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How to Know Which Tight Ends to Select in Rookie Drafts

An elite tight end can be difference maker in fantasy football. @NoahRWright takes a look at what the NFL Draft tells us about when to get one.

The NFL Draft has just completed, and the hype for rookies has never been higher. Most dynasty managers will be looking at which landing spots the top QBs, WRs, and RBs went to, but it is essential not to ignore possibly the most challenging position to gain an advantage: the tight end.

When you have a loaded team and vying for the championship, naturally, you look at the opposition to see where you can gain an advantage. Perhaps you have a solid core of young RBs that have carried you to the finals, or maybe the wide receiver position is where you gain an edge. Regardless of your team’s composition, the teams stopping you from winning the ultimate prize will also have their strengths. The best way that YOU can gain the ultimate upper hand is through the tight end position. Imagine having Travis Kelce from the last 5-6 years as your permanent starter. Even if some other spots of your team may not compete with your opponent’s, you know that Kelce has the potential to bring you a victory. This is even more true in tight end premium (TEP) leagues.

With all that being said, let’s see how we can find the next breakout tight ends.

Draft Capital

Going back to 2003, there have been approximately 262 tight ends drafted into the NFL (excluding 2022). Out of those 262, here is the breakdown by round.

Round 1: 19

Round 2: 33

Round 3: 45

Round 4: 44

Round 5+: 121

So, based on draft capital, what are the odds that a tight end has a Top 12 TE season?

Round 1: 17/19 (~89%)

Round 2: 13/33 (~39%)

Round 3: 11/45 (~24%)

Round 4: 9/44 (~20%)

Round 5+: 10/121 (~8%)

As stated previously, we want to have a difference-maker at the TE position. While having a TE1 is not a bad problem, TE6-12 will most likely not bring a HUGE difference compared to alternatives. We are looking to win championships. Therefore, let’s look at the odds of having a Top 5 TE season based on draft capital.

Round 1: 10/19 (~53%)

Round 2: 4/33 (~12%)

Round 3: 8/45 (~18%)

Round 4: 4/44 (~9%)

Round 5+: 6/121 (~5%)

Clearly, Round 1 TEs hold extreme value for dynasty managers. Players like Kyle Pitts, Noah Fant, and T.J. Hockenson have been among the 19 recently drafted in the first round since 2003.

Another measure of tight ends that seems popular is their 40 times at the combine. While speed may not necessarily translate to fantasy success at other positions, let’s see if tight ends are a different story.

40 Time

Since 2003, the average 40 times at the combine for a tight end is 4.71. We will use that time as a cutoff and measure the players who ran a time equal to or faster than average. Here are the odds of having a Top 12 TE season while running a 4.71 or faster:

Round 1: 13/15 (~87%)

Round 2: 6/16 (~38%)

Round 3: 5/20 (25%)

Round 4: 6/16 (~38%)

Round 5+: 4/35 (~11%)

Again, we want to have TEs that are creating an advantage for our team, so here are the odds of running a 4.71 or faster and having a Top 5 TE season:

Round 1: 8/15 (~53%)

Round 2: 1/16 (~6%)

Round 3: 5/20 (25%)

Round 4: 3/16 (~19%)

Round 5+: 4/35 (~11%)

Conclusion

Based on the facts that we have established, it appears that draft capital plays a significant role in whether or not a tight end will become a star. A TE drafted in Round 1 has an 89% chance of being a top 12 TE and a 53% chance of landing in the top 5 at least one season in their career. Comparatively, a TE drafted merely two rounds later in round 3 has a 24% chance at top 12 and an 18% chance at top 5 finish.

As for the 40 times, it seems that there is no correlation to above-average speed for TEs drafted in the first three rounds. However, Round 4 and beyond begin to show increases in hit rates. TEs who have a 4.71 40 time or faster in the 4th round show an increase of 10% for a Top 5 finish and 18% for a Top 12 finish. For rounds 5+, an increase of 6% for Top 5 and 3% for Top 12 is established.

While these are small sample sizes, it’s important to look at historical trends to gain an edge on the competition. If you have a third or fourth-round draft pick in this year’s rookie drafts, spending it on a TE with good draft capital would be something I’d look into. If there aren’t any left on the board except those drafted in rounds 4+ in the NFL Draft, look for those who had faster 40 times as they should have a better shot of being fantasy relevant.

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