Better than average: Tight Ends

Which tight ends were truly the best against specific defenses?

As always, there are so few difference-making tight ends that after the top five of the position, there’s only moderate to mediocre fantasy value in all the rest. But as with the other positions, here are how tight ends fared considering how they stacked up against all other tight ends that faced the same defense.

Better than average: QB | RB | WR

TM Tight End BTA score Top 1 Top 3 Top 8
BAL Mark Andrews 29 4 10 15
KC Travis Kelce 27 4 10 13
DAL Dalton Schultz 25 4 8 13
TB Rob Gronkowski 18 3 7 8
BUF Dawson Knox 16 3 5 8
ATL Kyle Pitts 15 2 4 9
SF George Kittle 15 3 5 7
DET T.J. Hockenson 13 1 4 8
LVR Darren Waller 13 1 4 8
MIA Mike Gesicki 12 0 2 10
NE Hunter Henry 12 0 3 9
PHI Dallas Goedert 12 1 4 7
LAR Tyler Higbee 11 0 3 8
ARI Zach Ertz 9 0 2 7
DEN Noah Fant 9 1 2 6
PIT Pat Freiermuth 9 1 1 7
SEA Gerald Everett 7 0 1 6
ARI Maxx Williams 6 2 2 2
CHI Cole Kmet 6 0 2 4
CIN C.J. Uzomah 6 1 2 3
CLE David Njoku 6 0 2 4
LAC Jared Cook 6 0 1 5

The biggest surprise from last year was Dalton Schultz, who fared nearly as well as any NFL tight end when he faced any opponent. Schultz also gets the benefit of Amari Cooper’s departure and having Michael Gallup returning from injury.

Maxx Williams owning the top performance against two defenses was a true surprise, but it was also the only thing that he did. That also reflected the injury problems that the Arizona Cardinals had last season. It was encouraging to see that Kyle Pitts landed a top-8 performance against an opposing defense on nine occasions. He’ll likely improve on that for 2021.

As usual, there are three top tight ends that stand apart from the rest, and the other tight ends decline rapidly in value.

TM Tight Ends Top 1
BAL Mark Andrews 4
KC Travis Kelce 4
DAL Dalton Schultz 4
TB Rob Gronkowski 3
BUF Dawson Knox 3
SF George Kittle 3
ATL Kyle Pitts 2
ARI Maxx Williams 2

Once again, Schultz was the surprise of 2021 tied with Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce by lodging the best fantasy performance against a defense with four different opponents.

Better than average: Wide Receivers

Small group of wideouts that were tops against secondaries and most are changing for 2022

Every NFL team will use at least two, if not three, wide receivers in each game and as such, logging a top-8 performance against a secondary is already a feat since that defense likely faced about 50 starting wideouts in a season. This is a very impressive feat and turning in the top performance is truly elite.

The top-8 fantasy performances against each defense were arrayed and each  wide receivers were recorded for how often their fantasy points were in the top-8, the top-4 and highest allowed versus that specific defense last season.

Adding up those numbers yields a “better than average” (BTA) score since they are better than the average wideout that faced a defense. It also weights the performances since a No. 1 also counts as a top-4 and a top-8.

Better than average: QB | RB | TE

Bottom line: This is about how well a receiver did against a defense relative to all the others in his position did when they faced them. This is a true measurement of how effective wideouts are when the schedule influences are  removed.

TM NAME BTA score Top 1 Top 3 Top 8
LAR Cooper Kupp 25 4 9 12
KC Tyreek Hill 18 4 6 8
GB Davante Adams 17 3 6 8
SF Deebo Samuel 14 2 3 9
TB Chris Godwin 13 1 5 7
MIN Justin Jefferson 11 1 2 8
TB Mike Evans 11 1 4 6
MIA Jaylen Waddle 10 0 4 6
SEA Tyler Lockett 10 2 3 5
BUF Stefon Diggs 9 1 2 6
CIN Ja’Marr Chase 9 1 3 5
DAL CeeDee Lamb 9 1 2 6
LAC Mike Williams 9 0 3 6
LVR Hunter Renfrow 8 0 1 7
PIT Diontae Johnson 8 0 2 6
WAS Terry McLaurin 8 1 2 5
DET Amon-Ra St. Brown 7 0 2 5
MIN Adam Thielen 7 1 2 4
TB Antonio Brown 7 1 2 4
TEN A.J. Brown 7 1 2 4
BAL Marquise Brown 6 0 1 5
CAR D.J. Moore 6 1 1 4
CIN Tee Higgins 6 1 2 3
DAL Amari Cooper 6 1 2 3
HOU Brandin Cooks 6 1 1 4
ATL Russell Gage Jr. 5 0 1 4
DEN Courtland Sutton 5 0 2 3
IND Michael Pittman Jr. 5 0 1 4
LAC Keenan Allen 5 0 1 4
PHI DeVonta Smith 5 0 1 4
SEA DK Metcalf 5 0 1 4

The interesting part of this is that Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams were two of the top-3 in this metric and yet left for a team with a downgrade at quarterback. Jaylen Waddle proved to be a force as a rookie, but now he has Hill cutting into expectations.

Tyler Lockett also fared well here but also experiences a downgrade at quarterback. Given the sheer volume of wideouts that face NFL defenses, the top wideouts here are truly elite. But many of these receivers have different situations this year with other receivers added to their team (Waddle, Hunter Renfrow, Amon-Ra St. Brown) and several have moved to new teams (Hill, Adams, A.J. Brown, Marquise Brown, Amari Cooper).

Only Cooper Kupp and Deebo Samuel provided most of their games as top-8 performances versus defenses.

TM Wide Receivers Top 1
LAR Cooper Kupp 4
KC Tyreek Hill 4
GB Davante Adams 3
SF Deebo Samuel 2
SEA Tyler Lockett 2

Of the five wideouts that managed more than one top performance allowed by an NFL defense, only Kupp still has the same situation. Hill and Adams moved on, and Lockett and Samuel will have new quarterbacks this year.

Better than average: Running Backs

Which running backs fared the best against each NFL defense?

In today’s NFL, split backfields mean there’s precious few running backs who handle a high volume of touches. But there’s also no position that is as sensitive to schedule strength since they handle the most touches in an offense, and opponents typically focus on stopping the run and forcing their opponents to pass. So lodging the most fantasy points allowed by a defense is an impressive feat, and much more so when facing tougher defenses.

The top-8 fantasy performances allowed by each defense were arrayed and each  running back was recorded for how often their fantasy points were in the top-8, the top-4 and highest allowed versus that specific defense last season.

Adding up those numbers yields a “better than average” (BTA) score since they are better than the “average” running back that faced a defense. It also weights the performances since a No. 1 placement also counts as a top-4 and a top-8. The addition of the extra game for every team now means that all eight games are all truly over the average.

Better than average: QB | WR | TE

Bottom line: This is about how well a player did against a defense relative to all the others in his position did when they faced them. This is a true measurement of how effective running backs were with the schedule influences removed.

TM Running Backs BTA score Top 1 Top 3 Top 8
LAC Austin Ekeler 24 4 8 12
IND Jonathan Taylor 22 3 7 12
PIT Najee Harris 14 0 5 9
ARI James Conner 13 2 4 7
TB Leonard Fournette 13 2 4 7
MIN Dalvin Cook 12 1 3 8
CIN Joe Mixon 11 0 4 7
NO Alvin Kamara 11 0 3 8
TEN Derrick Henry 11 2 4 5
CLE Nick Chubb 10 1 4 5
GB Aaron Jones 10 1 3 6
JAC James Robinson 10 1 3 6
ATL Cordarrelle Patterson 9 1 3 5
DAL Ezekiel Elliott 9 1 3 5
DET D’Andre Swift 9 0 3 6
WAS Antonio Gibson 9 0 3 6
CAR Christian McCaffrey 8 0 4 4
NE Damien Harris 8 0 1 7
CHI David Montgomery 7 1 1 5
LVR Josh Jacobs 7 0 1 6
SF Elijah Mitchell 7 1 1 5
BUF Devin Singletary 6 1 1 4
CLE D’Ernest Johnson 6 1 2 3
CLE Kareem Hunt 6 1 2 3
LAR Darrell Henderson 6 0 1 5
MIA Myles Gaskin 6 1 1 4
SEA Rashaad Penny 6 0 2 4
ARI Chase Edmonds 5 0 1 4
DEN Javonte Williams 5 1 1 3
DEN Melvin Gordon III 5 0 0 5
KC Darrel Williams 5 0 1 4
MIN Alexander Mattison 5 0 1 4
NYG Saquon Barkley 5 1 2 2

Austin Ekeler and Jonathan Taylor were both significantly better than the other 2021 running backs though Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey were injured for much of the season. James Conner came through with almost half of his games in the top-8 and a healthy one-in-four in the top-4 allowed by their opponents. Leonard Fournette ended with the exact same numbers.

The bigger surprises were Saquon Barkley, who ranked lowest, and the duo of Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon, who effectively cancelled each other out in terms of having big games against their opponents. And Gordon is back again.

Elijah Mitchell always seemed so productive when healthy, but fell in the metric even below expectations even considering missing games. Ezekiel Elliott muddled through a PCL injury last year and had one of his least effective seasons. Antonio Gibson may lost some touches this year and that would drop him even further behind.

James Robinson ended well but tore his Achilles plus deals with Travis Etienne showing up, but it was encouraging that he had the workload to accomplish a very respectable score in this metric.

TM Running Backs Top 1
LAC Austin Ekeler 4
IND Jonathan Taylor 3
ARI James Conner 2
TB Leonard Fournette 2
TEN Derrick Henry 2

Ekeler and Taylor again shined as the only running backs that logged more than two games with the most fantasy points allowed by that defense. Conner already managed two “best games” versus the defenses that he faced and doesn’t have Chase Edmonds there this year.