Rumors of the death of the fantasy tight end have been greatly exaggerated

Yes, the position's number lagged in 2016, but as Daniel Kelley notes, there's a pretty significant reason for that.

| 4 months ago
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Rumors of the death of the fantasy tight end have been greatly exaggerated

(Today’s Crazy Fantasy Stat is an occasional offseason offering from PFF that highlights something that catches our eye and helps us learn something for fantasy for 2017.)

The famous George Bailey line from It’s a Wonderful Life goes, “I suppose it would have been better if I’d never been born at all.” Clarence the angel shows up and tells him what life would really be like if he had never been born, and of course, our friend George learns a valuable lesson.

What, then, would life be like if Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham had never been born?

The struggles of the tight end position in 2016 are not new information. Our Brandon Marianne Lee covered the position recently in her end-of-season positional look-back, and one of her points was that the fantasy per-game production of the top 10 tight ends this season hit a seven-year low.

Of course, there’s a “coincidence” in there. Tight ends hit a seven-year low in 2016, their lowest per-game output since 2010. That year also happened to be the rookie years for superstar tight ends Gronkowski and Graham. Graham didn’t even play 25 percent of the snaps for the Saints, while Gronkowski wasn’t yet the superstar we’ve come to know. In short, the tight end boom coincided nicely with the introduction of two of the best the position has ever seen.

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In fact, if you remove the Gronkowski and Graham seasons from the last decade, the top 10 tight ends of 2016 were roughly right in line with the position’s per-game production:

Year Points per game
Points per game
2016 7.79 12.3
2015 8.66 13.5
2014 7.62 11.9
2013 8.09 12.5
2012 7.2 11.7
2011 7.79 12.4
2010 7.69 11.9
2009 8.47 13.3
2008 6.85 11
2007 7.93 12.4

A season ago, some special performances — particularly by Jordan Reed — made tight end a dominant position, Gronkowski or no Gronkowski, Graham or no Graham. But other than that, the position hasn’t moved much in some time. On a per-game basis, 2016 ranks fifth in the last 10 years in standard leagues, sixth in PPR.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

The tight end position struggled in 2016. That’s no fabrication. As one example, Travis Kelce, the No. 1 fantasy producer, had 136 fantasy points, which was 41st at flex (RB/WR/TE), the worst for the top tight end in the last decade. But the primary cause of the overall numbers lagging is the injury that cost Gronkowski a big chunk of his season. Add in the fact that Graham is no longer quite the monster he was in his Saints days, and honestly, tight end overall isn’t any worse off than it has been in the common era.

What does this mean? Well, a healthy Rob Gronkowski is still the best player — relative to his position — in the league, and it’s not particularly close. Beyond that, expect to hear murmurs as the offseason drags on about how tight ends are worth less these days than they have been in some time, and as a result, it would be wise to draft them later and later. Don’t buy those rumors. Tight ends are just as valuable as they have been. Strategies shouldn’t change.

| Fantasy Editor

Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus. He has previously appeared at SB Nation.

  • furioustoaster

    So if they are just as valuable as they “were”… they shouldn’t be overdrafted anymore because outside of 2 players (gronk and kelce) there are zero impact TE’s in the league. What your analysis actually revealed is that they never should have been drafted higher in the first place, not that they should continue to be overdrafted.

    The TE didn’t “die”, it was never actually alive in the first place.

    You can pay for Reed or other oft-injured “studs”, I’ll just stream TE’s weekly and draft better WR’s.