If you only look at traditional stats, Greg Olsen still retains some sleeper value for 2012. With 85 targets, 540 yards, and 5 TDs, it follows that Olsen could fully emerge if Cam Newton takes the predicted step forward as a passer. Unfortunately, the advanced stats tell a different story.
Released by the Saints to make room for Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Shockey played second fiddle to Olsen in Carolina recording only 554 snaps. Used heavily as a blocker, Shockey ran a route only 39% of the time. However, Shockey is a much better player than Olsen, which led to a 28% target rate, just edging his former mentee for highest in the league. As a result, he averaged nearly twice as many yards per route as Olsen (2.16 to 1.19). The Panthers’ tight ends should continue to cancel each other out next season.
The following is a special Advanced Targets look at players you might be considering as your starting tight end in 2012. To do more research on players like Olsen and Shockey, I recommend PFF’s Premium Stats.
Jimmy Graham – The Saints wunderkind led the position in targets and yards per route. He ran routes on 66% of his snaps in 2011, a clear signal that he’s effectively a WR. As the No. 1 target in the NFL’s most prolific passing offense, Graham will be a value at almost any ADP next year. Even though his youth and inexperience hint at even more upside, some amount of regression would appear guaranteed. However, his overall profile insulates him against a 2012 collapse.
Rob Gronkowski – Because he is also an elite blocker, Gronkowski is probably the most valuable TE in NFL history. Gronkowski benefits significantly from the Patriots up-tempo offense, recording 560 routes despite only running a pattern on 50% of his snaps.
Brent Celek – Celek put up 811 yards despite a 44% route rate. 2010 now appears to have been a temporary setback in his emergence as a solid, if unspectacular, TE1.
Aaron Hernandez – If not for the injury that cost him weeks 3 and 4, Hernandez would have finished with more targets than Gronkowski. Starting in Week 5, Hernandez never played in fewer than 75% of the Patriots’ offensive snaps.
Dustin Keller – Among TE1 candidates, only Jimmy Graham was targeted on a higher percentage of his routes than Keller (24%). He was much more efficient than his Jets teammates (1.79 yppr) and would have Dallas Clark upside if New York lands Peyton Manning.
Vernon Davis – His postseason explosion will probably push Davis’ ADP to unrealistic levels next season. The 49ers used him in routes on only 44% of his snaps, effectively capping his otherwise mammoth upside.
Antonio Gates – The Chargers still use Gates as a big WR (60% routes), but his efficiency plummeted in 2011. An 18% target rate helped to explain why he only notched 1.62 yards per route. Gates will be 32 next season, an age at which TE numbers tend to collapse.
Jared Cook – A post-hype candidate next season, Cook rarely blocks (78% routes) but was targeted on a measly 15% of his routes.
Jermichael Finley – A bust in 2011, Finley lost nearly a full yard from his 2009 per route numbers (2.42). Only Lance Kendricks and Dallas Clark dropped a higher percentage of their targets than Finley (17%).
Jermaine Gresham – Gresham needs a seismic shift in usage to become a fantasy starter. Employed as a receiver on 45% of his snaps, Gresham saw only 34 targets more than 10 yards down the field. By comparison, Jimmy Graham received 68 such targets.
Brandon Pettigrew – Pettigrew earns his value on heavy volume, a red flag for 2012. It would be nice to expect a bounce in his per play efficiency, but his pedestrian 1.37 yards per route is in line with his career averages to this point.