Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz crushed it in 2018.
They posted the 2 largest PPR fantasy-point totals the position has seen since 2013. That year found Jimmy Graham blowing the position away, adding a little more than 40% to the score of #2 Julius Thomas.
Two years before that, it was Rob Gronkowski and Graham running the show, outscoring #3 Aaron Hernandez by 5.3 and 3.0 points per game respectively -- and everyone else by more than 5.0 per contest.
Todd Christensen’s 1983 (92 catches, 1,247 yards and 12 TDs) is the only other season to date that has topped Ertz’s 2018 score.
Of course, each of those other high points in TE scoring preceded immediate scoring dips. In each case, the next year’s top scorer checked in at least 37 PPR points below his predecessor’s score.
So we shouldn’t expect the TE scores to remain so high in 2019 (or most other years), but we have seen an unsurprising rise in TE fantasy points. That makes sense in a league that has seen a steady climb in its overall passing lean.
This graph shows the annual scores for each of the top 12 PPR TEs …
You can see the trend lines for each spot heading upward, in spite of the year-to-year fluctuations. And it’s all volume. This chart shows targets and receptions rising for the top-50 TE group over the same span:
And here are the annual yardage totals:
And the TDs:
While TD rate has remained basically flat (and all over the place year to year):
While the fantasy scores figure to keep heading upward, the age of the top TE performers are heading in the other direction.
The average age of the top 12 PPR scorers at the position last year was 27.4. That marked a full 2-year drop from the average age in 2017. And 2016 also found the top 12 averaging 29.5. Those 2 years followed 3 straight of averages above 28.0.
Graham, Gronk, Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen … they’re running out of time. And the 2017 class led by George Kittle, Evan Engram, O.J. Howard and David Njoku looks ready to step in.
You’ll find all 4 of those youngsters inside the top 10 of our updated TE dynasty rankings, with a bunch of other young pass-catchers from nearby draft classes hanging out around that quartet.
Obviously, holding or obtaining any of these highly ranked young players would be good for your dynasty roster, and we’ll hit on 1 young TE whose strong debut seems to be going underrated. But trading for a highly ranked young player won’t be cheap. So let’s first dig into some lower-cost options with upside.
What are We Looking for?
I referenced Hayden Winks’ recent series for Rotoworld in the WR-updates article. In it, Winks seeks to determine which college stats and/or Scouting Combine measurements portend early NFL success (and which don’t) at each position.
For TEs, Winks determined that the counting stats in the receiving categories correlate most closely. And the collective correlations have been stronger there than have the top results for any of the other offensive positions in his study. He also determined that some Combine measurements have proved more telling at this position than most have at others.
Here are the categories Winks found showing some correlation to early NFL success at TE (with his correlation coefficients in parentheses):
1. College Receiving YD/G (R-squared = 0.14)
2. College Receiving Yards (0.13)
3. College Market Share of Receiving Yards (0.13)
4. College Receptions (0.11)
5. College Rec/G (0.11)
6. College PPR Points Per Game (0.11)
7. College Market Share of Receptions (0.10)
8. NFL Combine Broad Jump (0.08)
9. NFL Combine Cone Drill (0.08)
10. NFL Combine Speed Score (0.07)
11. NFL Combine Freak Score (0.07)
12. NFL Combine 40-Yard Dash (0.07)
I’d encourage you to read the article, especially if you want further insight into his method and results. For our purposes here, though, I’m using these results to help set some parameters for seeking out deep-sleeper potential in recent TE classes. Also note that in Winks’ list above, “college” refers to final-year stats for the player in college.
I compiled the college numbers and relevant Combine results for every TE who participated over the past 3 years -- plus New Orleans’ Dan Arnold and Buffalo’s Jason Croom, because Jared and Kevin singled them out as down-the-list TEs to watch for dynasty purposes. That gives us a pool of 58 players over the past 3 draft classes. And because we’re looking for low-cost, deep-sleeper types here, I skipped over positive results for well-regarded youngsters such as Mike Gesicki.
Here are some cheaper potential buys …