An Argument For Drafting Tight Ends in the First Round of Fantasy Football Drafts

“Who should I take with my first round draft pick? What position is the most consistent and reliable? What position has the most depth?”

These are questions every fantasy manager considers prior to draft season, and questions we will be taking a detailed look at in the first edition of our Fantasy Football Analytics series! For our first article, we examined how the top fantasy picks at each position (QB, RB, WR, TE, D/ST, K) have performed throughout the past five NFL seasons. We compiled average draft positions (ADP) for every player from five different fantasy football sites (ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, FFC, and Fantrax), and we compared how those initial draft positions lined up with the final fantasy football player performance at each position. In other words, over the past five years, what percentage of top five drafted quarterbacks at the beginning of the season (or RB’s, WR’s, etc) actually finish in the top five in their position by the end of the season? 

Why Does This Matter?

You might be asking yourself: “Why do I care about the percentage of top five draft picks in a given position that actually end up finishing in the top five?” Well, this study essentially takes a look at what positions you can trust the most in terms of the stars at that position. This can be incredibly tough to predict, and people will often spend hours trying to figure out which direction to go in with their first round pick. Should you follow the pack and get a running back like everybody does in the first round, or should you reach for a top WR or TE? What we’ve found in this study will be incredibly helpful to you in terms of making that decision – for me, it has completely changed the way I view the top tier players at their respective positions, and I will most certainly draft differently this year because of it.

What We Found 

When we looked at the top 5 picks by ADP at each position, we didn’t find too many differences in how those players finished. 

The Data

10/25 top 5 QB’s finished in the top 5

12/25 top 5 RB’s finished in the top 5

11/25 top 5 WR’s finished in the top 5

13/25 top 5 TE’s finished in the top 5

10/25 top 5 K’s finished in the top 5

8/25 top 5 D/ST’s finished in the top 5

So, clearly there aren’t significant differences between positions when looking at the top five picks. But, we didn’t stop there, because we knew those numbers didn’t tell the whole story.

We then turned to looking at top three picks at each position (in the past five years) in an attempt to see  what percentage of those guys finished in the top five. Here’s what we found:

The Data

5/15 top 3 QB’s finished in the top 5

4/15 top 3 RB’s finished in the top 5

8/15 top 3 WR’s finished in the top 5

9/15 top 3 TE’s finished in the top 5

6/15 top 3 K’s finished in the top 5

5/15 top 3 D/ST’s finished in the top 5

This data are obviously A LOT more telling, and it sets up a clear distinction between WR/TE’s and QB/RB’s. While more than 50% of top three ADP WR’s and TE’s finish in the top five, far below 50% of top three ADP RB’s and QB’s finish in the top five. In fact, the number four and five RB’s and QB’s actually have a BETTER CHANCE at finishing in the top 5 as opposed to the top three RB’s and QB’s. Think about that for a second, because that’s some pretty remarkable information; it means you have FAR more confidence in the top WR or TE performing to his potential than you do the top QB’s or RB’s.

An Argument To Take Kelce Number #1 Overall

Listen. I know this is a hot take and I’m not even necessarily saying I would do it. I’m merely posing that Travis Kelce first is a feasible option in light of the data that we’ve found above. Kelce has been the top scoring tight end in four of the last five years (he was #2 behind Gronk in 2017), so he’s about as sure a thing as you can get in fantasy. Furthermore, there is such a significant drop off after the top few tight ends (Kelce averaged 21 points a game this past season while the middle-of-the-pack TE averaged 10), so you can feel a lot of confidence that you’re going to have a better TE than your opponent each week by drafting Kelce, which is not something that can be said for the top player in any other position (as is shown above by the top three data). Also, as has been shown by both the data and Kelce’s performance over the past 5 seasons, we have a LOT more confidence in Kelce separating himself from the #2 and #3 tight ends as opposed to a guy like Patrick Mahomes separating himself from #2 and #3 QB’s. So, even though Kelce is going to end up with fewer points than the top RB’s and QB’s, that doesn’t accurately represent his value, because picking out that top RB or QB is A LOT TOUGHER to do than picking out the top TE. If you feel like you can do it, power to you. But, people who spend their entire lives trying to predict the top RB’s are more often wrong than they are right, while my 12-year old brother can predict that Kelce will be the top scoring TE.

Some Other Points

There are other valid arguments that could be made as a result of the data that we found, so here are some of them, briefly:

  • – An obvious counter argument to the above findings is that securing a star running back is much more valuable than a star wide receiver, and thus the additional risk that those top tier RBs don’t perform to their average draft position is worth taking on. I’ll leave this debate to a future edition of our Fantasy Football Analytics series.
  • – Don’t be the first team to take a D/ST. Only one of the top picked D/ST’s has finished in the top 5 in the past 5 years, so you’re better off spending that pick on a bench player than could turn out to be a meaningful piece for your team. Get a defense late, or better yet consider streaming them depending on your leagues format. 
  • – Think about passing on the top three QB’s. The number four and five QB’s have a BETTER CHANCE at finishing in the top five than do the number one and two QB’s. You’re better off waiting for those second tier guys (Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, etc) than you are going for Maholmes.
  • – Top RBs carry significant risk. Whether it be injuries or just the nature of the RB position, they’re much less of a sure thing. Similarly to QB’s, the top two running backs have a worse chance at finishing in the top five than do the number four and five running backs, which means you’re probably better off waiting for a 2018 Derrick Henry type guy than going all-out for McCaffrey or Kamara.

Make sure you follow our twitter for updates on when we will be posting new articles and content! We’re going to be releasing some pretty cool interactive tools over the next few weeks, and we can’t wait to continue providing DFS content for the NFL season!

  • Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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