Tyler Eifert Is Going to Disappoint Fantasy Football Owners in 2016
After playing in just half of the games during his first two professional seasons, Tyler Eifert finally rewarded his truthers last season. The former first-round pick was a dominant fantasy force, catching 13 touchdowns in 13 games in 2015 and finishing sixth in standard fantasy points among tight ends.
In May, I wrote a piece highlighting the massive amount of available targets opening up in the Cincinnati offense and how it benefited A.J. Green from a fantasy perspective. In theory, Eifert should also be in for a boost in his fantasy production, right?
Well, while Eifert is likely in line for an increase in targets from his 5.7 per game mark last year, history suggests that it will be nearly impossible for him to replicate his 2015 touchdown rate.
According to standard scoring, 55.9 percent of Eifert's fantasy points came via receiving touchdowns last season, which was the highest mark in the NFL. Richard Rodgers ranked second with a 47 percent touchdown dependency, while Doug Baldwin, Ted Ginn Jr., Jordan Reed, and Eric Decker were the only others to post a mark above 40 percent.
While scoring touchdowns is hardly a bad thing, they can be hard to rely on from year to year.
It's obvious that it was a bit fluky that 25 percent of Eifert's catches resulted in touchdowns, and a deeper look shows exactly how out of place Eifert's season was.
The table below shows any qualified pass-catcher who posted at least an 18.1 percent touchdown-to-catch rate and 11.5 percent touchdown-to-target rate over the past five seasons. Those parameters were chosen because they were double the average touchdown-to-catch rate (9.07 percent) and touchdown-to-target rate (5.74 percent) of qualified pass-catchers in 2015. Of the 19 outlier seasons, Eifert's 25 percent touchdown-to-catch rate ranked fourth-highest, while his 18.06 percent touchdown-to-target rate ranked third-highest.
While that data makes it clear that his touchdown rate was exceptional, it does nothing to prove that it's not repeatable.
|Name||Season||Catches||Targets||TD||TD Rate - Catches||TD Rate - Targets|
|Julius Thomas, TE||2014||43||60||12||27.91%||20.00%|
|Timothy Wright, TE||2014||26||33||6||23.08%||18.18%|
|Tyler Eifert, TE||2015||52||72||13||25.00%||18.06%|
|Martavis Bryant, WR||2014||26||49||8||30.77%||16.33%|
|Dwayne Allen, TE||2014||29||50||8||27.59%||16.00%|
|Jordy Nelson, WR||2011||68||96||15||22.06%||15.63%|
|Vernon Davis, TE||2013||52||84||13||25.00%||15.48%|
|Tony Scheffler, TE||2011||26||42||6||23.08%||14.29%|
|James Jones, WR||2012||64||98||14||21.88%||14.29%|
|Rob Gronkowski, TE||2012||55||79||11||20.00%||13.92%|
|Rob Gronkowski, TE||2011||90||124||17||18.89%||13.71%|
|Laurent Robinson, WR||2011||54||81||11||20.37%||13.58%|
|Jerricho Cotchery, WR||2013||46||76||10||21.74%||13.16%|
|Santana Moss, WR||2012||41||61||8||19.51%||13.11%|
|James Jones, WR||2011||38||55||7||18.42%||12.73%|
|Terrance Williams, WR||2014||37||64||8||21.62%||12.50%|
|Marvin Jones, WR||2013||51||80||10||19.61%||12.50%|
|Torrey Smith, WR||2014||49||93||11||22.45%||11.83%|
|Dez Bryant, WR||2014||88||138||16||18.18%||11.59%|
Below is each player's stats from the season following their outlier touchdown season, as well as the average stats for the group. It's pretty eye-opening stuff.
|Name||Season||Catches||Targets||TD||TD Rate - Catches||Drop Off||TD Rate - Targets||Drop Off|
|Julius Thomas, TE||2015||46||80||5||10.87%||-17.04%||6.25%||-13.75%|
|Timothy Wright, TE||2015||9||16||2||22.22%||-0.85%||12.50%||-5.68%|
|Tyler Eifert, TE||2016||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Martavis Bryant, WR||2015||50||92||6||12.00%||-18.77%||6.52%||-9.80%|
|Dwayne Allen, TE||2015||16||29||1||6.25%||-21.34%||3.45%||-12.55%|
|Jordy Nelson, WR||2012||49||73||7||14.29%||-7.77%||9.59%||-6.04%|
|Vernon Davis, TE||2014||26||50||2||7.69%||-17.31%||4.00%||-11.48%|
|Tony Scheffler, TE||2012||42||85||1||2.38%||-20.70%||1.18%||-13.11%|
|James Jones, WR||2013||59||93||3||5.08%||-16.79%||3.23%||-11.06%|
|Rob Gronkowski, TE||2013||39||66||4||10.26%||-9.74%||6.06%||-7.86%|
|Rob Gronkowski, TE||2012||55||79||11||20.00%||1.11%||13.92%||0.21%|
|Laurent Robinson, WR||2012||24||43||0||0.00%||-20.37%||0.00%||-13.58%|
|Jerricho Cotchery, WR||2014||48||78||1||2.08%||-19.66%||1.28%||-11.88%|
|Santana Moss, WR||2013||42||79||2||4.76%||-14.75%||2.53%||-10.58%|
|James Jones, WR||2012||64||98||14||21.88%||3.45%||14.29%||1.56%|
|Terrance Williams, WR||2015||52||93||3||5.77%||-15.85%||3.23%||-9.27%|
|Marvin Jones, WR||2015||65||103||4||6.15%||-13.45%||3.88%||-8.62%|
|Torrey Smith, WR||2015||33||62||4||12.12%||-10.33%||6.45%||-5.38%|
|Dez Bryant, WR||2015||31||72||3||9.68%||-8.50%||4.17%||-7.43%|
Of the 19 charted players, 17 saw a significant drop-off in their touchdown production the next season. The only two exceptions -- Rob Gronkowski and James Jones in 2012 -- saw a harsh decline to their touchdown rates in 2013. While the group's average targets per season remained fairly static, their average touchdown total fell off a cliff from 10.7 to 3.6. While some dealt with injuries (Rob Gronkowski, Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson) and others saw less playing time (Tim Wright and Dwayne Allen), touchdown rates aren't based on volume, and the dip in the rates were almost as severe as the 7.1 drop in average touchdowns.
If Eifert's 25 percent touchdown-to-catch rate would have been 12.5 percent lower (the average drop-off), he would have had a 12.5 percent rate, which still would have topped the 9.1 percent mark that the 43 pass-catchers with 100-plus targets last season put up. In the 16 career games prior to last season, his touchdown-to-catch rate was 4.8 percent. To be fair, he's more involved in the offense than he was during that 16-game sample size, but it still offers some perspective as to how inflated his 25 percent mark was.
If he would have had a 12.5 percent touchdown-to-catch rate last season, he would have caught 6.5 touchdowns instead of 13, which would have dropped his standard point total from 135 to 96, ranking him 10th among tight ends.
Along with the touchdown regression that's almost definitely coming, Eifert's fantasy stock took a hit when it was announced that he would undergo offseason ankle surgery and could miss the first couple games of the season. A couple months later, and it appears Eifert is still poised to miss at least a couple games to begin the season.
Any time a player enters a season dealing with an injury, it is concerning. Given Eifert's past injury concerns, though, it's especially troubling that he is missing valuable time during OTAs, training camp, and the preseason with another injury.
Eifert's 2015 season was awesome. I don't mean to take anything away from what he did by calling it a fluke.
However, a look at the past five season clearly show that his unprecedented 13 touchdown season was an outlier performance. And, if history repeats itself, Eifert is bound for regression to his touchdown rate.
Considering the impending touchdown regression, Eifert's hypothetical upside likely isn't as high as most people envision unless he becomes dramatically more involved in the passing game. When you factor in the risk attached to him due to his injury-plagued history, it's hard to justify drafting him, even at his depressed average draft position (65th overall and fourth tight end off the board).
This isn't meant to be a doom and gloom article -- Eifert is a very talented player, and it's quite conceivable that he could have another productive fantasy season. If he's able to come back completely healthy and receive a sizable increase in targets, he could come close to replicating last season's fantasy success, even while experiencing regression to his touchdown rate.
Given the current factors, Eifert appears more likely to disappoint fantasy owners who are investing a sixth-round pick on him, though.