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Jonathan Bales | Archive | Email | Twitter
Staff Writer

Projecting Tight Ends - Yards-Per-Reception

Jonathan Bales is the founder of and writes for the New York Times and Dallas Cowboys. He’s the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.

In my first article here, I discussed how to use regression toward the mean to project wide receivers’ yards-per-catch. From that article:

To regress wide receiver YPC toward the mean, we need to figure out exactly how a player’s stats in the previous season match up with his “true” talent. If we were to simulate 1,000 seasons, for example, how many times would Victor Cruz repeat his 18.7 YPC from 2011?

One of the most effective ways to determine a receiver’s “true” YPC is to average his YPC from previous seasons. Over a larger sample size, a receiver’s YPC is more likely to be representative of his true value than the number he posted in 2011 alone.

For us stat geeks, large sample sizes are the holy grail of fantasy football. You can have Cruz and his 18.7 YPC from 2011 all day. I’ll take DeSean Jackson. His career 17.8 YPC, although lower than Cruz’s, is more representative of big-play ability because it has come over a sample size of 230 receptions (compared to just 82 for Cruz).

And even in non-PPR leagues, Jackson’s average draft position sure looks a lot more enticing than that of Cruz. . .

DeSean Jackson vs. Victor Cruz - ADP

Currently being drafted nearly two rounds later than Cruz, Jackson offers good value in 2012. He won’t haul in a ton of passes, but his YPC is set to rebound in a major way. Even with 65 receptions, Jackson should be in the top five in yards this season. Regression toward the mean, in the case of Jackson, helps identify hidden value.

But I’ve digressed. And now it’s time to regress. Regress tight end YPC, that is. A few notes:

  • The players below are the tight ends who finished in the top 15 in receiving yards in 2011. I added Jermaine Gresham and Ed Dickson in there for no good reason except that I wanted to see their projections.

  • You can project receptions however you like, and your results will obviously change your projection of yards. I will touch on how to project receptions in future posts.

  • I used a tight ends’ YPC from the three previous full seasons to obtain an accurate YPC projection for 2012. In the case of players that don’t have three such seasons under their belts—Gresham, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, etc—I simply used a subjective projection.

  • The number in parentheses is the player’s 2011 yardage rank among tight ends.

  • Finally, note that these aren’t final rankings. Other factors need to be included (the most obvious of them being touchdowns), but the point is to give you a foundation from which to tweak your tight end rankings.
2012 Tight End Projections

1. (1) Rob Gronkowski
85 receptions, 13.8 YPC = 1,173 yards
It’s unlikely Gronk will average nearly 15.0 YPC again.

2. (2) Jimmy Graham
90 receptions, 12.5 YPC = 1,125 yards
Even with a decline in receptions and YPC, Graham will undoubtedly be a top two tight end.

3. (11) Brandon Pettigrew
90 receptions, 10.4 YPC = 936 yards
The biggest winner in these projections, Pettigrew will improve upon his 9.4 YPC from 2011.

4. (10) Antonio Gates
65 receptions, 14.1 YPC = 917 yards
As always, the key is health.

5. (8) Fred Davis
70 receptions, 13.0 YPC = 910 yards
Another tight end with outstanding upside, Davis could be RGIII’s security blanket.

6. (9) Vernon Davis
67 receptions, 13.5 YPC = 905 yards
Davis’ 11.8 YPC from 2011 was well below his career mark, and Alex Smith will look for him often.

7. (4) Aaron Hernandez
75 receptions, 12.0 YPC = 900 yards
The upside here is limited with Gronkowski on the field, although Hernandez could receive more vertical targets in 2012.

8. (3) Jason Witten
75 receptions, 11.2 YPC = 840 yards
Witten’s decline has been evident the past couple of years, and he’s really a low risk/low reward player this season.

9. (14) Jared Cook
60 receptions, 13.6 YPC = 816 yards
Cook will go only as far as Jake Locker takes him.

10. (12) Jermichael Finley
60 receptions, 13.5 YPC = 810 yards
Finley talks a big game, but I don’t see him putting up top five fantasy numbers anytime soon.

11. (6) Dustin Keller
65 receptions, 12.2 YPC = 793 yards
Keller has the physical tools, but not the quarterback.

12. (13) Kellen Winslow
70 receptions, 11.3 YPC = 791 yards
Winslow will be difficult to project in Seattle.

13. (7) Brent Celek
60 receptions, 12.7 YPC = 762 yards
Celek won’t get enough targets to be a No. 1 tight end option.

14. (18) Jermaine Gresham
65 receptions, 11.0 YPC = 715 yards
Gresham has some upside but the Bengals don’t send him down the field often.

15. (5) Tony Gonzalez
70 receptions, 10.2 YPC = 714 yards
His time has come. Unless it hasn’t, because I’m wrong about Gonzalez every year.

16. (15) Owen Daniels
50 receptions, 12.6 YPC = 630 yards
Daniels doesn’t offer the low risk you’d prefer in someone without much upside.

17. (20) Ed Dickson
60 receptions, 11.0 YPC = 600 yards
Dickson’s 9.8 YPC from 2011 will improve this season.

You can see the big winners in these projections are Pettigrew, Gates, and Cook. The losers are Witten, Keller, Celek, and Gonzalez. Of the top 10 tight ends, Fred Davis has the most upside, in my view. He’s the top receiving threat in Washington but has some talent outside to help take some of the pressure off him. His final rank will depend on how often the Redskins can reach the red zone.