How Vegas Spreads Affect Fantasy Football Tight End Performance
Finding value at the tight end position can really be a boon to your fantasy football team's success. Values like Jordan Reed and Gary Barnidge led more teams to fantasy football titles in 2015 than any other tight ends, according to ESPN. Reed was on 23.4% of championship teams while Barnidge was on 21.4%. Reed and Barnidge did not even register an average draft position (ADP) before the 2015 season, according to Fantasy Football Calculator.
If you investigate this ESPN list further, you will notice Tyler Eifert, Delanie Walker, and Antonio Gates rounded out the top five tight ends on championship teams. That means the top five tight ends on title-winning teams were not even in the top eight in tight end ADP.
You need to find ways to succeed in streaming tight ends. Playing a tight end versus a weak passing defense is usually smart, but what other data can we use?
We can use data from bookmakers in Las Vegas who set a spread for every NFL game.
In recent weeks, I took a look at how quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers perform when their teams are favored by Vegas. I also examined how they did as underdogs using the Rotoviz Game Splits App, which allows you to break down how a player has performed in specific situations.
For this study, I used statistics from FantasyData.com and was able to scrape results for the top-32 tight ends in PPR scoring from 2015. Next, the results were split by how those 32 performed when they were favorites and then as underdogs, not just for 2015, but over their entire careers.
"The Heathal Weapon" Heath Miller was excluded because he recently retired. In this new pool of 31 tight ends, the favored tight end scored an average of 9.04 fantasy points (based on point-per-reception scoring), while underdogs scored an average of 8.55, a difference of about 0.49 points.
0.49 points may seem like a minuscule difference, but some players have really excelled in these situations, both as a favorite and as an underdog.
For instance, Coby Fleener has averaged two more points per game as a favorite than he has as an underdog. On the contrary, Jordan Reed has averaged 1.16 more points per game as an underdog than he has as a favorite.
The entire list of tight ends is listed below, sorted by the largest discrepancy between favorite and underdog success.
The Names that Alter the Game
Atlanta hip-hop artist Killer Mike made the song Akshon, which is featured on Madden 2004. He begins the song by bragging about being "the name that came to alter the game". Our list above shows plenty of names, but only a few can actually alter your game in a good way. Which players give us the most actionable data?
Julius Thomas jumps off the list at first glance. In his two double-digit touchdowns seasons with the Denver Broncos, Thomas averaged four points more per game as a favorite. However, this comes with a disclaimer as Denver was only an underdog once during that span. Since moving to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thomas has done even better as a favorite, averaging 18.3 points per game in five games. If Jacksonville continues its pass-happy ways in the red zone in 2016, I would recommend targeting Thomas when they are favored.
The New England Patriots are rarely underdogs, but in 11 career games as an underdog, Rob Gronkowski has averaged 20.69 points per game, which is 4.69 points better than his average as a favorite. In the 15 games that Gronk played in last season, the Patriots were favored in all of them. In 2016, the Patriots will likely start without Tom Brady, which should lead to more games as underdogs. Losing Brady could obviously hurt Gronkowski's numbers, but if we look at how the Patriots have played as underdogs, it may not matter who plays at quarterback. According to the Rotoviz Team Splits App, the Patriots have attempted five more plays and three more pass attempts per game as an underdog since Gronkowski entered the league in 2010. We've seen Belichick abandon the run as part of his gameplan in the past, so doing it while his team is likely in catch-up mode shouldn't surprise us.
Through his career, Tyler Eifert has averaged 3.58 more points per game when the Cincinnati Bengals are favored. Eifert truly broke out in 2015 and performed even better as a favorite, averaging 16.64 points per game compared to only 8.37 as an underdog. I am not recommending that you draft Eifert due to his recovery from off-season surgery, but I would not hesitate to target him later in the year when the Bengals are favored.
Even though he is at the bottom of our list, Eric Ebron may be the best value to take advantage of in 2016. Ebron's sitting at last on the list looks surprising at first until you remember that Matthew Stafford has excelled as an underdog. Ebron is entering his third season and is currently being drafted as the 18th tight end off the board. People are sleeping on Ebron, and rightfully so after two underwhelming seasons. But with the loss of Calvin Johnson and Stafford's track record as an underdog, I would highly recommend streaming Ebron when the Detroit Lions are dogs. In fact, the Lions are currently six-point underdogs against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, so be sure to target Ebron while the general public is still sleeping on him.