In the past few seasons, myself and 11 other CFF industry analysts have participated in what we call the Champions Series. It’s a set of 12 drafts where individual and overall performance determines the year’s winner. This league is unique because it spans the entire offseason, includes the same drafters in every draft, and is TE premium. In this league, we start two tight ends weekly, and they score two points per reception instead of one. In 2022, this league consisted of 28 rounds.

Because of these rules, there’s the thought that you must draft one or multiple tight ends early. And that’s what I’m here today to determine. What is the true value of a tight end in CFF premium leagues? Where is the optimal place to draft them if you’re looking to place (finish in the top three in a 12-team draft)? 

The Cream of the Crop

Michael Mayer and Brock Bowers came into the 2022 season as the sure-thing tight-end options consistently drafted at the top of drafts. They were selected in the first two rounds in all 12 Champion Series drafts last season. Those that selected them finished in the top three just 25% of the time, but those drafters also had an average finish of 4.45.

Zack Kuntz Courtesy of Old Dominion Athletics

They weren’t the only tight ends drafted in the top two rounds. Michael Trigg and Zack Kuntz both found their way into the top 24 picks a good bit. The overall average finish for the teams that took their first tight end in the top two rounds was 5.5, even though those two were duds! This 5.7 average finish was the best of all groups we’ll look at here in this article. 

The Top Five Rounds

Expanding further into the tight end landscape, how did those that took their first tight end in the top five rounds do? Their average finish was 6.1, which worsens by .5 to 6.6 if you look at non-Mayer/Bowers/Trigg/Kuntz picks. This group was filled with hopeful options that didn’t reach their potential, like Ryan Jones, Jaheim Bell, and Benjamin Yurosek, among a few others. 

The Top 10-15 Rounds

Drafting your first tight end in the top ten rounds was a must in 2022. The dropoff from the top 10 to the top 15 is pretty substantial, as waiting until rounds 6-10 to take your first resulted in a 6.5-average finish. Waiting until rounds 11-15 resulted in an average finish of 8.1! This was the biggest dropoff we saw and the worst range of rounds to take your first tight end. Even worse than taking your first tight end in rounds 16-20 (7.4 average finish)! 

Was the hit rate of successful tight ends so inconsistent that it proved more beneficial to load up on the other positions before taking your first shot at a tight end? We’ll have more data in 2024 to evaluate this, but it certainly makes sense. 

How Many is Too Many?

Is there reason to believe you can load up at the tight-end position and create success that way? The average amount of tight ends taken last season for the top three teams was 4.81 per team. 27 of the 36 teams that cashed took four or five tight ends, while eight took six tight ends. 

One brave soul drafted just two tight ends six times! Shockingly, they finished fourth and fifth one time each but ultimately had an average finish of 7.5. In a 2TE league, it’s not wise to completely skimp on the position if you can avoid it.

Rivaldo Fairweather Courtesy of FIU Athletics

Drafting just three tight ends was pretty rare and unsuccessful as well, happening just seven times and resulting in an average finish of 7.3. Funny enough, in the first league of 2022, the winner took just three tight ends! The combination of Mayer, Bowers, and Rivaldo Fairweather was enough to put him at the top of the standings.

In Conclusion

Is this the point of the article where I say that looking at just 12 drafts is too small of a sample size to understand how to approach TE-premium leagues? I’m excited to compile 2023 draft data next off-season and see what a larger sample size shows us. Until then, though, what can we make of this?

Well, this shows me that drafting an elite tight end doesn’t lock you into a top-three finish, but it certainly helps. There’s a clear difference between Mayer/Bowers finishes and the others. You give yourself more room for error when you draft one of those two players. You give yourself a higher floor. While waiting on a tight end can help, loading up on QB/RB/WR doesn’t even out a poor tight end group.

If you aren’t able to draft the elite tight end at the top of the draft, don’t panic. Don’t draft the “next man up” early because of league settings. The tight end group will always be fickle, so target a guy you like in the 6-10 round range and fill out the rest of your roster until then. 

What if you get distracted and come away with zero tight ends in the first ten rounds? Well, it’s time to make a stand. How much do you trust the small sample size of data that says you’re better off drafting just 2-3 tight ends over taking your first in any round, 11th or later? I personally wouldn’t trust it, but wouldn’t it be cool to say you did it? 

Thank you, everyone, for following along with me as I analyzed a unique scoring format that feels impossible to draft confidently in. Hopefully, this helps you in your next TE-premium draft!

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