Fantasy: Turning Tight End snap distribution data into handcuff rankings

| April 6, 2011

Today, I’ll be studying tight end snap-by-location data from 2010. This will allow us to compare tight ends who spend their snaps lined up at tight end with those who are often split out wide. Although there isn’t a strong overall correlation between fantasy production and snaps spent out wide, we can still use this data to find the tight ends being heavily used as potential targets in the receiving game. These players should be targeted as potential breakout tight ends in 2011.

Additionally, I’ve provided 31-team-deep* rankings of the top tight end handcuffs.

*Arizona has only 1 tight end on the roster at this time

The cutoff for this article was 150 snaps at a tight end position, including those in which the player was split wide. The sample size worked out to 83 tight ends.

Evan Moore – Browns

The chart down below shows the tight ends who lead the league in % of snaps split out wide. Moore is so far ahead of the field that it’s hard for me to call him a tight end with a straight face. A whopping 87% of his 193 snaps in 2010 were spent as a wide receiver. Clearly, the Browns are utilizing Moore as a wide receiver, which isn’t shocking when you consider their porous situation at wide receiver. Unless the Browns add an impact receiver or Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, and/or Carlton Mitchell emerge, Moore should again be in for plenty of slot work in 2011. His main roadblock from fantasy relevance, however, is the team’s top tight end Ben Watson, who handles near 20% of the team’s targets. Considering his massive upside should Watson miss any game action, Moore is worth a look as a reserve tight end in deeper leagues.

Jimmy Graham – Saints

The next closest to Moore is the Saints new #1 option at the position, Jimmy Graham. Entering his second season, Graham will take over for recently-cut Jeremy Shockey and is expected to share tight end duties with David Thomas. Despite not playing much early in 2010, Graham racked up 254 snaps on the season, 137 (58%) of which were spent split out wide. Even more interesting is his split across the 4 “wide receiver zones”. Graham was split wide 30 times, slot left 36 times, slot right 30 times, and wide right 36 times. Clearly, the Saints like to move him around and give him opportunities to catch the ball. He’s a no-brainer TE1 in 2011.

Jared Cook – Titans

Another emerging, young tight end comes to us from Tennessee. With 2010 starter Bo Scaife already out the door, Cook is expected to take over as the #1 in 2011. Cook handled 254 snaps in 2010, 146 (57%) of which were split out wide. Like Jimmy Graham, Cook played a ton of snaps while split wide. Unlike Graham, he stayed mostly in the slot. Of those 146 snaps, 123 came in the slot. The Titans may not move him around quite as much, but he still has found a home as a receiving tight end. The Titans offense could hurt Cook’s fantasy potential in 2011, especially if they don’t find a serviceable quarterback, but he remains one of the top breakout candidates at the position thanks to his increased involvement in the offense.

Rk Player Tm Total Wide In-Line RB OL
1 Evan Moore CLV 193 87% 12% 1% 0%
2 Jimmy Graham NO 237 58% 40% 2% 0%
3 Jared Cook TEN 254 57% 39% 4% 0%
4 Aaron Hernandez NE 514 57% 38% 5% 0%
5 Antonio Gates SD 558 55% 43% 0% 1%
6 Tony Scheffler DET 417 49% 49% 2% 0%
7 Travis Beckum NYG 276 43% 55% 1% 0%
8 Tony Gonzalez ATL 1088 43% 55% 1% 1%
9 Kellen Winslow TB 739 43% 57% 0% 0%
10 Dante Rosario CAR 661 40% 43% 17% 0%
11 Vernon Davis SF 943 40% 59% 1% 0%
12 Delanie Walker SF 389 40% 52% 8% 0%
13 Jermichael Finley GB 212 38% 60% 2% 0%
14 Cameron Morrah SEA 240 35% 64% 1% 0%
15 Zach Miller JAX 301 34% 53% 13% 0%
16 Jeremy Shockey NO 566 34% 64% 1% 1%
17 Todd Heap BLT 850 33% 57% 5% 5%
18 Greg Olsen CHI 953 30% 50% 21% 0%
19 Dustin Keller NYJ 1009 29% 68% 2% 1%
20 Dallas Clark IND 434 29% 71% 1% 0%
21 James Casey HST 160 29% 70% 1% 0%
22 Jacob Tamme IND 618 26% 72% 2% 0%
23 Tony Moeaki KC 970 26% 70% 4% 0%
24 Daniel Fells SL 676 25% 69% 5% 1%
25 Dave Thomas NO 605 25% 52% 23% 0%
26 Andrew Quarless GB 518 23% 67% 11% 0%
27 John Carlson SEA 851 22% 70% 7% 0%
28 Bo Scaife TEN 559 22% 63% 14% 0%
29 Chris Cooley WAS 1023 21% 75% 4% 0%
30 Gary Barnidge CAR 221 20% 78% 2% 0%
31 Rob Gronkowski NE 872 19% 79% 1% 0%
32 Ben Patrick ARZ 254 19% 72% 9% 0%
33 Visanthe Shiancoe MIN 731 19% 81% 0% 0%
34 Ben Watson CLV 932 19% 81% 0% 0%
35 Martellus Bennett DAL 494 18% 79% 2% 1%
36 Brent Celek PHI 934 17% 82% 1% 0%
37 Marcedes Lewis JAX 928 17% 81% 1% 1%
38 Clay Harbor PHI 196 15% 79% 6% 0%
39 Anthony Fasano MIA 894 15% 82% 3% 1%
40 Randy McMichael SD 681 14% 74% 10% 1%
41 Heath Miller PIT 1032 14% 78% 9% 0%
42 Zach J. Miller OAK 981 14% 79% 3% 5%
43 Owen Daniels HST 555 14% 85% 2% 0%
44 Jason Witten DAL 1077 13% 77% 8% 1%
45 Jim Dray ARZ 191 13% 82% 5% 1%
46 Jonathan Stupar BUF 285 13% 82% 5% 0%
47 Dan Gronkowski DEN 303 13% 73% 14% 0%
48 Kevin Boss NYG 931 13% 86% 1% 1%
49 Brandon Myers OAK 215 13% 78% 5% 5%
50 Justin Peelle ATL 432 11% 86% 2% 1%
51 Ed Dickson BLT 458 11% 83% 4% 2%
52 Alge Crumpler NE 603 11% 80% 9% 0%
53 Kris Wilson SD 337 10% 61% 27% 1%
54 Jermaine Gresham CIN 819 10% 74% 14% 1%
55 Jeff Dugan MIN 241 10% 72% 18% 0%
56 Donald Lee GB 300 10% 83% 7% 0%
57 Jeff King CAR 687 10% 90% 1% 0%
58 Robert Royal CLV 303 9% 88% 3% 0%
59 Fred Davis WAS 396 9% 91% 1% 0%
60 Leonard Pope KC 569 8% 91% 1% 1%
61 Ben Hartsock NYJ 459 8% 83% 1% 8%
62 Brandon Pettigrew DET 981 8% 90% 3% 0%
63 Joel Dreessen HST 735 7% 92% 1% 0%
64 Daniel Graham DEN 982 7% 84% 8% 1%
65 Chris Baker SEA 426 7% 93% 0% 0%
66 Jeron Mastrud MIA 167 7% 92% 0% 2%
67 Billy Bajema SL 405 6% 84% 5% 4%
68 Stephen Spach ARZ 406 6% 91% 3% 0%
69 Reggie Kelly CIN 512 6% 65% 27% 3%
70 Jim Kleinsasser MIN 515 6% 91% 3% 0%
71 Tom Crabtree GB 395 6% 70% 25% 0%
72 Matt Spaeth PIT 549 5% 93% 1% 0%
73 John Gilmore TB 425 5% 94% 0% 0%
74 Zach Potter JAX 155 5% 94% 0% 2%
75 Craig Stevens TEN 547 4% 93% 3% 0%
76 David Martin BUF 357 4% 94% 2% 0%
77 Richard Quinn DEN 168 4% 86% 10% 0%
78 Brandon Manumaleuna CHI 637 3% 65% 29% 2%
79 Kellen Davis CHI 180 3% 89% 0% 8%
80 Brody Eldridge IND 319 2% 98% 0% 0%
81 Zach Strief NO 186 2% 90% 0% 8%
82 Khalif Barnes OAK 245 1% 74% 0% 24%
83 David Johnson PIT 331 1% 49% 50% 0%

Other points of interest

-Chargers Antonio Gates, the consensus top-ranked fantasy tight end heading in 2011, ranks 5th in the list with 55% of his snaps coming split out wide. The fact that he spends more time at wide receiver than any of his contenders for the top spot just adds to his standing.

-The Giants don’t throw to the tight end too often, but Travis Beckum is worth a look as a very deep sleeper considering how often he’s used in the slot. If Kevin Boss were to miss action, Beckum could become a productive target for Eli Manning.

-Interestingly, 49ers Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis both spent 40% of their snaps out wide. Davis is a no brainer for a significant workload, but that workload is what stops Delaine Walker from reaching fantasy relevance. Still, Walker sees tons of snaps at wide receiver. He is fantasy gold if Davis goes down with an injury

-Used in the slot a ton by his previous team (split wide on 34% of snaps), we already know the Panthers will make heavy use of Jeremy Shockey in the receiving game in 2011. We do have a coaching change in Carolina, but it’s also worth noting that Dante Rosario, one of the Panthers regular tight ends in 2010, is 10th on this list at 40%.

-On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Lions Brandon Pettigrew as the lowest-ranked fantasy-relevant tight end on the list. With Tony Scheffler handling most of the slot work for the tight ends (ranks 6th on the list with 49% of his snaps coming split wide), Pettigrew was split out wide just 7% of the time. He was still a fixture in the offense, but did most of the damage from the conventional tight end position.

-Jermaine Gresham was fairly involved in the Bengals offense last season, but his fantasy value took a major hit because of a 9.1 yards-per-reception mark. That could partially be explained by the fact that just 10% of his snaps came while split wide. We might expect that number to increase in 2011 due to the departure of Terrell Owens and possibly Chad Ochocinco. However, the emergence of Jordan Shipley in the slot means Gresham has a strong roadblock for work as a wideout.

Tight End handcuff rankings

Last season, we learned that Jacob Tamme is an elite handcuff. We also learned that Randy McMichael and Andrew Quarless are not. Heading into 2011, using some of the data we compiled here today, here’s a look at the top-rated handcuffs. Keep in mind that although this list will be much more helpful as a reference tool once a starting tight end goes down with an injury during the season, its value now is as a list of players you can consider stashing in your deep dynasty leagues.

1.      Jacob Tamme – Colts – In 2010, we saw the damage he could do if Dallas Clark were to go down with an injury.

2.      Aaron Hernandez – Patriots – If Rob Gronkowski goes down, Hernandez will be on the field a ton, making him a slam dunk TE1.

3.      Delanie Walker – 49ers – Walker would pick up where Davis left off as one of the team’s top receiving targets

4.      Fred Davis – Redskins – Was to 2009 what Jacob Tamme was to 2010. If Chris Cooley goes down, Davis is TE1 material.

5.      Martellus Bennett – Cowboys – John Phillips will steal snaps, but Bennett has the potential to put up TE1 numbers if Jason Witten went down

6.      Tony Scheffler – Lions – Already playing a ton in the slot, he’d be among the most used tight ends in receiving situations if Brandon Pettigrew went down

7.      Zach Miller – Jaguars – Miller has the tools to be among the league’s better receiving tight ends

8.      Dave Thomas – Saints – Thomas has the ability to fill in as the team’s pass catching TE if Jimmy Graham misses time

9.      Evan Moore – Browns – See Above

10.  Cameron Morrah – Seahawks – A talented receiver, he’d make for a nice duo with block-first Anthony McCoy. Jameson Konz and Dominique Byrd would be in the mix, as well

11.  Joel Dreessen – Texans – When Owen Daniels was out in 2010, Dreessen got the call, but watch out for James Casey and Garrett Graham, both of which are young, receiving tight ends.

12.  Dennis Pitta / Ed Dickson – Ravens – Pitta has elite pass-catching ability, but Dickson is a better all-around option and higher on the depth chart. They would most likely offset each other in fantasy.

13.  Clay Harbor – Eagles – A good pass catcher, he’d fill in right where Brent Celek left off. Cornelius Ingram could also make a push

14.  Fendi Onobun – Rams – An elite pass-catching prospect, but he’s a project

15.  Jeff Cumberland – Jets – A project, but he enjoys elite receiving potential

16.  Travis Beckum – Giants – Would be a better pass-catcher, but worse blocker than Kevin Boss

17.  Gary Barnidge – Panthers – An elite pass-catching prospect in an offense that will rely heavily on the TE

18.  Andrew Quarless – Packers – Quarless did very little while Jermichael Finley was out in 2010, but remember that he was a rookie.

19.  Chase Coffman – Bengals – A highly-touted receiving tight end, Coffman would be an intriguing name to watch if Jermaine Gresham went down

20.  Ryan Purvis – Buccaneers – Considering how heavily Kellen Winslow is used, Purvis, a young, receiving tight end, could have value

21.  Michael Palmer – Falcons – Blocker Justin Peelle would be first in line for snaps, but Palmer would be the unit’s top remaining receiving threat.

22.  Kris Wilson / Kory Sperry – Chargers – Both have pass-catching abilities and are first in line for snaps

23.  Cody Slate – Chiefs – Buried on the depth chart with a Reserve/Future contract, but he’s an elite receiving prospect

24.  Kellen Davis – Bears – Size and athleticism provide Davis with some upside as a pass catcher

25.  Mickey Shuler / Dedrick Epps – Dolphins – Both can catch, but Shuler is higher on the depth chart. Either way, neither is likely to be a featured receiver

26.  Craig Stevens – Titans – Not much of a receiving threat, but he’s #2 in line.

27.  Mike Caussin – Bills – The Bills don’t use the tight end in the pass game, but Caussin is the top receiving threat after Shawn Nelson

28.  David Johnson – Steelers – More of a fullback, but Johnson would be first in line

29.  Jim Kleinsasser – Vikings – Not much of a receiving threat

30.  Brandon Myers – Raiders – Mainly a blocker

31.  Daniel Coats – Broncos – Wouldn’t see much work in the passing game

N/A – Cardinals

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