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    ‘Do You Need to Draft the Best TE to have the Best Shot at Winning?’

    Draft Strategy: The Best TEs and where to take them.

    Last season I was thinking about writing something on draft strategy and finding the best value in a snake draft. On the surface it might sound like I’m talking about drafting the best available player but I wanted to go deeper, of course. I started considering the teams I played with in the seasons before and realized that I had great success when I got good value for my TE. I somehow seemed to have more success when I was able to snag the best TE to slip past their ADP. I was convinced I might be on to something and it left me asking myself, what I thought was, a good question:


    ‘Do you need to draft the best TE to have the best shot at winning?’


    When I started playing fantasy football I drafted a TE early and it didn’t turn out too well, I just didn’t think about it at the time. It felt like my team consisted of whoever I drafted after him and it was way off; I could tell. Since then, I’ve gone about playing fantasy however it came to me and getting better like we all do; but when I look back I notice that I was waiting on TE a lot. Once I realized that this was, in a sense, my ‘draft strategy’ I decided to experiment by drafting 10 different teams and doing my best to mix up where I got my TE; I also tried not to get any TEs before their ADP because they all seem to be a round or two early, in my opinion; the results had me believing I might have something.


    I love to have a good TE but I think it’s more important to aim at the right one. When you’re looking for a TE you want to draft one you’re comfortable with, of course; I just feel like you can’t miss out on the talent sitting around in the same region that you have to grab Gronkowski, Graham, or even Julius Thomas this season. They provide a great amount of points sometimes, but after that the elite guys there’s a drop off in consistency that shows that you should probably aim at a TE in the 6-12 range.


    At first glance I noticed that there was a pretty big drop off in points per game when I compared the best TE, Jimmy Graham, to 10th best TE, Charles Clay (average points). The difference in average points per game was over 7 and I was worried that I might be on to nothing. But, I also noticed that there was a pretty big drop off from Graham to 5th best TE; Tony Gonzalez averaged just over 5 points less per game. I had to take a look at what I was missing out on by drafting TEs at ADP before moving on. Here’s an idea:






    With Jimmy Graham it’s almost always worth the pick, last season he finished just behind Calvin Johnson in total points and when you look at what’s sitting behind some of these TEs you might not feel like you’re passing up on much but we don’t know until the dust settles, like all players, but with TEs it felt different so I decided to investigate further. I took a look at what the difference was between the bottom of the list of the best TEs and the guys just behind them. I decided to look at the difference between Cameron (#4) and a few other guys (#10, #12, and #15) and I was pleasantly surprised.




    PlacesDiff in Ave Points Per Game (PPR)
    4 – 50.57
    4 – 102.47
    4 – 123.69
    4 – 155.42



    From this table you can tell that the difference gets bigger the further you go down, but I feel that until you get to 12 you’re getting trade value and drafting a guy with more upside than a TE. It’s not that tough to win your league with a TE in the 8-12 range but it does get a little tougher to win without strong wide outs and a couple of running backs for two reasons. One reason, in my opinion, is that TEs tend to be a little more durable so people don’t usually see a need to carry 2 of them which leads to reason number two which is last season you could find guys like Jordan Reed (8th) Charles Clay (10th) and Delanie Walker (14th) on the waiver wire. I only mention Walker because down the stretch he averaged 12.16 PPR points per game which would have had him finish 9th best had he been involved all season.


    Now that we’ve taken a look at the difference, to me it doesn’t feel like it’s big enough to make a big fuss. On top of that I fully intend to trade off some of the upside I will have acquired by waiting to take a few less points per week at one position, maybe someone will give me a backup TE that’s playing well when their wide out or running back misses time, or under-performs (I was offered Reed for Stacy last season); I’ll be listening. I want to give you an idea of the other guys you’re missing out on for the possibility of an extra 4 points per game.










    As you can see, 2.5 points isn’t much and I understand the argument that sometimes you win by a point or a fraction of a point. At the same time we’re talking about the difference between Pierre Garcon and Danny Amendola in the case that you draft Julius Thomas; the difference between Garcon and Amendola last season was 6.5 points per game. It’s the difference between Reggie Bush and Steven Jackson (4.3 PPG). And, I feel like Garcon and Bush have way more upside because they’re play-makers. People hoard running backs and wide outs so it makes sense to get as many as you can because striking gold on someone like Jordan Reed instead it’d reaching for someone lets you draft someone like Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, Zac Stacy and Keenan Allen. Take the 11th and 12th best TEs for example, they averaged just 2 and 3 points less than the 5th best TE, I think you can hang tough with that for an upside guy that might get you one of the best TEs in the end. Take a look at who is being drafted around the 11th and 12th best TEs this season.



    After taking a look at these guys, any upside found is going to be guys you should have reached for or low ceiling guys and guys in a tough spot. I also think that if you look at what  last season’s rankings looked like in comparison to the finish you can see why I think it’s safer to pick a TE behind ADP value if you’re not getting one of the best ones out there. I’ll reiterate, I’m not talking about skipping out on the great TEs; I’m suggesting that you not reach for one unless you’re absolutely sure he’s worth skipping out on the guys left on the board; I just drafted Jimmy Graham in my most recent PPR draft. The difference is that he slipped to the mid 2nd round, has a 1st rd ADP and I missed out on the RB that I wanted. So when the TEs start coming off the board, don’t panic and reach until you’re down to #8 on your list then I’d say you can reach a little bit. Draft them at ADP unless you love them and know a friend in the league is going to take him sooner, reach if you’re at the long end of a snake draft and you know he won’t be there in your next pick. I, of course, don’t have a crystal ball and no strategy is perfect but no one knows how the season is going to finish. Here’s an example of my rankings side by side with ESPN’s and Yahoo’s rankings compared to the finish.


    (I don’t use ESPN and Yahoo to say they were wrong I just needed examples besides my own to show how it might be better to wait on TE if you’re not getting Jimmy Graham.)


    MineESPN Yahoo*Finish**R
    GrahamGrahamGrahamGraham – 18.96
    WittenGronkowskiDavisGronk – 17.46
    GonzalezGonzalezWittenThomas – 15.14
    DavisWittenGronkCameron – 14.25
    OlsenDavisGonzalezGonzalez – 13.68
    GronkMyersOlsenDavis – 13.31
    MyersOlsenFinleyWitten – 12.88
    DanielsFinleyRudolphReed – 12.74
    CookDanielsDanielsOlsen – 11.91
    RudolphRudolphDavisClay – 11.78
    GatesGatesCookGates – 11.51
    BennettCookCameronBennett – 10.56
    FinleyBennettGatesCook – 9.74
    CameronPettigrewBennettWalker – 9.57
    PettigrewCameronMyersWright – 8.83



    *Yahoo’s rankings are not PPR but I wanted more than a one example of how the best ranked guys don’t always finish that way.

     **Average points per game (I feel like PPG is the better representation than total points because of injury.)

    Notice how all three rankings had 3 of their top 5 finish in the top 5 (Graham, Gronkowski and Gonzalez).

    In the end I guess it comes down to when to draft a TE and in my opinion the best TE is one I got at a discount. I can understand if you’d like to draft your guy early so you don’t miss out, this is just a suggestion at another draft strategy that allows you a better shot at finding a guy that surprise like Zac Stacy or Keenan Allen late in the draft. It may be my strategy alone but it’s worked for a little while without me realizing it and now I’ve shared it with you. Have a nice day.



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    Jaime Jackson

    Staff Writer at
    Jaime currently writes the TE PPR Rankings and can be found in the forums regularly helping you make your decision on who to start, drop, add or trade. In his spare time he likes to watch the Cowboys try their best and the Spurs win championships.