2018 Fantasy Tight End Rankings – Outdoors

Fantasy Tight End Rankings
New England Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski. Photo Credit: Brook Ward - Under Creative Commons License

This article may warrant some skepticism. Aren’t most games in the NFL played outside? 75% of teams in the NFL have an outdoor stadium (this counts the teams with retractable roof stadiums as indoor stadiums). So why look at rankings for tight ends in outdoor games? Here is a statistic to help bring a little more value to reading the rest of this article.

In 2011, Drew Brees won his second NFL Offensive Player of the Year award. Brees plays for the New Orleans Saints and the Saints play their home games in an indoor stadium. Here is his statistical breakdown between games in an indoor stadium versus an outdoor stadium during that season:

Indoors: 11 games, 37 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 14 sacks
Outdoors: 5 games, 9 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 10 sacks
Looking at these numbers, there is an obvious difference between Brees’ performance outdoors versus indoors. The ability to have a climate-controlled environment can really affect how you perform on the field. Being able to play indoors for at least half the season, Brees is more accustomed to playing in a controlled space. Once he goes outdoors he may still be an elite quarterback, but his numbers are more pedestrian.

With all that in mind, let’s see how tight ends performed last season while playing in outdoor stadiums.

2017 Tight End Stats Outdoors

2017 Tight End Outdoor Stats – Chart Created by Amar Desai. *Games indicates the number of games played Outdoors in 2017.

Looking at this data we can understand a few things:

  • It’s not surprising to see teams like the New Orleans Saints dead last in these rankings as they play the majority of their games in a dome. Also, the free agent signing of Coby Fleener really didn’t pan out for them and they haven’t had a solid replacement for Jimmy Graham since he was traded to Seattle back in 2015.
  • The top five tight ends on this rankings list are also towards the top of the overall rankings for fantasy scoring producers at the tight end position. A few order differences, but a simple correlation between good fantasy tight ends that will produce outdoors or indoors.
  • 21 of the 32 starting tight ends last season played in double-digit outdoor games. This is important to be aware of when looking at a player’s schedule before drafting them. If your tight end plays in mostly outdoor games, make sure you are selecting a player that is comfortable doing that. Players like Jack Doyle and Kyle Rudolph that played inside, for the most part, did not have such stellar numbers when paying in an outside venue.

Now let’s look at potential rankings for the upcoming season.

2018 Fantasy Tight End Rankings – Outdoors

2018 Tight End Stats Outdoors

2018 Outdoor Tight End Projections. Chart Created by Amar Desai. *Games indicates the number of games to be played Outdoors in 2018.

These rankings are based on projections of who will get the most targets for their perspective teams. With that in mind, let’s see what we can understand from this rankings chart:

  • One thing that immediately jumps out is that only eight teams are playing in less than 13 games outdoors. This makes these rankings projections kind of important, regarding your draft strategy. The top-scoring tight end in fantasy football last season, Travis Kelce, is playing all 16 games outdoors this year.
  • Based on this chart, there are a couple of players worth drafting even though they play less amount of games outdoors. Those players would be Benjamin Watson, Kyle Rudolph, and Jack Doyle.
    • The return to New Orleans will benefit Watson and his fantasy stock. He enjoyed the best season of his career only two years ago in 2015 when he was a member of the Saints. Watson should be an immediate upgrade over previous starting tight end, Coby Fleener. Really worth a late selection in your draft.
    • Rudolph will be one of the many offensive players in Minnesota that will see a performance boost with Kirk Cousins as the new starting quarterback. For the past three seasons, Rudolph has led the Vikings in receiving touchdowns and this season Cousins should help him continue that trend. Sleeper pick to end up as a top-five tight end.
    • The Colts offense has been a bit abysmal the last season or two. With Andrew Luck dealing with injuries, there has been no consistency on that side of the ball. This may make you a little wary about drafting Doyle, but the return of Luck under center can lead to Doyle garnering serious fantasy points. He logged 80 receptions last season and even with the addition of Eric Ebron to the offense, Doyle will get more opportunities to score in the red zone. This will lead to another sterling performance by the young tight end out of Western Kentucky.
  • On the flip-side, some players to avoid that play a lot of games outdoors would be Virgil Green, Tyler Higbee, and Jared Cook.
    • Green is the replacement for Hunter Henry, who suffered a torn ACL injury during OTAs and is lost for the season. The Chargers are looking to bring back Antonio Gates but until that happens, the tight end situation for the Chargers would be smart to avoid.
    • Higbee is playing in a high-octane offense, but don’t let that fool you into drafting him. Sean McVay is a great offensive mind but during his years of being tight ends coach and offensive coordinator in Washington, he doesn’t involve the tight end enough. In his seven years with Washington, the Redskins tight end had more than 70 targets just twice. Now you can say that is partly the fault of the play-calling, but overall it just means this is not a situation worth your time. Second-year tight end Gerald Everett will surely steal targets as well.
    • Cook was third on the Raiders last season in targets, second in receptions, and first in receiving yards. This is a situation where both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree had down years in receiving and Derek Carr had a bad year passing. So, Cook was the cream that rose to the top, but not worthy of being a reliable target on your draft cheat sheet. Cook has played nine years in the NFL and has had more than 50 receptions only twice in that span. Avoid him in your draft, but he could have a little value as a bye week replacement.

After all this analysis, will this article make or break your draft strategy? Probably not. The main hope after getting to the end of this article is that you can now understand the value of being able to perform in all conditions. Though it is great to play at the highest level with a perfect environment indoors, the ability to display that same prowess in an outdoor stadium separates the greats from the elites. Using this article in your next draft, you may now have the leg up on the rest of the competition.

Over the next week or so we will be compiling three more tight end rankings articles that take into account other variables. These will include Indoor performance, Defensive Scheme matchup performance, and first eight-game performance vs. second eight-game performance. Be sure to check them out before your draft!