Using FireFactor to Dominate Your Fantasy Football League: Tight End Edition

Does the edge Rob Gronkowski provides at the position warrant first-round consideration? Let's consult the numbers.

I've worked on a few fantasy football series in my day, and the natural progression of them is typically the same.

I start with breaking down the quarterbacks and introduce the series before moving on to the running backs, then the wide receivers, and finally the tight ends.

That's what I've done with this series about FireFactor, a Value Over Replacement Player method that breaks down how you should value certain positions given that you start different amounts of each position each week. You can customize FireFactor scores by using our draft kit so that it accurately reflects your league settings.

The disappointing thing about structuring a series this way is that the tight end is always the most boring topic to cover, as it remains the least important position in this game we play -- unless you're in some wonky league that starts two or three tight ends per team or something.

Basically, the supply of tight ends is greater than the demand, given that you can only start one -- or two if you can flex one (which is a bad idea given how low the weekly floor tends to be).

One caveat, of course, is the (perceived) advantage that Rob Gronkowski offers you at the position because he's "so much better" than the rest of the position and because "dude, he's Gronk."

But does that really mean he should be considered equal to a top-tier running back or receiver? Is he even more important than those guys?

Let's find out.

FireFactor and Tight Ends

So, here's the thing. It's probably in my best interest to be a little cheeky and evocative like I was with the hypothetical Gronkowski questions, but I really don't want to mislead you by dragging it out too far.

What I mean by that is that I want to reiterate that the tight end is the least valuable position of the big four, and that just doesn't really change even though the tight end has become a more focal point in the current NFL.

I don't just say that -- because I have no real motive to be stubborn with this. I just want to offer sound analysis based on what is apparent in the numbers. (I like to win my leagues, too, so it doesn't do me any good to have a vendetta against tight ends or any particular strategy.)

The fact of the matter is, though, that, according to FireFactor, tight ends just aren't worth a whole heck of a lot.

What's a Tight End Worth?

Not a whole heck of a lot.

Something that I've done with the three other positions in the series is to offer up a bit of a trade value chart that outlines how certain players should be valued relative to other positions. The main thing to keep in mind is that the names aren't what we're looking for. Those names can change. Travis Kelce can be the TE2 this year instead of Jimmy Graham. And nobody will be surprised if Jason Witten and not Greg Olsen ends up as the TE6.

But unless the scoring distribution at each position becomes drastically different than it has been in past years, then these principles remain valid. (That is, unless something crazy happens -- like six tight ends score 300 fantasy points without precedent -- we should feel confident that the results will be pretty similar to what they have been in years past.)

So, based on a 12-team standard (non-PPR) league that starts 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 2 tight ends, and 1 receiver or running back flex, here is how you should value the tight end position.

FireFactor EquivalentFireFactor ScoreQBRBTE
TE 192.24QB 4RB 18WR 11
TE 270.12QB 6RB 26WR 15
TE 346.67QB 8RB 31WR 28
TE 444.27QB 9RB 32WR 28
TE 541.19QB 10RB 32WR 30
TE 637.85QB 11RB 33WR 30
TE 735.41QB 11RB 33WR 31
TE 822.51QB 13RB 38WR 45
TE 921.28QB 14RB 40WR 45
TE 1017.4QB 15RB 42WR 47
TE 1111.88QB 16RB 49WR 51
TE 127.1QB 18RB 51WR 54
TE 135.35QB 19RB 53WR 56
TE 143.43QB 20RB 54WR 57

Oof. So, based on positional scarcity, even a dominant tight end such as Gronk (who's projected to score 47 more points than TE3 Travis Kelce), is worth a mid- or low-tier RB2 and a low-end WR1. But things just go completely awry when we get to Kelce -- or, more accurately, whoever winds up as the third highest-scoring tight end this year.

That player is going to be worth about a flex starter at running back or receiver -- and we're talking about the third-best player at the position. Why is that the case?

Based on the 68-95-99.7 rule, only three tight ends offered a floor higher than 3.00 standard fantasy points last year. Or, in plain English, only three tight ends realistically offered you a three-point floor in 11 of 16 games last year.


Is it any better in PPR formats?

FireFactor EquivalentFireFactor ScoreQBRBTE
TE 1125.53-RB 12WR 12
TE 2102.76QB 2RB 19WR 15
TE 372.41QB 6RB 17WR 27
TE 470.67QB 6RB 27WR 27
TE 560.09QB 7RB 29WR 29
TE 658.55QB 7RB 30WR 31
TE 739.8QB 10RB 35WR 39
TE 831.78QB 12RB 39WR 44
TE 928.28QB 13RB 39WR 47
TE 1017.17QB 15RB 47WR 49
TE 1110.42QB 16RB 50WR 50
TE 127.13QB 18RB 52WR 53
TE 131.91QB 20RB 56WR 58
TE 141.07QB 21RB 57WR 59

A little, but not much. The top-end tight ends see a boost, but after the top three or four tight ends, you don't see much of an advantage at all anywhere.

The question then becomes -- should you consider getting Gronk or Graham or Kelce even if they cost you an early-round pick?

I don't think so, and it branches out into the other positions. I feel like a broken record sometimes, but running backs bust at a super high rate after Round 3 or 4, and the inability to chase running back performances with a high success rate makes waiver wire backs maddening in a weekly format.

If we're talking daily fantasy football, and if there's a bargain running back who's slated for 15 or 18 touches, then it makes a little more sense to select Gronkowski in a good matchup. The problem with drafting him in the first round in a re-draft league is that you pretty much have to find a waiver-wire or late-round back who can see a serious workload or else you're losing the edge Gronk gives you by rostering a weak running back.

I realize I'm digressing, but when the fourth-best option at the position is worth a fringe flex starter (a RB27 or WR27), then I have to fill the space somehow.

Things to Keep in Mind

There's not much else to say without being annoyingly redundant.

I can't (i.e. won't) oversimplify things by saying that you must adhere to FireFactor for your draft process. I also don't want to say that Gronkowski or Graham is worth it because you can definitely find a solid waiver wire back during the season.

As is the case every season, every method -- early running backs, Zero RB, Get-Gronk-or-Get-Out, defense in the sixth round -- is going to work out somewhere, somehow. It's all going to be dependent on making the right choices, which we can't do without hindsight.

Given that, all we can do is have a solid foundation based on what the past tells us to expect and use our player evaluation skills to create the best team possible. If that means drafting Gronkowski and Aaron Rodgers in Rounds 1 and 2 because you know who this year's Justin Forsett is, then all the power to you.

Just know that, according to what the numbers say, running backs and receivers are the most important positions in fantasy football.

How you inherit them and whom you surround them with is up to you.