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Fantasy Football: Travis Kelce and Opportunity Supremacy

C.D. Carter

C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.

Examining fantasy football’s most efficient tight ends, it turns out, is an exercise in slamming one’s head against the nearest brick wall. These efficiency all-stars show what they can do with limited opportunity, though it often doesn’t matter much to their coaches.

Opportunity reigns supreme. Efficiency is but its subject.

It was last February when we sifted through tight ends who had done a lot with a little, with the goal of spotting a tight end or three who could go from spotty fantasy producers to top-end scorers. Ladarius Green, Zach Ertz, and Jordan Reed were the stars of that breakdown, and with a year of hindsight, we have another lesson in opportunity being an unshakeable — and infuriatingly frustrating — pillar of fake football production.

We XN Sports fantasy writers have long used fantasy points per route run (FPPRR) as a measure of efficiency, as point-per-target measurements have proven fluky and unreliable, while point per snap analysis gives us no clarity on tight ends (and running backs) who are asked to block more often than their peers.

Below is a look at fantasy’s most efficient tight ends of 2014, with notes on these players below.

 

Player Pass routes per game Targets FPPRR
Travis Kelce  23.6 83 .48
Antonio Gates  32.8 98 .42
Greg Olsen  33.5 121 .42
Dwayne Allen  23.3 47 .42
Ladarius Green  12.2 23 .40
Martellus Bennett  34.6 125 .39
Coby Fleener  29.7 86 .38
Zach Ertz  24.8 58 .37

 

  •  Just when we think we know something about something — namely, that Gates is an inefficient producer — we’re proven terribly wrong. Gates’ per-route production in 2014 was on par with Jimmy Graham’s FPPRR, though Graham’s disastrous late-season stretch squelched his per-route numbers. Gates posted an FPPRR of .34 in 2013, along with an abysmal .28 FPPRR in 2012. Gates, even in his prime, wasn’t all that efficient, as he scored a decent .38 FPPRR in 2008. Touchdowns help, as we know, and Gates notched 12 touchdowns in 2014, or more than he had in the previous two seasons combined. Gates’ catch rate and routes per game stayed pretty much the same in 2014, meaning it was the red zone success that made the old man one of fantasy’s most efficient tight ends. Actionable advice on Gates might be to remember that his touchdown total is an outlier stat, and to let someone else draft him with an eye on his elite 2014 production.

 

  • Kelce, until the final month and a half of 2014 that saw his routes increase, was the most efficient tight end in fantasy and it wasn’t all that close. He ended up nowhere near Gronkowski, who posted an unholy .60 FPPRR, which is almost exactly what he posted in his miraculous 2011 campaign. There were early season games that saw Kelce used as a part-time player in an offense devoid of difference-making skill position players not named Jamaal Charles. Thankfully, that changed in much of the season’s second half. We’ll have to hope that Alex Smith’s love of the tight end position and the scatter shot success of tight ends in Andy Reid’s offense will create more opportunity for the Gronkian Kansas City tight end in 2015. Kelce, from a fantasy standpoint, basically fell out of bed in 2014 and finished as TE6. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

  • Ertz gets our Welp Award here. His routes per game jumped by 8.2 from 2013 to 2014, he played 16 games in a high-scoring offense, and he was barely a borderline fantasy option as he saw a meager 3.6 targets per week. Perhaps that’s plainly and simply the role of a tight end in Chip Kelly’s offense, and no amount of wishing can turn Ertz into a guy who sees 8-10 targets and 25-30 routes a game. Tight ends, in our FPPRR research, can’t really be relied upon as safe fantasy plays unless and until they’re running somewhere around 30 routes.

 

  • I’m more than a little surprised that Bennett made this list. I thought, anecdotally, that being Jay Cutler’s safety valve in an offense that often had two quarters of garbage time would have led to something slightly less efficient. But here’s Bennett, a top-5 tight end in 2014 with ridiculous target volume thanks in large part of Brandon Marshall’s lost season. Bennett’s six touchdowns is more than repeatable, though his 125 targets certainly is not. Chicago’s tight end saw more targets from the slot than any tight end in 2014, and he wasn’t too shabby: Bennett nabbed 46 catches for 500 yards and a score on 66 targets when taking off from the slot position, per Pro Football Focus. His role remains to be seen in the post-Trestman era. It’ll be good to remember that while Bennett’s FPPRR is encouraging, he might never see anything close to his 2014 opportunity. Thirty-four routes is downright silly for a tight end.

 

  • Green, over the past three seasons, has a hefty FPPRR of .47. That’s thanks in large part to his silly .60 FPPRR in 2013, when he ran just a dozen pass routes per game. In his (very) limited opportunities as a route-running tight end, Green has been as efficient as anyone not named Gronk. I think Green’s track record of FPPRR efficiency is a good sign for Ladarius truthers as they wait for Gates to hang up the cleats.