Gary Barnidge Is an Undervalued Fantasy Football Asset
Every year, it seems like some late-round or undrafted tight end comes out of nowhere to climb the fantasy football ranks.
Gary Barnidge was that tight end last year.
Barnidge had a breakout game in Week 3 against Oakland, tallying 105 yards and a touchdown. He proceeded on a tour de force over the next eight weeks, totaling nearly 600 yards and 6 touchdowns.
From Week 3 to Week 12, Barnidge was the number-one scoring tight end in fantasy football, failing to finish a week in the top 12 at the position in PPR leagues just once (he also had a bye during this span). In that 10-week timeframe, Barnidge had eight weeks where he finished as a top-six tight end.
From a fantasy football perspective, you really couldn't have done better from a consistency standpoint at the tight end position.
Of course, fantasy football would be an easy game if we were drafting in hindsight. The question is whether or not Barnidge's success and consistency last year is sustainable -- was he just a flash in the pan?
The big thing for a tight end is target consistency -- tight ends are a fickle group, and generally targets at that position are highly inconsistent. It's why Rob Gronkowski (and, not long ago, Jimmy Graham) is rendered so valuable in fantasy football -- at a position as inconsistent as tight end, Gronk and Graham each had consistent, predictable roles in their respective offenses. Because fantasy players could count on those guys being factored into his respective team's gameplan each week, they presented a meaningful advantage over other tight ends.
For comparison's sake -- and for purposes of this discussion -- let's look at Barnidge in comparison to the players currently being drafted around him. According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Barnidge is the ninth tight end off the board in standard leagues, with his stock having fallen almost a full round over the last month. Here's a look at the top 10:
|Order Drafted||Round and Pick||Player Name|
As discussed, targets on a consistent basis are going to be a major factor in a tight end's value, simply because they vary so much.
But in 2015, only Delanie Walker had more targets at the tight end position than Gary Barnidge -- both Greg Olsen and Gronkowski trailed in order right behind Barnidge. From an opportunity perspective, there are few tight ends who had a more clear-cut opportunity at targets than Barnidge.
However, it's not just the volume of targets a player receives, but what that player does with the targets. Our signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP) can do just that.
NEP measures how much a player has added or detracted from his team's ability to score. There's more in our glossary about the metric, but suffice to say, we're essentially looking at how well a player performed against expectation.
Here are the same top-10 tight ends, broken down by last season's Reception NEP per target (our measure of efficiency):
|Player||Reception NEP per Target|
So not only did Barnidge see the second-most targets among all tight ends, but among the current top-10 tight ends, he was also the third-most efficient with his targets. While we're not drafting for 2015, Barnidge was nearly twice as efficient as Coby Fleener, who is going a full round ahead of Barnidge currently. And while it's true Fleener is in a new situation, the difference between Barnidge's quarterback situation last year to Fleener's wasn't overly significant: the Browns were barely better throwing the ball, per NEP.
The Red Zone
With this being said, what can also rocket a tight end up fantasy draft boards is his ability and chances to score.
Since targets at tight end are so scarce and come at a premium, a touchdown could represent a seismic shift at the tight end position. According to ProFootballReference.com, Barnidge saw the most red zone targets of any tight end last year with 24. He was able to convert those 24 targets into 8 touchdowns, which represented the third-most touchdowns from the red zone by a tight end, behind only Tyler Eifert and Jordan Reed.
Again, while targets are nice, and while the touchdowns last year were good for Barnidge, scoring can be sporadic from one year to the next.
A better metric to see how efficient he was with his targets in the red zone is Reception NEP. Here's that same list of 10 tight ends, in order of Reception NEP per target for passes in the red zone.
|Player||Reception NEP per Target in Red Zone|
Not only did Barnidge see the most targets of any tight end in the red zone, but he was also the fourth-most efficient of the current top-10 tight ends with those targets. While Eifert's numbers are off the scale, Barnidge's 1.02 puts him in fairly solid company in the middle of that pack, show that, even with a below-average quarterback situation, Barnidge is an efficient pass-catcher both inside and outside the red zone.
A 2016 Repeat?
The fantasy football million dollar question is whether or not Barnidge's performance in 2015 is replicable. We've spoken a lot about how efficient he was last year, and compared to the current crop of projected starting tight ends, he comes out looking good.
Fantasy football, though, would be an easy game if we drafted for the prior year -- we have to project out how Barnidge might perform this year.
There are a few things swinging in Barnidge's direction going into next year. First off, there still isn't a ton of competition for targets in the Browns offense. While the Browns did draft Corey Coleman 15th overall in April's draft, there's little experience competing for looks. While he may not finish top-two in targets at the position, there's no reason to think he'd see a tremendous dip.
Additionally, the Browns' staff has a new head coach in Hue Jackson. Jackson was previously the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, a team that sported one of fantasy's best tight ends last year in Tyler Eifert. While nobody can realistically expect Eifert-like output from Barnidge, Jackson did look to get the tight end involved and put him in positions to succeed. With a lack of competition and a coach that seems at least superficially to value the tight end, it seems like Barnidge could be in position to receive a similar amount of attention from a scheme perspective as Eifert did last year.
But either way, as his draft position continues to tumble, in 10-team leagues, it might not matter if Barnidge's success is sustainable. At the point in drafts where you'd have to take him, most teams will already have a tight end rostered, meaning even if he doesn't pan out, it shouldn't be overly difficult to find replacements on the waiver wire through streaming. And we know his upside: a consistent top-five tight end at an inherently inconsistent position.