JVM: Tight Ends

Matt Claassen reviews the tight ends who exceeded and the ones who disappointed in looking at their contracts this past season.

| 3 years ago

JVM: Tight Ends

2013-JVM-TEIn this series of pieces, Pro Football Focus is hammering into the value of players. To us it’s a “Jahnke Value Model” number, telling you what players were worth (by our grading) in 2013. You can read about the work we’ve done to create it here, but in short:

• It’s solely about what a player did on the field in 2013
• Players are grouped by positions so their play essentially earns them a portion of the positional salary pool
• It’s all about cap hits (these values are approximate)

Here are 2013′s most undervalued and overvalued Tight Ends:

(* Denotes player missed significant portion of time through injury)


1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

Graham led the league in several statistical categories for tight ends, so it’s unsurprising he tops the most undervalued at the position. Graham’s 14.1 Yards Per Reception average was higher than half the wide receivers in the league and the majority of tight ends. His versatility continues to be key after scoring 12 of his 16 touchdowns as a split receiver. The value won’t last long for the Saints as they try to re-sign the pending free agent to a long-term contract this offseason. An interesting note is that Graham’s 2013 value exceeds both the projected $7 million franchise tag (per overthecap.com) for tight ends that the Saints have used on him, and the projected $12 million franchise tag for wide receivers.

2013 Cap Hit: $1.5m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $12.3m
Value Differential: +$10.8m

2. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots*

It is impressive that Gronkowski made the undervalued side of the list at all considering he missed more than nine games and played just 390 snaps. The fact that he had the second-highest value of any tight end goes to show just how important he is to the Patriots’ offense. Tom Brady targeted Gronkowski on nearly 30 percent of the routes he ran, easily the most frequent for his position. Because of his high target rate, Gronkowski led all tight ends averaging 2.75 Yards Per Route Run which was nearly half a yard more than the next-highest player in Graham.

2013 Cap Hit: $2.7m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $8.5m
Value Differential: +$5.8m

3. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins*

Similar to Gronkowski, the rookie Reed missed a better part of the season due to injury. The third-round pick quickly became a favorite target for Robert Griffin III, averaging 5 catches and 55 receiving yards per game. Reed was just one of three tight ends to grade positive in every facet and finished as our fifth ranked tight end overall.

2013 Cap Hit: $500k
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $5.5m
Value Differential: +$5.0m

4. Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos

The 2013 season was quite a jump for the third year player who saw two snaps in 2012. Thomas is no doubt a liability as a run blocker, but he quickly developed into one of the league’s top producing tight ends. He caught 73.9% of his targets and finished with the third-highest receiving grade at tight end. Thomas’s 12 receiving touchdowns were only surpassed by four players of any position. With another small cap number next season, Thomas could very well make the top undervalued list again.

2013 Cap Hit: $600k
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $5.4m
Value Differential: +$4.8m

5. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

Ertz did not earn a ‘red’ negative grade all season and finished with a higher receiving grade than teammate Brent Celek. He averaged 1.96 Yards Per Route Run, good enough for sixth among tight ends. Ertz still has room for improvement as a blocker, but the Eagles received plenty of value from the rookie as a No. 2 tight end.

2013 Cap Hit: $1m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $5m
Value Differential: +$4m

6. Joseph Fauria, DET – Cap: $400k; JVM: $4.2M; Value Differential: +$3.8M

7. Martellus Bennett, CHI – Cap: $1.9M; JVM: $5.5M; Value Differential: +$3.6M

8. Ladarius Green, SD – Cap: $600k; JVM: $4.2M; Value Differential: +$3.6M

9. Charles Clay, MIA – Cap: $600k; JVM: $3.5M; Value Differential: +$2.9M

10. Kellen Winslow, NYJ – Cap: $400k; JVM: $3.3M; Value Differential: +$2.9M


1. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers*

Finley deserves somewhat of a pass after playing in what essentially amounted to four and a half games. As is with many receiving tight ends, Finley continued to struggle in run blocking (-5.2). However, as a receiver he looked as dangerous as ever before his season ending injury, particularly after the catch. Finley’s 9.5 Yards After Catch was the highest among tight ends with at least 20 receptions. Finley also forced 10 missed tackles on his 25 catches, which was only one missed tackle behind Jimmy Graham on one-third fewer opportunities. Many believe Finley’s production has yet to reflect his talent level and after a second straight year near the top of the overvalued tight ends, he hasn’t lived up to his contract either.

2013 Cap Hit: $8.7m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $1.3m
Value Differential: -$7.4m

2. Zach J. Miller, Seattle Seahawks

The primary reason Miller was so overvalued was because he had the largest cap hit of any tight end in 2013. In fact, he had a higher JVM than four of the Top 10 undervalued tight ends. He didn’t have as much impact on the passing game as we have seen in past years, but his blocking improved to finish with a +2.9 run-blocking grade, the fourth-highest at his position. If Seattle does let Miller play out his contract and continues to play at this level, the Seahawks should get much better value from him with smaller cap numbers in the remaining two years.

2013 Cap Hit: $11m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $4.5m
Value Differential: -$6.5m

3. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers

For the first time in six years of PFF analysis, Miller earned a negative overall season grade. Miller struggled as a run blocker for the second straight year after having the fourth-highest run blocking grade in 2011. Even as a receiver, Miller graded above average in only two games all season. Miller caught 78.4% of his targets but he wasn’t overly effective after the catch and found the end zone just once.

2013 Cap Hit: $6.4m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $800k
Value Differential: -$5.6m

4. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars*

Lewis missed significant time last season yet he likely still would not have played up to his $5.7 million cap hit. His 54.3% catch rate was the lowest for any tight end with at least 20 targets. Lewis has historically proven to be one of the better blocking tight ends in the league, but for the first time he earned a negative run block grade. In the end, Lewis did little to live up to his contract and earned his lowest season grade (-0.6) since 2008.

2013 Cap Hit: $5.7m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $1m
Value Differential: -$4.7m

5. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

The once elite Gates posted respectable totals last season but the aging veteran began to look like a shell of his former self. He had a great start to the year with 364 receiving yards, two touchdowns and a +7.3 overall grade. It went downhill from there though, as he graded -12.6 over the final 12 regular season games and -5.0 in the playoffs, largely due to his poor run blocking ability. He can make his mark in the passing game but is not worth being the fourth-highest paid tight end anymore.

2013 Cap Hit: $6.8m
2013 Jahnke Value Model: $2.8m
Value Differential: -$4m

6. Owen Daniels, HST* – Cap: $5.7M; JVM: $2.1k; Value Differential: -$3.6M

7. Jared Cook, STL – Cap: $4M; JVM: $1M; Value Differential: -$3M

8. James Casey, PHI – Cap: $4M; JVM: $1.1M; Value Differential: -$2.9M

9. Joel Dreessen, DEN– Cap: $3.6M; JVM: $800k; Value Differential: -$2.8M

10. Brandon Pettigrew, DET – Cap: $3.5M; JVM: $700k; Value Differential: -$2.8M


Follow Matt on Twitter: @PFF_MattC


| Analyst

Matt has been an analyst for PFF since 2013. He is also a contributor to 120 Sports and a former NCAA Division-III football player.

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