'The NFL Beat': Hypnosis, Murder, Tight Ends
A hypnotic look at fantasy TE production
By Alex Dunlap, 1:36PM, Mon. May. 28, 2012
I have started to partake in the creative visualization process via hypnosis. I wear weird goggles that look like Jose Canseco-era Oakleys with implanted, blinking lights. They are programmed to flash at calculated times, at precise intensity levels to supplement the hypnotic neurolinguistic programming (NLP) I am receiving via headphones.
Is it helping? Yes. You see? Positivity. Openness. The ability to look at things in a different way. I am already beginning to become a better person. Every day in every way, I am creating a better me.
Today, I decided I was going to take a drastically different approach at something. I have been told by virtually every person I know that I am basically the worst communicator with service industry people that has ever existed. Before I go on, let me tell you I always tip 20%, and even tip 20% for takeout (because, we know, stoner bartender, that putting all that stuff together for call in orders "sorta sucks.") My issue is, I come off as condescending to waiters and servers generally. That is what I am told, and know it is a revoltingly unbecoming trait. For the life of me, though, I cannot recognize it occurring. It's like I can't even access a tool in my mind that can understand what it is that I am trying to fix.
Today, the girl making my sandwich asked me what my plans were for Memorial Day weekend. Today, I was going to be honest. Today, I was going to look at this as a chance to make a friend, or to maybe learn something new. I was going to approach this situation from outside of my box.
I told her I was to going to run a few numbers about tight end targets in 2011, and see how they correlated with fantasy production. Maybe make an exception for Fred Davis – it's just he missed so many games. Maybe I'll use an average. Who knows?
I can say with 100% certainty that the girl who made my sandwich today thinks I am a lunatic, and certainly does not want to be my friend. I will do better next time. And before you readers begin to lose respect for my iron-fisted command of the NFL Beat, let me warn you: my hypnotist electrocuted his stepfather as a young man, and was tried again later in life for the murder of another. I watch Game of Thrones, too. I know I need to retain the killer instinct somehow, so we can murder the fantasy competition in 2012 once again. Winter is upon us.
Looking at targets is important. Its a huge variable in a lot of the numbers we run for receiving projections. The reason is simple. By the time the NFL season starts, a team is locked into their playbook and there is no turning back. There simply isn't enough time during week-to-week game plan install to even think about entirely new systems or philosophies. It takes a full day (Wednesday) to install a first- and second-down game plan, Thursday is for third downs, and Friday is usually red zone, two-minute drill, and situational review. In the event of a Thursday game, practice is a mad house.
But even for Sunday games, week-in, week-out, it's game plan only. Game planning is implementation of the playbook to create the best matchup against the upcoming opponent. Concrete trends that can be used as predictors are few and far between in fantasy, and it takes some work to uncover what they are. Targets represent an easily accessible, general overview of a receiving player's installed involvement within an offensive cast.
At the tight end position in fantasy football, you want involvement in the offense. You want the playbook to dictate that certain coverages and situations will be exploited via that weapon in the game plan, or at least be intended to. Remember, game plans change. The playbook does not. Being ideologically "set" in a productive scheme provides dependability, and most importantly, a distinctly higher fantasy "floor" at a position that some of your competitors will not fill with dependable contributors. That, my friends, provides us an edge. With this knowledge at hand, here is the 2011 tight end 100 Target Club:
Jimmy Graham (Saints, 149 targets)
Brandon Pettigrew (Lions. 126 targets)
Rob Gronkowski (Patriots, 124 targets)
Kellen Winslow (Bucs 2011/Seahawks 2012, 120 targets)
Jason Witten (Cowboys, 117 targets)
Tony Gonzalez (Falcons, 116 targets)
Dustin Keller (Jets, 115 targets)
Aaron Hernandez (Patriots, 113 targets)
The first thing that jumps out (at least to me) on this list is Brandon Pettigrew. The second-most-targeted TE of 2011. Pettigrew was a stud in 2011 PPR leagues, especially those with NFFC scoring that awards 1.5 points per TE reception, but he didn't provide great TD production. You also might notice that the Patriots are going to use two TEs, and the number of times the ball is supposed to go to each is pretty close, especially when you consider Hernandez missed two games in 2011. Gronkowski will likely go two-to-three rounds ahead of Hernandez in fantasy drafts, though. Knowledge like this is why you come here. You're getting better. In every day, in every way.
So why is Dustin Keller on that list? He was a horrible fantasy TE in 2011, and I don't see it getting better unless QB Mark Sanchez does something about his seemingly diminishing accuracy. I have been screaming it at the top of my lungs since mid-2011. I honestly think Sanchez may be regressing as a passer. He kills Keller's fantasy value. That is why another stat is important: Fantasy points per target. This helps in identifying (situationally) whether the TE is generally utilized in ways conducive to generating fantasy production (i.e. red zone usage and potentially explosive route assignments). This is a measure of efficiency as opposed to volume. Here are the 10 TEs (targeted at least 60 times in 2011) who made the most efficient use of their role within their given team's offense for fantasy owners based on standard scoring:
1. Rob Gronkowski (Patriots) 124 targets, 234.7 fantasy points, 1.89 fantasy points/target
2. Jake Ballard (Giants) 61 targets, 84.4 fantasy points, 1.38 fantasy points/target
3. Antonio Gates (Chargers) 88 targets, 119.8 fantasy points, 1.36 fantasy points/target
4. Jermichael Finley (Packers) 92 targets, 124.7 fantasy points, 1.35 fantasy points/target
5. Jimmy Graham (Saints) 149 targets, 197 fantasy points, 1.32 fantasy points/target
6. Vernon Davis (49ers) 95 targets, 115.2 fantasy points, 1.21 fantasy points/target
7. Aaron Hernandez (Patriots) 113 targets, 133 fantasy points, 1.17 fantasy points/target
8. Jared Cook (Titans) 81 targets, 93.9 fantasy points, 1.15 fantasy points/target
9. Brent Celek (Eagles) 97 targets, 111.1 fantasy points, 1.14 fantasy points/target
10. Jeremy Shockey (Panthers) 62 targets, 69.5 fantasy points, 1.12 fantasy points/target
TEs who did not qualify for this list, (for failing to attain the 60 target minimum established) but showed excellent target-to-fantasy production ratio were:
Joel Dreesen (Texans 2011/Broncos 2012) second overall, 1.82 FP/T on 39 targets
Tony Scheffler (Lions) third overall, 1.68 FP/T on 42 targets
Scott Chandler (Bills) had a few monster weeks where he was heavily utilized within a game plan to put him among the top of this list. This is the point of our analysis. Think football, now, and learn: game plan versus playbook. When you are making your waiver wire moves, this is one of the first things you should look at during the season in a backup or a spot play. Take fantasy points and divide by targets. It gauges your chance for fantasy upside, and can make your opponent cry if you pick the right week to play one of these guys. These are not players you can depend on as TE1s in even 14-team leagues, though.
Rob Gronkowski is clearly the best, and will be drafted accordingly; meaning definitely gone by the mid-second round of redraft leagues, and most definitely gone at No. 1 overall to many a drunk homer in Boston. Aaron Hernandez will be the much greater value when drafting a Patriot TE. Brandon Pettigrew may represent the greatest value of all. He got consistently swindled last year on bad calls and near-touchdowns. Give me any stock in Matt Stafford's offense that I can get, especially in a target hog. Jimmy Graham is a close second to Gronkowski in fantasy, and the best TE in the NFL. Antonio Gates is still an elite TE when healthy, and outright lethal. The main issue is his health which we will have to obviously keep an eye on through preseason.
You will learn. You will actively target one of these five TEs in fantasy drafts and be prepared to plan around drafting them. Same teams, same leaders, same offenses, same playbooks and 100% guarantees to be involved consistently in game plans. We will win. And This Will Be So.
[Alex Dunlap [Follow on Twitter] is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, the host of RosterWatch on 104.9FM ESPN Radio Austin, founder of Rosterwatch.com, and a featured expert contributor to the FantasyPros.com network.]