Vernon Davis

Jonathan Bales is the author of the Fantasy Football for Smart People book series. He also writes for the New York Times, DallasCowboys.com, NBC, and Dallas Morning News.

Author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb is famous for his books on “black swan events”—rare occurrences that are difficult to predict but cause a major impact. The attack of September 11 is an example of a black swan because it was a low-frequency event that was difficult for most people to envision, yet caused an obviously devastating impact.

Most fantasy owners seem to be generally unconcerned with black swan events; we usually want to know the most likely occurrence, not extreme outliers. But as the Similarity Score apps here have shown, we should perhaps concern ourselves with rare events more than we do. Sam Bradford’s 20 closest comps are evidence of that. . .

Sam  Bradford comps

Although Bradford’s median projection is to throw only 1.5 touchdowns per game, one of his closest comps is Tom Brady circa 2007 and his 3.12 scores per game, as Bryan Fontaine pointed out in his article on why Bradford could theoretically break out for 50 touchdowns.

While you could get yourself into trouble drafting players based solely on their potential of producing a black swan season, it’s still important to understand the distribution of potential outcomes. There’s a major difference between a running back with a 12-point median projection but a ceiling of 19 points per game, and one with a 12-point projection but a 14-point ceiling.

That’s why I’ve published “volatility ratings”—a metric that accounts for the deviation in a player’s comps relative to his median projection—for quarterbacks and wide receivers. Those allowed me to conclude that Drew Brees is a surprisingly volatile option in 2013 and Doug Martin is the safest player (with the greatest upside) in fantasy football.

A Look at the Tight Ends

Before diving into the volatility ratings, let’s take a look at how the Similarity Score App-generated median projections compare to ADP.

Tight EndMedian ProjectionADPValue
Rob Gronkowski

13.3

2

1

Jimmy Graham

12.6

1

-1

Jason Witten

12.4

3

0

Tony Gonzalez

12.1

5

1

Heath Miller

11.5

17

12

Brandon Myers

10.6

12

6

Greg Olsen

10.3

11

4

Owen Daniels

10.3

13

5

Dennis Pitta

9.9

6

-3

Brandon Pettigrew

9.3

19

9

Jermichael Finley

8.7

10

-1

Jared Cook

7.8

8

-4

Kyle Rudolph

7.2

7

-6

Vernon Davis

7

4

-10

Fred Davis

6.9

20

5

Antonio Gates

6.8

9

-7

Martellus Bennett

6.6

14

-3

Jordan Cameron

3.9

15

-3

Not surprisingly, we see Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham at the top of the list, followed by Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. Shockingly, heath Miller checks in at fifth—12 spots ahead of his ADP among tight ends—fitting nicely with this article by Coleman Kelly on why Miller is an underrated asset. The next player on the list—Brandon Myers—is the third-best value relative to his ADP, behind only Brandon Pettigrew. Aaron Messing has more on that overlooked tight end in the pass-happy offense.

At the other end of the spectrum, we see Vernon Davis as the 14th-highest projected tight end, despite the fact that he’s getting drafted fourth at the position. He’s joined by Antonio Gates and Kyle Rudolph as the worst values.

Volatility Ratings

With the median projections in mind, let’s take a look at how the tight ends stack up in terms of volatility. If you recall from previous articles, my volatility ratings are calculated as follows: (High Projection – Low Projection)/Median Projection. The numerator of that equation is represented below as “Deviation.”

Tight EndMedian ProjectionDeviationVolatility
Tony Gonzalez

12.1

2.3

0.19

Jason Witten

12.4

2.5

0.202

Brandon Myers

10.6

2.4

0.226

Owen Daniels

10.3

2.4

0.233

Greg Olsen

10.3

2.5

0.243

Vernon Davis

7

1.7

0.243

Jimmy Graham

12.6

3.2

0.254

Rob Gronkowski

13.3

3.5

0.263

Dennis Pitta

9.9

2.9

0.293

Heath Miller

11.5

4

0.348

Brandon Pettigrew

9.3

3.7

0.398

Jordan Cameron

3.9

2

0.513

Kyle Rudolph

7.2

3.8

0.528

Jared Cook

7.8

4.4

0.564

Antonio Gates

6.8

4.1

0.603

Jermichael Finley

8.7

5.3

0.609

Fred Davis

6.9

4.4

0.638

Martellus Bennett

6.6

5.2

0.788

A few notes:

  • The age of the top tight ends is surprising; the top five average 30.6 years old. I’m not really sure what to make of that, outside of young tight ends simply being more volatile than older players. You can see that the deviation itself is higher for the younger tight ends, so the effect isn’t due solely to lower median projections.
  • Jermichael Finley, Fred Davis, Martellus Bennett, and Jared Cook have the four-highest deviations among tight ends. As late-round options, those are the sort of players I’ll target (namely Finley and Cook). They have high ceilings relative to their ADP and, if they’re busts, the cost is minimal. As Shawn Siegele pointed out, Finley in particular offers a potentially exploitable inefficiency.
  • You might not think of Miller as possessing a high ceiling, but with a deviation of 4.0 on top of a median projection of 11.5 points per game, Miller’s comps have a higher ceiling than almost every other tight end. For his price tag, he offers everything you want.
  • I won’t own Davis in any leagues. In addition to his horribly low median projection, he also has a ceiling projection of just 8.0 points per game. I think people are overrating the Michael Crabtree injury and the 49ers playoff run. Davis had 11 receptions for 254 yards in three postseason games, but he also had only one game with more than two receptions during the regular season once Colin Kaepernick took over, including four games with one catch and one with zero.

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