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2020 TE Scoring Review

By Matt Schauf 10:03pm EDT 3/22/21

Few players at any position gave you as big a fantasy boost last season as the top 2 TEs.

Travis Kelce appeared on 19.4% of all league-winning FFPC best-ball rosters for the 2020 season, according to Fantasy Mojo. That ranked 2nd highest among all players.

Darren Waller checked in at 18.95% -- 4th highest among all players. No other TE topped 12.3% in that category, and the next 3 TEs in the rankings all carried ADPs outside the top 9 at the position.

So it’s no surprise that early drafters are chasing not only Kelce and Waller, but also George Kittle for 2021. All 3 of those guys sit among the top 12 overall in .

But is there some recency bias at play here?

Kelce just posted the position’s largest PPR score (312.6 points) since Rob Gronkowski’s 2011 (330.9). Darren Waller’s TE2 tally for 2020 similarly stood out. It was the 3rd-largest point total for a #2 TE over the past 10 years, trailing only Jimmy Graham’s 2011 and Zach Ertz’s 2018.

But just as important to the scoring disparity up top -- and maybe more so -- was the lag in the finishers just behind those top 2.

Robert Tonyan checked in at PPR TE3 for 2020. But his score marked the smallest total for that spot since 2003. The 2nd-lowest TE3 score of the past 10 years still beat Tonyan’s tally by 26.8 -- nearly 2 points per game.

The next 2 spots in last year’s TE rankings also lagged, though not quite so far behind as TE3. And the gaps even out as you move down the rankings. This chart shows the top 6 TE scorers by year over the past 10 seasons, starting with 2011 ...

And here’s another with the top 12 scorers by year over the same span …

You might notice an overall trend downward in total points for the tracked groups. That’s skewed by the high point of 2011, which might have been the highest-scoring TE season of all time. (I don’t have the totals from every fantasy season, but Gronk’s and Graham’s tallies from that year both rank among the top 5 scores at the position since at least 2001.) Each of the next 6 seasons also found at least 1 among Gronkowski and Graham ranking among the position’s top 5.

Breaking it down by ranking spot also reveals some downward trends in point totals most of the way down the ranks. So maybe we’re just looking at the decline of the fantasy TE position?

I don’t think so.

The TE position actually saw a larger share of targets last year than in either of the previous 2 seasons. That coincided with RB target share nudging downward for 2 straight years.

In both cases, the shift of 2020 seems to fit in with normal fluctuations. There’s a chance we’re seeing a lean away from RB targets, which could boost the other positions. Or maybe we’re headed for a 2021 rebound in that category. We’ll save any further dive into that for another time.

Interestingly, we have seen downward movement in total targets for TEs over the past 10 years.

Even within that, though, the past 2 years have seen a rise vs. 2018’s low point. So perhaps we’re in the midst of a rebound.

While we’re waiting to see on that front, you can take comfort in that TEs have gotten more efficient with the opportunities they do get.

Over the past 10 years, the overall catch rate and fantasy points per target at the position have trended upward.

We’ll see where all those trends go in 2021 and beyond. For now, though, let’s shift our focus back to the individual players and see who was (or wasn’t) giving us reliable, top-level scoring week to week in 2020.

Top 2020 Performers

As I did at QB, RB and WR, I started by TE review by lining up all 17 weeks of fantasy scores to find the median for every spot in the rankings. Here are the 3 levels I landed on ...

-- 21.8+, designating a top-2 performance
-- 16+ for top 5
-- 10.8+ for top 12

The 2 largest gaps in the list came between #1 and #2, and #2 and #3 -- with that 2nd margin being the largest. That’s why top 2 emerged as the 1st level.

The next largest gap came between TE5 and TE6, thus the 2nd level here.

Top 2 Weeks

You ready for a shock? Kelce dominated here.

Only he and Waller posted more than 3 performances in this category. And Kelce nearly doubled Waller’s total. The Chiefs TE racked up 21.8+ points in 60% of his contests. Only 3 others reached 20%.

Top 5 Weeks

Jason Garrett proved so awesome in Season 1 as Giants OC that Evan Engram delivered just 1 week of 16+ fantasy points. Dan Arnold, Harrison Bryan, Tyler Kroft and Jordan Reed matched that (all in fewer games played). Dalton Schultz and Tyler Higbee beat it. Much to my chagrin, Mike Gesicki tripled it.

Engram should have some positive TD regression coming his way in 2021, but we’ll get into that elsewhere. For now, he brings up the rear of yet another list that Kelce and Waller lead.

Top 12 Weeks

Only 12 TEs reached top-12 level scoring in at least half of their games last season. Two of them were O.J. Howard and C.J. Uzomah, who played just 4 and 2 total games, respectively. Another was George Kittle, who lost 8 to injury.

So 9 players at the position stayed on the field and reached TE1 level at least half the time. You might feel like Jonnu Smith let you down, but he was 1 of those 9. Jared Cook, too.

Here’s the full list of TEs who posted at least 1 top-12 level week, sorted by the percentage of their appearances in which they reached that level.

Travis Kelce vs. Teams

Let’s wrap this up by looking at total weeks in each category for every team.

Spoiler: Kelce and Waller still led the way.

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