We all do it. Each year as we dig into our fantasy draft prep, we circle the names of one or two mid-round tight end options with a legit shot at becoming the next breakout star. You know, the type with the off-the-chart measurables just chomping at the bit for his chance to shine, maybe coming back from injury or into a new situation.
He won the Mackey Award in college! He grew up playing basketball! He has huge hands!
Somewhere along the line, reality sets in that finding elite-level tight end production before everyone else is perhaps the most elusive task in fantasy football. In fact, just three names occupy seven of the top-10 spots of the greatest fantasy TE seasons of the PFF era. The list comprises three former first-round picks, three second-rounders, and four third-rounders. Heck, Travis Kelce was the top fantasy TE in each of the last two seasons, and he didn’t even score enough points to crack the top 10.
In recent weeks, I’ve gone back and revisited the top fantasy seasons of the PFF era for running backs, wide receivers, and quarterbacks. Today, it’s the top-10 tight ends, and then I’ll wrap up the series with some key observations and positional trends as we look ahead to the 2018 season.
PPO: points per opportunity, defined as carries + pass routes
YPRR: yards per route run, i.e. a more useful metric than the standard yards per reception
SLOT%: percentage of routes run while lined up in slot
ADOT: average depth of target.
10. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys (2010, age 28)
These days, Witten is known more for his longevity (he hasn’t missed a game since 2006) than fantasy prowess. Heck, even at the age of 35 this past season, Witten played 98 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps. But in his 2007-2013 heyday, Witten averaged 90 catches, 994 yards, and five touchdowns per season. Those numbers would have been good enough to finish as the TE3 in PPR in 2017 behind Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski – and we’re talking about numbers that are a seven-year average. In 2010, at the age of 28, Witten notched a career-high nine touchdowns and had 10 games with six or more catches.