7 Red Flag Tight Ends to Avoid

Shawn Siegele uses target rate, fantasy points per opportunity, and yards per route to locate red flags at the tight end position.

| 3 years ago

7 Red Flag Tight Ends to Avoid

Vernon DavisThe PFF Draft Guide is on sale now and updated monthly. I penned the Tight End Feature for the publication and recommended landing one of the top players early or waiting until very late. If you don’t like that approach, Pat Thorman has discovered a middle round tandem with difference-making upside.

Sometimes it’s more helpful to locate the landmines than the no-brainer selections. For this piece I’ll delve back into the advanced splits at the position and identify red flag candidates.

Red Flags in the TE1 Tier

Vernon Davis

Davis’ 2013 profile was highly unusual. Targeted almost three yards further down the field than any other full time tight end (14.3 aDOT), Davis also scored on 16% his targets.  As a result, he tied with Jimmy Graham for the lead in fantasy points per opportunity (0.40). Unfortunately, his 401 routes finished last among players in the TE1 tier. It’s unlikely that Davis will see his target numbers rise in 2014 with Michael Crabtree healthy and Stevie Johnson on board. With his TD rate likely to plummet, Davis could easily find himself on the TE1 border this season.

Jordan Cameron

Optimism abounds for Cameron, the default top target in Cleveland. When considering his upside, it’s worth remembering that he led the position with 622 routes last season. His target rate could rise from last year’s 18% and still leave him with fewer targets in Kyle Shanahan’s slow-paced attack. According to Mike Clay’s situational play-calling article, only the Bills, Jets, Rams, and Chargers were more run-heavy than Washington when adjusting for time and score. Cameron could certainly emerge in 2014, but the volume-based reasons for a breakout were already baked into his 2013 numbers.

Jason Witten

Although Witten ran 539 routes in 2013 and was targeted at a 20% rate, his efficiency numbers underwhelmed across the board. Witten’s a much bigger talent than Brandon Pettigrew, but Scott Linehan’s last tight end was not heavily involved in the passing game despite a desperate need for receiving threats around Megatron. Pettigrew was also targeted close to the line of scrimmage with an average depth of target of 6.5 yards. Witten remains an elite blocker and could be used even more in that capacity. Don’t downgrade Witten, but simultaneously don’t expect the “Linehan Effect” to vault him back into the elite range, especially with Gavin Escobar poised to emerge.

Greg Olsen

An annual presence on the red flag list, Olsen has consistently failed to take full advantage of what appears to be a plum opportunity. Only once in his career has he scored more than six touchdowns, and he’s never hit 850 receiving yards. Olsen’s 2013 campaign was solid but undistinguished with 0.24 fantasy points per opportunity and 1.69 yards per route. It’s tempting to say the passing offense will run through him in 2014, but some writers actually consider the Kelvin Benjamin/Jerricho Cotchery tandem to be an upgrade on last year’s receiving group.

Red Flags in the TE2 Tier

Kyle Rudolph

Rudolph is generating the requisite buzz associated with a Norv Turner-coached tight end, but is there anything beyond the narrative? Rudolph never crested 400 yards or scored more than three touchdowns at Notre Dame. After three years in the NFL, he’s never posted a 500-yard season. Rudolph found paydirt nine times in 2012 but finished behind players like Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, and Jeff Cumberland in per route efficiency. I wouldn’t necessarily avoid Rudolph in the double digit rounds, but he’s never demonstrated the type of talent usually associated with a player ready to take the next step.

Tyler Eifert

It’s easy to blame Eifert’s rookie year irrelevancy on a paucity of snaps and targets, but he also struggled when incorporated into the game plan. With touchdowns on only 4 percent of his targets, he ended up averaging less than 0.10 fantasy points per opportunity. Jay Gruden deployed his personnel in bizarre fashion last season, and Eifert should be a primary beneficiary of his departure. The second year player must still demonstrate he’s a true upgrade on Jermaine Gresham in order to be a fantasy factor.

Coby Fleener

If his receiving performance hadn’t been abysmal through two seasons, Fleener would be generating serious breakout buzz. Unfortunately, he ranked No. 29 in yards per route last year, sandwiched between Garrett Graham and Dallas Clark. Although drafted earlier, he was outperformed by rookie teammate Dwayne Allen in 2012. Fleener failed to get open (17% target rate) or score touchdowns (6% of targets) last season and will probably be no better than fifth in the pecking order for targets this season.


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Shawn Siegele is a lead writer for PFF Fantasy and creator of Money in the Banana Stand. He also contributes to RotoViz. You can follow him on twitter @FF_Contrarian.

  • Rubik

    Then who should we draft? Besides Graham and Thomas I only had Cameron and Rudolph as the guys I liked

    • ahoitink

      I would say Pitta.

  • ahoitink

    I don’t really understand the rationale for skepticism about Cameron. Jordan Reed (when on the field) did pretty well for himself under Shanahan, and Cameron is at least as talented. If we can reasonably expect Cameron to put up the numbers Reed would have posted had he been the clear starter from the start and not gotten injured last year, I will be happy to take him even as high as the 4th round. Since Reed had to compete with Garcon for targets, and Cameron will only have to worry about Andrew Hawkins, doesn’t that suggest Cameron will have even more opportunities than Reed had? Or am I missing something?

    • Jack Huber

      You’re missing many things
      Wrong Shanahan, and Garcon will compete with Jackson for catches, not Reed

      • ahoitink

        No, you’re missing many things. Two in particular:
        1) The younger Shanahan was OC in Washington last year, and now running the offense as head coach in Cleveland. I do NOT have the wrong Shanahan.
        2) My point about Garcon was only about last year: Reed was only competing for targets with Garcon—obviously Jackson wasn’t with Washington last year. You aren’t understanding my argument, because it has nothing to do with who Garcon will compete with for targets THIS year. I was comparing Reed’s performance last year to Cameron’s potential performance this year.
        I don’t like to be rude in comment sections, but you need to read a little more closely before you tell me I’m missing “many things”—both of your criticisms of my comment are confused and mistaken.

        • Steeg

          I think the main concern with Cameron is that he already saw so much volume. He might break out further, but he’ll have to up his efficiency and he doesn’t have RGIII throwing to him, he has Hoyer or Manziel. Risky, but not an unreasonable gamble either.

  • Rocky Price

    So if we don’t get Graham or Gronk then just don’t draft a TE at all? Smh