College football is an objectively bizarre and weird landscape of offensive production. Few teams run a pro-style system, and even fewer leverage the tight end heavily as a key piece of their passing offense. This is likely also partially because of how nuanced the position can be to learn. We have a handful of teams that rely on the position to win games, and within that group, we have a winning formula for college fantasy leagues.

Dearth. A Position With No Production.

Over the last three seasons, there have been seven instances of tight ends with >30% receiving yardage market share. However, two of these were Trey McBride, and one was Kyle Patterson from a triple-option Air Force offense. It’s incredibly rare for players to hit this mark, and when they do, fantasy production follows. Using C2C’s player data table, in 2022, only two players hit this number. Sam Laporta (32.2%) and Michael Mayer (30.0%). Laporta was TE10 (despite scoring one touchdown), and Mayer was TE2. But this production is rare, and both players were ranked top eight in Campus2Canton’s college fantasy football rankings prior to the season. Some offenses feature the position more than others.

In 2022, there were only six tight ends who finished with double-digit fantasy points per game. In tight-end premium, that number is twenty. Essentially, there is limited tight end production, and the lack of fantasy producers underscores this. It’s not more complicated than the fact that there aren’t many options, and when we are able to identify them prior to the season, the potential for a massive breakout can be a league-winning proposition.

The Dropoff Matters. A Lot.

We don’t actually need to beat a dead horse regarding the lack of tight end production. Only five offenses actually produced interesting players, and two of the top six came from the same one (Utah). However, the high-end production not only provided competitive production at the position but also provided a massive advantage over replacement – especially compared to other positions.

Looking at 2022 as an example, the dropoff between high-end production at the position was no more pronounced than among tight ends. The top three at the position averaged 14.4 points per game in standard formats and 19.0 points per game in 1.5 tight end premium – the most popular scoring setting in C2C and college fantasy leagues. Among the skill position groups, it is lower than both running backs and wide receivers. However, the real takeaway is the dropoff and percentage of points the next group scores. 

2022 Production for Skill Position Players

At tight end, the dropoff between a top three option and the average top 12 option is 4.6 points per game in TE Premium and 4.4 points per game in standard (PPR) scoring. Comparatively, both running backs and wide receivers had less than a 4 PPG drop-off. Not substantially different, but within the context of positional scoring, the dropoff is more striking. When comparing the percentage of points, the numbers for tight end are between 76% (TE Premium) and 69% of the top three’s production compared to the “top three” tier.

2022 Production For Skill Position Players (Percentage of Previous Tier)

The dropoff is important, more so when focusing on the high-end production and the tight ends ranked between 12 and 24. In tight end premium, this group gives you barely 54% of the production of the top three and a whopping 9 points per game less on average. At a singular position, the value above replacement in having a high-end option is essentially that number, especially for those not valuing the position. In standard formats, the dropoff is less in points per game (~7ppg), but it represents only 52% of production. 

After the top-end, and specifically the top ten at the position, the dropoff is relatively flat. Once you lose out on an elite option, there’s a substantial number of players within the next tier that can provide relative value to their respective draft slot. The most important portion of this analysis is the relative difference between the tight end position and WR/RB. Comparing the high-end at each to the 13-24 spot in positional finishes is where the value conversation starts. The average WR2 provides 73% of the production of a top-three WR, and an RB2 provides 75% of the top-three RB production.

Essentially, this tells us a few things. The tight end position is the biggest place for fantasy players to gain an advantage. Targeting high-end producers at the position gives us near-double-digit upside over competitors providing substantial upside and weekly differentiation. In a format where double-digit swings can easily influence outcomes, the biggest differentiator continues to be the tight end position.

A key point here is that a handful of teams in C2C/CFF formats will have multiple top-12 producers on their team. There won’t be even distribution which should exacerbate the value above the replacement point made above. Teams can see a double-digit advantage, and in most cases, this provides a massive edge in leagues.

Can We Actually Predict High-End Performance?

Sometimes. But this is easier than the anti-TE gang would have you believe. For example, Brock Bowers and Michael Mayer – Campus2Canton’s top two CFF-ranked options at the position both finished top three. They were clearly a tier above, and it was easier to predict because of how few teams use the tight end but also because they had a history of high-end production in offenses that leverage the position. High-end production can be predictable, and that’s where the difference matters at this position. 

For example, Brock Bowers stands out as the obvious TE1 in the format this year. Two years of elite production and is in an offense that wants to treat him as a featured weapon. He’s a no-brainer and, depending on the weekly matchup can provide a near double-digit advantage at the position over respective opponents. There are a handful of weird exceptions as well, such as Oronde Gadsden at Syracuse and last year’s hot-button topic CJ Donaldson at West Virginia.

Finding contributors is a mixture of the previous production but also finding teams who are aggressive in leveraging the position. Iowa, the true “TEU” leads the way with a 52% market share in 2022 and the most utilized unit for the last five years. There are a handful of others that fit these criteria, including Luke Lachey/Erick All (Iowa), Brant Kuithe/Thomas Yassmin (Utah), George Tackas (Boston College), Treyton Welch (Wyoming), and Benjamin Yurosek (Stanford). These fit the list of players who have experience and production in offenses that heavily leverage the tight end. The list also presents the opportunity for unproven assets to emerge based on the offense and their historical reliance on the position. Players like Dallin Holker (Colorado State), Mitchell Evans (Notre Dame), and Var’Keyes Gumms (Arkansas) all stand out as unproven players with huge potential in breakout ability, given their situation.

Conclusion

Despite the ridicule, tight end matters and is singularly the most important position when looking at value over replacement. Having an elite tight end gives a massive weakly advantage in head-to-head matchups and one that can lead to more wins than punting the position. It’s an uncommon proposition but given the certainty we have historically had around the high-end of the position, it’s worth feeling comfortable in selecting a tight end to be a difference-maker.

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