NFL Combine for Fantasy Football: Things to Watch (TEs)

NFL Combine for Fantasy Football: Things to Watch (TEs)

In the first piece of this series, I talked about what inspired me to look at NFL Combine data for fantasy football. I also looked at the running back (RB) position. In the second piece, I covered wide receivers (WR). This piece will take a look at the 110 tight ends (TE) who have participated in the NFL Combine from 2013-2018.

I pulled this data from Pro-Football-Reference.com, where they’ve tracked every participant’s numbers since 2000. The TE I examined here include all who have generated an approximate value (AV) of greater than or equal to 0.

The Data


TE correlations

Ok, now that I’m three positions in to this analysis, I am really comfortable with draft round ultimately being a pretty efficient way to evaluate which players are more likely to succeed. Some of the most hardcore dynasty fantasy football players, however, don’t have the luxury of waiting for those results to draft their rookies each year. So what should they look at for TE prospects?

Important Drills

Two drills stand out as having equal absolute value correlated relationships with future NFL success: Bench Reps and 40 Yard Dash.

The TE in this sample with the best bench rep totals at the Combine include Vance McDonald, Jesse James, Zach Ertz, Eric Ebron, Dallas Goedert (undrafted) and Tyler Eifert. Eifert’s 20th best score sits at 22 total bench reps. Keep an eye out for any TE prospects who approach this number at the combine.

TEs among those with the fastest 40 yard dash times are Evan Engram, O.J. Howard, George Kittle, Mike Gesicki, Gerald Everett, Travis Kelce and David Njoku. This is basically a pretty thorough “who’s who” of the top TE prospects of the last 6 years.

Changing Position?

This is a supposition not backed by data – read, opinion.

In the first part of the 2010s, we saw the emergence of stud offensive weapons at the TE position like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.

It is plausible, therefore, to believe NFL Scouts have worked hard to find their own version of such a threat – a player who is faster, stronger and quicker (more on that in a minute) than their relative peer that can “win” both his route matchups and blocking assignments when asked.

3 Cone? Again?!?

Yep! This drill shows less of a relationship with future success at the TE position than it does with the RBs and WRs, but it still remains important. To me, this further illustrates the importance of aspiring TEs matching the relative profile of a Jimmy Graham – who ran a 6.90 second 3 cone drill as well as a 4.53 second 40 yard dash at the 2010 combine.

The top performers in the drill were (unsurprisingly) a lot of the same guys who did well in the 40 yard dash. Names like Mike Gesicki, O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, Tyler Eifert, David Njoku and Gerald Everett are in the top 20 once again.

Other Drills

Relatively speaking, the Vertical Jump, Shuttle Run, and Broad Jump don’t appear to be as significant for TEs.

The top vertical jump score of 41.5 belongs to 2018’s Mike Gesicki, a 2nd round pick that this writer is convinced is poised for a big 2019 – but not because of that drill.

Two combine participants posted vertical jump scores of 39 – Minnesota’s 2017 6th round pick Bucky Hodges, and an undrafted 2014 participant named Colt Lyerla. Neither are employed by an NFL franchise at the time of publication.

The top 20 fastest performers in the short shuttle include the aforementioned Gesicki, Howard, Engram and Eifert. The rest are a laundry list of guys who are either out of the league (e.g. C.J. Fiedorowicz) or young guys with upside (like Ian Thomas and Jonnu Smith). I think we should look at the more highly correlated drills first to see exactly how high that upside may be, anyway.

While we’re fans of a strong broad jump performance over here, it’s worth pointing out Bucky Hodges’ top score in the sample of 134 (or Lyerla’s 5th best 128 for that matter) hasn’t resulted in much of a professional football career since then.

The lower the correlation, the more of a mixed bag the results tend to be. The other 3 top broad jumpers are David Njoku, George Kittle and Mike Gesicki – all highly touted players with some degree of performance on paper already.

Conclusions

Looking at a TE who can do more Bench Reps than his peers appears to matter. Look for a score that approaches or exceeds 20 reps for a potential stud. Further, TE performance in the 40 Yard Dash and 3 Cone Drill are important, as well.

While we can find TEs who have bright futures amongst the top performers in the other drills, the relationships aren’t quite as strong mathematically.

To wrap this mini-series, I’ll look next at performance at the quarterback position. Thanks for reading!

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