Is Owen Daniels a Potential Fantasy Football Draft Day Steal?
Fantasy football is, at its core, a game about maximizing opportunity. The reason elite running backs have so much value isn't necessarily because they're the most talented players on the field, or even the most important players on the field. Rather, it’s the expectation that the top running back on any given team will touch the ball enough times in enough advantageous situations (in the red zone, on the goal line, on all three downs) to give him the most opportunity to score fantasy points.
In fact, talent -- how “good” a guy is on tape -- often takes a back seat to opportunity on the field in fake football. That isn't to say that talent on tape wouldn't necessarily warrant increased opportunity on the field – for instance, we do expect Travis Kelce to see an increased role based on what we know he's capable of doing.
Ultimately, however, what matters is how often a guy gets to touch the ball on the field on game day. And that's where, specifically, a lot of position volatility at the tight end spot comes into play.
The reason a player like Rob Gronkowski is ranked 24 spots ahead of the next tight end on the board isn't just because he's uber talented (though he is). It's because of his opportunity within the New England offense. It's the combination of talent and opportunity that vaults a guy like Gronk into the elite range. And the slept on factor at play here is that his opportunity is not just exceptional, but is also predictable.
Predictability is the main force at work with respect to tight ends. Of the big four fantasy football positions, it's the least predictable week to week thanks to tight ends not seeing the field -- or the ball -- nearly as much as quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs.
That brings me to Owen Daniels. His average draft position this season has left me extremely puzzled -- not just because of consistency, but also because of opportunity. As the freshly-anointed top tight end in Denver, there could be a ton of opportunity there to succeed, especially as a Peyton Manning pass-catcher.
Let's get this out of the way early: Daniels' draft position is all over the place, so you'll have to be careful when drafting in your league. FantasyFootballCalculator.com has Daniels going off the board at 82nd overall, but Yahoo!'s ADP data has him going at 112 and ESPN has him as the 123rd pick.
So, right off the bat, there's a huge level of disconnect between those drafting on various sites. Our projections are even harder on Owen Daniels, as we have him as the 131st ranked player overall.
But let's take a look at why I'm specifically into Daniels this season.
The Peyton Manning Tight Ends
I probably would pay Daniels no mind if he was in basically any other offense in the league. It can't be ignored, however, that Daniels will be catching passes in a Peyton Manning-led offense, and that has proven fruitful in the past for tight ends.
I took a look at our Reception Net Expected Points per target metric, which is our way of measuring how efficient a player is when the ball is thrown in his direction. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
What I wanted to do here is look at how effective Manning made his tight ends -- across his career -- relative to the rest of the league. I only took a look at players with at least 48 targets (three per game) in a season and established where that tight end ranked in terms of Reception NEP per target among those tight ends.
|2000||Ken Dilger (72)||7/20|
|2001||Marcus Pollard (73)||1/20|
|2001||Ken Dilger (54)||20/20|
|2002||Marcus Pollard (68)||16/20|
|2003||Marcus Pollard (57)||1/20|
|2005||Dallas Clark (52)||1/26|
|2006||Dallas Clark (57)||5/24|
|2006||Ben Utecht (52)||19/24|
|2007||Dallas Clark (101)||7/27|
|2008||Dallas Clark (107)||11/28|
|2009||Dallas Clark (132)||6/29|
|2010||Jacob Tamme (93)||6/33|
|2010||Dallas Clark (53)||17/33|
|2012||Jacob Tamme (85)||19/34|
|2012||Joel Dreesen (58)||30/34|
|2013||Julius Thomas (90)||3/30|
|2014||Julius Thomas (62)||1/29|
We can garner a few things from this list, but the big one is that, when Peyton Manning has one tight end as the focus of his targets, those players perform at an exceptionally efficient rate. In 2010 and 2012, with players splitting targets, only Jacob Tamme performed in the top half of players in terms of efficiency. Once Manning focused in on one tight end (i.e. there was only one tight end with at least three targets per game), no such tight end since Marcus Pollard in 2002 was outside of the top half in Reception NEP per target among tight ends.
From here, I wanted to take the players who performed in the top half of efficiency, and see how they ranked in terms of fantasy points per game among all tight ends.
|Year||Player||Fantasy Points Per Game Rank|
What should we take all of this to mean? Well, when Peyton Manning has an efficient tight end (and he does whenever he's looking to drill in on one tight end specifically), that tight end performs no worse than 16th among tight ends on a per game basis in fake pigskin, and more often than not is a top seven tight end per game.
Owen Daniels Numbers
Similarly, I took a look at how Owen Daniels' performed in terms of both efficiency and in fantasy points per game over his career. I looked at all seasons in which Owen Daniels had at least 48 total targets and measured his efficiency, similar to the exercise above.
|Year||Efficiency Rank||Fantasy Points Per Game Rank|
This is a little bit more of a roller coaster ride, though I want to point out that Manning will easily be the best quarterback Owen Daniels has ever played with, and you don't need analytics to draw that conclusion.
While the per game numbers are up and down, the efficiency numbers are pretty consistently in the top half or just outside of that. Pair that with what we know Manning has done with the tight end position, and it's a perfect storm.
All of this being said, Fantasy Football Calculator's ADP may be a little optimistic when it comes to Owen Daniels. But in the low 100s, where you'll have to draft him on ESPN or Yahoo!, Daniels is definitely worth a look. It's unknown as to how much any of the other tight ends in Denver, like Virgil Green, might cut into targets. But if Daniels remains the top target at tight end for Manning, good things could be coming to those who take the chance on the veteran tight end.
How often do you get a discount on a Peyton Manning pass-catcher, after all.