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Fantasy Football Streaming Tight Ends: Targets, Routes & Opportunity

Tight ends today have far greater opportunity to rack up fantasy points than they did a decade ago, but what about more recent seasons?

Fantasy Football. Martellus Bennett
Fantasy Football. Martellus Bennett

Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett. Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

All we can do sometimes, as perpetually scheming fantasy footballers, is hope our players capitalize on the opportunities we project them to have.

Part of our weekly lineup calculus centers on finding players — sometimes from the waiver wire — who are seeing a reasonable amount of opportunities to score fantasy points. It’s when we take advantage of opportunity spikes that we exploit inefficiencies and secure a decided edge on the opposition.

That’s what I’ve done here.

After taking a look at the most tight end-friendly defenses of 2013, along with the record number of tight ends who posted at least one top-12 stat line during the season that was, I broke down the average opportunity — pass routes and targets — of what we’d call tight end streaming options.

Perhaps it’s this analysis that gives us the best understanding of how viable tight end streaming is in fantasy football. Tight ends today have far greater opportunity to rack up fantasy points than they did a decade ago, but what about more recent seasons?

Have tight end targets and pass routes continued their rise? Have we seen a plateau? Let’s start with targets, broken down per season and per contest for tight ends who finished 12-24 in fantasy scoring.

Season Targets per season (TE 12-24) Targets per game (TE12-24)
2013 70 4.3
2012 77.4 4.8
2011 75.8 4.7
2010 65.3 4.1
2009 61.4 3.8
2008 62 3.9

 

I was more than a little dismayed, as a streaming advocate, to see such a precipitous drop in targets from 2012. I didn’t expect to see a sharp rise by any means, but the 2013 numbers didn’t even approach 2011’s target rate for TE2s. It’s a disturbing trend that should be monitored in our big picture look at tight end fantasy football strategy.

A decrease of half a target per game may not seem entirely significant. Considering the relative dearth of opportunities among waiver wire plays, however, that half a target looms large over the course of a season.

Targets often go hand in hand with pass routes — a point of emphasis over the 2013 season and XN Sports fantasy scribe Rich Hribar joined me in analyzing tight end and running back fantasy points per route run (FPPRR), a stat made possible by Pro Football Focus’ data.

Here’s how route running among likely tight end streamers — that TE12-24 range — has trended over the past couple seasons, and how those numbers compare to the bygone era of 2008.

Season Pass routes per season (TE 12-24) Pass routes per game (TE12-24)
2013 396.6 24.7
2012 406.3 25.3
2008 348 21.7

 

This doesn’t mark a sharp decline, by any means, but rather a plateau, Likely tight end streamers ran about .5 pass routes less in 2013 when compared to 2012. This doesn’t worry me too much, as it’s nice to see the jump from the dark days of 2008 — when waiver wire tight ends were barely cracking the 20-route mark — has continued.

I’ll concede that I’m not as bullish on tight end streaming this winter as I was last winter when I first looked at the remarkable opportunity spike among tight ends who would likely be found on your local waiver wire.

The 2012 numbers were so very encouraging, even when put side by side with the 2011 and 2010 seasons. I suppose these sort of opportunity spikes can’t continue unabated, and that there will be ebbs and flows in how certain positions are used in fantasy football. Still, I’m disappointed.

The route running data doesn’t cause me any concern. It’s the target totals that I find potentially disturbing, and since we won’t have another yearly analysis of tight end targets until after the 2014 season, there’s no way to tell if we’ve already seen the pinnacle in tight end usage.

Hopefully, for those of us who use the waiver wire as our extended bench, the 2013 target numbers are a blip, not a trend.

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