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ADP Arbitrage - Tight End Draft Bargains

If you missed it, we've already reviewed running back and wide receiver ADP comps to find better bargains in the middle rounds. Now, we move on to the non-glamour position of tight end, which is still crucial to any fantasy football squad.

While ADP is very informative and can help you be informed about where you should start worrying about potentially missing out on a player, it shouldn't affect your decisions massively. Take Josh Allen's 2020 season: 396.1 fantasy points to lead the whole NFL, and current holder of a 16 ADP that is seeing him drafted inside the first two rounds (!) of drafts these days. Does that mean you should absolutely trust Allen having another monster year that when all is said and done gives you a good return on investment after paying a second-round pick for him? Nope! In fact, the most logical thing to happen is Allen regressing and finishing with more average-ish fantasy numbers in 2021.

In this four-entry series, I'll go through the four offensive positions of fantasy football, highlighting names that are going cheap in early drafts and evaluate how they are expected to produce similar numbers to other much more-hyped players.

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Identifying Overpriced TEs

Even if I wanted to hand you some alternative names, I wouldn't have been able to. Such is the scarcity at the tight end position, where only three players (Darren Waller, George Kittle, and Travis Kelce) are being drafted inside the first three rounds and none between the 28th and the 54th pick (more than two rounds in separation, that is). If we also remove that fourth player in Mark Andrews, who is getting off the board "early", then we'd need to go all the way to the 99th pick to find the next tight end (Mike Gesicki). Such is life in this position.

Here is what I'm looking for when trying to identify comps for the top-three TEs at lower spots. If we build some sort of "combined profile" of them, we can land at something close to:

  • At least nine PPG per game
  • Ideally 150+ PPR on the season
  • At least 5.5 targets per game

 

Identifying TE Bargains with RD4+ ADP

After applying those filters and thresholds to the projections data, this is what I was left with.

Other than the top-three men already highlighted and lost-in-the-middle-of-nowhere Mark Andrews, there is a nice group of three tight ends with upside and good PPR projections in the ninth-to-11th rounds clip. While Andrews can very well be the no. 4 tight end (with upside for a top-three finish if things go his way in Baltimore on a more loaded receiving corps), it truly feels like the value is going to be found further down the board in that three-TE group of Gesicki, Thomas, and Higbee.

Remember, also, that rookie tight end Kyle Pitts does not appear here but he has been one of the most hyped and highly-drafted freshmen ever, making for another flier to take early with a seemingly high floor.

 

Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens (ADP 54.2)

The Baltimore Ravens decided to, once and for all, bolster its receiving corps a bit with a few additions both via free agency (veteran Sammy Watkins) and draft (Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace). All of that should help QB Lamar Jackson when it comes to having more passing targets out there on the field, but even with that now-crowded offense, the odds are Mark Andrews ends up leading the pack in 2021 no matter what.

Andrews is entering his fourth season as a pro, and in the past three, he's been targeted 236 times in Baltimore. That is not going to knock you off your chair, but now compare that to the second most-targeted player in that span (Willie Snead) and you'll get what I mean: Snead was targeted 189 times, 47 fewer targets than Andrews received. Marquise Brown and Michael Crabtree are the only other Ravens with at least 100 targets in the 2018-20 span.

Mark Andrews closed 2019 as the TE5 and pretty much repeated that same position last year with a TE6 finish. He dropped his total FP as he missed time, going from 207.2 FP in 2019 to just 170.1 in 2020, but some regression was expected so it is not that we are scared of Andrews' upside entering 2021. Only five tight ends have scored more fantasy points than Andrews since 2018, and two of those (Ertz and Cook) are more washed than not. Andrews doesn't look bad at his current ADP given his TE4 projection.

 

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins (ADP 99.7)

The Dolphins enter 2021 with two important aspects surrounding their offense: 1) Tua Tagovailoa should play the full 17-game schedule, and 2) Miami has added sound weapons in WRs Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller to go along with RB2 Malcolm Brown. Good for fantasy GMs out there as Gesicki dodged a bullet with the Fins having no true impactful additions at the TE position.

It's been three years of pro football for Mike already, and he's only gotten better as he's aged: Gesicki went from 40.2 FP as a rookie to 136.0, then 159.6 in 2020. His FPPG has also improved steadily from 2.5 to 8.5 and finally 10.6 last year. That's what we like, folks. Back-to-back TE1 seasons finishing as the 12th and seventh-best tight end overall are great and he should have more open routes this year with the likes of DeVante Parker, Fuller, and rookie Waddle taking most of the opposing defenses' attention.

Only five tight ends reached 700+ receiving yards in 2020, Gesicki among them. Not only that, but he was also the only player to do so on fewer than 58 receptions and fewer than 88 targets. In fact, only Travis Kelce posted a higher YPR mark at 13.5 compared to Gesicki's 13.3 yards per reception. The catch rate wasn't mind-blowing (62.4%) but Gesicki's aDOT (no. 3 among TEs) and Completed AY/Target (no. 4) were sublime and shouldn't change in 2021.

 

Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team (ADP 103.0)

Thomas was a pleasing surprise last season while playing for a rather dysfunctional Footies squad that featured QBs Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, and Kyle Allen. Not the quarterbacks of your dreams, I mean. Logan Thomas, an early-career QB himself, had his best year ever in Washington in 2020 after seasons in Buffalo (two) and Detroit (one) in which he was pretty much an afterthought with no more than 28 targets in any single season.

Logan Thomas completed a top-three year in 2020 with 176.6 PPR points over the year while playing 16 games. The average was quite high at 11 FPPG, which is not bad for a tight end not overly reliant on scoring touchdowns (six in 2020). Thomas wasn't great in terms of overall yardage given his usage (670 receiving yards on 72 receptions) but you have to, again, consider he was playing for mediocre quarterbacks all year long.

With the addition of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and an improved receiving corps now featuring rookie Dyami Brown and free-agency additions Adam Humphries and Curtis Samuel, Thomas should get better spots to thrive in his routes run. Thomas was also targeted 1.1 times per game inside the RZ (8th-best mark among TEs) which should help him positively regress in the touchdown department if he keeps those numbers up. He also caught 88.2% of his RZ targets and finished the year tied for the third-most games playing as a top-12 TE with nine such matches.

 

Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams (ADP 137.7)

Higbee was labeled a WR back in his 2016 rookie campaign, but all he could do back then was finish with 25.5 PPR points over 16 games on just 11-of-29 receptions and 85 yards with a touchdown. It took him two more years, but when the time came in 2019, he surely paid his truthers back with a massive 160.4 PPR tally, good for a TE8 finish. The Rams' tight end posted career-high marks back then in targets, receptions, and yards, and although his scoring numbers were not gaudy (just three touchdowns), everything else pointed toward regression in 2020.

That is, in fact, what happened last year. Fantasy GMs bet on him with a TE9 ADP and 91.3 overall ADP that ended with Higbee dropping to the TE17 spot by the end of the year and 147th-best player overall in PPR leagues. Ugh. That is not necessarily a bad thing, though, as Higbee's ADP is down quite a bit this summer compared to last season, and it is more probable than not that he improves his fantasy numbers with fellow TE Gerald Everett now out of town.

The Rams have not added a quality tight end in the offseason, so Higbee is the clear-cut top TE on the team. Matthew Stafford is also the QB of the Rams entering 2021, which bodes well for Higbee's upside. There is not much between a top-12 season at the tight end position and Higbee's chances at accomplishing it. Even on a down year in 2020, Higbee's 11.8 YPR on 40 receptions to go with five touchdowns were only replicated by six other tight ends.



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