When He's Healthy, Tyler Eifert Is a Fantasy Football Value

Heading into a contract year, what can fantasy football owners expect from Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert?

Only five tight ends are being drafted ahead of Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert right now in standard 12-team fantasy football drafts.

They are the star players you'd expect: Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed and Jimmy Graham, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. While some of those names carry a notable injury history -- none more so than Gronkowski and Reed -- they've all proven to be big-time fantasy assets in the past.

Back in July, Eifert told the Cincy media that he was not only completely healthy, but he had been that way for "a couple of months." If true, it's probably the first time he's been able to make that claim during his NFL career. The Bengals picked up Eifert's fifth-year contract option prior to the 2016 season, which means they'll have a decision to make on his future when he hits free agency this upcoming offseason.

Fantasy football owners, meanwhile, have a decision to make right now. If you're paying the sixth-round average draft position (ADP) price for Eifert, what can you expect?

Prior Fantasy Production

Eifert has played in just 37 out of a possible 64 games since the Bengals made him the 21st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. Here's a look at the year-by-year production so far in his career.

Season Games Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Rank (Std) Rank (PPR)
2013 15 60 39 445 2 29th 26th
2014 1 3 3 37 0 - -
2015 13 74 52 615 13 6th 6th
2016 8 47 29 394 5 24th 25th

His career counting stats, as compared to the rest of the league's tight ends from 2013 to 2016, rank him just 26th in total targets (183) and 22nd in yards (1,491). However, his 20 touchdowns over that four-year period are good for an eighth-place tie at the position, and he's found the end zone at least once in 12 of his last 21 games. In 2015, a ridiculous 25% of his receptions went for touchdowns.

Reality Star

Eifert does present something of a complicated sample size because the number of games he's missed due to injury. If we use our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, though, which you can read more about in our glossary, we can see just how efficient Eifert has been when he's been on the field.

The table below shows Eifert's Reception NEP per target from 2013 to 2016 -- not including the 2014 season, in which he played just one game -- and his Reception Success Rate, which is the percentage of his catches that resulted in positive NEP. For proper context, the 2013 figures are compared to all tight ends who saw at least 60 targets that season, while we used 70-plus targets as the benchmark in 2015, and 40-plus targets in 2016.

Season Reception NEP per Target League Average Rank Reception Success Rate Rank
2013 0.50 0.62 19th (of 22) 79.49% 11th
2015 0.98 0.59 7th (of 24) 92.31% 1st
2016 0.88 0.62 3rd (of 35) 100.00% 1st

According to our metrics, Eifert's been a very efficient pass-catcher when on the field, especially after getting past the growing pains of his rookie season.

His presence has also been a comfort to Andy Dalton, as we described in detail earlier this summer. The below table shows how Dalton stacks up against the rest of the league in Passing NEP and Passing NEP per drop back. The ranking seen is based on quarterbacks dropping back at least 500 times per season (in 2015, we lowered that threshold to 400 to account for Dalton missing the final three games of the year).

Season Passing NEP Rank Passing NEP per Drop Back League Avg
2013 54.69 7th (17) 0.09 0.00
2014 24.54 14th (17) 0.05 0.00
2015 140.47 5th (25) 0.35 0.00
2016 90.7 10th (22) 0.15 0.12

A healthy Eifert leads to a productive Dalton, and a productive Dalton leads to a productive Eifert.

Looking Ahead

Our projections have Eifert finishing as the TE4 for 2017, with 58 receptions, 878 yards and 7.30 touchdowns. He also has a very friendly schedule per our schedule adjusted team metrics. After two tough games to start the season against Baltimore and Houston -- who we project as two of the toughest teams for tight ends to face in 2017 -- Cincy has six games against very inviting defenses the remainder of the season.

Even you don't land Eifert in your draft, it's a good idea to monitor his performance in the first two weeks of the year. If he doesn't dominate against the Ravens and Texans, there could be an opportunity to entice his owner with a buy-low trade offer.

He doesn't come without concerns, of course. After all, he's never played a full 16-game season, and check out the list of ailments he's already suffered through as a pro.

Season Injury
2013 Forearm Contusion
2013 Knee Strain
2013 Neck Strain
2014 Elbow Dislocation
2015 Concussion
2015 Knee Strain
2015 Neck Strain
2016 Ankle Ligament Tear
2016 Back Strain
2016 Back Strain

Our projections exist under the assumption Eifert can stay healthy for all 16 games this season.

The Bengals added John Ross in this year's draft to complement Eifert and the great A.J. Green as receiving threats. And while you might point to Eifert's unimpressive 15% target market share in his healthiest season to date (15 games as a rookie in 2013), there should be plenty of volume to go around in the Bengals offense this year.

Eifert will be a valuable commodity in 2017, both for the Bengals and your fantasy team. The most important thing for him will be staying healthy and on the field.