Fantasy Football: The Effect of Two-TE Formations
In the modern NFL, we are intimately familiar with the concept of a spread offense. The league has been taken over by 3 and 4 WR sets, but in this article, we are going to show some love to the big guys: the TEs. Over the last couple seasons, a few teams in the NFL have taken a contrarian approach to offensive formations. They are using big bodied, athletic TEs to create matchup nightmares for defenses. When two or more TEs are on the field at the same time it provides play-callers with flexibility. You can keep both TEs in to block for max protection, you can chip elite pass rushers, or just send one or both out on routes to challenge linebackers and safeties. But what does this mean for fantasy? Let’s take a look.
Success in fantasy football can be attributed primarily to two things: Talent and Opportunity. We will discuss Talent later, but for now, let’s focus on opportunity. When you have two TEs (or more) on the field at the same time, it increases the likelihood that a TE will be targeted with a pass. Using this methodology, I was able to use 2016 offenses to predict a breakout for Zach Ertz. The Eagles used two TE sets more than anyone else in the league, so the next part was easy. Target the undervalued TE on that roster. The same would’ve worked with lower cost options like Cameron Brate and Jack Doyle (the Buccaneers and Colts were 2nd and 3rd on the TE usage lists for 2016). So who are these teams that are going to a bigger formation to create opportunities for their big playmakers?
Plays with Multiple TEs in Formation: 2017
|Team||Plays run w/ 2+ TEs||Total Plays||% of 2+ TE sets|
|Kansas City Chiefs||378||985||38.4%|
First impressions of that list might not scream TE success story. Though Delanie Walker and Travis Kelce were absolute studs, each posting a top 4 TE finish in PPR leagues, the other teams left something to be desired. The truth of the matter is that although these teams were committed to the two TE approach they simply lacked the personnel to run these formations effectively. This creates the perfect buy-low opportunity. It’s easy to remember that the Jaguars didn’t have a stud TE, but savvy fantasy owners will note that they made a big move to bring in Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Carolina will get a healthy Greg Olsen back in 2018. With healthier and more talented players at the position, I expect these teams to not only stay dedicated to using 2 TE sets but to use these sets more on passing plays. Afterall, we don’t get fantasy points for run blocking.
Passing Plays with Multiple TEs: 2017
|Team||Passing Plays Using 2+ TEs||Best Fantasy TE|
|Baltimore Ravens||248||Benjamin Watson #11|
|Kansas City Chiefs||197||Travis Kelce #1|
|Philadelphia Eagles||173||Zach Ertz #3|
|Tennessee Titans||161||Delanie Walker #4|
|Los Angeles Chargers||147||Hunter Henry #14|
You may have already spotted the trend. Using two TE sets is good for fantasy, sure, but perhaps even more useful is spotting the outlier. The Baltimore Ravens ran two TE sets at a rate that nearly doubled the league average (29.9%) and they attempted passes out of this formation 51 more times than the next closest team. So what held them back from having an elite fantasy TE?
As the above chart will show you, it takes more than just volume to create a stud TE. You need a capable pass catcher as well. So the easiest advice I can give you is to target elite TEs on teams with high TE usage. Go get Kelce, Ertz, Walker, and Henry, but you already knew that.
The interesting bit of advice I can offer is to keep tabs on the Baltimore Ravens. They clearly identified the fact that they lacked the elite talent required to run multiple TE sets efficiently and addressed the issue aggressively with picks in the 1st and 3rd rounds of the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, rookie TEs are notoriously slow to develop in the NFL so, for redraft purposes, the Ravens duo of Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are unlikely to catch on quickly enough to be worthy of a draft pick. However, if the Ravens duplicate 2017 and use this formation on a league-high 54.5% of their snaps I wouldn’t bet against a volume dependent success story a la Evan Engram in 2017 to emerge on this team. Don’t forget that we are just one season removed from Dennis Pitta snagging 86 receptions on 121 targets in this same system.