you got for Christmas bad. Or Tim Tebow completion percentage bad. Or even worse, the Aaron Hernandez jersey you just got bad. So with all that badness, here are your 2013 tight end tiers.

Tier 1: The Elite
1. Rob Gronkowski (ADP 40.8)
2. Jimmy Graham (ADP 26.1)

Despite missing five games, Gronkowski scored 11 touchdowns and finished second in points for a tight end. Had he played the whole season at his rate, he would have had 80 catches, 1150 yards, and 16 touchdowns. But the fact is that Gronk has officially become injury prone. He got hurt in the Super Bowl against the Giants and this past season and now multiple surgeries later, Gronk is hoping to retain his elite form. And Graham, who was snubbed in the NFL's top 100 players, is the closest thing to Gronk. If he hadn't dropped a league leading 14 passes, Graham would have been even more spectacular. But assuming he can cut down on drops and with the return of Sean Payton, I expect another solid year from Graham. 

Who I want the most: It has to be Gronk despite his injury concerns. Because right now at his average draft position he brings tremendous draft day value. If he was not hurt, he certainly would be ahead of Graham and in the second to third round range as well. Even if he misses a few games, pick up Jermichael Finley and hope for the best. Or take any other option and hope for the best. But when he is healthy, you've got the biggest positional advantage in the game. And the lack of weapons should only help out Gronkowski. There's just enough there in New England to keep Gronk from being constantly double teamed and he should be just fine. Just look at Calvin Johnson without any help. 

Tier 2: The Elderly Elite:
3. Jason Witten (ADP 56.3)
4. Tony Gonzalez (ADP 52.3)
5. Vernon Davis (ADP 59.2)

Davis is not nearly as old as Witten or Gonzlez, but he sure looked it last year. He had a miserable year with Kaepernick but fortunately made a connection with his QB in the playoffs. And Michael Crabtree's injury could pave way to many more targets in San Francisco. Witten is coming off a monstrous 110 catch season and Gonzalez continues to withstand Father Time. Witten did score just three touchdowns but was a constant and reliable option and will continue to be this season. Gonzalez will still see plenty of red zone targets but will be hurt a bit by incoming Steven Jackson who will add his pass-catching ability to the mix.

Who I want the most: I'll take Witten and his reliability. Gonzalez at age 37 has limited upside and Davis is simply too inconsistent. Witten can still put up large numbers and if his touchdowns returns to a more typical 5-7, he could even surpass Jimmy Graham this year. But if you want an elite tight end this year, make sure you take one of these five in the first 60 picks otherwise you will miss out. 

Tier 3: The Next Five
6*. Dennis Pitta (had he not just dislocated his hip. Likely out for much of season)
7*. Heath Miller (had he not torn his ACL, MCL, and PCL. Likely out much of season)
6. Owen Daniels (ADP 92.1)
7. Antonio Gates (ADP 96.0)
8. Kyle Rudolph (ADP 85.9)
9. Greg Olsen (ADP 96.7)
10. Brandon Myers (ADP 117.8)

Here's a great mixture of mediocre tight ends. Daniels has been okay but nothing special the past several seasons. And on a run-heavy Texans team, he just never racks up too many catches or yards. Rudolph scored nine touchdowns on just 53 catches. Touchdowns are year in and year out very inconsistent and hard to predict (Calvin Johnson has scored 4, 12, 5, 12, 16, and 5 TD's over the years). So one simply cannot count on another year like this from Rudolph. It is much more likely that he replicates his mediocre catches and yardage than his elite touchdown output. Olsen and Myers would both be suited better as a number two option but have found themselves in the top ten. And Gates has fallen off the map the last several years.

Who I want the most: None of them really... But I'll take my chances on Gates. He's old. And partially washed up. But I'm anticipating that Philip Rivers will rebound with the Mike McCoy led offense. A hopefully improved offensive line and gloves should benefit Rivers. Gloves you say? Without gloves last season, Rivers threw 18 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. With gloves for four games, Rivers posted eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. And I expect these new changes to benefit not only Rivers but also Gates.

Tier 4: Who Knows?
11. Jermichael Finley (ADP 126.2)
12. Martellus Bennett (ADP 130.9)
13. Jared Cook (ADP 121.2)
14. Tyler Eifert (ADP 145.0)
15. Brandon Pettigrew (ADP 137.0)
16. Fred Davis (ADP 141.6)
17. Dustin Keller (ADP 145.5)

Besides Eifert, most of the guys here have been disappointments at some time. Finley is a perennial bust, Pettigrew is a drop and fumble machine, Davis is an injury machine, the once solid Keller is now an undersized and under-performing tight end, and Cook, like Finley, does not live up to his potential. Eifert clearly has the highest upside here but will also play alongside Jermaine Gresham who will get his fair share of catches.

Who I want the most: Sadly, it is Jermichael Finley. And believe me, it is not because I am a Packers fan. Of all the Packers players, Finley represents the organization the worst and is probably the most yelled-at player on the team. But with Greg Jennings out of the picture, Finley might finally put something together. And believe it or not, Finley has some of the best hands on the team. Now I know that is hard to believe. His issues have actually been more about his lack of mental focus and inability to catch in traffic than his actual catching ability. But with more targets presumably and a newly-found focus, Finley might finally make a splash.

Tier 5: Sleeper Zone
18. Jake Ballard (ADP 170.0)
19. Coby Fleener (ADP 144.2)
20. Jermaine Gresham (ADP 142.6)
21. Jordan Cameron (ADP 170.0)
22. Tim Tebow (ADP N/A)

After putting Tebow in the running back tiers as a joke, this is a joke that could possibly become true (although still unlikely he would actually gain tight end eligibility). Ballard has the most potential here as he should take over for Aaron Hernandez. Fleener and Cameron both have great potential for their air attacks. And Greshman is in fantasy limbo as he went from a borderline top ten option to a fantasy outcast.

Who I want the most: I'll take Ballard. Before he tore up his knee last season, he put together a very solid rookie year in New York. He's got great size, okay hands and okay speed. With limited options in New England, it would be a bargain if he can put up numbers anything close to Hernandez's numbers. But keep an eye on former basketball player Jordan Cameron who has all the athleticism that would scream NFL tight end. He's got a long way to go to become a complete NFL player but could surprise.

And here is your consistency chart. As you can see, not too many scored in the double digits. And I chose 6+ games as a benchmark because the top ten tight ends all averaged at least six points per game.

NameDouble Digit Games6+ games
Rob Gronkowski
7/11 (5 injured)
Jimmy Graham611
Jason Witten59
Tony Gonzalez79
Vernon Davis55
Owen Daniels47
Antonio Gates46
Kyle Rudolph59
Greg Olsen45
Brandon Myers36
Jermichael Finley27
Martellus Bennett46
Jared Cook15
Tyler EifertN/AN/A
Brandon Pettigrew16
Fred Davis0 (played 7 games)2
Dustin Keller2 (played 8 games)3
Jake Ballard (2011)3 (played 14 games)5
Coby Fleener03
Jermaine Gresham49
Jordan Cameron01
Tim Tebow00
Nate Amodio00

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