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Best-Ball Tight Ends: Finding Sleepers with "12" Personnel


You have to draft at least two players at each position -- yes, even defense and (blech) kicker -- to cover your best-ball roster because you can't make in-season moves. I'm not one to draft two tight ends in most typical leagues, but I will in TE-bonus setups like FFPC contests, the Scott Fish Bowl, and best-ball games.

This isn't to say you have to pay up for both spots (or all three, if the roster is deeper). Handle the position as you normally would -- pay up for Travis Kelce, wait for the sleepers like the Atlanta Falcons' Hayden Hurst -- but that second option could give you an added bonus.

One way to maximize the late-round goodness is to look at teams who use a lot of two-tight-end sets: "12 Personnel" (one running back, two tight ends) and, to a lesser degree, "22" (two running backs, two tight ends). The fact that a team's second TE is on the field more often can give him more opportunities to steal a touchdown or big play. Let's take a look at some of last year's leaders in frequency and efficiency related to 12 personnel. (Thanks to Sharp Football stats for the handy numbers.)

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Diving into 12 Personnel Usage

Only 5 teams sent more than 40 targets to tight ends in the '12' during 2019:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: 161
  2. Baltimore Ravens: 60
  3. Kansas City Chiefs: 59
  4. Minnesota Vikings: 54
  5. Houston Texans: 44

That Eagles gap. Wow. Of course, Dallas Goedert is not technically a "sleeper," considering he's typically among the top 15 TEs off the board.

I will grant that some of these aren't the vast sample sizes that we want in scouting offensive tendencies, but considering the volatility of picking best-ball depth, they belong in the discussion.

Overall use of 12 Personnel, 2019 (Sharp Football)

Rk Team Overall % of plays
1 Eagles 52
2 Vikings 34
3 Texans 30
4 Titans 29
5 Chiefs 28
6 Colts 26
7 Dolphins 24
8 Cardinals 23
9 Browns 23
10 Buccaneers 23

% of pass plays using "12 Personnel," 2019 (Sharp Football)

Rk Team 12 Pass Play% QB Rating
1 Eagles 51 94.4
2 Vikings 44 105.4
3 Texans 27 102.3
4 Chiefs 26 99.2
5 Ravens 24 106.4
6 Colts 23 93
T7 Titans 21 120.3
T7 Dolphins 21 67.1
9 Buccaneers 17 106.3
T10 Saints 17 131.3
T10 Raiders 17 103.3

% of TE targets among pass plays from "12 Personnel," 2019 (Sharp Football)

Rk Team % TE Targets
1 Eagles 66
2 Vikings 53
T3 Cardinals 38
T3 Texans 38
5 Chiefs 35
T6 Steelers 32
T6 Dolphins 32
T6 Patriots 32
T9 Ravens 31
T9 Browns 31

Thoughts:

 

Sleepers from 12 Personnel

As for what the season-long 12 frequencies tell us, I've been prompted to target a few names who could be on the field in multi-TE sets, especially in the red zone.

These are either TE2 options are "wait-and-see" members of a committee.

Irv Smith, Minnesota Vikings

Kyle Rudolph is still around, and Kevin Stefanski is no longer in charge of this offense. (More on him later.) But new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak should carry on with much of the pass-game success that finally helped Kirk Cousins. (He thrived when throwing to TEs in the 12, with a 119.9 passer rating.)

Though Kyle Rudolph saw 22.4% of the Vikings' red-zone targets last year, Smith wasn't far behind at 20.4% while also planting two in the end zone.

Kubiak's base offense doesn't lean heavily on a third wideout, and the Vikes traded Stefon Diggs to Buffalo, opening up 94 targets from 2019. Behind Adam Thielen and rookie Justin Jefferson, Smith can carve out a role in tandem with Rudolph, who's on a contract year and likely on his way out of town following 2020.

Trey Burton, Indianapolis Colts

Here's another copy-paste option that could benefit from a new system. Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni love 2-TE sets and need a replacement for Eric Ebron to complement Jack Doyle.

Burton said his quick return from the sidelines last year was due to a misdiagnosis. His hasty activation might've exacerbated his hip injury, for which he underwent surgery in December.

Many may be burned by him and therefore swearing off drafting him. In redrafts, sure. But assuming health, his versatility in where to line up could help the Colts add receiving firepower as sophomore Parris Campbell and rookie Michael Pittman Jr. continue developing behind T.Y. Hilton.

New QB Philip Rivers reunites with Reich and Sirianni; of course, he loves to check down -- specifically to tight ends. 

While it's a mistake to blindly slide Ebron's overachieving production (13 touchdowns in 2018) to him, Burton could prove more active than originally thought.

Speaking of the former Colt:

Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers

A year after Vance McDonald enjoyed fantasy helium, Pittsburgh gets an even more skilled offensive weapon.

As ESPN's Brooke Pryor writes:

Adding Ebron gives Ben Roethlisberger a consistent red zone threat and a receiving target over the middle. Ebron is one of only six tight ends to score more than 20 red zone touchdowns in the past five seasons -- a welcome addition for a team that ranked dead last in red zone scoring in 2019. Ebron also has 3,195 career receiving yards and 27 touchdowns.

While questions may arise about how Diontae Johnson and James Washington will split targets, Ebron could be a wrench many fantasy players are forgetting -- one who could spike with one or two touchdowns in a given week.

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

I would not jump to draft either Njoku or new arrival and presumed No. 1 Austin Hooper in a normal league, but I wouldn't be upset to try either as a member of a best-ball duo. Kevin Stefanski was in charge of that Vikings offense that ranked second in the 12 pass percentage last year, and now he brings that to Baker Mayfield and the rest of Cleveland's offense.

Given the way that Hooper has been strongly valued in my early best-ball activities, I lean toward having Njoku as the candidate to have 3-4 TE1-capable games, instead of paying up, relatively, to trust Hooper to replicate the production he spun under a much more favorable situation as a Falcon.

 

Bonus Dart Throws

Jace Sternberger, Green Bay Packers

Jimmy Graham's departure opens things up for Sternberger already.

The Packers overall fielded a '12' formation on 20% of their plays, the 13th-highest frequency, but they attempted a pass on just 14% (middle of the pack). If they flip more of those into aerial attempts, that could increase Sternberger's chances to contribute in the red zone.

Tyler Eifert, Jacksonville Jaguars

He followed his former Bengals OC to Duval. New head coach Jay Gruden has leaned on the tight end position, and Eifert scored 13 touchdowns under his watch in 2015.

Of course, Josh Oliver is a prime dynasty watch-list candidate who could surprise, and James O'Shaughnessy (knee) returns from last year's season-ending injury, so this is a crowded room.

Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, New England Patriots

At 6-foot-3, 257 pounds, Asiasi is more of a true tight end than Keene, who could be a James Develin-type who flips around where he lines up.

New England will probably continue embracing the 12, given Jarrett Stidham's ongoing development at quarterback and the club's likely run-first mentality. The occasional pop off a play-action throw could lead to some best-ball success by Asiasi.

Still, this is more of a "pick up during the season" thing than a redraft priority.

Will Dissly, Seattle Seahawks

Greg Olsen's in town, sure, but the 35-year-old has flirted with retirement and broadcasting; this could be a Jason Witten situation, with him merely occupying space.

Dissly, meanwhile, was firmly a starter-worthy fantasy TE for much of 2019 before a season-ending Achilles rupture. I don't envision him vanishing altogether. Though you don't want to predict when he blows up, a best-ball mentality should embrace that possibility.

Kahale Warring, Houston Texans

It's a shame that Houston's picture isn't clearer given how high they rank in 12 personnel usage.

Jordan Akins and Darren Fells filled the Texans' need at tight end last year, when then-rookie Warring suffered a hamstring and concussion, which erased his fantasy season as he parked on injured reserve.

Warring has been working out with Deshaun Watson, and at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds, he possesses the makeup to chew up the QB's attention inside the 20. However, when we remember that Jordan Thomas is still around to make this a four-person battle, the winner of this is probably best left as a post-draft pickup.

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RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 20th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Bubba and Bat Flip 54: 2 Early Mocks APD Player Debates - Benched with Bubba (Episode 316)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by Bat Flip Crazy (@BatFlipCrazy) to take a deeper look at the 2 Early Mocks ADP. They go over some of the positions and look at players with similar ADPs and debate. Going around the diamond discussing some players people are high on and some they are down on with a... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 18th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 18th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 17th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 17th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


2021 Early Mock ADP Values & Reaches: WPC+ Videocast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut prepare for the 2021 fantasy baseball season with a look at early mock draft results from the RotoBaller Expert mock. Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well! Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller... Read More


Statcast Season Review: 2020 Barrel Leaders (Hitters)

The 2020 MLB season will always be one for the record books, even if everything that took place will have multiple asterisks attached to it. Evaluating Statcast numbers is a nice way to find hot and cold hitters, as well as underachievers and overachievers. Now that the regular season is over, let's reflect on the... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 16th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 16th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 15th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 15th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 14th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 14th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Bubba and Bat Flip 53: 2 Early Mocks APD Trends & More - Benched with Bubba (Episode 315)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by Bat Flip Crazy (@BatFlipCrazy) to take a deeper look at the 2 Early Mocks ADP. They dig into trends, some interesting risers/fallers, and much more. They also go over some listener questions at the end to keep the Fantasy Baseball information coming even in the offseason. Be sure to subscribe... Read More