Is Larry Donnell Worth an Add in Fantasy Football?

Larry Donnell finished Week 1 ranked second among tight ends in Net Expected Points. Should you add him in fantasy football?

Overreaction is simultaneously one of the best and worst things about fantasy football. For every Week 1 breakout performance, there's a Kevin Ogletree or Frisman Jackson ready to bait owners into using up a ton of their free agent auction budget - or great waiver wire position - for a guy that has, at best, marginal relevance the rest of the season. It's a struggle each and every year playing the "For Real or Frisman" game - I've been burned by it, and I'm sure each and every one of you can think of at least one instance where you have been burned by it.

It's a fact of life in fantasy football that you will make bad predictions, and that you will make adds that amount to nothing. And some guy in your league will make the add that sends him or her cruising into the playoffs.

At times, it definitely feels like a crapshoot, but if we can learn to think with our heads and not our guts (admittedly, a tough thing to do in today's 24/7 news cycle), hopefully we can make rational, though definitely not perfect, decisions.

Giants' tight end Larry Donnell is a guy that will get a lot of attention this week in fantasy circles, and there will be debates as to whether or not Donnell is worth adding in all sorts of formats. The question becomes, how should the savvy fantasy owner (you!) respond and react?

The Quarterback

There was a narrative not long ago that Giants' quarterback Eli Manning loved his tight end. That's not altogether false - Eli has had some extremely relevant tight ends over the years, particularly for those who are streaming the position on a week-to-week basis.

I took a look at the Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target numbers - receiving efficiency on a per target basis - for every tight end since Eli took over the reins full time in 2005. I limited this research to tight ends with at least 32 receptions in a season (at least two per game). I then ranked the Giants' number one tight end (the one with the most receptions) on the basis of Reception NEP per target among that group.

YearPlayerRankingTotal Qualifying Tight Ends
2005Jeremy Shockey622
2006Jeremy Shockey1220
2007Jeremy Shockey1926
2008Kevin Boss727
2009Kevin Boss1024
2010Kevin Boss2132
2011Jake Ballard429
2012Martellus Bennett1732
2013Brandon Myers1929

With the exception of 2007 and 2010, for the most part, Eli Manning has helped produce middle-of-the-pack tight end effectiveness throughout his career. In many cases, such as Jake Ballard in 2011, Kevin Boss in 2008, and Jeremy Shockey in 2005, Eli had an extremely productive tight end on a per-reception basis. At worst, if Donnell continues at this pace and Eli continues to use the tight end as he has throughout his career, you can expect Donnell to be average among higher-volume tight ends.

The Coach

The analysis, however, can't really stop at the personnel on the field. You have to look off the field as well. This is especially true in the Giants' case, as they bring in brand new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo from Green Bay.

McAdoo was the quarterbacks coach over the last two years in Green Bay, but during the previous six years prior, he was the Packers' tight ends coach. I used the same criteria above - tight ends with at least 32 receptions - to rank the Green Bay tight ends against the rest of the league when McAdoo was the tight ends coach. The theory behind this is that McAdoo would have had at least some input into how the tight ends were used as tight ends coach in Green Bay, or at least helped them from an effectiveness standpoint.

I elected not to use numbers for the past two years when McAdoo was quarterbacks coach because I didn't want to unfairly penalize or credit McAdoo for a group of players he was ultimately not directly responsible for.

YearPlayerRankingTotal Qualifying Tight Ends
2006No Qualifying Playern/an/a
2007Donald Lee526
2008Donald Lee1827
2009Jermichael Finley324
2010No Qualifying Playern/an/a
2011Jermichael Finley329

Though McAdoo's tight ends didn't always qualify, when they did, they were exceptional. Donald Lee in 2008 was the only player to fall outside of the top five among effectiveness when it came to tight ends, and the year before he ranked fifth out of 26. What that tells me, just viewing the numbers, is that McAdoo seeks to get a lot out of his tight ends. Granted, Jermichael Finley is more physically gifted than Donnell, but the point remains that McAdoo is familiar with - and gets a lot from - the tight end position when there's some volume going to one guy.

Worth an Add?

We saw Donnell's inclusion pretty immediately in Week 1. Though he wound up catching a touchdown pass, on that same drive, Donnell was targeted in the end zone a separate time as well. Twice in the four plays from goal-to-go distance on that scoring drive, McAdoo called a play for, and Eli Manning threw a ball to, Larry Donnell.

If history teaches us anything, it's that the tight end in Eli's offense is at least marginally effective. Additionally, McAdoo seems to get a lot from the tight ends in his employ. In fact, among tight ends with at least two receptions last week (or players that would qualify on the charts above), Larry Donnell ranked 6th out of 37 in Reception NEP per target and second in Reception NEP, putting him in line with McAdoo's former tight ends.

For now, Donnell isn't a must-add due to general uncertainty and better waiver wire options, but he's definitely a guy you should consider streaming. This is especially true as we get more information about how effective defenses are against the tight end. It's tough to make a recommendation now for the upcoming weeks in terms of streaming, but Donnell should be in the conversation if you're going that route.

Larry Donnell is almost assuredly available in your league, and probably will remain that way unless you have someone extremely desperate at tight end. He's definitely someone you want to keep an eye on.