Expected Fantasy Points: Tight End Usage & Efficiency (Fantasy Football)
In the third installment of our Expected Fantasy Points (xFP) off-season series, we transition to the Tight End position. It was an exciting year as we saw a new TE1 emerge after Travis Kelce dominated that title for multiple years. In addition, we also witnessed a rookie breakout in Kyle Pitts, which has not happened since Evan Engram’s 2017 campaign. And if you missed the Running Back and Wide Receiver articles in our series, be sure to check those out as well!
In this piece we will discuss:
- Tight End Usage
- Tight End Leaders in Expected Fantasy Points
- Most/Least Efficient Tight Ends
- Efficiency Regression
Tight End Usage And Their Expected Fantasy Value
As I mentioned in my previous xFP articles, there are a variety of ways to calculate the value of an opportunity. Every xFP model is slightly different, which can provide varying insights and conclusions! My usage model, however, emphasizes the type of opportunity that a Tight End receives and where the play occurs. That brings us to the chart below!
This chart should look familiar at this point in the series. It is meant to replicate a football field, with the possession team starting on the left side of the x-axis. The chart begins at 99 yards and progresses to the 1-yard line. Once again, we see the reoccurring trend that the closer we get to the end-zone, the more valuable the opportunity becomes. A few more observations:
- Average Value of a TE Rush Attempt: 0.96 PPR points
- Average Value of a TE Target: 1.73 PPR points
- A TE target is 1.80x more valuable than a rush attempt in PPR
- The gap shrinks significantly inside the 10 as a target is only 1.12x more valuable than a rush attempt
Interestingly, the value gap between a rush attempt and a target is less for TEs than it is for WRs and RBs (especially inside the 10). While that is certainly surprising, these results are partially driven by the small sample size of rushing attempts over the last decade. Since 2013, we have only seen 160 TE carries, of which 10% resulted in a touchdown. For reference, the touchdown rate is significantly lower for RBs and WRs – at 3.1% and 3.6% respectively – on significantly larger sample size. As a result, when my model uses historical data to calculate the value of a TE rush attempt, it may be slightly inflated due to how efficiently players performed on those limited carries.
With this information in mind, below are a few additional details of how my Expected Points model works:
- Each opportunity is evaluated as either a Rush Attempt, Target, or Pass Attempt
- Down and Distance: The lower the down and distance, the higher the expected value
- Yard Line: Opportunities closer to the end zone are valued significantly higher
- Depth of Target: Especially for TEs, deeper targets generate more fantasy points. Depth of target is also known as Air Yards
Once we total the expected value of a player’s opportunities, we arrive at Expected Fantasy Points (or xFP). This metric essentially highlights the most valuable players for fantasy based on their usage. The difference between xFP and their actual PPR score is known as Fantasy Points Over Expected (or FPOE), which defines a player’s efficiency compared to the average player.
For example, let’s take a look at George Kittle’s numbers:
- Expected PPR value: 11.66 per game
- Actual PPR points: 14.14 per game
- FPOE: 2.48 per game
In short, this tells us that Kittle was one of the more heavily utilized TEs in the league, resulting in the 8th highest xFP per game in 2021. In addition, he was also extremely efficient scoring 2.48 points above expected.
Let’s dive into the rest of the data!
Fantasy Usage Leaders
Charted above the top-24 Tight Ends in Expected PPR Points. In other words, these would have been the TE1s and TE2s for fantasy had they performed up to their expected value!
After a three-year run by Travis Kelce finishing as the TE1 in points per game, Mark Andrews took over in 2021. In fact, he was the only TE to finish the year averaging more than 15 expected PPR points at 16.3. One of the reasons we saw a massive improvement is because of the Ravens’ increase in early-down passing rate. As you can see in the chart below, Baltimore (located in the bottom left quadrant) improved their passing rate by over 9 percentage points in neutral situations. And with a slight improvement in target share (25.9%), it should not be a surprise that Andrews produced at such an elite level. With J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards coming back healthy, it will be interesting to see if the Ravens maintain a more balanced offense like they did in 2021. Even if we see a slight decline, Andrews should still be the number one option for Lamar Jackson, keeping him in the conversation to once again finish as the TE1.
After a disappointing 2020 campaign in which he finished as the TE24 in points per game, Zach Ertz bounced back this past season. To start the year, Ertz actually had a higher target share (15.8%) than Goedert (11.1%) in his six games with the Eagles. However, it was not until his trade to Arizona that allowed him to re-emerge as a top-tier TE1. In his time with the Cardinals, he ranked as the TE5 in Expected PPR points per game (13.22), ahead of players like George Kittle and Kyle Pitts. And with DeAndre Hopkins suspended to start the year, I fully expect Ertz to be heavily leaned on in 2022.
The Muth is Luth! Despite finishing outside of the top-12 in PPR points per game, Pat Freiermuth still had an encouraging rookie year. From a usage standpoint, he was only the TE17 in xFP at 8.37 per game. However, that is partially driven by his slow start to the year as he was not heavily involved in the Steelers’ first six games. After their bye week, the Muth saw an improvement in both snap share and target share, leading to double-digit expected points at 10.04. Factoring in his efficiency at 1.15 FPOE per game, Freiermuth finished the final 10 games as the TE9 in points per game (11.19). Still, his target share was only at 15.6%, which will need to improve if we expect him to become an elite option. Until then, the Muth will continue to project as a high-end TE2 with a low-end TE1 upside every week.
Fantasy Efficiency Leaders
Next up, let’s take a look at the most efficient Tight Ends from the 2021 season. In other words, these are the TEs that performed well above their expected value.
George Kittle stands out as the most efficient TE this past season, averaging an impressive 2.48 FPOE per game. And while he may regress slightly to the mean, I would bet that he continues to perform this efficiently in 2022. Since 2019, he averaged at least 2.0 PPR points above expected per game each year, defying regression for three seasons straight. On top of his efficiency, Kittle was also the TE8 in xFP at 11.66, finishing the year within the top-4 in both target share (23.4%) and air yards share (26.3%). Unfortunately, Kittle only had one game with Trey Lance as the starter in 2021, resulting in only two targets. But considering his heavy involvement in this offense for many years, I still expect Kittle to once again be a focal point alongside Deebo Samuel this season.
One of the more likely “negative” regression candidates this season is Dawson Knox, who had the first TE1 campaign of his career. And while his season was extremely productive for fantasy, his efficiency of +1.96 FPOE per game is likely unsustainable. Part of this is due to his unreal touchdown efficiency, scoring on 18.3% of his receptions. For reference, the league TE average is closer to 8.5%, which he more than doubled in 2021. And unlike Kittle who has a high xFP to lean on if his efficiency regresses, Knox was only the TE16 in xFP (8.95) on a 13.2% target share. Heading in 2022, there are also question marks regarding Knox’s potential usage as OC Brian Daboll is no longer on the team. Factoring in the added competition with the recent additions of O.J. Howard and James Cook, I will likely fade Knox at his TE9 ADP.
Similar to Ertz, Dallas Goedert took full advantage of his opportunity as the lead TE in his final 12 games. After Ertz was traded in week 6, Goedert averaged an impressive 23.5% target share, second only to Andrews in that timespan. More impressively, he was extremely efficient finishing the year as the TE3 in FPOE at 1.82 per game. And while the addition of A.J. Brown could affect his target share, it may also elevate the offense leading to more high-value opportunities inside the 20. In fact, that was one of the few negatives in Goedert’s production profile as only 7.8% of his opportunities occurred in the red zone. If that number improves, I still expect Goedert to remain a TE1 this upcoming season.
Fantasy Inefficiency Leaders
Finally, above are the bottom 12 Tight Ends in FPOE, averaging the most points BELOW expected in 2021:
Regression was not all too kind to Darren Waller as his efficiency dropped significantly in 2021. After a season in which he finished as the TE2 in PPR leagues, his FPOE dropped by an alarming 3.53 points per game. Coupled with a decline in both target share (23.4%) and xFP (14.65), it should not come as a surprise that Waller was so disappointing for fantasy despite finishing as a top-6 option at the position. In addition, we also his YAC rate (% of receiving yards created after the catch) drop from 47.8% to 36.4%. Expect some of those numbers to improve, as Davante Adams will force defenses to shift their attention away from Waller, leaving him with more room to operate. As a result, it would not surprise me if Waller finds his way back into the top-3 at the TE position this year.
One of my favorite targets at his ADP is Chicago Bears TE, Cole Kmet. Surprisingly, Kmet graded as the TE12 in my xFP model at 9.26 per game, averaging the 11th highest target share at the position (17.7%). However, as you can see above, he scored over 2 points below expected per game as he was unable to find the end zone despite seeing double-digit targets inside the 20. I fully expect his touchdown efficiency to regress to the mean, which should bode well for his 2022 outlook. And with so many opportunities available after the departure of Allen Robinson, Kmet’s volume may improve even further. At his TE17 ADP, he is shaping up as one of my favorite late-round picks in best ball leagues.
Lastly, we have to talk about Kyle Pitts, who had the best rookie TE season since Evan Engram back in 2017. He is already knocking on the door of elite TE production as he averaged double-digit xFP (11.75) while ranking as the TE2 in air yards share at 29.7%. The biggest knock on Pitts was the touchdown efficiency, as he only scored once despite receiving 15 opportunities inside the 20. I expect that to improve slightly, despite subpar QB production on the horizon with Marcus Mariota under center. Regardless, Pitts will continue to dominate the targets in this offense and should remain in the conversation as a top-5 TE this season.
Keep in mind, that FPOE is subject to regression year over year. Of the Tight Ends that averaged positive efficiency, 75.5% regressed closer to the mean the following season. The average decline for those players is 1.13 FPOE per game. On the other hand, 72.2% of Tight Ends who averaged below their expected value saw an improvement in their efficiency year over year. The average increase is roughly 0.96 FPOE per game.
With that in mind, the biggest takeaways from this article should be this:
- Target players who averaged a high xFP, especially if there is a possibility their efficiency regresses year over year (assuming they still have a path to similar volume in 2022). Players that fit that mold include Darren Waller, Zach Ertz, and Kyle Pitts
- Be cautious of players who relied heavily on their efficiency to produce as their FPOE could decline this season. A couple of players I would avoid are Dawson Knox and Hunter Henry
If you have any specific questions on xFP and FPOE, reach out on Twitter @FF_MarvinE.
xFP and FPOE Summary