Anomaly or New Norm? What to Make of TE Outliers for 2023 (Fantasy Football)

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Over the past month, I’ve been going through outlier stats from the 2022 NFL season and examining if we should consider them anomalies or new norms heading into the 2023 season. You can check out the quarterbackrunning back, and wide receiver editions from earlier in the month. Last up in the series, possibly the most disproportionate position in fantasy football, tight end.

The Stats

This series focuses on efficiency stats, and it’s no different for tight ends. Looking at per-target, per-reception, and per-game data gives us a better understanding of a player’s talent and role than compiled end-of-season stats. To eliminate players with too small a sample size, I looked at players that saw at least 40 targets in the 2022 season. That narrowed it down to 34 tight ends. You can see the averages of the stats I looked at for those 34 players in the table below.

Statistic 2022 Average
Targets/Game 4.8
Targets/TD 18.9
Yards/Target 7.4
Yards/Rec 10.9
YAC/Rec 4.8
aDOT 7.5

Another great efficiency stat is expected touchdowns. Marvin Elequin did a whole series using it to identify touchdown regression candidates. The tight end edition pairs well with this article.

With these stats as our backdrop, let’s dive in.

Travis Kelce: 8.9 targets/game

Kelce once again blew away the field at tight end, seeing nearly twice as many targets/game as the average at the position. That rate led to a career-high 152 targets, 110 receptions, and 12 touchdowns over a full 17 games played. He led the league in all those categories, along with receiving yards. His 78.7 yards/game was more than 20 yards/game ahead of runner-up Dallas Goedert (58.5).

Anomaly or New Norm?

Kelce may as well be the definition of an anomaly at tight end, but 2022 may end up as an outlier, even for his Hall-of-Fame career. It’s atypical for a player to have the best season of his career in his tenth season. It would be even more unlikely for him to continue ascending, or even maintaining his numbers, as he enters his eleventh season at 34 years old. If anybody can do it, it’s probably Kelce, but he will start slowing down at some point.

George Kittle: 7.8 targets/TD

Kittle had the best target-to-touchdown rate among players with 40+ targets in the entire NFL in 2022. Not just among tight ends, but among all 163 wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs with at least 40 targets. It led to a career-high 11 touchdowns for Kittle, second only to Travis Kelce on the season.

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Anomaly or New Norm?

Kittle used to be known for his inability to catch touchdowns. He averaged a touchdown every 27.9 targets over his first four seasons, then improved that rate to every 15.7 targets in 2021, before his elite rate of every 7.8 targets last season.

This appears to be a pretty strong trend, but the pendulum has probably swung too far, and some regression to the mean is likely. According to Marvin Elequin’s expected touchdown model, Kittle scored the most touchdowns over expectation at the position last season. Still, that overall mean for Kittle is now a respectable 17.7 targets/TD.

Pat Freiermuth: 49 targets/TD

At the other end of tight end touchdown efficiency, we find Freiermuth. His 49 targets/TD was 32nd of the 34 qualified tight ends. He was slightly better than Logan Thomas and Kylen Granson, who combined for just one touchdown. After scoring seven touchdowns as a rookie in 2021, Freiermuth found the end zone just twice in 2022.

Anomaly or New Norm?

If you read previous editions of this article series, it should be no surprise to see The Muth here. Kenny Pickett’s 1.8% touchdown rate made it impossible for any of these pass-catchers to put up big a big scoring season (see Diontae Johnson). Pickett should progress in his second season, and the Steelers should score more through the air. As long as that happens, this inefficient season will be an anomaly for Freiermuth.

Chigoziem Okonkwo: 2.7 targets/game, 14.1 Yards/rec, 7.9 YAC/rec

Chig put up outlier stats on both ends of the spectrum as a rookie. His 2.7 targets/game was tied for 32nd out of the 34 tight ends with 40+ targets on the season, just ahead of Harrison Bryant (2.5). His 14.1 yards/rec and 7.9 YAC/rec, however, were both first in the league.

Anomaly or New Norm?

While his overall sample size was relatively small as a rookie, his role did grow as the season progressed. Over the last seven games of the season, his involvement increased to a target share of 15% and 4.4 targets/game. During that stretch, however, his efficiency dropped to 11.6 yards/rec. 

Efficiency typically takes a hit when volume increases. Even as Chig develops further in his second season, earning a 15% target share behind DeAndre Hopkins and Treylon Burks is probably near his ceiling. Maintaining 14+ yards/rec is a big ask, but 11+ yards/rec would make him fantasy relevant. 

Dallas Goedert 10.2 yards/target

On a per-target basis, Goedert was even more efficient than Okonkwo. He put up that strong efficiency on 23 targets more than Okonkwo, despite playing in five fewer games. One of the main reasons he was so efficient was his 79.7% catch rate, the highest among qualified tight ends.

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Anomaly or New Norm?

Goedert averaged 8.4 yards/target over his first four seasons on a 71.0% catch rate. Both of those numbers, while solid, are significantly lower than in 2022. However, three of those four seasons came in a completely different offense that was coached by Doug Pederson and featured Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz.

In 2021 with the new-look Eagles led by Nick Sirianni as head coach and Jalen Hurts as quarterback, Goedert had an even higher 10.9 yards/target on a lower 73.7% catch rate. Playing alongside A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith is also a great thing for Goedert’s efficiency, and he should continue to excel in these categories.

Kyle Pitts: 13.8 aDOT
Darren Waller: 13.5 aDOT

Tight ends aren’t typically deep threats, but Pitts and Waller aren’t built like typical tight ends. They were the only two tight ends with an aDOT deeper than 11.5 yards in 2022. To take it a step further, since 2018, they are the only two qualified tight ends with an aDOT deeper than 13 yards.

Anomaly or New Norm?

Pitts and Waller are among the most athletic tight ends in NFL history, but this kind of aDOT is going to be difficult to repeat. Unfortunately, they both missed significant time in 2022, limiting their sample size. They can’t be expected to maintain a 13+ yard aDOT season over season, but they should remain near the top of the league in the category. The record level aDOT may be an anomaly, but a well above-average aDOT should be considered the norm for these two.

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