2023 Fantasy Strength of Schedule: Tight Ends


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2023 Fantasy Strength of Schedule: Tight Ends

Which tight ends have the toughest or easiest fantasy schedules this year? Which tight ends had the toughest or easiest schedules last year? Or, what about the toughest or easiest schedules in the fantasy postseason? Or to start the season? Which tight ends saw their schedules improve the most or least? How big of an impact was that change in schedule? Can we quantify that change in real terms using fantasy points?

Luckily for our subscribers, we can answer all of these questions and more. But in order to do so, we first had to quantify strength of schedule. This is typically done by calculating a defense’s FPG allowed average, and then looking at the average for all players over a full season. This will also be our approach; however, we’ll be taking things one step further — we’re going to use a control for the opposing offense by measuring FPG over an opponent’s average.

For instance, last season, opposing tight ends averaged +4.1 fantasy points per game over their season-long average when facing the Cardinals, which ranked worst in the league. (The Cardinals were the most favorable fantasy matchup for opposing tight ends — worth, on average, an additional 4.1 fantasy points per game.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, tight ends fell short of their season-long average by 4.3 fantasy points when facing the Saints, which ranked best in the league. (The Saints were the toughest fantasy matchup for opposing tight ends.) Calculating these numbers for all teams and then applying the full-season average for all players quantifies in real terms which players had the easiest and most difficult schedules for fantasy last year. We can also use these numbers to project out strength of schedule for each team and each position in 2023.

Ah then, you might ask: “do defenses get the benefit of being ‘tough’ matchups because bad TE play against them is dragging the numbers down?” Not for this study. The strength of schedule average used in this study controls for quality of opponent by eliminating a team’s own TE performance against each specific defense. So this SOS study filters out the notion that the TE being studied was responsible for his own schedule difficulty.

While this methodology isn’t perfect — of course roster turnover and coaching changes will complicate things — strength of schedule doesn’t not matter. This data is still far more actionable than it is not. In fantasy football — like in poker — there may only be small edges to be gained, but those small edges can be compounded to yield a massive advantage. And they must be taken advantage of … and are, by the most dominant players. That’s the case with strength of schedule. It’s another small edge to be realized, and at the polar extremes, it might matter a lot more than you’d expect.

Here’s an example: last season Kyle Pitts had the toughest schedule among all fantasy tight ends. His average matchup was worth -1.53 [team tight end] FPG. Because he was responsible for 74% of the fantasy points generated by Atlanta’s tight ends last year (in games active), we can say that — adjusted for strength of schedule, or if he had a perfectly average strength of schedule last year — he would have scored an additional +1.14 FPG. Looking forward, Pitts’ 2023 schedule is fairly neutral overall butrun much improved (most-improved at the position), worth a boost of about +1.10 FPG in real terms (adjusting for usage). Essentially, if he had this schedule last year, he would have finished 15th in FPG, instead of 22nd.

Clearly, strength of schedule – something totally outside of a player’s control and entirely due to luck – can have a big impact for fantasy.

Other Positions

Quarterbacks (click here)

Running Backs (click here)

Wide Receivers (click here)

Best Overall Schedule (2022)

1. Darren Waller, Average Matchup: +0.90

2. Dawson Knox (+0.81)

3. Gerald Everett (+0.72)

4. Jelani Woods (+0.56)

5. Greg Dulcich (+0.40)

Worst Overall Schedule (2022)

1. Kyle Pitts (-1.53)

2. Chigoziem Okonkwo (-0.72)

3. David Njoku (-0.59)

4. Pat Freiermuth (-0.58)

5. Cade Otton (-0.43)

2023 Schedule

PDF and CSV downloads available here.

Best Overall Schedule (Weeks 1-17)

1. Dalton Schultz (+0.53)

2. David Njoku (+0.51)

3. George Kittle (+0.39)

4. Mark Andrews (+0.29)

t5. Irv Smith (+0.27)

t5. Gerald Everett (+0.27)

Worst Overall Schedule (Weeks 1-17)

1. T.J. Hockenson (-0.80)

2. Trey McBride / Zach Ertz (-0.74)

3. Mike Gesicki / Hunter Henry (-0.70)

4. Sam LaPorta (-0.69)

5. Darren Waller (-0.67)

Off to a Hot Start (First Five Games)

1. Darren Waller (+1.25)

2. Jake Ferguson / Luke Schoonmaker (+1.14)

3. Hayden Hurst (+1.02)

4. Travis Kelce (+0.92)

5. Gerald Everett (+0.77)

Slow Starters (First Five Games)

1. Chigoziem Okonkwo (-2.19)

2. Trey McBride / Zach Ertz (-1.50)

3. Michael Mayer / Austin Hooper (-1.23)

4. Pat Freiermuth (-1.04)

5. Durham Smythe / Tyler Kroft (-0.82)

Best Playoff Schedule (Weeks 15-17)

1. Dallas Goedert (+2.42)

2. Dalton Schultz (+1.42)

3. Cole Kmet (+1.38)

4. Noah Fant / Will Dissly (+1.16)

5. Irv Smith (+0.88)

Worst Playoff Schedule (Weeks 15-17)

1. Tyler Higbee (-2.26)

2. Darren Waller (-2.25)

3. Cade Otton (-1.59)

4. Kyle Pitts (-1.46)

5. Trey McBride / Zach Ertz (-1.42)

Schedule Change (In Real Points)

Most Improved Schedule

1. Kyle Pitts (+1.10)

2. David Njoku (+0.80)

3. Dalton Schultz (+0.59)

4. Pat Freiermuth (+0.38)

t5. Irv Smith (+0.23)

t5. Dallas Goedert (0.23)

Least Improved Schedule

1. Darren Waller (-1.10)

2. Dawson Knox (-0.61)

3. Greg Dulcich (-0.60)

4. Evan Engram (-0.58)

5. Tyler Conklin (-0.52)

Thoughts/Notes/Dank Stats

1) For full transparency, strength of schedule is simply less important for tight ends than for any of the other positions we’ve looked at. This is also true from a weekly (DFS) perspective as well; matchups only really matter for TEs at the polar extremes.

2) Kyle Pitts was probably the greatest TE prospect of all time coming out of college. As a rookie, Pitts gained 1,026 receiving yards – the 2nd-most ever by a rookie TE. And then in his second season… How best to summarize Pitts’ disappointing sophomore campaign? Basically, just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Well, Pitts’ usage really wasn’t bad. By target share, he ranked 2nd among all TEs (27.1%). Over his final 8 games (including the game he left early due to injury), that jumped to 30.4%, which would have ranked behind only Davante Adams (32.2%) and Cooper Kupp (30.9%) among all receivers. Across the full season, he led all TEs in air yards per game (90.7, 20% better than next-closest) and ranked behind only Darren Waller in end zone targets per game (0.7).

All that was good. What absolutely sucked was Pitts’ offensive environment. The Falcons run a sloth-paced offense – Atlanta ranked 4th-worst in seconds per snap (28.2). Their offense was WW2-era levels of run-heavy – they averaged the 9th-fewest pass attempts per game by any team since 1985 (which, by the way, was 38 years ago). And Atlanta’s QB play was atrocious – Marcus Mariota ranked worst of 33-qualifying QBs by off-target throw rate (20.3%). And Desmond Ridder was somehow even worse (27.0%).

Indeed, Pitts’ usage really wasn’t that bad. But it was borderline impossible for him to succeed within this broader context. And unfortunately, it’s hard to envision his situation changing much for the better. He does have the most improved schedule of any fantasy TE (+1.10), but Arthur Smith will still be calling (mostly run) plays. Drake London was very impressive following Pitts’ knee injury. And Desmond Ridder doesn’t at all appear to me to be a meaningful upgrade on Marcus Mariota. And by the way, Smith traded for TE Jonnu Smith for some reason.

3) For those of you interested in Underdog’s tournament-style leagues, note that the following TEs have the best postseason schedules (Weeks 15-17): Dallas Goedert (+2.42), Dalton Schultz (+1.42), Cole Kmet (+1.38), Noah Fant / Will Dissly (+1.16), and Irv Smith (+0.88).

4) At cost (ADP: Round 11, TE14), Cole Kmet is definitely my favorite stacking partner for Justin Fields. He averaged 12.9 FPG over his last 7 games with Justin Fields under center, which would have ranked 3rd-best among TEs if over the full season. His 28.2% YMS and 50% TDMS over this span would have ranked 2nd-best and best among TEs, or 16th- and 2nd-best among WRs.

5) Dallas Goedert has led all tight ends in depth-adjusted yards per target over expected (YPTOE) in each of the last two years. His 2.07 yards per route run (YPRR) ranked 2nd behind Travis Kelce last year, while his 2.62 YPRR ranked 1st in 2021. So, although, yes, there’s a lot of target competition in Philadelphia. He’s a top-5 TE talent in my eyes, and his cushy postseason schedule makes his ADP (TE6) a lot more palatable.

6) I don’t really have a great read on Dalton Schultz. He saw terrific volume his last two seasons in Dallas (4th-most targets among TEs over this span) and was hyper-productive. Over their last 19 full games (postseason included) with Dak Prescott under center, Schultz averages 14.2 FPG to CeeDee Lamb’s 15.6 FPG. For perspective, 14.2 FPG would have ranked 2nd among TEs and 19th among WRs.

Of course, the Houston landing spot changes things a bit. And it was curious Schultz drew minimal interest in free agency, signing for less than names like Logan Thomas, Will Dissly, Josh Oliver, and Tyler Conklin. That said, there’s not much target competition in Houston (Robert Woods, Nico Collins, John Metchie), and Schultz’s schedule is otherwise flawless. He has the best overall schedule (+0.53), the 2nd-best playoff schedule (+1.42), and the 3rd-most improved schedule (+0.59). He seems like a mildly-strong but very safe value at current ADP (TE12).

7) I really like the idea of adding Jake Ferguson as a late-round stash or as a potential streamer for non-best ball leagues. Dallas TEs have the best schedule through the first 4 weeks of the season (+1.80), and there’s a good chance Ferguson is simply their new “Dalton Schultz.” I mean, probably not, but it’s a worthy gamble at his current ADP (TE29). And if that’s wrong, we’ll know quickly enough, so you can simply cut him before his schedule starts to toughen up.

8) I also like Hayden Hurst as a late-round stash in non-best ball leagues. He has the 3rd-softest schedule to start the year (+1.02), and I do think there’s some upside for him in this Frank Reich-led offense. Reich typically favors TE-by-committee, but Hurst offers massive potential if that’s not the case – in 9 career seasons as a HC or OC, Reich's teams have ranked top-5 5 times and top-12 7 times by team TE FPG. In any case, and like with Ferguson, we should know pretty quickly whether or not our thesis holds any validity. And if not, he can be quickly dropped from your roster.

9) Greg Dulcich’s schedule is significantly more difficult this year (-0.60, 3rd-worst), and the regime change (Nathaniel Hackett to Sean Payton) muddies any projection over usage and role. (Payton once made Jimmy Graham a fantasy superstar, but his TEs haven’t had much success since then.) Still, I can’t help but remain optimistic, given how historically great Dulcich’s rookie season was. And his schedule change (representing a 7% decline in FPG) pails in comparison to the typical sophomore TE jump – representing a jump from 62.8% of a TE’s career baseline average as a rookie to 95.5% in Year 2.

10) Over Evan Engram’s final eight games (postseason included), Engram led Jacksonville’s receivers with 66.8 YPG and 15.8 FPG. If over the full season, those numbers would have ranked 2nd-best among TEs, only behind Travis Kelce. He does have a much more difficult schedule this season (-0.58), but I also think he’s a fine value at current ADP (TE8).

11) Last season, Chigoziem Okonkwo out-gained Treylon Burks by 8 receiving yards on 79 fewer routes. Among all receivers to run at least 150 routes, Okonkwo ranked 3rd in YPRR (2.80), behind only Tyreek Hill (3.26) and A.J. Brown (2.91). Impressively, this all came in spite of the position’s 2nd-toughest strength of schedule last year (-0.72).

There are obvious usage-based concerns with Okonkwo – he cleared a 50% route share only once last year. So, a sophomore breakout feels far from inevitable to me. But I do definitely get the allure of chasing his upside, given the absurdly impressive efficiency metrics he posted as a rookie and the fact that Austin Hooper is no longer with the team.

12) Over the last two seasons, Pat Freiermuth ranks 9th in FPG (9.4), ahead of Kyle Pitts’ 9.3, who ranks 12th. And yet, Pitts is being drafted nearly 4 rounds earlier than Freiermuth in Underdog leagues.

Excluding a Week 5 game he left early due to injury, Freiermuth averaged 6.4 targets per game (20.4% target share) and 48.0 YPG. He was only 3.9 YPG shy of Diontae Johnson for the team-high, and among all TEs, those numbers ranked 5th-best (5th-best) and 6th-best.

Freiermuth has the 4th most-improved schedule this season (+0.38), and seems like a decent value, priced as just the TE10 on Underdog. Oh and by the way, I wouldn’t worry too much about Round 3 rookie TE Darnell Washington, who has “Darnell ‘The Six Lineman’ Washington” in his Instagram bio.

13) David Njoku’s schedule goes from 3rd-worst in 2022 (-0.59) to 2nd-best in 2023 (+0.51), worth a boost of +0.80 FPG in real terms. If excluding Week 11 due to injury (he played on only 37% of the team’s snaps), Njoku earned a target share of at least 18.5% in each of his final 7 games. Over his last 11 healthy games, he averaged 6.5 targets per game (21.1% target share) 52.0 YPG, and 12.1 FPG. If over the full season, those numbers would have ranked 5th-best, (4th-best), 5th-best, and 5th-best. So, he seems like a strong value (ADP: TE9), with underrated upside should Deshaun Watson return to old form.

14) Last season T.J. Hockenson became one of only 3 TEs since 1985 with multiple games of at least 35 fantasy points in a single season (Week 5 with the Lions, Week 16 with the Vikings). After joining Minnesota in Week 9, Hockenson averaged 8.6 targets per game, 14.8 XFP/G, and 13.0 FPG. If over the full season, those numbers would have ranked 2nd-best, 2nd-best, and 2nd-best among TEs.

Hockenson has the worst strength of schedule of any TE (-0.81), but it’s also not much more difficult than his schedule last season (-0.21). The arrival of Round 1 rookie WR Jordan Addison might mean he’s no longer the clear No. 2 receiver in this offense, but then again maybe not. I think he’s probably a tad overvalued at current ADP, but I’m not too mad at it.

15) Darren Waller has the 2nd-worst playoff schedule of any TE (-2.25), but he’s also still easily my favorite target at the position (current ADP: TE7). I don’t have many hard-hitting stats to justify this position – I simply think the Giants were viewing him as a WR1, that he’s easily the best WR1 Daniel Jones has ever had, and that Jones will be targeting him as such. Waller underwhelmed the past two seasons (mostly due to multiple injuries), but in the two seasons prior to that, he averaged 15.6 FPG (would have been 17% better than last year’s TE2).

Scott Barrett combines a unique background in philosophy and investing alongside a lifelong love of football and spreadsheets to serve as Fantasy Points’ Chief Executive Officer.