I've been around the fantasy game for a while, and the target stat has come a long way, baby.
Targets didn't become a tracked stat until 1992. Pro Football Reference wasn't launched until 2003. My early days of fantasy football in the '90s involved scoring leagues by hand, sitting down in the morning with a pencil, a caffeinated beverage and the newspaper.
The pencil and newspaper are gone from my life now; the caffeine remains.
Receiving stats and analysis have blossomed in the modern era. Heck, this article a decade ago would have been merely about targets, full stop. Today, we have so many additional data points — first-read targets, average depth of target, catchable targets, routes run, red-zone data; the cup feels bottomless.
My goal every Tuesday this season is to analyze wide receiver (and occasionally tight end) data and trends, tracking where the puck has been and trying to figure out where the puck is headed. Targets will still factor in plenty, of course.
But remember: we have several different buckets to examine now.
On the Yahoo Fantasy Football Research Tab, you'll see a feature we call MVPs. It tells you the players who most often appear on the top 500 Yahoo public teams.
I noticed two interesting things when I perused this list. First, Travis Kelce — who is often at the top of the list — didn't make the chart, which goes 50 players deep. Second, the tight end position in general is poorly represented. No one made the top 10. Only two tight ends are top 20.
That doesn't mean the tight end position is hopeless. It's just a matter of knowing where to look, and maybe get a little luck timing the market.
You could win a lot of bar bets on that top-charting tight end. It's Chicago's Cole Kmet, who's having a sneaky season. Sure, the bagel in Week 7 was painful. But his weekly chart (half-point PPR) is impressive: TE8, TE24, TE28, TE1 TE7, TE35, TE62, TE9, TE2. That slots him 12th on the Yahoo MVPs list.
Let's give you a look at the eight tight ends who made the list, and try to figure out how they got there and where they are going. (No worries if you were hoping for wide receiver content today; on Wednesday I'll do a full shuffle up for that position.)
The eight tight ends on the Yahoo MVP list this season
Kmet is 12th
Dalton Schultz is 17th
Mark Andrews is 23rd
George Kittle is 24th
T.J. Hockenson is 29th
Sam LaPorta is 35th
Dallas Goedert is 46th. Sadly, he's now hurt.
Taysom Hill is 48th. Talk about your unicorns.
Kmet is the second look in the Chicago passing game, and he's had blowup games with both Justin Fields and Tyson Bagent. The key with Kmet was not benching him after he did nothing in Week 7; he's had two of his biggest games since. Kmet's career progression follows a linear path — he's been TE43, TE22, TE7 and TE5 in his four seasons. He's also never missed a game since joining the NFL. Kmet's ADP in the final week of draft season was around 150.
Schultz did almost nothing the opening three weeks, but he's spread his wings since: TE5, TE6, TE2, TE41, TE1. Much of that is touchdown-driven, as the four big games all have a spike included. But given C.J. Stroud's immediate stardom, I want pieces in this Houston passing game. Schultz cost you a pick in the 130s back in early September.
The Andrews season has been a drumbeat of quiet consistency — he missed the first game of the year but has four catches or more in every game since, with six touchdowns. That's why he's the overall TE2 in most formats. Zay Flowers has a slightly higher target share than Andrews, but after that, it's a cliff — the third-most targeted player in this offense is the fantasy-unplayable Odell Beckham Jr.
If you landed Andrews in Round 3 back in the summer, you did well.
Kittle's brought the usual boom-bust season we expect; his four best games have been smashes (TE1, TE3, TE5, TE8), but he's been 27th or worse in his other starts. The 49ers' downfield guys all have stops and starts to their profiles; the only sure weekly thing in this offense is Christian McCaffrey. The Ravens (nasty) and Commanders (oddly strong in seam coverage; maybe it's because wideouts crush them) are part of Kittle's tricky playoff schedule.
Volume has been the name of Hockenson's game, as he leads the position in targets and catches, and he's second in yards. The three touchdowns might be a little unlucky, as Hockenson has 12 targets in the red zone, tied for second at the position (our old friend Jake Ferguson — who had a monster game in Week 9 — ranks first). Joshua Dobbs was tight-end friendly during his Arizona days, and Hockenson had a solid 6-69-0 return in the first start without Kirk Cousins. So the Minnesota passing game should remain useful, even if the Cousins ceiling is gone for good.
LaPorta's been a fun player, the rare rookie tight end who's been ready to play from Day 1 (apparently he's better than Lance Kendricks). It helps that the Lions don't have a dynamic WR2 behind Amon-Ra St. Brown; LaPorta is the only other downfield target getting bankable volume in Detroit. LaPorta's weekly returns have been perhaps the most consistent at the position: TE12, TE8, TE1, TE16, TE3, TE17, TE10, TE6. Landing around ADP 145 before the season, LaPorta is my nomination for the perfect tight end pick of 2023, combining floor, upside and draft affordability.
Not much to say on Goedert, given he just fractured his forearm and should miss about four weeks. Tight end is an attrition position and Goedert symbolizes that; he hasn't played a full season since 2018.
Hill is often a polarizing fantasy player, as he does multiple things for the Saints and that sets off debates on what his true position is. Hey, I don't make the rules, I just play the hand you deal me. And lately, Hill has been flush with fantasy points, outscoring everyone at this position over the last four weeks. Hill comes with plenty of risk, of course; the Saints offense is overflowing with playmakers, and Hill's scoring doesn't come in a traditional way. But given how dynamic Hill is around the goal line — where he's a useful power runner and also a threat to catch passes or occasionally throw one — I suspect the Saints will continue to use him proactively. I'll keep starting him until he has at least one bad week.
As for the rest of the tight end board:
At times Kelce looks his age (34), but the Chiefs have a pedestrian wide receiver room and Kelce's been productive after missing Week 1. He's still the gold standard at this position, even as his dominance level has drifted off some.
Evan Engram (TE11) is at the top of the Diontae Johnson list: the most targets (61) without a touchdown. But hey, Johnson scored in Week 9 — all things are possible. Next up on that list: Elijah Moore (50 targets), Josh Jacobs (43), Tyler Higbee (43), Darius Slayton (41). Engram looks like the buy on that list; everyone else, you're on your own.
Last week's top 12 at the position had several sleepers, quasi-sleepers and former sleepers: Cade Otton slotted third, Ferguson was fourth, Luke Musgrave ranked seventh, universally-loved Dalton Kincaid was 11th and David Njoku ranked 12th. With Kelce off this week and Goedert out for a while, some of these guys might be viable week 10 pickups.