2014 Fantasy Football in Review: Tight End Consistency and Conclusions

What was Rob Gronkowski worth relative to the rest of tight ends this year? Also, the series concludes with some overall takeaways.

Football might be evolving, but fantasy football really hasn't. And that means that we can't overreact to the new paradigm in the NFL. Tight ends are catching more passes, yeah, but are they really consistently worthwhile fantasy assets?

Rob Gronkowski fans will be quick to point out the elite advantage he provides over the rest of the position, a similar argument that just surrounded Jimmy Graham not long ago. But what do tight ends -- even the best ones -- really provide on a weekly basis? That's what we're going to find out.

I've already done this for quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers, and my process was discussed in detail already. And, frankly, the discourse is more interesting for those positions than tight ends, so let's go over the position and then piece together what we learned from this year.

Defining the Process

Again, I compiled weekly gamelogs for every player who finished in the top 24 at tight end in standard scoring, point-per-reception (PPR), and half-PPR leagues (which means I have three different sets of 24 players) this year. I found the standard deviation for each player, and this allowed me to find a confidence interval of scoring that shows us the floor and ceiling of 68% of his games. Also, by dividing a player's fantasy points per game by the standard deviation, I get a nifty coefficient of variance, which acts as a volatility score -- more or less.

Tight Ends

I'm going to do something I did for each of the other three positions already and show you the ceiling for the top 24 guys -- in half-PPR scoring.

Half-PPR68% CI Low68% CI High Half-PPR68% CI Low68% CI High
Rob Gronkowski7.5622.49 Jason Witten3.5713.15
Antonio Gates3.2220.77 Dwayne Allen0.8212.78
Jimmy Graham3.3220.55 Zach Ertz1.7212.62
Julius Thomas-0.3219.31 Jared Cook1.4312.20
Greg Olsen5.3118.04 Owen Daniels0.9311.75
Martellus Bennett4.4817.75 Tim Wright-1.7611.45
Delanie Walker2.2915.94 Jermaine Gresham1.7511.25
Coby Fleener1.6915.75 Charles Clay1.3611.24
Larry Donnell1.1214.64 Scott Chandler1.3610.47
Heath Miller2.2813.92 Niles Paul-0.449.95
Mychal Rivera-0.1213.56 Lance Kendricks0.678.29
Travis Kelce4.1913.38 Andrew Quarless0.997.65

This year, three tight ends had a realistic ceiling of 20 points. The highest floor of any player was, unsurprisingly, Gronkowski at 7.56. Only one other tight end, Greg Olsen, had a floor over five points.

When excising the really volatile guys, 12 running backs had a realistic ceiling of at least 20 points, and 15 had a floor greater than 5 points. 17 receivers had that ceiling, and 19 had a floor greater than 5 points. No matter how you spin it, flexing a tight end this year was a very, very risky (and low-upside) decision.

Top-Flight Tight End or Streamers?

Really, the question boils down to: is Gronkowski worth it? And, yes, he is -- in a lot of ways. He had the best ceiling and floor of any tight end this year, and the rest of the position (aside from Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham) has pretty similar ceilings and floors that decline quite gradually.

Streaming is tricky, but plenty of guys in the above table (even at the bottom of the left column) were undrafted players or late-round picks. If you aren't going with Gronkowski early, then you may as well draft a tight end as late as possible and stream the position, hoping to land a consistent-enough option such as Travis Kelce, who was the second-most consistent tight end in half-PPR scoring.

Daily Fantasy Applications

The low floor -- even for Gronkowski -- means that you should be cautious about putting a lot of your salary into the position in cash games. You can easily get burned by fading Gronkowski in a cash game, but by the numbers, his floor is pretty low relative to other positions, and paying a similar price to a bell-cow running back or high-volume receiver as you pay for Gronkowski is a risky venture.

But in tournaments, paying up for tight ends is the right call because the ceilings at the position drop off dramatically. Sure, saving money on a low-salary guy can pan out if he hits value, but only a few guys offer a big advantage over the rest of the position in a given week.

What It Means for the Position

Well, this year, there was a clear-cut top option, which you didn't need my information to tell you. But if you don't invest an early draft pick on Gronkowski (or Graham and Julius if you believe in a bounce-back year), then there's really no way you can justify taking tight end early in the draft, as the ceilings and floors at the rest of the position were pretty negligible in difference. But in the context of the rest of the positions in fantasy football, even Gronkowski might not be worth it.


I hate to get all Peter Jackson's Return of the King on you, but even though it seemed like credits were about to roll, this one isn't over yet.

If there are two takeaways that I'm most confident in after all of this it's that investing early in drafts on quarterbacks and tight ends isn't really worth it -- but that tight ends are more worthwhile because more quarterbacks had a high floor than did tight ends. Still, the points they provide aren't on par with running backs and receivers, so if you're still clung to the idea that you need a big-name quarterback, hopefully this helped sway you. I'm also confident in saying that top-end backs are more consistent than receivers but that more receivers have a chance at posting useful points than running backs.

Something I didn't divulge into deeply was the difference in scoring systems, which is what I'll do now. Doing so before would have made these articles super long, and that's not cool. But if you've digested the series to this point, then showing you the differences now will be very beneficial and easy to digest.

I'll provide nine charts -- I know that's a lot -- but I will link to most of them so it doesn't look messy. For each scoring system, I'll provide the points per game for the top 24 at each position as well as the lows and highs for each so that you can see them compared. If you don't want to check all of them out, that's cool. I'll summarize after.

In standard scoring leagues, running backs offer better points-per-games, but what about floors and ceilings? Well, consistent with my conclusions before, the top 10 running backs offer better floors and ceilings in half-PPR leagues, and it's the same in standard leagues. Also, tight ends are very top heavy, of course, and that makes having an elite guy (aka Gronkowski) worthwhile -- provided you don't have to start sub-par running backs or receivers as a result of investing heavily in the position.

Half-PPR settings, on which most of my discourse centered, is where things begin to look a little in favor of the receiver position, as averages are up and look better than running backs in the back half of the top-10, but if you recall, the floors and ceilings aren't necessarily in favor of receivers over running backs at the top of the position. Once the running back production drops off, receivers look to be about as viable, but you have to keep in mind bust rates of running backs and of wide receivers. Again, most tight ends are just so fruitless that you can't try to invest heavily in them.

The case for receivers over backs really is strongest, unsurprisingly, in PPR formats, but again, elite backs are very advantageous, based on this year at least.

Again, based on averages, it looks like receivers are better for your team, but you have to keep in mind that investing early in wideouts might leave your backs lacking (based on bust rates). Also, running back has a more drastic drop-off than the gradual one at receiver, and elite backs don't just sprout up out of the ground. That's especially true when looking at floors and ceilings.

Ultimately, quarterbacks and tight ends are replaceable. A significant number of wideouts are producing solid numbers, but the elite crop of running backs are very valuable in standard and half-PPR leagues. You can justify the wide receiver approach in PPR leagues quite easily, but that doesn't solve the problem of finding consistent running backs.