Do The “Big 3” Tight Ends Belong in the Top 20?
In redraft fantasy football, the tight end position can make or break your season. So much so that leagues are abolishing the tight end in favor of an additional flex due to lack of depth at the position. But who needs depth if you can take one of the top guys? I’m going to tell you exactly why all of the “Big 3” tight ends should be drafted in the top 20 picks of redraft leagues and why you don’t want to miss out on drafting one of these three.
The Tight End position is at its peak
We have never seen this kind of fantasy production at the tight end position in the same season. If you take every tight end since 2000, the 2018 season for the “Big 3” of Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle all rank in the top-12 in PPR formats.
As you can see, the top tight ends in fantasy football right now are dominating. Kittle set the all-time single-season record among tight ends with 1,377 receiving yards, while Ertz broke the single-season reception record with 116 catches. And all Kelce did was outscore both of them in PPR leagues.
No signs of slowing down
Here are the top-15 flex players in terms of targets during the 2018 season.
Shown in the chart, all three of these elite tight ends ranked in the top-15 in targets, and I don’t see that changing in 2019. Ertz ranked sixth with a whopping 156 targets even with a somewhat healthier Alshon Jeffery. I don’t see any player coming in to take targets away from Ertz, not even the talented backup tight end, Dallas Goedert.
Kelce ranked eighth in targets, earning 13 more on the season than the number one overall PPR wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and Sammy Watkins coming back healthier in 2019 isn’t going to change Kelce’s production. Over the 10 games Watkins was healthy, Kelce averaged 9.4 targets per game.
Kittle is the one I’m guessing many are worried about. But there is no reason to be. His 135 targets resulted in 88 receptions for 1,377 yards, which equates to a 15.6 yards per reception average. This is more than 4.5 yards per reception more than both Kelce and Ertz.
And this is without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who played just three games in 2018. With Garoppolo under center, Kittle averaged 6.7 targets per game with a week 2 game against Detroit in which he only scored 4.2 PPR fantasy points dragging that down – a clear outlier of his 2018 season. With Kittle as the clear number one as of now and Garoppolo back in 2019, you can expect Kittle’s production to continue and his touchdown numbers to potentially increase.
“I have to take a top Wide Receiver”
While this is true, if your league still calls for a tight end spot (which it should), you also HAVE to take a tight end. And all three of these tight ends ranked in the top 25 among flex players in 2018.
Let’s compare these three tight ends to wide receivers in terms of total PPR fantasy points in 2018. Kelce ranked as WR9, ahead of Mike Evans and Keenan Allen. Ertz ranked as WR10, while Kittle finished 2018 as WR13 just five points behind Allen. So all three of the top tight ends perform as low-end WR1’s at a position which much less depth.
Now let’s compare two players: JuJu Smith-Schuster and Travis Kelce. The two scored within a point of one another on the season, yet have a tremendously different effect in your lineup.
Two things stick out to me here. Not only does Kelce finish as a top-12 tight end for 13 of the 16 weeks, but he finishes as a top-5 tight end 10 times. Yes, the tight end position has less depth than the wide receiver position. But that’s exactly why you need to take the stud tight ends even earlier in your drafts.
If you’re forced to start a tight end, would you rather have a tight end that will finish in the top-5 at the position more than half of the time or a wide receiver that finishes in the top-12 barely 25 percent of the time? The choice is obvious.
The second thing that sticks out to me here is how often Smith-Schuster finishes outside the top-24 at the wide receiver position. Like I mentioned, there are obviously way more wide receivers than tight ends. But for Smith-Schuster to finish outside the top-24 more than he finishes inside the top-12 is concerning to me. Kelce finished outside the top-12 just three times all season. Take the tight end who will consistently perform at the highest level in the second round and target wide receivers later in the draft.
“I have to take a top Running Back”
Now you may be thinking about running backs and how you have to draft one early. With most top-tier running backs going in the early-mid first round, there aren’t many high quality running back options between picks 15-20. But let’s compare Zach Ertz’ 2018 season to Melvin Gordon’s. Ertz actually outscored Gordon by 10 points on the season, however, Gordon only played in 12 games.
Again, two things stand out to me. Gordon finishes in the top-12 at his position at the same rate Ertz does (75 percent). But Ertz finishes in the top-5 at the tight end position over half of the time, while Gordon only finishes in the top-5 in 33 percent of weeks. While Ertz finishes outside the top-12 more than Gordon according to this chart, it doesn’t account for the four games Gordon missed.
Gordon has only played in all 16 games in a single season. Ertz has played in all 16 games in three of his six seasons. The consistency factor again gives Ertz the edge over Gordon for me. All three of the top tight ends played in all 16 games this season, while only two of the top-6 running backs played in all 16 games. Yet another reason why if I’m choosing between a player like Gordon or even David Johnson, I’m snagging one of the top tight ends in a redraft.
Lastly, as we did with wide receivers, let’s compare these three tight ends to the top running backs in terms of total PPR fantasy points in 2018. Kelce and Ertz both ranked as RB6, while Kittle would have finished 2018 as RB9.
All three of the top tight ends finished in the top-25 in PPR points among flex players in 2018. Two of the three finished as top-10 wide receivers and top-6 running backs, while Kittle finished just outside the top-12 wide receivers and was a top-10 running back.
With the lack of depth at the tight end position, if you are in a league that requires you to start a tight end, targeting one of the top three tight ends within the top-20 picks is beneficial for your fantasy team.
While other members of your league are stuck streaming touchdown dependent tight ends, you can have a distinct advantage in your league by investing a second-round pick in one of these three guys who is performing a level that we have never seen at the position.