Fantasy Football: TE Targets & What We Know for 2019
This is the final part of this target projection series. If you haven’t checked them out other articles yet, review the overarching methodology, Projecting Offenses and Who Owns the Targets in 2019, to get a clear picture of why I want to look at offenses through this lens and what market share percentages can tell us. I started off last month detailing the Pass-Catching RB & What We Know for 2019 to show which offenses utilized RBs in the passing game and continued with WR Targets & What We Know for 2019.
Let’s dive into the final targeted position, the Tight-End. The goal is to see how offenses distributed their targets to the TE position compared to the rest of their team’s pass catchers from 2018, see if there are any patterns or correlations to observe and begin to siphon out some meaningful data to help us make projections for 2019.
Editor’s Note: Can’t get enough TE talk? Make sure you listen to the Footballer’s recent podcast, Early Top-10 TE Rankings.
Assessing the 2018 Data
If you are unfamiliar with the term “market share”, it’s another way of saying how much percent of a team’s total passing attempts were taken by a specific position. These pass attempts are “adjusted” by taking out throwaways, spikes and the minuscule, abnormal targets to players such as O-Lineman and QBs. For example, if we look at the Philadelphia Eagles tight-ends from 2018, Zach Ertz (TE1 with 156 targets), Dallas Goedert (TE2 with 44), and third-stringer Joshua Perkins (11 targets) saw 35.8 percent of the team’s overall adjusted passing volume of 592 attempts. That was the highest TE share in the league and the second-highest over the last five years behind only the Delanie Walker-led 2015 Tennessee Titans.
Here is a zoomed out view of how targets were distributed in 2018 sorted by the highest team TE market shares to the lowest.
- Unsurprisingly, the teams that emphasized the TE position the most (PHI, KC, SF, IND, WAS) had some of the lowest team WR market shares in the league. In fact, other than Tyreek Hill, all of those teams posted WR1 market shares below 19 percent and most had below average WR2 shares as well.
- There was almost no correlation to passing volume and TE targets in 2018. While having a bigger passing pie is always nice when trying to project what will happen, it does not demand that the TE position will be the beneficiary. Of the top-ten most pass-happy teams in 2018, only four of them finished in the top-ten of TE market share. In fact, five of them finished 18th or worse.
- TE market shares did correlate heavily with the “other” category highlighted in the series primer. In short, this is the percentage of remaining team targets that did NOT go towards a team’s pass-catching RB1, RB2, or WRs 1-3, and the TE1. Basically, the other is the backup TEs and rotational WR that sees 25 or so targets. The top-15 TE-centric teams that from 2018 had on average 26 percent of their targets “up for grabs” by these ancillary players. In other words, if your team heavily focused on targeting the TE, your team likely dealt with injuries and bland WR group that showcased a lack of talent.
- The Ravens have always been a haven (see what I did there) for TEs but the distribution was completely flat across the board in 2018. Despite seeing the sixth-highest team TE share, the Ravens TE1 (Mark Andrews) saw only 50 targets at 9.3 percent, which was merely 19th among TEs. But between Andrews, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst, and Maxx Williams, the group overall saw more targets (127) than Odell Beckham Jr.
If we decide to look at TE market shares over the last five years, perhaps we can see if a team is consistent in their usage and what types of spikes some experienced. Please realize the five-year average can be misleading when we see a change in offensive personnel, injuries, and more importantly, scheme changes with offensive coordinators.
- Three teams that have been below the league average of TE market share every year for the last five years: Falcons, Cardinals, and Broncos. As detailed in the WR target article, these three teams all paced the league in WR market shares over the last half-decade.
- On the other hand, four teams have been above the league average: Eagles, Chiefs, Redskins, and Titans. The one surprising omission from this list was the Patriots. After Rob Gronkowski dominated the TE scene since entering the league, the Patriots bottomed out to only 14.6 percent of their targets last season going to the TE position, the fourth lowest rate in the league.
- The Jets are starting to come around to the fact that TEs play in the NFL. During the Ryan Fitzpatrick years, New York sported by far the lowest rates in the league at 5.4 and 4 percent in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Rookie Chris Herndon was a pleasant surprise last year to return the Jets to at least an average TE rate.
- The biggest outlier season on the chart belongs to the 2016 Houston Texans. The likes of Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz took their 163 combined targets to turn in the fifth-highest TE target share (30.7 percent) over the last five years. It was a weird season as DeAndre Hopkins barely turned in a top-30 fantasy season, Brock Osweiler was ridiculed all season, and yet Houston won the AFC South division title.
How to Project for 2019
Based upon the 2018 market share distribution and some of the trends we’ve seen over the last five years, here are a couple of overarching team projections for 2019 and how different teams might approach the TE position.
Positive Regression Candidates
- If you’re a Broncos fan, prepare your TEs to get peppered in 2019. New QB Joe Flacco has never been shy about his TE obsessions and Denver spent a first round pick on Noah Fant, a freak athlete with Jordan Reed comparisons. Between Fant, Jeff Heureman, and Jake Butt, you can expect this core group to see somewhere north of 21 percent. It still remains to be seen if Fant can be anything more than a streamer in Year One.
- The Chargers have been without Hunter Henry for quite a while and it has shown as the aging Antonio Gates has basically been propped up by the occasional box-out TD. Henry has top-five potential in an offense that has always utilized the TE thanks to Phillip Rivers. While the upside of 100+ targets probably isn’t there, Henry could catch 8+ TDs in this offense and command close to 18 percent share.
- The Lions bottomed-out in 2018 with the lowest TE market share in the league at 11.3 percent, the fourth lowest in the last half-decade. What did the organization decide to do? They spent about as high a draft capital as you could drafting T.J. Hockenson 8th overall hoping that Matthew Stafford could develop some chemistry. The Lions also drafted two other TEs and added another two undrafted free-agents. The winds are a changing in Detroit so expect Coach Matt Patricia to lean on his “new Gronk” and perhaps collect 70+ targets right away.
Regression to the Mean Candidates
- The 49ers found themselves a gem (and athletic freak) in George Kittle, who decided to set the record for receiving yards for a TE with 1,377 in only his second year. Kittle’s 28.4 market share was boosted by a plethora of injuries at the RB and WR position for the 49ers. Kittle will regress although still looks to be the No. 1 read with Jimmy Garoppolo. 25 percent is still within reach.
- The Raiders had basically no-one else on the roster last year worth of a heavy target share. An aging Jordy Nelson, scatback Jalen Richard, and the enigma that is Jared Cook soaked up most of the targets. With Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams in town, it looks like Derek Carr might be distributing the ball a tad differently. The incumbent TEs include the uninspiring group of Darren Waller, Lee Smith, and Luke Willson. Last year was a blip.
“This is the New Norm” Candidates
- As I stated earlier, the Patriots knew that Gronk was going downhill as a route runner and utilized him predominantly in as a blocker en route to a Super Bowl title. Don’t expect Austin Sefarian-Jenkins to command near the 25 percent target share the future Hall of Famer did.
- The Panthers’ Greg Olsen has long enjoyed being the main man in Charlotte but through injuries and new, exciting WRn weapons, that ship has finally sailed. Ian Thomas also held his own last year as a rookie. The new Carolina offense features Christian McCaffrey, a pass-catching RB that will see 100+ targets, a second year from D.J. Moore, and hopefully a full season from the dynamic Curtis Samuel.
- The Titans have also long featured Delanie Walker as the target hog in this low volume offense. Although the overall pass attempts will likely remain the same, Marcus Mariota looks to be featuring Corey Davis, this year’s rookie A.J. Brown, and newly signed slot WR Adam Humphries. If you’re Walker, you can kiss your 20+ percent of the targets good-bye!