Expected Fantasy Points: Which Tight Ends Were Most Efficient with Opportunity?
Having a dominant tight end in a fantasy lineup, such as a Travis Kelce or Darren Waller, can give fantasy managers a weekly advantage similar to that of a three-down running back. This is exactly why identifying high volume and efficient tight ends is crucial to winning a #FootclanTitle, which is the primary objective of my Expected Fantasy Points metric. By leveraging four seasons’ worth of data, I calculated the expected value for every tight end based on their utilization on the field. Comparing that value against a player’s actual fantasy output highlights those who were most and least efficient with their given opportunity.
And if you missed the other articles in our expected fantasy points series, be sure to check those out as well:
Expected Tight End Fantasy Points: The Process
As mentioned in my previous articles, not every opportunity is created equal. This is exactly what we see when we calculate the fantasy points gained in and outside of the red zone, with tight end targets inside the 20 valued 43.3% more for fantasy.
- 1 TE Target (outside of the red zone): 1.57 PPR points
- 1 TE red zone target: 2.77 PPR points
However, similar to wide receivers, red zone involvement is not the only metric that matters for tight ends. In fact, over the last four seasons, air yards share has a higher correlation to tight end fantasy points (R2 of 0.84) than red zone opportunities (R2 of 0.73), which makes that metric one of the most predictive for tight end success. Intuitively, tight ends that are asked to run routes further downfield generally produce more for fantasy. And if that player also accounts for a majority of the opportunity share on their team, they likely will finish as a top-5 tight end for fantasy on any given week or season.
Knowing this information, how do we translate this to an expected fantasy points metric? In short, I used four seasons’ worth of data (364 TE seasons from 2017 to 2020) to run a multiple regression analysis with the following metrics.
- Red Zone Opportunities per Game: The number of targets and rush attempts inside the 20.
- Yards per Snap: This metric allows us to separate the blocking TEs from those who actually run routes and collect targets.
- Air Yards Share: The number of air yards (depth of target) that a receiver accumulates relative to their offense.
- Opportunity Share: The total number of opportunities that a receiver has relative to their offense.
Using the results of the regression analysis, I calculated the expected fantasy points per game for each tight end from this past season. The difference between that number and their seasonal PPR per game average is known as Fantasy Points Over (or Under) Expected, or FPOE. This metric can highlight a player’s efficiency relative to opportunity while identifying potential regression candidates for the following season.
FPOE and Tight End Efficiency – 2020 Season
For my analysis, I wanted to focus on tight ends that were consistently involved in their offense. Therefore, my graph below is filtered on receivers that played a minimum of eight games, averaging at least three targets per game. In doing so, I am highlighting players who had plenty of opportunity to regress to the mean while remaining efficient (or inefficient) for the majority of the season.
Let’s dive into the data!
FPOE: +66.4 (TE1) | FPOE/G: +4.4 (TE1)
Travis Kelce has been one of the most heavily targeted and involved tight ends in the league, ranking as the TE1 in both target share (25%) and air yards share (26%) over the last four seasons. However, despite the lofty expectations as the lead receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs, not once did Kelce dip below his expected value in that timespan. In fact, his dominance is truly unmatched as both his 2018 and 2020 seasons rank top five in total PPR production since 1932. Furthermore, at age 31, Kelce also managed to set career highs in receiving yards (1,416), touchdowns (11), and first down receptions (79), culminating in the best FPOE value in my database since 2017 (+66.4). With no signs of slowing down, I expect Kelce to remain a centerpiece of the Chiefs offense for this upcoming season. And while his efficiency is bound to regress marginally, his volume should keep him in contention as the top TE in all league formats.
FPOE: +62.1 (TE2) | FPOE/G: +3.9 (TE2)
While many were expecting a second-year leap from Jace Sternberger, it was Robert Tonyan who seized the role as the lead tight end for the Green Bay Packers. Though his fantasy numbers were truly impressive, ranking as the TE8 in PPR per game, Tonyan actually ranked outside of the top-12 in several volume metrics. He was only the TE24 in total targets, TE23 in total air yards, and TE25 in weighted opportunity rating. As a result, Tonyan finished the season as my 28th ranked tight end in expected fantasy points at 7.2 per game. However, what saved his season was his absurd efficiency in the red zone, converting seven of his eleven targets into touchdowns. This equated to a touchdown rate of 63.6%, which is nearly 34 percentage points *above* the league average over the last four seasons. Considering those numbers, I do not expect Tonyan to repeat this level of efficiency in the red zone next season. So if his volume remains inconsistently low in 2021, he once again projects as a touchdown-reliant player in all fantasy formats, with or without Aaron Rodgers.
FPOE: +27.9 (TE4) | FPOE/G: +1.7 (TE5)
Heading into the 2020 season, there was some uncertainty regarding Darren Waller’s volume considering the additions of Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards. I admittedly was one of those skeptics, assuming that one of the Raiders’ rookie receivers would take on a significant chunk of the opportunity share and limit Waller’s upside. However, the exact opposite happened as Waller led all tight ends in nearly every volume metric, operating as the true focal point of the Raiders offense. In addition, Waller was also the only tight end to finish in the top-12 in weighted opportunity rating among ALL receivers (combining air yards and target share), ranking ahead of D.K. Metcalf, Allen Robinson, and even Tyreek Hill. And despite a high expected value of 15.9 per game, Waller still finished with 27.9 points in FPOE, landing him as the TE4 in my model. With very minimal changes to their offense, I expect Waller to remain the primary target for Derek Carr yet again, making him a top-tier TE in both redraft and dynasty for the foreseeable future.
FPOE: -17.7 (TE29) | FPOE/G: -1.1 (TE28)
After accumulating only 54 targets in his first four seasons, the former quarterback had a true breakout campaign – finishing 3rd most among all tight ends in targets with 110. He also finished 5th in opportunity share (12%) and 7th in red zone opportunities per game (1.19), leading to an impressive expected points value of 12.2 per game (TE6). Surprisingly, he still finished below his expected value by 1.1 points, mainly due to his inefficient start last season. In fact, prior to their bye week, Thomas averaged -1.72 FPOE per game, finishing outside of the top-24 in four of seven games. But as we can see below, Thomas’ volume and efficiency improved considerably in his final nine games, receiving 7.8 targets per game and finishing much closer to expected value (-0.22 per game). Projecting for the upcoming season, I expect Thomas to see a slight decline in volume with the addition of Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown. However, his overall efficiency should improve with Ryan Fitzpatrick set to lead this offense.
FPOE: -29.3 (TE32) | FPOE/G: -2.7 (TE32)
After a five-year run of finishing as a TE1 in PPR points per game, Zach Ertz’s fantasy value took a significant hit this past season. In fact, since 2017, Ertz’s FPOE has slowly declined each year, with 2020 being his worst season in my model. Interestingly, when comparing Ertz and Goedert, their volume numbers were nearly identical in 2020. They both received roughly an 11% opportunity share in this Eagles offense, each averaging a 15% air yards share in 11 games. Where Ertz had the slight edge was in the red zone, accumulating eight targets inside the 20 compared to five for Goedert. However, as you can see below, despite similar expected values on a per game basis, Goedert was the much more efficient player, finishing with a positive 16.01 fantasy points over expected. Of course Ertz could always find life in a different offense if he were traded; however, it seems as if his days as a dominant TE1 are likely coming to a close.
FPOE: -55.3 (TE33) | FPOE/G: -3.5 (TE33)
With Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard suffering injuries last season, Evan Engram was thrust into the lead receiver role in the Giants offense. He accumulated 109 targets, finishing as the TE5 in target share (22%) and TE8 in air yards share (20%) last season. To no surprise, Engram graded highly in my model with an expected value of 12.4 points per game (TE5). However, his inefficiencies in the red zone left much to be desired as he converted 16 opportunities inside the 20 into only two touchdowns. Furthermore, he also finished 8th in the league in drop rate at 10.1%.
As a result, Engram would rank dead last in my model with a -55.3 FPOE over 16 games. While these numbers may be slightly concerning, there is hope for regression. With Barkley returning healthy, and the additions of Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, Engram’s efficiency should improve along with the offense. Unfortunately, this also means that 100+ targets is likely a pipedream for this upcoming season. But even with 70 to 80 opportunities, Engram could still be productive for fantasy if his efficiency does indeed improve.
Expected Fantasy Points and FPOE – Full Results
Below are the results for all 33 tight ends that qualified for my FPOE analysis. If you have any specific questions, do not hesitate to reach out on Twitter @FF_MarvinE.
Irv Smith Jr.