Today I put the Tape Detective costume in the closet of my mom’s basement, and instead put on my nerd hat. I looked at which stats help (and don’t help) predicting TEs for fantasy football, and why that’s the case. And if you missed it, I just did this same exact column on WRs here. Check it out after this.
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Yards Per Game: When in doubt, sort by yardage (or yards per game). They are better predictors than just about every fancy-boy stat you can come up with.
Fantasy Points Per Game: The same can be said for fantasy points per game, which is obviously very yardage heavy. There really is no reason to get too fancy with our analysis.
First Downs: They statistically matter just as much as the other two, but ain’t nobody going to find first down data on their own. Let’s move on.
Targets Per Game: Targets are indeed a skill, but they are slightly less predictive than fantasy points and yards per game. Some TEs are just less effective on their targets than others. That difference is why it falls into the “kinda matter” bucket.
Yards Per Route Run: It’s a fantastic efficiency stat and it is helpful for determining how good young TEs are, but it is less predictive than fantasy points or yards per game in general. Removing a TE’s longest reception of the previous year added some predictiveness because long YAC plays are volatile.
PFF Grade: Their grades closely align with yards per route run. There could be something to creating a stat that combines fantasy points per game and PFF Grade. I like the idea of combining production and a film grade.
Touchdowns: It’s no surprise that touchdowns hold less predictiveness than fantasy points, yards, or receptions. They can be fluky, which is why you’ll see my touchdowns over expected column pop onto Underblog soon.
Slot and Wide Rate: In the WR version of this column, I noted how % of snaps in the slot is negatively correlated with next year’s fantasy points. That is far from the case with TEs. There is signal in how often a TE lined up detached to the formation and what % of passing snaps he ran a route versus stayed in to block. This makes sense obviously, but some players (like Antony Firkser and Logan Thomas) are candidates for more production just because they had a massive slot rate in 2020. On the flip side, pass block rate has a -0.38 correlation to next year’s fantasy points. Go to PFF (or watch the tape!) to see how often each TE stayed into block.
Yards After The Catch Per Target: Obviously we want our TEs to be studs after the catch, but that YAC data is already in the formula for fantasy points and yards per game. Just use those two stats.
Average Depth of Target: aDOT matters more for TEs than it does for WRs, but it’s still mostly irrelevant. TEs who have higher aDOTs are slightly better bets for fantasy points, partially because downfield throws are more valuable in general but also because it’s a signal that the TE is a good athlete capable of winning down the seam.
Contested Catch Rate: Awesome for highlight tapes. Less awesome for predicting fantasy points. Contested catch rate has a correlation of 0.05 to next year’s fantasy points per game. Focus on TEs who get open, not who win on less-valuable sideline fades.
Drop Rate: With a correlation of -0.11, drop rate has almost no impact on next year’s fantasy points. In fact, total drops (not drop rate) are positively correlated with next year’s fantasy points. The only time drops matter are when a coach removes that player from the starting lineup. That’s somewhat rare, however.
Only TEs with 100 routes run in both “SeasonA” and “SeasonA+1” qualified. There were 452 qualifying WRs since 2010. The “SeasonA” stats are predicting half PPR points per game in “SeasonA+1”.