Time to Target Vance McDonald
Tight End Drafting Strategy
As a whole, the tight end position in 2018 was a dumpster fire for fantasy football. Some team managers were lucky enough to escape the flames if they drafted Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, or George Kittle. Learn from those managers and consider drafting one of these top three tight ends. However, if you miss out on these three, don’t panic. Vance McDonald finished as the TE10 in 2018 and presents with a lot of value as the ninth tight end off the board this season.
Drafting one of the top three tight ends in 2019 can give your team an advantage, but it comes with a steep price tag. The average draft position in 12-man PPR leagues for Kelce is 2.04, 3.01 for Ertz, and 3.06 for Kittle. Drafting a tight end in the first three rounds results in a lack of top tier depth at the running back or wide receiver position. You might be more than willing to use an early round draft pick on a top tight end because you are targeting the highest ceiling at the position. It will be best to be on top of things. You should know there is a massive drop off after Kelce, Ertz, and Kittle are taken.
Vance McDonald’s Opportunity
We have all heard the saying, “Opportunity is king in fantasy.” It’s been said a lot but it is worth repeating because it’s true. In 2018, the Steelers had the second highest pass to run ratio. (67% pass to 33% run) Which created a lot of opportunities for their wide receivers and tight ends. McDonald took advantage of his 71 targets and finished as the TE10 despite having to split time with teammate Jesse James. James played in 16 games and finished the season with 39 targets, two touchdowns, and 423 yards. The graph below shows the weekly finishes for McDonald and James in 2018. James’ production was frustrating for McDonald owners because James regularly siphoned away points, which negatively impacted McDonald’s weekly ceiling.
Luckily, McDonald’s ceiling will not be limited this season because James moved to the Detroit Lions. McDonald’s average PPR scoring increased with the absence of James for certain games over the past two seasons. The total sample size of four games is small but the data does support the conclusion of McDonald benefitting from James’ absence.
In addition to James leaving, Antonio Brown had a dramatic, soap-opera-like exit from the Steelers to the Raiders. This is significant because there are now 206 vacated targets between James and Brown. McDonald has the opportunity to fill a good portion of the target void and greatly benefit from the departure of his teammates.
An increased opportunity for McDonald is very encouraging because he has a history of being an efficient tight end. Efficiency is represented on the graph and table below as the difference between opportunity ranking and final positional ranking. In 2018, McDonald had the twelfth most targets among tight ends but was able to take advantage of those targets. He finished as the tenth best tight end (+2 difference). Tight ends generally take three years to develop in the NFL. Which was the case for McDonald as shown by a difference of -6 in his rookie season and -21 in his second season.
Another important efficiency metric is Receiver Air Conversion Ratio (RACR), which was developed by Josh Hermsmeyer. RACR is calculated by dividing the total receiving yards by total air yards. Hermsmeyer explains, “What’s nice about RACR is that is rolls up catch rate and yards after catch (YAC) into one metric, and it answers the question: ‘At the depth of target a player is targeted the most, how efficient was he?’”
In 2018, McDonald finished with 598 receiving yards, 377 air yards, an aDOT of 5.3 yards, RACR of 1.59, and 387 yards after the catch. (fourth highest YAC among tight ends) McDonald’s RACR of 1.59 was the highest among the top 12 PPR tight ends. For reference, George Kittle had the second highest RACR, 1.43. This information is crucial because it tells us McDonald is targeted on short routes but he makes up for those short targets by being highly efficient. Additionally, he is deadly after the catch and not afraid to stiff arm defenders into oblivion.
Vance McDonald finished as the PPR TE10 in 2018 but did so while splitting time with Jesse James. The Detroit Lions signed James in the offseason and the Oakland Raiders signed Antonio Brown. This should create more opportunities for McDonald. Despite this bump in opportunity, McDonald is still being drafted as the ninth tight end. The combination of opportunity, efficiency, and his current ADP of 7.08 in 12-man PPR leagues results in a lot of value. I do not advocate reaching for McDonald as the fourth or fifth tight end in drafts, but I will gladly take him at his current price in the seventh round.
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