Opportunity is the most important element of fantasy success, but efficiency plays a big role as well. It also waxes and wanes from year to year even for the best players, and those deviations can lead to outlier seasons even when opportunity remains steady. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at an alternate history in which the best fantasy scorers from last season performed at their career averages.
For tight ends, that means adjusting yards per target and, in some cases, yards per carry. I also created an expected rushing and receiving touchdown number based on the percentage chance of each carry or target resulting in a score. For instance, a target from the one-yard line has resulted in a touchdown 54.4 percent of the time over the last five seasons, so a target from the one is worth .544 expected touchdowns. Lost fumbles were left out of the equation because they are particularly fluky.
-There are two ways to look at Jimmy Graham’s prospects for this season. One could say there is no chance he sees the same kind of usage near the goal line with the Packers as he did with the Seahawks last year – 10.38 expected receiving touchdowns was easily the highest number among both tight ends and receivers – and will fall off a large fantasy cliff. On the other hand, one could say there is no chance he averages 5.5 yards per target again, especially with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Considering how many red-zone targets should be available with Jordy Nelson gone and the fact that Graham was even better than his career average with a 9.7 YPT in 2016, the latter scenario seems more likely.
–Delanie Walker only rose two spots, but he scored 22.6 more fantasy points in this exercise. That both shows the gulf between the top options and middling players at tight end and explains how important touchdowns are at the position. While Walker would have been expected to gain 23 more yards based on his career averages, the 2.6 extra touchdowns are the driving force in his rise. Walker’s touchdown troubles are not surprising considering Marcus Mariota’s struggles from a year ago, but that coin flips both ways. If Mariota’s touchdown percentage returns to normal this season, then Walker would stand to benefit. Going well after the “top” options, Walker looks like a value.
–Kyle Rudolph is the other side of the touchdown coin. While he scored eight times last season, his usage created just 5.7 expected touchdowns. It does not seem surprising Rudolph, who has converted 53.8 percent of his career targets inside the 10 into touchdowns, would outpace his expected touchdown total, but that has not always been the case in his career, especially of late. More importantly, his new quarterback has a history of struggles in the scoring area. Perhaps that changes with weapons like Rudolph to target, but it is at least something to consider.
-It is difficult to believe how bad Austin Seferian-Jenkins was on a per-target basis last season. His 4.8 YPT was easily the lowest of anyone in this group, and he was just one of three players who created fewer than six yards per target – Graham was one of those three. While he does not have a long history of production before last season, that number is a massive departure from his 7.4 career average heading into 2017. His quarterback situation might not be much better this year in Jacksonville, but it is likely he is more efficient moving forward.
-It would not be surprising if O.J. Howard ends up being a better than average touchdown scorer, but it is worth noting he scored six times as a rookie despite his usage creating just 2.07 expected touchdowns. Three of his scores came from 30 yards or further – all tight ends together scored just 15 touchdowns of 30 yards or more last season – and he converted three of his four chances inside the 10 into touchdowns. Those numbers suggest some regression is coming, and Cameron Brate is not likely to disappear after signing an extension in March. Howard does not cost enough to call him a stay-away, but a breakout does not seem as likely as some might hope, especially with Jameis Winston suspended the first three games.
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