Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

Each and every season, NFL fans look back on the draft and immediately wonder: “Was it a good draft for my team?” At the same time, fantasy managers are busy preparing for their upcoming fantasy drafts and dynasty managers for their annual rookie drafts. Since joining the RotoHeat team a three years ago, I have been looking into historical data to try and determine hit rates of drafted prospects.

Today I take a look at the tight end position and their hit rates for those drafted from 2016 through 2020.  Far too often we see people labeling these college prospects as “can’t miss”. Well, I hate to break to you Heat Seekers, but there is no such thing as a sure thing.

In order to review hit rates, it’s important to define what qualifies as a “hit.”  I define a tight end hit as any TE that has delivered a top-12 season at any point in their career.  A TE that has multiple hit seasons is a Super-Hit, and a TE with multiple top-6 finishes is a Mega-Hit. 

Since the 2016 NFL draft, there have been 67 tight ends drafted. Of those 67 TEs, 6 were first round selections, 8 in the second, 13 in the third, 14 in the fourth, and a total of 26 selected in rounds 5-7. We have previously looked at the other three skilled positions and the common theme is that draft capital is king. Will that ring true at the shallow tight end position? Let’s find out! 

5. Rounds 5-7

Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020
Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

When reviewing the previous skill positional players, it wasn’t surprising to find that players selected in rounds 5-7 of the NFL draft typically did not provide their dynasty managers with much in terms of fantasy relevance. Of the 26 tight ends drafted in these rounds, one and only one has delivered a hit season. The good news for the dynasty managers that have this player on their roster is that tight end is George Kittle.

Kittle, the Iowa TE, was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 5th round, 146th overall in 2017. In his four NFL seasons, Kittle has achieved hit status on two occasions, two of which were top-3 finishes. As a result George Kittle is a Mega-Hit TE. What makes Kittle such a unicorn is of the other 25 TEs drafted in this range. The next best season is Kaden Smith’s TE36 finish in 2019.

Sleepers at the TE position in these rounds are extremely rare. Taking a look back to 2010, there were an additional 46 TEs selected between 2010-2015, and not one of them delivered a hit season at any point in their career. The closest we got was Mychal Rivera and his TE17 finish in 2014.

Dating back to 2010, we have seen a total of 72 TEs selected in rounds 5-7, and of those 72, 1 (1.39%) delivered their fantasy managers a hit season. This puts into perspective how rare a hit rates are in this range. 11 of the 72 (15.28%) drafted TEs failed to play a snap at this point in their careers. Drafting a round 5-7 TE and having him deliver you a hit season is something that likely never happens. Then again, you may be the dynasty manager that plugged George Kittle in to your roster in 2017, and if you are, congratulations.

4. Round 4

Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020
Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

In round 4, we have seen a total of 14 TEs selected between 2016-2020. Two of the fourteen have achieved hit status–Tyler Higbee and Dalton Shultz. The hit rate from this group entering the 2021 season is 14.3%.

Tyler Higbee started his career with TE65, TE35, and TE32 finishes. In 2019, he exploded down the stretch en route to 160.4 points and a TE8 finish. His best season outside of 2019 was his 128.20 point TE17 finish a year ago. Entering the 2019 season, Higbee had an average fantasy finish of TE44 and 50.40 PPR points.

Dalton Shultz’s 2020 season was in a word: surprising. Often deployed as a blocking TE, Shultz was thrust into the pass catching role after a season ending injury to Cowboys TE Blake Jarwin. Schultz finished his 2020 campaign with 89 targets, 63 receptions, 615 yards and 4 touchdowns. That stat line earned him a TE11 finish. Schultz’s previous fantasy finishes were TE67 and TE113. His total point production in his first two seasons was 25.2 PPR points on 19 targets.

Outside of Higbee and Schultz, the best result that the other 12 members of “the fourth round club” could manage was a TE16 finish from Chris Herndon, and a TE24 season from Ian Thomas both in the 2018 season.

Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020
Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

The 14 TEs selected in the fourth round between 2010-2015 have proven to be more valuable than their 2016-2020 counterparts. There are 4 TEs that combined to deliver a total of 6 hit seasons–Aaron Hernandez, Dennis Pita, Jordan Cameron, and Julius Thomas. Pita and Thomas both recorded two such seasons, making them Super-Hit TEs. In total from 2010-2020 there were 28 TEs selected in the fourth round by their NFL clubs. Six of them have achieved hit status. A 21.4% hit rate for the TEs in this round exceeds the hit rate of the fourth round QB (8%), RB (15%), and WR (13%).

3. Round 3

Mark Andrews Fantasy Outlook 2021
Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

A trend that was noted when reviewing the other skill positional players that continues with the tight ends is the in round 3 we start to see an uptick in terms of fantasy relevance. There have been 13 TE’s drafted between 2016-2020 that have provided their fantasy managers with at least one hit season, and they are both Mega-Hit TEs – Austin Hooper and Mark Andrews. In addition to those top-6 seasons, we also have the TE16 finish from Jonnu Smith in 2020 and some potential here in Dawson Knox and Adam Trautman.

Austin Hooper posted back to back TE-6 seasons in 2018 & 2019. In those two seasons, Hooper totaled 146 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns on 185 targets in 29 games played. A free agent signing by the Cleveland Browns prior to the 2020 season, Hooper will look to improve upon his 113.5 point TE17 season in 2021.

Mark Andrews made people notice in his rookie season, which is not something a lot of tight ends accomplish. He finished as the TE17 in 2018, and what made folks take notice was his weeks 14-17 TE14 finish to the season. TE14 is much more impressive when realizing Andrews was only playing 38% of the Ravens offensive snaps. Andrews took the next step in 2019 with his TE5 finish, and disappointed slightly with his TE6 2020 campaign. Regardless of how you felt about his 2020 season, Mark Andrews will continue to be a fixture inside the top-10 at his position for years to come barring injury.

Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020
Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

There were 14 tight ends selected in the third round of NFL drafts from 2010-2015 and four of them of them (28.5%) have experienced at least one hit season. Those 4 TEs are Richard Rodgers, Jordan Reed, and two of the best fantasy TEs of all-time, Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce.

In 19 combined seasons, Graham and Kelce have combined for 14 top-12 seasons. Since 2010, Graham has averaged 183.5 PPR points a season and a TE9 finish. He is a two time No.1 fantasy TE in 2012 and 2013. Graham in total has 7 top-6 seasons in his 11 year career.

Travis Kelce is quickly making an argument for the best TE in the history of fantasy football, rivaling Tony Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski. Kelce was selected 63rd overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. In his rookie season, Kelce appeared in one game due to a knee injury. Since his 2014 season, Travis Kelce has averaged 89 catches, 1146 yards and 7 touchdowns a season. His worst fantasy finish in that stretch was TE8 in 2015, and since the 2016 season he has been the No.1 TE in fantasy.

From 2010-2020, it has taken on average 145.3 PPR fantasy points to be a top-12 TE. Kelce (including his 0 point 2013 season), has averaged 210.61 points a season and a fantasy finish of TE2.

In total, six (22%), third round drafted TE’s have delivered a hit season at some point in their careers. Four of the six are Mega-Hit TEs, and Jordan Reed with his TE3 & TE9 2015 and 2016 seasons is a a Super-Hit. The third round drafted TE is absolutely fantasy relevant and should be a round where you considered when drafting your rookie TEs.

Tight End is a slow burn and a position in which you likely need to wait on. Be patient with your TEs drafted from this round, as they will typically take a few years to deliver your return on investment.

2. Round 2

Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020
Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

Looking at round two, we have eight tight ends selected between 2016-2020. Three (38%) of these TEs have given their fantasy managers a hit season and two (33%) of them have done it on multiple occasions. The two tight ends that stand out among their peers here are Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki.

These are the two Super-Hit TEs of the second round class. Both have finished inside the top-12 at the position the past two seasons. The reminder of this class offers some legit fantasy upside. Dallas Goedert, the third member of this class to achieve hit status, took a step back in 2020 due to injury and some erratic QB play when he was healthy. His 2021 season is promising, as is Minnesota Vikings TE Irv Smith Jr. This group is far from done and overall is a nice group of fantasy TEs.

Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020
Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

Looking back to 2010-2015, there were 11 TEs selected in the second round of NFL drafts.  Four of those (36.4%) 11 tight ends have combined for 19 hit seasons. Of those four, three have had multiple hit seasons. Kyle Rudolph has four top-12 seasons on his resume including three straight from 2016-2019. Zach Ertz broke out in his third season and went on a run of 5 straight seasons within the top 10, and three straight within the top 4, earning him Mega-Hit status.

The gem of these TEs without a doubt is Rob Gronkowski. In the last eleven seasons, Gronk has played in ten of them and has an average fantasy finish of TE9. Gronk went back to back No.1 TE in 2014 and 2015, and if not for injury shortened seasons, likely would have more than this three. In addition to achieving Mega-Hit status, Gronk is also the top scorer in a single season from 2010-2020 with his 330.9 PPR point season in 2011.

Round two is where we start to see season-in and season-out consistency in terms of hit seasons. Of the 25 TEs drafted from 2010-2020, 7 (28%) have delivered hit seasons , and five (71%) of the seven have multiples. Acquiring these TEs in your rookie drafts (depending on format) may require your first round selection, and all of these names are certainly worthy of your second round pick.

1. Round 1

Start or Sit These Players on Sunday to Win Week 12 Fantasy
Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

We tend to see a smaller sample size in general at the TE position when compared to QBs, RBs, and WRs in all rounds. That is exaggerated in Round 1. Since 2016 we have a total of six TEs selected. The hit rate of these TEs is extremely high (83%), with Tampa Bay’s O.J. Howard the lone member not to achieve a top-12 season. Although the hit rate is high here, we have yet to see a Super-Hit or Mega-Hit from this group.

The hit rate percentage at other skilled positions from the first round is rather disappointing, especially in the WR position (11.8%), but that’s not the case at TE. Hayden Hurst, TJ Hockenson, Noah Fant and Evan Engram all have plenty of runway left on their respective careers and one would expect more hit seasons to come. Two of our hit TEs have had top 5 finishes in TJ Hockenson a year ago, and Evan Engram who is one of two rookie TEs to have a hit season since 2010 (Rob Gronkowski is the other).

Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020
Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

The sample size of those tight ends drafted in the first round between 2010-2015 is even smaller. There were a total of 4 selected. Jermaine Gresham in 2010, Coby Fleener in 2012, Tyler Efiert in 2013, and Eric Ebron in 2014. As expected, the hit rate once again is high, 75%.

What is disappointing here is all four that have had a hit season were one and done. There is a lot of volatility at the TE position, we tend to see more fluctuation within the top 12 at TE than we do at any other position. On average, dating back to the start of the 2010 season, a TE averaging 9 PPR points a game is a top-12 TE. TEs that have a 4 catch 65 yard two TD game can jump up the leader board rapidly with that 22.50 outing.

In conclusion, we have 67 tight ends drafted between 2016-2020. Of those 67, 13 (19.4%), have at least one top-12 season. From 2010-2016 we have an additional 88 selected tight ends. picked between 2010-2015. 14 (15.9%), of those have at least 1 top-12 finish. Of the combined 27 that have achieved hit status, 13 (48%) have done it more than once.

The bottom line is that when drafting tight ends this offseason, you should be targeting the TEs selected in the first three rounds to maximize the return on your investment, and at TE you can target the third round TE with a higher expectation of fantasy relevance than you can when drafting the other skilled positions.

Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020
Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020. Rankings courtesy of DFL

It is difficult at this point of the offseason to predict where the top ranked rookie tight ends will be drafted. I do feel, however, that it is safe to say that Florida’s Kyle Pitts will be a first round selection and both Pat Friermuth and Brevin Jordan could come off the board in the second round. After that trio there is a sharp tier decline and where the remainder of landing spots are tough to determine. Looking back, we know that over the last five seasons, 83% of first round selections and 43% of second round selections have finished as a top-12 TE. Selecting one of those three in your rookie drafts clearly is the safest option when TE shopping.

Thank you for reading Tight End Hit Rates 2016-2020

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