Fantasy Football: How Valuable Can Jack Doyle Be in 2017?

Doyle is now the starting tight end for the Colts. What does this mean for fantasy owners?

Have a look at the top tight ends in fantasy football from last season.

You'll see names like Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham at the top. Scroll down a little more, and there are guys like Jordan Reed, Antonio Gates and Jack Doyle...wait, what?

Yes, Indianapolis’ Jack Doyle, the fourth-year pro out of Western Kentucky, was 13th at the position in both standard and PPR fantasy points last season. He caught 59 passes on 75 targets for 584 yards and 5 touchdowns. In terms of Net Expected Points (NEP) on all targets, he ranked 17th at the position.

He turned out to be a dependable target for Andrew Luck, who was sorely in need of them. Doyle caught 78.7% of the passes thrown his way, which was best in the league among tight ends and 14th among all players in the league.

Thanks at least in part to injuries, the Colts were tied for the seventh-highest drop rate in the league, with 25 out of their 573 targets falling through their hands (a 4.4% rate). Fellow tight end Dwayne Allen, who was signed to a large contract before the season, didn't help here, dropping 5.8% of the 35 passes thrown his way.

After a promising start to his career, Allen has struggled with consistency and was traded to New England this offseason. The move was preceded by the Colts signing Doyle to a three-year, $19 million extension.

This leaves him as the Colts’ starting tight end, so what can Indianapolis fans and fantasy owners expect?

All Short Targets, All the Time

If you’re looking for a speedster who is going to make plays down the field, Doyle is certainly not your guy.

He ranked 23rd among the 32 tight ends that qualified for the league leaderboard in terms of yards per reception with 9.9; the league average among this group was 10.9, which was itself below the league average across positions of 11.4.

This was hardly a product of the Colts' offense either, as Indianapolis was tied for fifth in yards per completion with 12.1. Allen ranked 11th at the position with an 11.6 yard-per-catch average.

Of Doyle's 75 targets, 68 were marked as “short” by Pro Football Reference, and this partially explains the high catch rate -- the league completed 69.2% of its “short” targets (and short passes are defined as throws that traveled fewer than 15 yards in the air).

While the shortness of his targets limits Doyle’s explosiveness and possibly his upside, he certainly made the most of these passes, and they helped him be one of the more consistent tight ends in fantasy football. They set a solid floor for Doyle, as he had nine games with at least with four receptions; only five tight ends had more.

He caught 55 of these 68 short targets for 502 yards, giving him an 80.9% catch rate and 7.4 yards per target average, which were both well above the league average. On short passes, the league averaged 6.3 yards per play, and on all passes, the yards-per-pass average was 7.2.

Out of the 185 players who caught at least 20 short passes, Doyle ranked 30th in yards per target (putting him in the 84th percentile), and he was 9th among tight ends.

This was not empty yardage, either. Doyle also averaged 0.41 first downs per short target (36th among this group), which was above the average of 0.35.

On all passes thrown Doyle’s way, he gained positive NEP on 65.3% on them. Only Zach Miller had a higher successful reception per target rate among qualifying tight ends. Looking at just receptions, 49 of his 59 catches yielded positive NEP, giving him an 83.1% success rate (the league average for tight ends was 81.5%).

Because of his route profile, there was very little explosiveness from Doyle. The successful plays were frequent but rarely got more than what was needed. He was 28th in terms of Reception NEP per reception, dragging his rank in Reception NEP per target down to 18th.

Still, ranking around the middle of his position was a pleasant surprise for a player who had just 209 receiving yards in his first three seasons.

Looking Ahead

On a per-target basis, Allen was more efficient than Doyle in 2016. The problem for Allen was that he was rarely targeted, suggesting he struggled to get open down the field. Allen was targeted 3.7 times per game, compared to 4.7 targets per game for Doyle.

In the two games Doyle played without Allen in 2016, when the latter was out with an injury, his route profile did not actually change much, as 12 of his 13 targets were classified as short. He performed well regardless, catching 11 of these passes for for 114 yards, a touchdown, and 6 first downs (84.6% catch rate, 8.8 yards per target).

Looking ahead to 2017, Doyle could form a nice tandem with Erik Swoope, who is now the team's number-two tight end. With Doyle taking care of business as a possession receiver, Swoope could be a guy who can stretch defenses in two-tight-end sets (he caught 15 passes on 22 targets and averaged 19.8 yards per catch).

Still, Doyle is the undisputed number-one option for the Colts, meaning one of the league’s more consistent fantasy players will see even more targets this season.