Best Ball: TE Tiers, Advance Rates & Players to Target in 2022

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All summer long Betz and I discuss Best Ball on the Fantasy Footballers DFS Podcast. On Friday’s episode, we did a Live BestBall Draft that also included Jason and Mike.

I wanted to formulate each position (QB, RB, WR, TE) into ADP tiers and discuss what each player would need to do to become a true “win rate” player. I wrote Best Ball Win Rates & What They Tell Us if you need an introduction to the topic.

  • Win rates are calculated based on how often a player ended up on a winning roster. It takes into account how often they were drafted and where they were drafted.
  • Information like this is descriptive of last year, not prescriptive for 2022.

In this article, we will also look more in-depth at advance rates from Underdog fantasy. How often did a team with this player advance through on the Best Ball Mania-II tournament? Did this player end up on a top-2 points scoring roster in a 12-person league? The two terms (win rates & advance rates) are similar but not exactly congruent.

I wrote a mammoth 5,000+ word introduction to this (QB Tiers, Advance Rates & Players to Target) but this big mama jamma is all about TEs.

2021 Advance Rate Data for TEs

Before jumping into each TE tier, I charted out a simple comparison of TE ADP from 2021 and their correlating advance rate for Underdog fantasy.

The trendline is simply a guideline for us to view how picks fared in regards to advance rate. TEs show us a completely different point of expectation compared to the other positions: as the draft progressed, the expected TE advance rate increased. The key factor for painting a fuller picture with win rates is where a player was taken in terms of their average draft position (ADP). Players can have different win rates in different rounds because taking a player in the 1st versus the 16th matters. It comes back to our old friend: opportunity cost.

Getting an ELITE TE in fantasy is one of the true positional advantages in fantasy. You are able to “bully” the competition every single week with players like Kelce & Andrews. It’s truly an awesome thing. TEs drafted early HAVE to be great. Travis Kelce was being drafted 7th overall last year. He finished as the TE2 in terms of fantasy points BUT His advance rate (13%) was one of the worst at the position.

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Based on that chart above, the names towards the end of the draft shined. Here were the top-10 advance rates for TEs last year:

A couple of takeaways:

  • Early TE failed for the most part. Other than Andrews, it was rough. The aforementioned Kelce busted for the most part, Kittle & Waller were injured, and Kyle Pitts didn’t quite get there with only one TD.
  • Waiting on TE was a goldmine. I had to double-check this data but NINE of the top-10 TEs in advance rate were drafted past pick 150! This stat alone has influenced much of my strategy in BestBall this year. 
  • Stacking TEs late is a +EV move. Because TEs are so TD-dependent, if you find a good offense with a late TE, your stack can have even more “advance rate” power. It elevates the stack in a situation like Dawson Knox or Rob Gronkowski. We knew we liked the offenses but the cheap TE made their elite QBs even better. Below is a look at the top-8 TEs in terms of fantasy finish as well as their advance rates with or without their respective QBs stacked.

As Jason explained in a recent Underdog BestBall Breakdown on the Fantasy Footballers podcast, taking three TEs was underutilized in 2021 on Underdog. He highlighted a chart from 4for4’s TJ Hernandez discussing how only 36 percent of the field employed a 3TE build last year but it exceeded the advance rate expectation of two or 4-TE builds.

Teasing Out the Tiers

These tiers below are organized below by ADP on Underdog Fantasy. For actual tiers, you can use the Ultimate Draft Kit+ with the Footballers projections and couple that with our BestBall rankings. The goal of organizing them in this way is to give you a view of each “bucket” and to group together players who drafters clearly feel belong near each other. I’ll give a quick take on each player without reiterating everything found in the Ultimate Draft Kit and Best Ball Primer as well as highlight

  • Personal Highest Exposure: This is based on the drafts I’ve personally done on Underdog Fantasy mostly the Puppy and Best Ball Mania 3.
  • Best Win Rate(s) Prediction from this Tier: Often this will overlap with my highest exposure (I mean I drafted them for a reason) but this prediction is more of combining the value, stacking ability, and upside that could give you an advantage over the field. I want as many shots as possible at this player with as many combinations to get me through a tournament.
  • Bust Alert(s): I’m worried. Not so much if this player can get it done for best ball but playing the odds of them exceeding their advance rate expectation based on their ADP. I’m combining their cost, their stacking partners, and the offensive outlook Betz described in the Best Ball Primer for their respective teams.

The Elite Tier: Picks 1-24

There is little debate about who belongs among the first two TEs off the board this year. But in a best ball format, we get to ask a different question: are these TEs worth it?

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  • Travis Kelce (TE1)– I mentioned earlier how I took an anti-Kelce stance last year in Best Ball. This wasn’t to toot my own horn but to again bring up what a player has to accomplish as a 1st round player to return value. Looking at the data above, only four TEs have been drafted in the 1st round since 2015. This year, Kelce is going six picks later at the end of the 1st round. Is that still too rich? His projections feel even stronger this year with Tyreek Hill out the door. The only truly elite player in the top-20 picks was… Travis Kelce in 2020. If he falls into the later 2nd round, I would feel more comfortable. As you’ll see, cobbling together 3TEs is my preferred strategy.
  • Mark Andrews (TE2)– He was great last year as a 5th-round pick finishing as TE1 despite Lamar Jackson missing a better part of the final two months. A reminder in Best Ball we are using optimal scores so on average, Andrews’ ‘points added’ was only 154 fantasy points, or 65 percent of his fantasy points from Weeks 1-17. 2nd round is too rich for my blood although I’m with Betz being bullish on the Ravens’ outlook for 2022. Andrews needs double-digit TDs and for Kelce and at least one of the next tier of TEs to fail to be a difference-maker. He has to repeat as TE1.

On the Door of Greatness Tier: Picks 25-50

In the previous tier, we asked if Kelce & Andrews were worth it as top-24 picks. This next tier represents options that tantalize us with what could be. If you are taking a shot, you likely can craft a narrative where any of the three of these TEs hits and ascends into elite status. Over the last six years, TEs drafted in this window had a top-6 team rate of 53 percent, better than the 50.4 percent of the first two rounds.

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