A Review of the 2013 Fantasy Football Season: Tight Ends

This picture of Jared Cook is from his Week 1 matchup against Arizona. It was the only time he mattered in fantasy football.

Over the last month, I’ve analyzed our quarterback, running back and wide receiver preseason picks, comparing them to what actually happened in fantasy football this season.

We nailed some picks. We missed some picks. And we experienced what everyone in the pretend pigskin land experienced: a game full of parity and unpredictability.

We’re right a whole heck of a lot, but we’re also wrong sometimes, too. And this article and this series is to show you where these right and wrong instances occurred.

Today we’ll look at tight ends, a position that’s become more and more controversial in the game of fantasy football. Most leagues start just one, so the need – the demand – for the position is fairly low. However, with studs like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, folks are spending more each year in order to obtain one of the elite players at the position.

Whether you’re a late-round tight end guy or not, it doesn’t really matter – we’re just looking at our picks versus how they played here. Fantasy football strategy and content around it will certainly be on the site throughout the offseason, but not just yet.

For now, let’s see how our tight end picks panned out in 2013.

Preseason Tight End RankProjected FPActual Tight End RankActual FPDifference
1Jimmy Graham161.27Jimmy Graham217.50
2Jason Witten143.37Vernon Davis1615
3Tony Gonzalez138.81Julius Thomas150.8N/A
4Rob Gronkowski119.33Tony Gonzalez135.9-1
5Greg Olsen118.31Jordan Cameron133.7+24
6Owen Daniels105.51Jason Witten133.1-4
7Vernon Davis101.97Charles Clay119.4+25
8Brandon Myers98.05Greg Olsen117.6-3
9Kyle Rudolph94.76Antonio Gates107.2+1
10Antonio Gates89.75Martellus Bennett103.9+4
11Ed Dickson89.47Jared Cook95.1+2
12Jermaine Gresham87.27Delanie Walker93.1+23
13Jared Cook85.15Coby Fleener88.8+23
14Martellus Bennett81.46Brent Celek84.2+6
15Jermichael Finley78.21Rob Gronkowski83.2-11

Note: The numbers above reflect standard, non-PPR scoring. In addition, the “difference” column notes the difference in rank between the actual tight end position and where we, numberFire, had that tight end ranked at the beginning of the season.

Where We Goofed

Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns

Though our initial projections didn’t have Cameron ranking nearly as high as he did, it should be noted that I put together a comprehensive look at Jordan Cameron’s potential in the preseason using our metrics, showing that Cameron, with Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, had a chance to be a top-10 tight end. You can view that article here (there’s proof!).

After starting his season hot as can be, Cameron did cool off quite a bit. He had a ridiculous 33 targets over his first four contests, and at that time, a Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) total that was better than all but four players in the NFL (34.85).

Over his next 12 games though, Cameron saw his Reception NEP increase to 80.46, an gain of 45.61. To put this in perspective, his final 12-game Reception NEP pace was on par with what Hakeem Nicks did throughout the entire 2013 season. You know, Hakeem Nicks – the guy who hasn’t scored since like, 2005.

So while his season looks good (and it was, don’t get me wrong), some of his numbers are weighted pretty heavily towards his awesome start.

Nevertheless, the algorithms missed him, as he finds himself on this list.

Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos

Another guy the predictors didn’t get right was Julius Thomas. But can you really blame them? After getting little hype in the preseason (there was hype among the most addicted fantasy enthusiasts, but casual fans had no idea who Julius Thomas was), Thomas ended the season as the third-best tight end in standard leagues.

Thomas is a perfect example of why you should feel fine about getting excited about waiver wire players after just one performance. While some folks simply thought “regression”, others snagged him off the wire and were able to find a plug-and-play tight end throughout the season. Remember that for 2014.

The Broncos tight end finished with more weekly top 12 performances (TE1 performances) in PPR leagues than every tight end outside of Jimmy Graham, and from a value perspective, is one of the fantasy football MVPs from the 2013 season.

Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins

Matt Grasso, who wrote the numberFire tight end streaming article this season, mentioned Charles Clay plenty of times after seeing his early-season use. Clay was consistent as can be in 2013, notching between six and eight receptions in 11 of his 16 games and finishing with just one fewer top 12 week than Jordan Cameron.

From a Net Expected Points perspective, the Dolphins versatile offensive weapon had the ninth-best Target NEP among all tight ends (a measure of how many points a player adds on all targets), and a Reception NEP that ranked a spot higher.

Where We Looked Smart

Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

A lot of fantasy owners went against Antonio Gates this year, as his 49-reception, 538-yard 2012 campaign was nothing to get excited about. But he was decent in 2013, catching 28 more passes for 334 more yards. Though his touchdowns took a hit, he was much more productive overall thanks to a revitalized Philip Rivers.

Gates was a top-10 tight end in every relevant NEP category, and had as many weekly top-12 contests as the aforementioned Clay. He’ll more than likely decline in production next year due to age and the emergence of Ladarius Green, but it was nice to see Antonio Gates crack the top 10 again at the tight end position in fantasy.

Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams

Our algorithms pegged Jared Cook for 85.15 standard fantasy points this season, and he posted just 10 more. If not for his opening day game against the Cardinals, we may have been spot on.

Cook finished the season with really, really mediocre numbers. He ranked 23rd among all NFL tight ends in Target NEP, and while you may want to blame that on poor quarterback play, you probably shouldn’t – his Reception NEP still ranked 13th.

Unlike Julius Thomas, this is a situation where we shouldn’t overreact over a solid Week 1 performance. And it’s also a good lesson on cumulative data. While his 95.1 standard fantasy points ranked 11th this year at the position, Cook gained over 27% of them in Week 1. No, that’s not a typo – over one quarter of Jared Cook’s production in fantasy this year came during the first week of the season.

Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons

Gonzo capped off his Hall of Fame career with one of his more underrated seasons, thanks mostly to a pathetic Falcons team (defense). He finished second in Reception NEP behind only Jimmy Graham, and third in Target NEP behind Graham and Julius Thomas. It’s an impressive feat for a guy who could be your dad.

We had Gonzalez snagging 138.81 fantasy points at the start of the season, and he ended the year with 135.9 standard tallies. I’d say that’s a win for the numbers.