As we continue to roll on through the offseason in preparing for the 2022 fantasy season we are taking a top-down look at the production for each position. 

We are starting things off by laying the groundwork with a league-wide stance on offense. How there was recoil in the 2021 season compared to the record-setting season we had across the board the year prior and what went into that regression.

In conjunction with that post, we then dug into the production and fantasy landscape for the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions.  

Bringing things to a close, let’s do the same with tight ends. 

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Leaguewide Tight End Usage Since 2010

YearTgt/GmTGT%Rec/GmRec%Yd/GmYd%Td/GmTD%PPR/Gm
202113.920.92%9.521.42%10120.68%0.724.05%24.3
202014.221.05%9.620.96%103.520.31%0.926.75%25.5
201913.920.76%9.521.42%103.220.50%0.824.84%24.5
201813.419.93%9.120.29%103.520.35%0.722.55%24
201713.820.66%8.920.95%98.120.48%0.826.59%23.3
201614.420.45%9.521.19%105.120.55%0.723.54%24.4
201515.121.35%9.821.84%107.620.77%0.825.06%25.6
201413.920.20%9.120.73%100.219.90%0.826.77%24.1
201314.520.81%9.321.53%106.921.19%0.929.48%25.5
20121521.90%9.622.71%104.621.26%0.826.68%24.8
201114.621.85%9.222.58%106.921.85%0.826.98%24.6
201014.321.55%922.03%99.821.13%0.825.83%23.5

Looking at the entirety of the position, the tight end position followed suit with all of the other positions we looked at so far in terms of shedding some production from the record-breaking 2020 season.

That said, the share of leaguewide receptions and receiving yardage for tight ends did increase despite the counting stats coming down. Tight ends accounted for their largest share of league-wide receiving yardage since 2015 and largest share of receptions since 2019. 

The disappointing part, however, is that after seeing a scoring spike in 2020 in share of touchdown grabs, the position immediately recoiled, posting its lowest collective rate of touchdown catches since 2016, and third-lowest rate in this sample. 

With the reduction in receiving scores, the position posted its lowest fantasy output per game since the 2018 season.

Leaguewide Snap Use of Tight Ends Since 2013
data provided by TruMedia

Year2+TE%Inline%Pass Block%
202128.82%64.14%7.33%
202028.81%66.34%8.32%
201928.20%65.97%8.45%
201825.10%64.26%8.61%
201729.43%67.15%8.81%
201625.30%67.17%8.92%
201530.98%65.77%9.06%
201428.96%65.93%8.71%
201328.59%66.91%9.44%

TruMedia has data going back to 2013 that allows us to look at the rate of snaps teams have used two or more tight ends, the number of snaps that position is lining up traditionally inline, and the rate of pass blocking snaps at the position.

The use of multiple tight end sets has remained flat the past three seasons, but we can see that there is a clear change in the rate that we are seeing tight ends line up detached from the line traditionally and the amount of pass blocking the position is doing. More tight ends are running routes on their snaps played and doing so split away from the ball. 

Tight ends were inline at their lowest rate in 2021 while pass blocking the least. This correlates well with their share of league receiving yardage increasing for the position last season despite other areas remaining stagnant since players lining up in the slot and out wide are getting deeper depth of targets compared to those inline. 

Tight End Usage Per Alignment in 2021
data provided by TruMedia

AlignmentaDOTTgt/Pass Play%
Inline5.314.7%
Slot8.615.5%
Wide915.9%

When tight ends were lined up in the slot, their depth of target was over three full yards deeper than when tight to the formation while it spiked a degree further when lined up wide. 

When those tight ends have moonlighted in the slot and wide, they also accrued a higher target rate per pass play. We are seeing the position become more versatile than ever. 

In 2021, Mike Gesicki (30.6%), Kyle Pitts (30.5%), and Travis Kelce (23.8%) all played over 20% of their snaps outside while we have seven different tight ends play in the slot for 50% of their snaps or more, extending that out to 13 players at the position lining up in the slot for over 40% of their snaps. 

Here at the top-12 scoring tight ends from 2021 in terms of PPR points per game and their deployment per TruMedia.

TESlot %Wide%
Mark Andrews52.3%15.2%
Travis Kelce37.5%23.8%
Rob Gronkowski20.2%6.6%
George Kittle19.7%5.6%
Dalton Schultz30.4%7.7%
Darren Waller21.3%18.9%
T.J. Hockenson40.9%11.3%
Dallas Goedert25.0%5.7%
Dawson Knox28.4%10.9%
Zach Ertz49.4%6.9%
Kyle Pitts36.6%30.5%

Half of the players here were getting out in the slot or out wide for 40% of their snaps while five of the players here were playing over 50% of their snaps in the slot or out wide, including the two players that really mattered a year ago, in Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce

It’s Been Lonely At the Top

The tight end position has always been a tricky one for fantasy since the counting stats of the position do not fully illuminate that we have a surplus of contributors in creating that production, but very few stars individually impacting that output.

There are flaws with the approach, but there is a reason why elite tight ends always show up highly in things like value based drafting and value above replacement with their overall scoring juice and amount of players capable of repeating starting-caliber weeks during a season being the lowest of all of the fantasy skill positions

For the second year in a row, it was just a two-man race in season-long output.

Mark Andrews was able to become the first TE1 scorer other than Travis Kelce since 2015. Kelce was able to produce 87.3% of the fantasy output that Andrews posted, but then we saw a massive decline in season-long production from the field. Over the past two seasons, we have had just one tight end in each season that even posted 70% of the fantasy production of the top-scoring player at the position after the position appeared to be beginning to shape up with some viable depth at the top over the 2019 campaign. 

Over the past 30 years, the TE3 in 2020 produced the lowest share of fantasy output compared to the TE1 while last season, the TE3 ranked 26th out of that sample. It has been a massively top-heavy position the past two seasons in terms of historic output from the field compared to the best player at the position.

The depth of the position in 2021 was better than it was in 2020, but only marginally. 

Players such as Darren Waller and George Kittle missed time and had uneven seasons when on the field to play a part in the field failing to match the top of the position, but we have always been the weakest at setting ADP for tight ends compared to the other positions, something that held true once again in 2021.

Fantasy TE1 Positional Output Share Since 2010

YEARTGT%REC%REYD%RETD%
202131.99%32.06%36.70%31.99%
202032.21%32.47%34.30%34.33%
201933.13%34.56%37.01%33.33%
201835.75%36.03%37.55%36.13%
201733.20%34.48%34.14%36.55%
201633.51%34.48%35.60%34.59%
201533.41%34.67%37.69%40.76%
201434.42%35.62%38.43%41.20%
201333.81%34.90%36.27%40.51%
201233.17%34.84%35.28%39.60%
201136.11%38.00%39.69%42.29%
201031.74%33.71%35.13%39.18%

Looking at the TE1 performers from 2021 including the strong seasons from Andrews and Kelce, TE1 scorers received just under 32% of the leaguewide targets to the position. The target rate for this group of scorers has now dropped in each of the past three seasons from the year prior while the 2021 target rate was the lowest for this group since the 2010 season.

With the targets dropping for this group, receptions also followed suit, dropping for the third straight season. The 32.1% share of receptions from TE1 scorers last year was the lowest share in the sample. 

The other area where TE1 scorers were at a low point was in the touchdown department, producing just 32% of the receiving scores. The three lowest rates in the above sample for share of receiving scores at the position from TE1 scorers have come over the past four seasons while the TE1 group has not produced 40% of the receiving scores from the position since 2015. 

Despite opportunities declining, the share of receiving yardage from the top performers did rise a year ago compared to 2020, although those rates also were below the rates we had seen over the 2018 and 2019 seasons. This folds into that usage we talked about earlier, where these tight ends at the top of the position are getting more of that usage in the slot and out wide, which has aided their yardage output.

Pairing all of this together, the TE1 position has continuously gotten weaker in leaguewide usage and output at the top outside of the few very top players that pace the position each season compared to where we were a decade ago. There is obviously a limit to how low that can go before we bottom out and bounce back. 

I’m not reading all of that…

  • Like all of the other positions, tight end counting stats fell off the historic output of 2020.
  • Tight ends collectively accounted for their largest share of league-wide receiving yardage since 2015 and largest share of receptions since 2019.
  • More tight ends are running routes on their snaps played and doing so split away from the ball than ever.
  • Tight end is the position we are the worst at setting the market for. 
  • The position has been historically top-heavy the past two seasons.
  • The TE1 position has continuously gotten weaker in terms of leaguewide usage and output compared to the position in bulk. 
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