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Tight End: Go Early or Wait? 

Thu Jul 11 4:32pm ET
By JEFF PAUR @jeffpaur
Sr Fantasy Writer

One of the big debates this year is the tight end position. Should you use a second or third round pick on one of the big three or wait until later in the draft to grab a starter? What is the right strategy? We are going to take a closer look at the debate, helping you decide on when to take a tight end in your draft this year.

First off, let’s take a closer look at last season. Travis Kelce led all fantasy tight ends in scoring, averaging 18.54 points per game. He scored more than four points per game than the fourth-ranked tight end (Eric Ebron) and 10 points more than the 10th ranked tight end (Vance McDonald). It was a dominating performance by Kelce.

Zach Ertz wasn’t too far behind Kelce, though. He averaged 17.52 points per game. Again, that is more than three points per game than the fourth ranked tight end and more than nine points than the 10th ranked tight end.

Lastly, George Kilttle was third in tight end scoring, having a breakout season at the position. He averaged 16.17 points per game. His numbers were a little closer to the fourth ranked tight end but still scored more than two points per game than Ebron and more than four points per game than the fifth ranked player (Jared Cook). And Kittle nearly doubled the 10th ranked tight end in scoring on a weekly basis, scoring just fewer than eight points per game more than McDonald. 

 

 ’18 PPR Scoring​  Points per game​  Total Points​
1. Travis Kelce ​ 18.54​  296.60​
2. Zach Ertz​  17.52​   280.30​
3. George Kittle​ 16.17​  258.70​
4. Eric Ebron​ 14.08​  225.20​
5. Jared Cook​  12.10​   193.60​
6. Austin Hooper​ 10.19​   163.00​ 
7. Kyle Rudolph​  9.46​   151.40​
8. Trey Burton​  9.32​    149.10​ 
9. David Njoku​ 8.99​  143.90​
10. Vance McDonald​ 8.44​  135.00​

 

Needless to say, there was a big disparity between the top three tight ends and the rest of the field. It was a very top heavy position, giving all those teams with these players on their roster a big advantage over the rest of the field. In live draft leagues on our site last year, 46 percent of owners of one of the big three tight ends won their league. That is almost half of all the big three owners. And 43 percent of the players that were in the money in those leagues owned one of the big three tight ends. 

 

Player % Owned on Championship Teams​  '18 ADP​
 Zach Ertz​  17.2%​ 35.7​ 
 Travis Kelce​  16.5%​ 27.8​ 
 George Kittle​  16.1%​  138.5​

 

The highest owned tight end on championship teams was Ertz, being owned on 17.2 percent of teams. Kelce was a close second at 16.5 percent. And Kittle was drafted well after both those guys but still finished behind them, being owned by 16.1 percent of championship teams. 

If you wanted Kelce or Ertz last year, you had to use a second or third round pick to get them. Kelce had an ADP of 27.8 and Ertz was at 35.7. Kittle was drafted well after both of them with an ADP of 138.5. It is interesting to note that Kelce and Ertz still finished ahead of Kittle in percentage owned by championship teams despite Kittle being a super value. Going early on Kelce and Ertz still paid off for championship teams that pulled the trigger on those guys in drafts. 

The ADPs of all these guys this year is higher across the board. At the time of this story, Kelce is going first with an ADP of 14.91 and it seems to be rising every day. Ertz has an ADP of 24.70 and Kittle’s ADP is 29.57. So all three are in the same order of ADP this year but it is going to cost you a little more to get them.

If you look at the data, it sure seems acting early on a tight end is a good strategy, especially when you consider nearly half of all champions owned a big three tight end last year. Sure, guys like O.J. Howard and Evan Engram could have breakout years, but can they produce near the numbers of the big three? Probably not. The big three all produced more than a touchdown per game than the 10th ranked tight end.

The big three just get a ton more targets on a weekly basis. Kelce had a 150 targets last year, Ertz had 156 targets, and Kittle came in with 136 targets. There were just two other tight ends in all of football that topped 100 targets. Eric Ebron was the next highest with 110, but that is 26 fewer targets than Kittle. The tight ends after the big three have a lot more to compete with for targets and aren’t the top options in their passing game. This makes the value of the big three so high. The volume of work these guys get put them well ahead of the other options at tight end.

So for us, getting a big three tight end is a good strategy this year - even if it costs you a second or third round pick. These guys put you at a big advantage over the rest of the field. Don’t be afraid to go tight end early. It isn’t a strategy that we have employed in the past but times are changing and you need to adjust.