There are a lot of statistical narratives that get loosely thrown around every year. I’m talking about blanket statements such as “passing stats decrease as temperatures fall” (true) and “rookie wideouts struggle in Year 1” (increasingly false).
Another narrative we hear all the time is “tight ends make a leap in Year 2.” Given the buzz already forming around Eric Ebron, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jace Amaro, Richard Rodgers and Crockett Gillmore, I wanted to put that narrative to the test.
The list below is the simply the fantasy points per game (FPPG) for tight ends drafted in the first three rounds over the last 10 years. The first number is rookie year, the second number is NFL sophomore year. The N/A designation is for players who were hurt and/or didn’t record enough statistics to register.
1) Of the 33 players with two registered seasons, 27 improved in Year 2 (81.8 percent). The only ones that didn’t were Vance McDonald, Dustin Keller, Martellus Bennett, Matt Spaeth, Joe Klopfenstein, Heath Miller.
2) Of the 33 players with two registered seasons, the average gain in FPPG from Year 1 to Year 2 was 1.75 FPPG (2.89 to 4.64, an increase of 60.5 percent).
4) Of the 19 players with two registered seasons and at least 2.0 FPPG as a rookie, four at least doubled their FPPG output in Year 2 (21.0 percent). Kyle Rudolph, Lance Kendricks, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham.
5) 10 of these tight ends were selected in the first round. Their FPPG as a rookie were 3.95 and their FPPG as a sophomore were 4.95, an increase of 25.3 percent.
6) Of the 10 tight ends selected in the first round, seven had two registered seasons. Of those seven, five improved their FPPG in Year 2 (71.4 percent). The only ones that didn’t were Dustin Keller and Heath Miller.
Yes, second-year tight ends take a statistical step forward a majority of the time (81.8 percent). But it’s not as great of a leap as commonly thought. They only at least double their FPPG 21 percent of the time. Note that only two players reached double-digit FPPG in Year 2 – Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. But they were on the top end of the curve as rookies, averaging more than 4.0 FPPG. Only 12 guys in the last 10 years have managed that – and none in 2014.
Now let’s apply some of these trends and conclusions to this year’s group. These five players fit the criteria (tight ends entering second NFL season, drafted in first three rounds). We already know based on Trend 1 and 2 that they improve on their FPPG 81.8 percent of the time and do so by 60.5 percent:
Eric Ebron 2.37, X
Considering the Lions used the No. 10 overall pick on Ebron, his rookie year can’t be called anything but a disappointment. He played on 50.6 percent of the snaps and ran 22.6 routes per game, but managed just 24-248-1 and dropped four of his 49 targets. Even with Calvin Johnson out or hobbled for at least five games and nothing behind Golden Tate, Ebron couldn’t step up. Among tight ends who played on at least 25 percent of their teams snaps, he ranked 35th of 39 in Yards per Route Run, only better than Anthony Fasano, Jeff Cumberland, Vernon Davis and Levine Toilolo.
Ebron fits trends three through six. But as we can see, he’s far from a lock just because he has pedigree. First-round tight ends only increased their FPPG by 25.3 percent to a paltry 4.95 FPPG. Ebron is already getting hyped up tons from inside the Lions’ organization, but this is a team also publicly saying they want to cut down on Matthew Stafford’s volume. Ebron looks like an early candidate to be overdrafted.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins 3.57, X
I like the Year 2 spot for Mount Seferian. He hobbled his way through his rookie year, catching just 21 passes and finishing just two spots ahead of Ebron at the bottom of the Yards per Route Run charts. But the Bucs aren’t worried, adding nothing to their tight end room so far this offseason. They also brought in TE-friendly offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and leaked out a 60-catch projection for Seferian-Jenkins, who will see plenty of single coverage in the middle of the field with Mike Evans/Vincent Jackson attracting attention outside.
Seferian-Jenkins fits into trends three and four. Also note that he had less than 4.0 FPPG as a rookie but more than 3.0. Tight ends that fit that in the last 10 years with two registered seasons are Coby Fleener, Martellus Bennett, Greg Olsen, Zach Miller and Alex Smith. Fleener, Olsen and Miller pushed above 5.0 in Year 2, while Bennett fell back to 1.13 and Smith stayed at his rookie number. I’d project ASJ to join the first three and push toward 6.0 FPPG in 2015.
Jace Amaro 3.30, X
With Rex Ryan grounding-n-pounding, Jace Amaro only played on 39.3 percent of the snaps as a rookie and ran a paltry 18.1 routes per game. It’s not a surprise as he was coming from Texas Tech’s spread offense, where he was essentially a slot receiver that ripped off an absurd 106-1,352-7 line as a junior. We knew the NFL was going to be a major adjustment for Amaro.
So perhaps more than any other player in the 2014 tight end draft class, Amaro is set up for a leap. It certainly helps that new OC Chan Gailey is bringing his spread philosophy to town, a scheme that gets playmakers in space. Amaro is nothing if not a playmaker -- he wasn’t a top-50 draft pick for his blocking.
Richard Rodgers 2.16, X
It’s hard to get excited about Rodgers given his situation in Green Bay. Andrew Quarless will return and high-volume slot man Randall Cobb re-signed in free agency as well. Davante Adams will be talked up as a guy the Packers are high on. Throw in the fact that Aaron Rodgers regime hasn’t focused on the tight end in the pass game (Jermichael Finley’s career-high for targets was 92), and we can safely put Rodgers on the back burner.
Crockett Gillmore 1.20, X
Owen Daniels has followed Gary Kubiak to Denver and Dennis Pitta’s (hip) status is completely unknown. The Ravens need tight end help and they know it, as owner Steve Bisciotti even said the team will be drafting one. Still, Gillmore is a top-100 draft pick who caught 111 passes during his Colorado State career. The Ravens also have senior citizen Steve Smith and barely warm bodies at wideout. If nothing else, the opportunity is here for Gillmore to make a leap onto the TE2 radar.