Fantasy Football: Can New England Support Two Top-12 Tight Ends?
I couldn't help it.
After seeing Martellus Bennett sign with the New England Patriots, my mind immediately began to wonder:
It's a little ludicrous of course, but we've seen stranger things happen in the NFL.
Granted, Martellus Bennett (6' 6", 273 pounds) and Aaron Hernandez (6' 1", 245 pounds) are two quite different players, both in size and style of play. Hernandez was more of a move tight end who was placed all over the formation during his time in New England. Bennett is now on his fourth team after eight seasons in the league and has always been a downfield, seam-splitting tight end.
Can offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels find a way to combine the two big personalities of the Black Unicorn and Gronk and create two top-12 fantasy football tight ends for his offense?
What Does History Tell Us?
Before we get too excited with the hopes of two tight ends finishing in the top-12 on the same team, let's take a quick step back and see if there are any pairs in the top-24 in recent history.
|Team||Year||TE1||TE1 Finish||TE2||TE2 Finish|
|Jaguars||2006||Ernest Wilford||TE14||George Wrighster||TE16|
|Colts||2006||Dallas Clark||TE17||Ben Utecht||TE24|
|Bears||2007||Desmond Clark||TE13||Greg Olsen||TE23|
|Broncos||2008||Tony Scheffler||TE12||Daniel Graham||TE21|
|Dolphins||2008||Anthony Fasano||TE13||David Martin||TE24|
|Saints||2008||Billy Miller||TE16||Jeremy Shockey||TE20|
|Patriots||2010||Rob Gronkowski||TE11||Aaron Hernandez||TE14|
|Patriots||2011||Rob Gronkowski||TE1||Aaron Hernandez||TE3|
|Texans||2011||Owen Daniels||TE16||Joel Dreessen||TE24|
|Panthers||2011||Greg Olsen||TE18||Jeremy Shockey||TE23|
|Patriots||2012||Rob Gronkowski||TE5||Aaron Hernandez||TE19|
|Eagles||2013||Brent Celek||TE20||Zach Ertz||TE23|
|Patriots||2014||Rob Gronkowski||TE1||Tim Wright||TE23|
|Colts||2014||Coby Fleener||TE7||Dwayne Allen||TE19|
|Redskins||2014||Jordan Reed||TE21||Niles Paul||TE22|
|Bears||2015||Martellus Bennett||TE22||Zach Miller||TE23|
Over the last decade, there have been 16 occurrences of two top-24 tight ends on the same team, but only one instance of two finishing inside the top-12.
The sole outlier being 2011's historic campaign between Gronkowski (TE1) and Hernandez (TE3).
That year Gronkowski finished with 90 receptions on 124 targets for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also ran in a score from the two-yard line. It was the highest Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) season we've ever recorded from a tight end dating back to the year 2000. Oh, and Hernandez wasn't too shabby either, picking up 79 receptions on 113 targets for 910 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The odds aren't in Bennett's favor to break the history trend, but never say never, right?
How Has the Offense Changed Since 2011?
During the highly esteemed 2011 campaign, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien had this Patriots offense firing on all cylinders. Not only did they support two top-three tight ends, but also Wes Welker finished the year as the second-highest fantasy scoring wide receiver after averaging 21 PPR points per game.
Between Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Welker, the Patriots utilized a short passing game as an extension of the running game. Completing shorter, highly successful routes allowed them to keep the chains moving and average 32 points per game (third-highest in the league) on their way to the Super Bowl.
After flaming out in his head coaching stint, Josh McDaniels returned to the Patriots in 2012 and has remained their offensive coordinator ever since. While his head coaching start may have been rocky, his return to the Patriots has been successful, maintaining a top offensive unit over the past four years.
Interestingly enough, the numbers in McDaniels' offense seem to be trending back towards O'Brien's short-passing game philosophy. Tom Brady's average Depth of Target (aDOT) per ProFootballFocus has gone down each year, yet the Patriots' passing play percentage continues to remain on the rise, hitting a high note last season.
|Team||Pass Att||Pass aDOT||Passing Play %||Passing Play % Rank|
Whether we want to attribute it to Brady's age, McDaniels' play-calling, or some combination of the two, the numbers are showing a well defined trend towards a heavily-utilized short passing game.
What does it mean for Bennett in 2016?
Projecting the Patriots' 2016 Offense
Former secondary tight ends in New England since Gronkowski arrived have included past successes (Hernandez), former divisional rivals (Scott Chandler), and side projects (Tim Wright). Unfortunately, the results have been wildly erratic.
Here's how New England's top-two tight ends have fared over the past five years, including target market share and PPR point results.
|Year||TE1||Tar MS%||FP/G||Rank||TE2||Tar MS%||FP/G||Rank|
|2015||Rob Gronkowski||19.08%||17.0||2nd||Scott Chandler||6.68%||6.1||37th|
|2014||Rob Gronkowski||22.65%||17.8||1st||Tim Wright||5.75%||7.3||24th|
|2013||Rob Gronkowski||11.38%||17.5||2nd||Michael Hoomanawanui||3.23%||3.2||62nd|
|2012||Rob Gronkowski||12.32%||18.2||1st||Aaron Hernandez||13.10%||13.0||6th|
|2011||Rob Gronkowski||20.26%||20.7||1st||Aaron Hernandez||18.46%||15.5||3rd|
While it seems safe to project the offense to throw short once again, are we positive that Bennett will be main recipient of those targets?
The second tight end hasn't had any semblance of a sizable target market share after the departure of Hernandez. Chandler and Wright were the most successful recent ones, yet neither could carve out a role. Before joining the Patriots, Wright was coming off a 54-catch, 571-yard, 5-touchdown rookie year in Tampa Bay before seeing a big drop down to 26 catches, 259 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Chandler saw nearly the exact same 50-percent reduction across his stats moving from Buffalo to New England.
To make things unclear in 2016, the Patriots added to their receiving corps and will be getting back a healthy running back who was highly successful in the passing game, Dion Lewis.
Chris Hogan was added to a corps of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola that suddenly seems inundated with receivers who excel in underneath routes and are capable of creating quick separation. All three of these receivers ranked in the bottom-15 of aDOT among receivers last year, according to ProFootballFocus.
Not only will Hogan be fighting for targets, but so will one of last year's PPR success stories in Dion Lewis. Lewis emerged last season as a consistent check-down option for Brady and saw big numbers when healthy. In games where he saw at least 10 touches, Lewis garnered 5.8 receptions while averaging 21.2 fantasy points.
Between Gronkowski, Edelman, Lewis, Amendola, Hogan, and Bennett, there are a lot of mouths to feed. Consistent fantasy points via receptions will be hard to find for Bennett as a guy who has only had one season of five-plus receptions per game in his career while owning a wildly inconsistent catch rate.
What About the Red Zone?
What could still make Bennett a useful fantasy asset is a potential role in the red zone.
Over the past four years when Bennett was particularly fantasy-relevant, he averaged 17.5% of his team's target market share. He also saw 19.2% of his team's red zone passing attempts during that time span. Those numbers would've ranked 9th and 11th, respectively, among last year's tight end finishes.
However, Bennett has never been one who is able to capitalize on those touchdown targets. Over the past four years, he's scored five, five, six, and three touchdowns. Bennett played 11 games last season yet had only three weeks finishing as a top-12 tight end. All three of those weeks came when he scored. For a guy who has had so much difficulty scoring over the course of his career, that makes for a tough gamble in 2016.
Bennett will be joining a crowded New England passing attack and possesses a sub-par reception ceiling and touchdown ability over his career. Add in the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo will be starting the first four games and that when Brady returns, he'll be likely facing a regression in his touchdown rate in his age-39 season, and well, the outlook doesn't bode too well for Bennett.
Given everything we've seen, it's hard to project Bennett to finish as a top-12 tight end this season. We saw the Patriots defy history not too long ago, but there are just too many mouths to feed now in an offense that's suddenly flooded with short and intermediate targets.
Outside of a few dart throws in MFL10's where you can just capitalize on the high weeks with their best-ball format, it's hard to recommend Bennett this season for redraft leagues given his current draft price, which is the 13th tight end off the board, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.
A top-12 tight end finish seems highly unlikely, making him a tough target to justify unless his price goes down by draft season.