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The Stategist


As many of you know, there is a group of Footballguys, myself included, that take great pleasure in the use of statistical analysis as a means to succeed in fantasy football. Traditionally, we do much of our work leading up to the draft, using historical trends analysis and number crunching to help fine tune our annual projections for players and teams. But statistical analysis can, when used in conjunction with logical reasoning and sound football acumen, be useful during the season, as well. With that in mind, I will attempt to address some relevant in-season issues each and every week, with a statistical slant of course…


Finding the next Tony Gonzalez…or Todd Yoder?

Week One is in the books and half of you are riding the euphoria of a 1-0 start wondering if there's anyone in your league that can keep you from an undefeated season. Meanwhile the other half are pondering how their "can't miss" squads let them down in what was supposed to be the start of a triumphant run to the top.

As longtime readers of this column know, I'm a huge believer in "One Week Does Not A Season Make." And what I mean by that is, "DON'T PANIC!" just because your team is 0-1 to start the season. Football is a maddening sport. Even the best players (and teams) can flounder a time or two during the season, whereas marginal players can find themselves temporarily on the radar after an unexpectedly strong outing.

Your goal, regardless of whether you're undefeated or winless, is to identify the early season performances that potentially signal a breakthrough player and those that were more likely one-week wonders.

Perhaps no fantasy football position is rifer with early season speculation than Tight End (TE). By virtue of scoring fewer points, on average, than other position players, most fantasy leaguers are always looking for tight ends on the waiver wire. Whether you drafted Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates, or insisted on waiting until the later rounds to find your starter, chances are everyone has a second tight end they took late as a flier, and would be more than happy to dump them for another TE who may prove themselves to be a fantasy starter.

And the Fantasy Gods did not disappoint in Week One, as four tight ends put up solid performances but are likely available in a majority of 10- and 12-team leagues.

  • Courtney Anderson, TE, Oakland Raiders - Week One: 3 receptions for 18 yards and 2 TDs
  • Chris Baker, TE, New York Jets - Week One: 7 receptions for 124 yards and 1 TD
  • Alex Smith, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Week One: 4 receptions for 34 yards and 2 TDs
  • Daniel Wilcox, TE, Baltimore Ravens - Week One: 8 receptions for 78 yards and 1 TD

A closer look at Chris Baker and Daniel Wilcox…

Chris Baker and Daniel Wilcox have more in common than a surprisingly strong fantasy Week One. Both play for AFC contenders, both were overshadowed this preseason by other TEs on their rosters, and both are generally considered well-rounded tight ends whose blocking is not a liability. Each caught at least seven passes and was targeted 10+ times in Week One.

What's notable about their fantasy performance was the workload. It's one thing for a player to make his mark thanks to an errant TD catch or two (more on that later), but it's entirely another to be heavily targeted in all facets of the receiving game.

To illustrate the rarity of this situation, and also glimpse into what the rest of the 2005 season may hold for Baker and Wilcox, I used our Data Dominator to screen for all tight ends with 5 or more receptions in Week One of the last three seasons (2002-2004). There were sixteen instances over that span:

Tight Ends with at least 5 receptions in Week One (2002-2004)

Tight End
Yr
Trg
Rec
Yds
Y/R
TDs
FPs
YEPPGRk
Todd Heap
2004
13
9
86
9.6
0
8.6
5
Antonio Gates
2004
8
8
123
15.4
0
12.3
1
Eric Johnson
2004
9
8
86
10.8
1
14.6
9
Randy McMichael
2004
10
8
79
9.9
1
13.9
8
Daniel Graham
2004
9
7
57
8.1
1
11.7
10
Chad Lewis
2004
8
6
58
9.7
0
5.8
27
Alge Crumpler
2004
7
6
82
13.7
1
14.2
4
Freddie Jones
2004
7
6
39
6.5
0
3.9
20
Freddie Jones
2003
11
6
65
10.8
1
12.5
11
Todd Heap
2003
9
6
55
9.2
0
4.5
4
Alge Crumpler
2003
5
5
94
18.8
1
15.4
8
Doug Jolley
2003
7
5
33
6.6
0
3.3
34
Cameron Cleeland
2002
6
6
40
6.7
0
4.0
49
Jim Kleinsasser
2002
6
5
58
11.6
0
5.8
22
Todd Heap
2002
5
5
20
4.0
0
2.0
1
Tony Gonzalez
2002
6
5
87
17.4
1
13.7
2

Of the sixteen instances:

  • Six of 16 (37.5%) finished the season among the top five (5) overall fantasy tight ends (on a points per game basis)
  • 10 of 16 (62.5%) finished the season among the top ten (10) overall fantasy tight ends (on a PPG basis)
  • 12 of 16 (75%) finished the season among the top twenty (20) overall fantasy tight ends (on a PPG basis)
  • Four of 16 (25%) finished the season outside the top twenty (20) overall fantasy tight ends (on a PPG basis)

In other words, it's a fairly good bet that a tight end who's actively involved in the receiving game at the start of the season is going to be a solid fantasy performer for the season (provided they're healthy of course). To reiterate, in the last three years, TEs who caught at least 5 receptions in Week One finished among the top 10 more often than not.

But if you have to choose between Baker and Wilcox, who is the safer bet?

Daniel Wilcox enters his 2nd season in Baltimore, having signed with the team as a rookie free agent last year coming out of Appalachian State. With Heap sidelined for much of the year, Wilcox ended up catching 25 receptions for 219 yards and 1 TD a season ago. But this year, Wilcox was not supposed to factor into the Ravens receiving game. After all, Heap had returned late in training camp from two offseason surgeries, and the Ravens finally had weapons at the WR position (Derrick Mason and rookie Mark Clayton). So how do we reconcile this information with the fact that Wilcox had more targets (10 to 7), yards (78 to 38) and receptions (8 to 4) than Heap? Hard to figure except that Heap only returned to practice a few weeks ago and missed most of training camp. And with Kyle Boller shaken up and replaced by Anthony Wright, Wilcox simply figured into Wright's reads with more frequency. Ultimately, although Wilcox' first week was impressive, there remains no question that Todd Heap is the starter and SHOULD be the team's leading receiver at the position. Assume that once Heap is back to full strength, Wilcox will be a marginal target at best.

Chris Baker, like Wilcox, was perceived as a secondary option at tight end for his team during the preseason. After all, the Jets had traded a first round draft choice to acquire Doug Jolley from Oakland. Jolley was considered a natural pass catcher, and seemed a solid fit for new OC Mike Heimerdinger's offense. Yet, a careful examination of the Jets preseason told a different story. Throughout the preseason it was Baker, not Jolley, listed as the starter. Baker, while not considered as prolific a pass catcher, was particularly able in the red zone (witness his 4 TDs last year), but was a MUCH better blocker. Baker got the start and was Chad Pennington's most reliable option in a disappointing Week One loss to Kansas City. Given that Baker IS the starter, Jolley reinforced his liability as a blocker during training camp, and that the Jets offense should consistently utilize the tight end; Baker appears someone absolutely worth picking up sooner rather than later. Remember, recent history points toward at least one of these guys becoming a top 10 option for the year, and Baker has the clearer path.

A closer look at Courtney Anderson and Alex Smith…

Unlike their Week One counterparts, Anderson and Smith made fantasy waves largely thanks to scoring not one, but two touchdowns. Obviously any player that scores twice in a game is going to finish high up on the weekly fantasy charts; and in Smith and Anderson's case, they ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively.

But how often can you count on a tight end catching multiple TDs in a game? As you might expect, it's a rarity.

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly

Season

 Fantasy

 

 

 

Name

Year

Week

Recs

Yards

TDs

Recs

Yards

TDs

Rank

FPs

1

Antonio

Gates

2004

12

7

92

2

81

964

13

1

174.4

2

Tony

Gonzalez

2000

12

9

76

2

93

1203

9

1

174.3

3

Tony

Gonzalez

2004

16

11

124

2

102

1258

7

2

167.8

4

Shannon

Sharpe

1996

9

6

99

2

80

1062

10

1

166.2

5

Wesley

Walls

1999

17

4

88

2

63

822

12

1

154.2

6

Tony

Gonzalez

2003

13

4

28

2

71

916

10

1

151.6

7

Tony

Gonzalez

1999

15

6

93

2

76

849

11

2

150.9

8

Shannon

Sharpe

1998

17

6

68

2

64

768

10

1

136.8

9

Jason

Witten

2004

10

9

133

2

87

980

6

3

134.0

10

Wesley

Walls

1996

15

5

35

2

61

713

10

2

131.3

11

Tony

Gonzalez

2001

16

8

78

2

73

917

6

1

127.7

12

Ben

Coates

1995

16

11

83

2

84

915

6

1

127.5

13

Shannon

Sharpe

2003

11

7

101

3

62

770

8

2

125.0

14

Ben

Coates

1996

10

5

135

2

62

682

9

3

122.2

15

Rickey

Dudley

1997

5

5

106

2

48

787

7

3

120.7

16

Todd

Heap

2002

7

4

39

2

68

836

6

1

119.6

17

Tony

Gonzalez

2002

4

7

140

3

63

773

7

2

119.3

18

Alge

Crumpler

2004

11

4

47

2

48

774

6

4

113.4

19

Shannon

Sharpe

2000

10

7

66

2

67

810

5

2

111.0

20

Wesley

Walls

1997

3

3

34

2

58

746

6

4

110.6

21

Keith

Jackson

1996

1

5

76

3

40

505

10

4

110.5

22

Rickey

Dudley

1999

12

4

62

2

39

555

9

3

109.5

23

Freddie

Jones

2000

13

4

47

2

71

766

5

3

106.6

24

Ben

Coates

1998

6

2

13

2

67

668

6

3

102.8

25

Jermaine

Wiggins

2004

6

5

56

2

71

705

4

8

94.5

26

Frank

Wycheck

2000

5

5

42

2

70

636

4

6

87.6

27

Shannon

Sharpe

2002

7

12

214

2

61

686

3

5

86.6

28

Bubba

Franks

2001

15

4

29

2

36

322

9

6

86.2

29

David

Sloan

2001

15

4

32

2

37

409

7

8

82.9

30

Andrew

Glover

1998

16

3

54

2

35

522

5

6

82.2

31

Wesley

Walls

1998

12

6

51

2

49

506

5

7

80.6

32

Troy

Drayton

1997

15

4

62

2

39

558

4

7

79.8

33

Mark

Chmura

1998

14

6

56

2

47

554

4

8

79.4

34

Daniel

Graham

2004

2

2

21

2

30

364

7

9

78.4

35

Chad

Lewis

2001

16

7

74

2

41

422

6

9

78.2

36

Bubba

Franks

2004

5

2

12

2

34

361

7

10

78.1

37

Mark

Chmura

1997

13

5

52

2

38

417

6

8

77.7

38

Brent

Jones

1995

12

4

42

2

60

595

3

10

77.5

39

Tony

McGee

1997

11

2

20

2

34

414

6

9

77.4

40

Frank

Wycheck

1999

17

5

80

2

69

641

2

6

76.1

41

David

LaFleur

1999

1

4

41

2

35

322

7

7

74.2

42

Itula

Mili

2003

8

5

80

2

46

492

4

6

73.2

43

O.J.

Santiago

1998

17

2

65

2

27

428

5

11

72.8

44

Dallas

Clark

2004

10

3

102

2

25

423

5

11

72.3

45

Jamie

Asher

1996

12

5

48

2

42

481

4

7

72.1

46

Christian

Fauria

2002

12

2

10

2

27

253

7

11

67.3

47

Jay

Riemersma

2000

2

4

70

2

31

372

5

9

67.2

48

Tyrone

Davis

1998

12

3

19

2

18

250

7

12

67.0

49

Marcus

Pollard

2004

9

2

29

2

29

309

6

15

66.9

50

Ted

Popson

1996

8

8

116

2

26

301

6

9

66.1

51

Jay

Riemersma

1998

9

2

17

2

25

288

6

13

64.8

52

Irv

Smith

1995

15

7

45

2

45

466

3

14

64.6

53

Jim

Kleinsasser

2003

2

4

29

2

46

401

4

10

64.1

54

Rickey

Dudley

1996

6

4

60

2

34

386

4

12

62.6

55

Anthony

Becht

2001

6

5

35

2

36

321

5

14

62.1

56

Kyle

Brady

1998

7

5

40

2

30

315

5

15

61.5

57

Marcus

Pollard

1999

5

4

64

2

34

374

4

10

61.4

58

Jackie

Harris

2000

4

3

32

2

39

306

5

12

60.6

59

Anthony

Becht

2003

6

3

41

2

40

356

4

13

59.6

60

Rickey

Dudley

2000

17

4

32

2

29

350

4

13

59.0

61

Steve

Heiden

2004

12

7

82

3

28

287

5

16

58.7

62

Roland

Williams

1999

7

5

50

2

25

226

6

13

58.6

63

Keith

Jennings

1995

17

2

14

2

25

217

6

16

57.7

64

Ken

Dilger

1997

16

5

100

3

27

380

3

13

56.0

65

Luther

Broughton

1999

12

3

38

2

26

295

4

15

53.5

66

Troy

Drayton

1998

6

6

30

2

30

334

3

21

51.4

67

Stephen

Alexander

1999

2

5

86

2

29

324

3

16

50.4

68

Brent

Jones

1997

3

5

58

2

29

383

2

18

50.3

69

Mark

Campbell

2004

11

4

37

3

17

203

5

21

50.3

70

Ben

Coates

1999

2

4

34

2

32

370

2

17

49.0

71

Todd

Heap

2004

14

5

76

2

27

303

3

23

48.3

72

Christian

Fauria

2003

2

3

19

2

28

285

2

24

40.5

73

Boo

Williams

2001

10

3

12

2

20

202

3

22

38.2

74

Cameron

Cleeland

2001

5

3

38

2

13

138

4

23

37.8

75

Erron

Kinney

2004

12

6

53

2

25

193

3

31

37.3

76

John

Davis

2002

5

3

33

2

20

193

3

26

37.3

77

Frank

Wycheck

2003

12

5

39

2

17

165

2

34

28.5

78

David

LaFleur

1997

16

3

29

2

18

122

2

35

24.2

79

Dustin

Lyman

2002

13

7

58

2

14

121

2

41

24.1

80

Jeremy

Brigham

2000

17

2

6

2

13

107

2

40

22.7

81

Todd

Yoder

2003

6

4

28

2

7

68

2

46

18.8

 

Average

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

82.5

 

Median

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

74.2

In the last ten years, there have been 81 tight ends who managed to catch at least 2 TD passes in one game during the season. As you might expect, Tony Gonzalez has done it six different seasons, and there are many others who appear multiple times. Of these 81 instances, as you can see their year end fantasy output varies demonstrably. At the top is Antonio Gates who finished last season with 13 TDs, a new NFL record for the position and an astounding 174 fantasy points. But by the same token, Todd Yoder caught 4 catches for 28 yards and 2 TDs during Week 6 of the 2003 season, and ended the year with just 3 more catches for 40 yards, with zero additional TDs.

So are Courtney Anderson and Alex Smith more likely to be Antonio Gates or Todd Yoder this year?...probably somewhere in the middle.

Consider:

  • 24 of 81 (29.6%) finished the season with 100+ fantasy points
  • 31 of 81 (38.2%) finished the season with 80+ fantasy points
  • 45 of 81 (55.6%) finished the season with 70+ fantasy points
  • 58 of 81 (71.6%) finished the season with 60+ fantasy points
  • 23 of 81 (28.4%) finished the season with less than 60 fantasy points

  • Nine of 81 (11.1%) finished as the top ranked (1) fantasy tight end at year end
  • 21 of 81 (25.9%) finished as a top three (3) fantasy tight end at year end
  • 25 of 81 (30.9%) finished as a top five (5) fantasy tight end at year end
  • 47 of 81 (58.0%) finished as a top ten (10) fantasy tight end at year end
  • 68 of 81 (84.0%) finished as a top twenty (20) fantasy tight end at year end
  • 13 of 81 (16.0%) finished outside the top twenty (20) fantasy tight ends

As you can see from this data, if a tight end is involved enough in the offense to catch 2 TDs in a game, they stand a solid chance of finishing the season among the top 10 fantasy tight ends. And you have a better than 80% chance of securing a top 20 fantasy tight end. What that tells you is that picking up either Courtney Anderson or Alex Smith is a low risk/high reward prospect, particularly since you can secure them off waivers and treat them as backups initially.

Both Courtney Anderson and Alex Smith have fundamental risks, however. Alex Smith is a rookie, and even the greatest tight ends of our era (Shannon Sharpe, Tony Gonzalez, Todd Heap) have struggled in their rookie seasons. Jeremy Shockey is an outlier, but nearly all other impact TEs were limited as rookies. That said, we know that HC Jon Gruden loves to throw the ball and Alex Smith comes into the league as a polished receiver out of Stanford. In Anderson, it's a case of whether there are enough targets for him to make a consistent impact. Anderson potentially falls behind Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, Ron Curry, Doug Gabriel and Lamont Jordan in terms of offensive touches. More likely, Anderson will be more targeted than one of the backup WRs, but that still leaves him as the fourth or fifth option, at best.

Concluding Thoughts

While some may look at the Week One performances and think them flukes, history suggests that at least one or two of this quartet are likely to end the year as solid fantasy options, i.e., top 10 players. Whether you put your wavier dollars to work on the oft-targeted options like Wilcox and Baker or focus more on the red zone targets like Anderson and Smith, it's certainly worth pursuing one of them as your second tight end unless you already have two highly regarded players at the position rostered. Personally, I would rank them:

  1. C. Baker (a starter in a TE friendly system)
  2. A. Smith (a rookie and polished receiver playing for Jon Gruden)
  3. C. Anderson (a starter on a potential offensive juggernaut)
  4. D. Wilcox (a backup who becomes quite appealing if Todd Heap gets hurt again)

Have a Great Week!


Notes:
1) All fantasy point production assumes the Footballguys Scoring System:

  • 1 point per 25 yards passing
  • 1 point per 10 yards receiving or rushing
  • 4 points per passing TD
  • 6 points per rushing or receiving TD
  • -1 per interception thrown

2) Special thanks to Doug Drinen for providing the relevant statistical databases

3) Feel free to contact me (wood@footballguys.com) if you wish to discuss this column further or share other ideas for future issues

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