A Review of the 2014 Fantasy Football Season: Tight Ends

Tight ends in 2014 were far from predictable. How did numberFire's algorithms perform?

2014 was the year of volatility among tight ends.

11 of the 17 weeks held a different fantasy football leader at the position, as the disparity among the position showed itself on a near-weekly basis.

Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener had three weeks (Weeks 11, 13, and 17) leading all tight ends in scoring. The top fantasy gamut ranged from perennial leaders like Rob Gronkowski (Weeks 8 and 9) and Jimmy Graham (Weeks 10 and 12) to lesser-known stars such as Gavin Escobar (Week 7) and Luke Willson (Week 16).

Nearly each week had a different tight end stepping up for their offense, much to the pleasure (or disdain) of redraft, dynasty, and daily fantasy players across the board.

However, the uncertainty that came with these radical changes left many fantasy preseason projections to fluctuation. We at numberFire take pride in our projections, which are based on our algorithms using predicative models, past experiences, and situational variables, so let's take a look at how our projections fared for tight ends in 2014.

Preseason TE RankProjected FPActual TE RankActual FPDifference
1Jimmy Graham182.82Rob Gronkowski184.4+2
2Julius Thomas145.66Antonio Gates154.1+8
3Rob Gronkowski128.62Jimmy Graham144.9-2
4Jordan Cameron126.58Greg Olsen136.8+3
5Vernon Davis126.42Martellus Bennett131.6+3
6Jason Witten126.2Coby Fleener125.4+18
7Greg Olsen115.99Julius Thomas120.9-5
8Martellus Bennett104.4Travis Kelce116.2+39
9Jordan Reed103.74Delanie Walker113+3
10Antonio Gates103.4Jason Witten100.3-4
11Charles Clay98.44Heath Miller94.1+7
12Delanie Walker97.04Larry Donnell90.3+78
13Zach Ertz96.65Dwayne Allen87.5+6
14Dennis Pitta93.42Zach Ertz86.2-1
15Kyle Rudolph92.74Jared Cook81.4+1
16Jared Cook91.08Charles Clay78.5-5
17Brent Celek90.82Owen Daniels76.7+10
18Heath Miller87.27Jermaine Gresham76+11
19Dwayne Allen81.33Mychal Rivera75.4+19
20Ladarius Green78.4Scott Chandler67.7+5

Note: All numbers are based on standard-scoring leagues.

Biggest Hits

Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

The second-year tight end for Philadelphia, Zach Ertz, was predicted to expand his role in Chip Kelly's offense after finally getting a full offseason of practice after Stanford's late academic policy delayed his debut in 2013.

After his first two games of posting 7 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown, Ertz looked well on his way towards becoming a superstar in 2014. While he did nearly double teammate Brent Celek's stats in almost every category, he wasn't the star some anticipated, as he only surpassed 50-plus receiving yards three other times throughout the year.

numberFire's algorithms were able to part with the buzz surrounding Ertz, and had him ranked as the 13th-best tight end in 2014 -- one spot above where he finished. Playing only 50% of the team's offensive snaps (41% in 2013) hampered the ceiling of Ertz, and until he can surpass Celek as a superior blocker, that number may not change drastically in 2015.

Jared Cook, TE, St. Louis Rams

If you were more apt to waiting to pick up a tight end until late in your drafts, Jared Cook may have ended up on a few of your rosters. Cook's boom-or-bust season (predominately bust) finished as the 15th-best tight end this year.

Collecting the same number of targets as Antonio Gates (98 targets), Cook was unable to produce nearly half the amount of fantasy points, as he trailed Gates 154.1 to 81.4. Owner of a catch rate percentage of a measly 53.06%, Cook ranked even lower at 49th of the 56 eligible players with at least ten receptions.

Buoyed by two big games where he posted a total of 32.5 fantasy points (comprising of 40% of his season total), Cook somehow floated his way towards the top of the rankings despite averaging 3.5 fantasy points per game in his remaining 14 games. While Jeff Fisher may have loved his former Tennessee Titan enough to bring him to St. Louis, you can feel confident in letting someone else pick up Jared Cook in 2015.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

It feels a little obvious, but considering there was some hesitancy towards drafting Rob Gronkowski as a top tight end while he was still recovering from his injury, some people shied away from the high price tag entirely. However, for those that paid up for Gronk were handsomely rewarded with 2014's highest scoring tight end. While we had him as a top-three tight end, he surpassed even our expectations by accumulating a stat line of 82 receptions, 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The leader among tight ends in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) and Target NEP, Gronk made history once again as he also finished with the second-highest totals in both of those categories dating back to 2000.

The highest totals? Well, they belong to Gronkowski's own 2011 campaign, where he set multiple tight end records with his absurd 90-reception, 1,327-yard, 17-touchdown line. A slow start to the year couldn't hold Gronkowski back in 2014, and he should enter 2015 as the undisputed top tight end after posting more than 30 fantasy points more than the next closest finisher.

Honorable Mentions: Greg Olsen (ranked 7th, finished 4th), Martellus Bennett (8th, 5th), Delanie Walker (12th, 9th)

Biggest Misses

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

The man affectionately titled "Zeus", Travis Kelce took the league by storm in his second year after spending nearly all of his rookie season on IR. Kelce rose from our preseason ranking of 48th all the way to inside the top ten as the eighth best fantasy tight end in 2014.

Fantasy owners had been clamoring for Kelce to see more time each and every week, as Andy Reid only utilized his most dangerous weapon on 52.7% of the team's offensive snaps in the Chiefs' first nine games. Something finally clicked for Big Red entering Week 11, as he sent Kelce out on 86.7% of the team's offensive snaps the remainder of the season, picking up an additional 1.25 targets per game in the process.

While Kelce's numbers didn't explode in this tale of two halves, he showcased his talent throughout the year picking up the second-best Target NEP and the highest reception Success Rate among all tight ends. Look for Reid to continue using Kelce in this manner in 2015 after Kelce led Kansas City in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.

Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers

The entire San Francisco 49ers offense struggled this year, and tight end Vernon Davis was no exception.

Davis finished the year as the 36th-best tight end, falling incredibly short of our preseason ranking of 7th. Davis finished with the worst Reception NEP of his career after his 26-reception, 245-yard, 2-touchdown performance. His campaign from last year seems like a far distant memory as he was only targeted once in the red zone this year after accruing 21 targets (third-most among tight ends) in 2013.

Vernon Davis was easily the most disappointing top-10 tight end to fall short of his projections.

Larry Donnell, TE, New York Giants

Now let's end on a happy note. The New York Giants entered this year still searching for a replacement since Martellus Bennett's departure. The second-year, 6'6" big man that was undrafted out of Grambling State, Larry Donnell, was almost shooed in as the starter during preseason by necessity. Donnell rose to the occasion, finishing as this year's 12th best fantasy tight end.

While our numbers still don't necessarily vie with Donnell's fantasy performance (Donnell posted the eighth-worst Target NEP score), his production this year was undeniable. Picking up 5.6 fantasy points per game, Donnell was a solid waiver wire pickup, even leading the league in Week 4 among all tight ends.

Honorable Mentions: Jordan Cameron (ranked 4th, finished 24th), Jordan Reed (9th, 30th), Ladarius Green (20th, 53rd)