Fading Tyler Eifert Is the Right Move in Fantasy Football

Consistent success from the tight end spot is hard to find. How does Eifert's injury history impact his appeal in early drafts?

Tyler Eifert's NFL career has been a rollercoaster ride. It was only three seasons ago that Eifert went from a question mark in the Cincinnati Bengals offense to a household name in the fantasy community. His breakout campaign in 2015-16 made him one of the premier tight ends in fantasy football, but since peaking atop the hill, that rollercoaster has hit its biggest drop with only 10 appearances in the last 2 seasons.

With a new season upon us and fantasy players looking once more for a proficient tight end in the later rounds, Eifert has emerged as a beam of hope yet again. The idea that the 27-year-old can rekindle the flame again for fantasy owners has drafters selecting him to be their tight end to start the year.

But is it time to move on from Eifert and jump on a different ride, or should you take a chance in hopes that the exciting climb is around the next corner?

Tight End Costs

Tight end is an interesting position because so few are drafted in redraft leagues. On average, only 16 tight ends are being drafted consistently, with Eifert being one of them. However, his cost is still expensive.

According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Eifert has an average draft position (ADP) as the 11th tight end, in the near end of the 10th round in 12-team leagues. He’s gone as high as the 7th round and as low as the 13th in some drafts. Taking Eifert in that range, especially on the higher end, means missing out on some highly talented players at other positions for a guy who, at this point, is a question mark going into the season. Players going after Eifert with his 10th round ADP include running backs Devontae Booker and Duke Johnson, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Marqise Lee, and fellow tight end Jack Doyle.

With remarkable talent like that still on the board, the question that must be asked is whether, from a team-building perspective, it would be more beneficial to wait until the end of the draft for the tight end position and even cheaper sleeper later on? Some tight ends such as Eric Ebron and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, both quality players joining new teams, are going much later in drafts with an equal amount of --if not fewer -- questions as Eifert.

Perhaps taking one of them without missing out on some of the opportunities at other positions might be a better play than investing in Eifert at a higher price tag.

Injuries Galore

A laundry list of injuries have helped Eifert drop to this point in drafts. And it's only getting longer with time.

Missing as many games as he has raises eyebrows most. The word injury-prone is often thrown around in football, and with the wide variety of injuries, it is often misused on players with a string of bad luck injuries. Unfortunately, that isn't the case for Eifert. His recent back problems are consistent and troublesome. His back has been a serious issue since 2016 and is still causing issues. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, stated that he is not a certainty to be ready for training camp in a few weeks, and he missed all of minicamp after potentially suffering a setback during OTAs.

Without any injuries, the entire trajectory of Eifert’s career might be different. The fact that they are still very apparent makes it hard to invest in his ability, particularly at his current cost. But does the talent and opportunity make the risk easier to swallow?

Target Distribution

When I started writing about Eifert, I assumed Dalton’s target distributions would favor his tight end usage. Surely, Dalton slings the ball in the direction of his tight ends more than others do, especially with the lack of secondary weapons around him. It always seems like a second receiver is among the Bengals most debated positions for a lack of quality.

Season Bengals' Team Tight End Targets NFL Rank
2017 83 29
2016 97 25
2015 90 29
2014 89 24
2013 133 11

Using data taken from Fantasy Pros, the above chart tells us otherwise.

Since 2013, Eifert’s first season in the league, the Bengals have utilitzed the tight end far less than the rest of the league. Obviously, with Eifert being injured and the backups not being quite as talented, the number in recent years isn’t too surprising. But even in Eifert’s breakout 2015 season, he still was far from a target hog. He himself was tied for the 20th-most targets that season, with 74.

So the target share for Eifert and Bengals tight ends have not been there historically, especially not in the past five seasons. In leagues that reward a point per reception, getting on board with drafting a tight end from this position seems like questionable decision making.

It isn't for lack of talent that his role doesn't appear larger. Eifert's route running ability and speed are comparable to some of the better talents at tight end throughout the entire league. But the Bengals' receiving corps are not facing many changes from last season, meaning targets are not up for grabs as they tend to be for other teams. With Eifert and last year's quiet first round rookie John Ross both bound to be a much larger part of the offense, what Eifert's target share will be is hard to pinpoint.

The Red Zone Magic

While the Bengals have below average tight end usage, they still have generated two TE1 fantasy performances in the past three seasons. That has a lot to do with the Dalton-led offense favoring their tight end options near the end zone more than most, according to data from NFLSavant. At tight end, where targets are often difficult to project, finding who scores frequently is a big step to finding a difference-maker at the position -- and Bengals tight ends tend to do that.

Last season, Tyler Kroft, a backup for Eifert coming into the season, was the 12th-ranked tight end in red zone targets, after garnering 12 in 16 games. He was able to turn seven of those targets into touchdowns. Previously a nonfactor, Kroft finished as the 11th-best tight end in standard leagues.

The 2016 season was the last one in which Eifert played significant time. But in only eight games, he made quite the impact for the tight end position. He tied for 19th with 10 red zone targets, faring well with half the amount of games played, and was able to convert 5 of those into 6 points. And in 2015, just three seasons ago, Eifert had his breakout campaign, posting the 8th-most red zone targets for a tight end, with 16, and converting them into a league-leading 11 red zone scores. He finished the year with 13 total touchdowns as he showcased his high ceiling.

With this target analysis, we can feel pretty confident that investing in Eifert for 2018 means crossing fingers for the red zone success he and his fellow Bengal tight ends have delivered in the past. This also means that there’s a likelihood of strong week-to-week variance. The lack of usage between the 20s means weeks with end zone success will feel good and weeks where the Bengals opt for other options in that area of the field (or struggle to get there) will show empty returns.

Wait It Out

At his current average draft position, buying the oft-injured Eifert, whose current status seems questionable at best, is risky. With the loads of potential upside in the position that can be found even later in the drafts, it is difficult to justify reaching for him, especially in formats that reward a point per reception.

Fading Eifert seems like the right call at this moment in time.

That said, his draft position is something to monitor. With the recent news that he may miss time in camp, it is very likely that Eifert’s position in drafts will falter as reactionary drafters avoid him at his cost. If that is the case, he could become a value pick, playing at a position that has generated a ton of fantasy success in recent years in a situation that he himself has been incredible in. Depending on how big that tumble may be, he could be an easy pick near the end of drafts.

Overall, taking Eifert as a wait-and-see bench option, and complementing him with an earlier selection at the position, or even a late-round sleeper could be the best play as he tries to battle back into fantasy relevance and get the ride back up and running in 2018.