Michael Nania brings together a multitude of metrics to rank all 32 tight end groups in 2019. Where did the New York Jets land?
Back in March, I conducted a study that blended a bevy of different metrics to get a solid estimate of exactly where the New York Jets offensive line ranked amongst the league’s 32 units in 2019.
I decided to apply that concept to the rest of the game’s positions. Today, we look at tight end. Without Chris Herndon for the majority of the season, the Jets ran out a makeshift group of tight ends that experienced its share of highs and lows. Where did the crew stack up against the league’s other 31 units?
The method behind the rankings is simple – for each statistic, every team is scored on a scale of 0-to-10. The worst team receives a 0, the best team receives a 10, and the other 30 teams are scored relative to those two points. The final rankings are assembled according to each team’s average score across all statistics.
Previous rankings can be found here:
Let’s dig into the metrics behind the 2019 tight end rankings.
Volume of receiving production
Statistics are the combined totals of all tight ends to play for each team in 2019. These numbers are evaluating the 2019 regular season only and do not account for any moves made since the season’s conclusion.
Throughout the series of rankings I have been putting together, efficiency has been a huge emphasis. It will continue to be in this study, but I think volume deserves more shine at the tight end position than it does at any other.
Unlike most other position groups, teams vary widely in how often they elect to utilize their tight ends. The amount of snaps and targets that a team allocates to the tight end position depends largely on how much talent it has there.
With so much variation in how often teams choose to target their tight ends, I think it is very important to consider which units were trusted by their teams the most. Increased production showcases a higher level of confidence from the coaching staff, which in turn is likely a sign of superior talent and thus a greater positive impact on the game.
Plus, as we will see later on, teams whose tight ends rarely get involved in the passing game tend to put up insanely good efficiency numbers as they rack up yardage on surprise block-and-release screen plays (picture Eric Tomlinson) and the like. We do not want those types of players beating out the Travis Kelces of the world simply because they catch the ball so infrequently that they get left uncovered on a handful of plays.
Volume was considered slightly in the wide receiver rankings, but not as substantially as it will be for the tight ends. The variation in volume at tight end is much larger than it is at wide receiver. To exemplify this, the top-five most-targeted wide receiver groups saw 1.86 times as many targets as the bottom-five least-targeted ones. The top-five most-targeted tight end groups saw 2.86 times as many targets as the bottom-five least-targeted ones.
So, raw receiving production is going to be a huge part of these rankings. The two volume-based metrics we are about to look at will receive double the value in the final rankings compared to the efficiency metrics used.
Our two volume-based metrics are receiving yards per team passing play and first down receptions per team passing play. Accounting for the number of passing plays is important to put all teams on the same plane and remove the variables (pace of play, defense quality, run game quality/emphasis) that could lead to a certain team’s passing attack putting up particularly high or low raw totals.
Simply put, these two stats take each group’s production totals and adjust them based on the number of passing plays run by the team.
Here is how the league’s 32 tight end groups stacked up according to receiving yards per team passing play (receiving yards by tight ends ÷ number of passing plays run by team).
With only 446 receiving yards on 574 passing plays, the Jets tight end group ranked third-worst with 0.78 yards per play (positional average: 1.37).
Here is how the league stacked up according to first down receptions per team passing play.
The Jets ranked 27th with their tight ends recording a first down grab on 4.36% of the team’s passing plays (positional average: 6.94%).
- Griffin – 19 first downs
- Brown – 4
- Wesco – 2
- Herndon – 0
As mentioned earlier, keep in mind that these two metrics will be worth twice as much in the final scoring as the next three receiving metrics we are about to look at.
Yards per target
We move on to our efficiency-based metrics, starting with yards per target.
The Jets tight ends did a decent job efficiency-wise, ranking 13th with 7.82 yards per target (positional average: 7.75).
- Griffin – 7.80 (320 yards on 41 targets)
- Brown – 6.55 (72 on 11)
- Wesco – 15.67 (47 on 3)
- Herndon – 3.50 (7 on 2)
Griffin’s league-average efficiency is the main reason that the Jets were able to achieve competency in this department. He has proven to be a consistently average receiver throughout his career. Wesco chipped in with a pair of surprise screen receptions that went for big gains.
First down rate
Here is how the league stacked up according to first down rate (first down receptions ÷ targets).
The Jets tight ends were actually very good in this department, moving the chains on 43.9% of their targets (positional average: 39.3%). Once again, give credit to Griffin for producing at a solid level on a per-target basis.
- Griffin – 46.3% (19 first downs on 41 targets)
- Brown – 36.4% (4 on 11)
- Wesco – 66.7% (2 on 3)
- Herndon -0.0% (0 on 2)
Here is how the league stacked up according to drop rate (drops ÷ drops plus receptions).
Drops were not an issue for the Jets tight ends, as they only let two passes hit the floor all season for a 4.3% drop rate (positional average: 6.3%).
- Griffin – 5.6% (2 drops on 34 receptions)
- Brown – 0.0% (0 on 7)
- Wesco – 0.0% (0 on 2)
- Herndon – 0.0% (0 on 1)
PFF Receiving Grade
Pro Football Focus grades each skill position player’s performance as a receiver on each snap. With context added in, we get a decent shot at capturing the true quality of a player’s receiving impact. Players with schemed-up production receive grades that fall short of their box score numbers. On the other hand, players who make low-percentage catches and create after the catch are rewarded. There are also slight penalties who go long periods of time without creating enough separation to earn targets. These are just a few simple examples of how context can change the way we look at a player’s production.
I took each tight end’s receiving grade and weighted it based on playing time (snaps as a receiver). Here is how the league stacked up according to aggregate receiving grade by tight ends.
The Jets ranked 17th, but their tight end group’s 61.4 grade fell a few points shy of the positional average (64.7).
- Griffin – 63.4 grade (285 receiving snaps)
- Brown – 55.2 (102)
- Wesco – 66.8 (21)
- Herndon – 64.9 (11)
Combining the scores of all six receiving metrics (with double value to the two volume-based metrics), here is how the league’s 32 tight end groups stacked up in the receiving game.