Tim Wright Is Poised to Prove Everyone Wrong Yet Again
Tim Wright isn't being drafted in fantasy football leagues this season. But to be honest, that's alright by him. He's used to it. He's gone undrafted before.
Wright was a wide receiver at Rutgers in 2012, but didn't project to the NFL very well thanks to a lack of quickness and speed needed to get separation at the NFL level. But his former college head coach, Greg Schiano, saw potential in his former recruit, and brought him to Tampa to see if he could make the transition to tight end.
And despite being relatively quiet during training camp and the preseason, the Bucs kept Wright on the roster for the regular season. But Wright still wouldn't see the field, as the tight ends ahead of him were proven veterans and were paid much more than the Rutgers rookie.
But then one tight end got hurt. And then another. And less than a month into the season, Wright vaulted to the top of the depth chart in Tampa. Starting alongside fellow rookie Mike Glennon, Wright quickly became his inexperienced signal caller's best friend, and it led to one of the best performances by a first-year tight end in recent history.
However, Wright's ticket to the NFL, Schiano, is out as Buccaneers coach, and his replacement, Lovie Smith, has hired former Cal coach Jeff Tedford to run his offense. The Bucs also brought in two new tight ends this summer, Brandon Myers and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins. So it seems to most fantasy players as though Wright's 2013 breakout would also be his closing number as a relevant tight end option.
But don't fall into the same trap that many (myself included) fell into last year when evaluating Wright. He's in the business of proving people wrong.
Carving Out a Role
Tight ends were never a big part of the offense at California for Jeff Tedford, but in 2012, he met with Bill Belichick, and his perspective changed. With multi-faceted wide-receiver-turned-tight-end prospect Richard Rodgers under his command, Tedford wanted to pick the brain of the NFL head coach with the most dynamic tight end duo in history, and he claimed to have walked away with valuable knowledge about coaching the position.
Rodgers, like Wright, was a bulked-up receiver who transitioned into being a versatile tight end who presented mismatches over the middle. But Rodgers dealt with injuries and fluctuating levels of fitness during his time under Tedford, and would only spend one relevant year with his head coach before he was fired after the 2012 season.
Fast forward to 2014, and the first thing the Buccaneers did for their new offensive coach was rush into the free agent market and draft and get him a veteran tight end in Myers and a dynamic rookie prospect in Seferian-Jenkins. But it's Wright who represents the closest thing he has to his former understudy in Rodgers.
Should Tedford use anything he learned from the New England coach, he would use the standard "Gronk and Hernandez" model for tight ends. This means one Rob Gronkowski-type of player, who lines up on the line of scrimmage and is a blocker and a receiver, and one Aaron Hernandez-type who can move around the formation and be more versatile and more of a matchup problem for defenses.
Myers is better suited to the Gronkowski role, and while Seferian-Jenkins can do either, his size and blocking ability make him a very intriguing option as the inline tight end. Wright, as a converted wideout, is the perfect fit for the more fluid, moving Hernandez role.
But why should he be given an opportunity ahead of his two teammates? How can he ascend into any kind of fantasy relevance? Let's take a look at the numbers.
The Right Man for the Job
Last season, Tim Wright had the second-most productive campaign by a rookie tight end since 2008, bested only by John Carlson five years earlier. In this case, production refers to our Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which measures the impact a player has on passes that he catches.
But even when considering Wright on a per-target basis, there's plenty to be positive about. Wright finished ahead of Tony Gonzalez and Jordan Cameron in our Reception NEP per target statistic last year, and among tight ends with 50 or more receptions, he finished fourth out of 14 in that particular category.
Both his overall production and per-target efficiency trump the output of Myers, who saw the same amount of targets as Wright, but did decidedly less with them. So even if Myers and Wright are fighting for time at the same position in training camp, our numbers say that Wright should be the victor based on being a more productive and efficient player.
But what about Seferian-Jenkins? The monster of an athlete from Washington was a high second round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and has physical tools that resemble those of the aforementioned Gronkowski. Isn't he the biggest threat to Wright's time on the field, and his production as a fantasy player?
In my research on rookie tight ends in recent seasons, I found that it's difficult to see what predicts a strong rookie season from a tight end apart from opportunity to play, and for the man known as ASJ, that opportunity is clouded at best. The average rookie tight end finished outside of the top 20 in most of our metrics, meaning it would be an uphill battle for Seferian-Jenkins to be more relevant than his sophomore competition in Wright.
Playing With House Money
Despite the fact that Wright is better than Myers and more experienced than Seferian-Jenkins, there are no guarantees that the second-year tight end will see the field and produce on a high level this year. Despite one of the best rookie tight end seasons in NFL history, his role could be reduced simply by not meshing with a new offensive coordinator.
And if he were being taken early in fantasy drafts, as his rookie teammate ASJ is at the moment, that would be serious cause for concern. But he's not, as Wright is barely being drafted at all in even the deepest of fantasy formats so far this summer.
So by stashing Wright at the end of your bench, or having a quick trigger finger to snag him during training camp when the first bit of positive news comes out about him, you're risking nothing to possibly gain a top-10 tight end. Similar to Garrett Graham, who is a move tight end with competition to deal with in camp this fall, Wright has upside far beyond his current draft position.
Rather than hoping for an exception to the rule by taking Seferian-Jenkins early in your fantasy draft, or settling for the mediocre and unimpressive Myers, Tim Wright should be the Tampa Bay tight end you target in your fantasy league this year. He's cheaper, more proven, and has a history of proving everyone wrong.