Tight End Hit Rates 2017-2022

Each season, the National Football League (NFL) holds its annual entry draft. The NFL draft is an event in which teams select eligible college football players to add to their rosters. The purpose of the draft is to acquire new players, intending to strengthen their roster and address areas of need.

Dynasty fantasy football leagues typically operate similarly. The purpose of a rookie draft in dynasty fantasy football is to give owners an opportunity to acquire incoming NFL rookies and add them to their roster. The question is, what should Dynasty managers expect to get out of their draft selections?  

There is a phenomenon in Dynasty leagues known as Rookie Fever. We tend to overvalue rookie picks this time of year, driving up their perceived value. The reality is managers should have a more realistic expectation of what value their rookie picks hold. 

Some rookies will make an immediate impact, some take time to develop and some may never reach the fantasy value we envisioned when we added them to our rosters. I refer to the level of success a player may or may not achieve during their career as their Hit Rate.

Since joining RotoHeat, I have utilized historical data on an annual basis to attempt to determine the expected hit rates of drafted prospects. In this 4-part series, I dive into the drafts over the past six seasons to identify trends and help set a level of expectation for this upcoming rookie class. 

This process began back in 2018 and has compiled the results of every skill player drafted since 2010. With a large number of players drafted in the early years of my data collection no longer playing, I have reduced the data used to the previous six seasons. The 2010-2016 data is referenced throughout to give a larger sample of the historical data. 

The final installment of this 4-part series looks at the Tight End position. When reviewing hit rates, it’s important to define what a hit is. I define Tight End “Hit” as any TE that has delivered a top-12 season at any point in their career. In addition, I have crunched the data and determined which TEs accomplished the feat as a rookie, as well as how many have done it on more than one occasion. 

Since the 2017 NFL draft, there have been 78 Tight Ends selected. Of those 78 – seven were first-round selections, nine in the second, 17 in the third, 20 in the fourth, and a total of 25 were selected in rounds five through seven. 

Similar to the previous reviews of the other three skill positions, the data shows us that the draft capital of the player is king. While the TE, draft capital doesn’t have the dramatic impact that it does with the other positions, it remains a very relevant indicator of the player’s potential for hit seasons. 

6. Rounds 5-7

In the previous three parts of this series when reviewing the other 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. When taking a look at the Tight End position, nothing has changed. There have been 25 tight ends drafted in these rounds, since 2017, and 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 was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 5th round, 146th overall in 2017. In his six seasons, Kittle has achieved hit status on four occasions, four of which were top-5 finishes. What makes Kittle such a unicorn is when looking at the other 24 TEs drafted in this range, the next best season we find is Tyler Conklin’s TE16 finish in 2022.

Sleepers at the TE position in these rounds are extremely rare. Dating back to the 2010 Draft, there were an additional 46 TEs selected between 2010-2016, and none 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.

From 2010-2022, we have a total of 84 TEs selected in rounds 5-7, and of those 84, one (1.39%) delivered their fantasy managers a hit season. 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 into your roster in 2017, and if you are, congratulations.

5. Round 4

Tight End Hit Rates 2017-2022

In Round 4, we have seen a total of 20 TEs selected between 2017-2022. Dalton Shultz is the only one to have a hit season on their resume. Shultz was thrust into the pass-catching role after a season-ending injury to Blake Jarwin during the 2020 season. He finished that campaign as TE11. He has remained a fantasy-relevant TE following up his 2020 hit season with two more in 2021, (TE3) and 2022 (TE10).

Outside of Schultz, the best result that the other 19 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.

The 16 TEs selected in the fourth round between 2010-2016 have proven to be more valuable than their 2017-2022 counterparts. There are 6 TEs that combined to deliver a total of 9 hit seasons–Aaron Hernandez, Dennis Pita, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, Tyler Higbee, and Logan Thomas. Pita, Julius Thomas, and Higbee all have two hit seasons, and no one in this group got there as a rookie.

In total from 2010-2022, there were 36 TEs selected in the fourth round by their NFL clubs. The 4th round-drafted TEs have delivered a 19.4% hit rate, an 8.3% multiple-season hit rate, and a 0% rookie hit rate. Expectations should be kept in check when adding Tight Ends drafted in Round four, that said they do hit at the highest rate of any of the Round four skill positions.

4. Round 3

A trend that was noted when reviewing the other skill positional players that continues with the tight ends is that in round 3 we start to see an uptick in terms of fantasy relevance. There have been 17 TEs drafted between 2016-2020, and two have provided their fantasy managers with at least one hit season, Mark Andrews, and Dawson Knox.

Knox’s lone hit season to date came in 2021, while Andrews has produced four straight hit seasons which includes a TE1 overall 2021 campaign.

There were 16 tight ends selected in the third round of NFL drafts from 2010-20165 and five of them (31.25%) have experienced at least one hit season. Those five TEs are Richard Rodgers, Jordan Reed, Austin Hooper, and two of the best fantasy TEs of all time, Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce.

In 22 combined seasons, Graham and Kelce have combined for 16 top-12 seasons. in his 12-year career, Graham has averaged 183.5 PPR points a season and a TE13 finish. He is a two-time No.1 fantasy TE in 2012 and 2013, and he finished as a top-6 TE on six occasions.

Travis Kelce is arguably the best TE in the history of the NFL, and the best in 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 90 catches, 1149 yards, and 8 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 in every season except 2021.

From 2010-2022, it has taken an average of 146.8 PPR fantasy points to be a top-12 TE. Kelce (including his 0-point 2013 season), has averaged 226.4 points a season.

In total, seven (21.2%), third-round drafted TEs have delivered a hit season at some point in their careers. Five, (15.2%), have accomplished multiple hit seasons and none of them got there as a rookie. 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, if they hit, it will typically take a few years to deliver your return on investment.

3. Round 2

Having a look at Round two from 2017-2022, there are nine TEs selected. Four (44.4%) of these TEs have given their fantasy managers a hit season and two (22.2%) of them have done it on multiple occasions. The Tight Ends that stand out among their peers here are Mike Gesicki and Dallas Goedert.

Pat Freiermuth, and Cole Kmet both reached the top-12 for the first time last season and both are in a good spot to deliver more top-12 TE seasons going forward.

Looking back to 2010-2016, there were 12 TEs selected in the second round of NFL drafts.  Six of those (50%) 12 have combined for 24 hit seasons. Four of the six have delivered multiple-hit seasons, led by Rob Gronkowski (9), Zach Ertz (6), and Kyle Rudolph (4). Gronkowski achieved hit status in his rookie season, the only TE drafted outside the first round of the 168 selected since 2010.

In total, since 2010, there have been 21 Tight Ends selected in the second round, and ten, (47.6%) of them have produced at least one top-12 season to date. Six, (15.2%), have accomplished multiple hit seasons and one got there as a rookie. Round two is where we start to see an increase in season-in and season-out consistency in terms of hit seasons. Acquiring these TEs in your rookie drafts (depending on the format) may require your first-round selection, and all of these names are certainly worthy of your second-round pick.

2. Round 1

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 2017 we have had a total of seven TEs selected. The hit rate of these TEs is extremely high (85.7%). The only TE drafted here that has not reached the top-12 thus far in their career is O.J. Howard. The hit rate percentage at other skilled positions from the first round is can be disappointing, but that’s not the case at TE.

Four of these seven TEs have multiple hit-season careers on the go with the opportunity for more in the coming seasons. Evan Engram and Kyle Pitts had hit rookie seasons.

The sample size of those tight ends drafted in the first round between 2010-2016 is even smaller. There were a total of three selected. Jermaine Gresham in 2010, Tyler Eifert in 2013, and Eric Ebron in 2014. As expected, the hit rate once again is high, 100%.

What is disappointing here is all three were one-and-done when it came to top-12 productivity. 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 an annual basis.

1. Conclusion

86 tight ends were drafted between 2017-2020. Of those 86, 14 (16.28%), have at least one top-12 season. From 2010-2016 we have an additional 100 selected tight ends. 19 of those 100 have at least 1 top-12 finish. Of the combined 32 that have achieved hit status, 20 (10.75%) 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.

It is difficult at this point of the offseason to predict where the top-ranked rookie tight ends will be drafted. That said, this does appear to be one of the better Tight End draft classes in recent memory. Michael Mayer, Dalton Kincaid, and Luke Musgrave all look to be top-100 picks this April. After that trio, there is a sharp tier decline in my opinion, and where the remaining land is tough to predict.

Looking back, we know that over the last six seasons, 86% of first-round selections and 45% of second-round selections have finished as a top-12 TE. From 2010-16, first-rounders hit at 100% with second-rounders coming in at 50%. Selecting a TE that was drafted in the first two rounds of an NFL draft is recommended, anything beyond the second round is likely a dart throw.

Thank you for reading Tight End Hit Rates 2017-2022

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