Over the spring/summer, the SIS R&D staff is convening on the Off the Charts Podcast to talk about their Top 10 players at a position. To do this, we pit two methodologies against each other: 

  • The “Scouts,” which comes down to the film-based opinions of Matt Manocherian and Bryce Rossler, each of whom has a lot of experience breaking down film and scouting players (Matt having done it for NFL teams).
  • The “Stats,” which involves James Weaver and Alex Vigderman devising a ranking based on a suite of metrics, and having that ranking speak for itself.

*This week, Matt called for some backup, so we brought in Jeff Dean from our Football Ops department

Officially, Sports Info Solutions does not condone the dichotomy between scouting and statistical analysis. Each of them provides data in their own way and should inform our evaluation of a player. 

When we originally produced the Football Rookie Handbook before transitioning that content to our NFL Draft site, we put the scouting reports and stats side-by-side with the idea that the reader would bounce back and forth between them and leverage both to come to a conclusion about a prospect.

So, without further ado, let’s celebrate Tight End University week and break down the ‘Best Tight Ends in the NFL’ lists.

Scouts’ Opinion Statistical Analysis
1. Travis Kelce 1. Travis Kelce
2. George Kittle 2. George Kittle
3. Mark Andrews 3. Mark Andrews
4. T.J. Hockenson 4. Kyle Pitts
5. Dallas Goedert 5. Dallas Goedert
6. Darren Waller 6. Dalton Schultz
7. Kyle Pitts 7. Darren Waller
8. Evan Engram 8. Cole Kmet
9. David Njoku 9. Hunter Henry
10. Dalton Schultz 10. Pat Friermuth

The Stats List Methodology

The stats-based ranking includes a three-year recency-weighted average of a player’s results across several different metrics, with the following weights applied to each:

  • 35% Pass Game Total Points (Receiving and Pass Blocking)
  • 15% Run Blocking Total Points
  • 15% Targets Above Expectation
  • 15% On-Target Catch %
  • 10% YAC/Rec
  • 5% ADoT
  • 5% Broken Tackles + Missed Tackles/Rec

For tight ends, we decided to combine Receiving and Pass Block Total Points into an all-encompassing passing game metric. This was created so that a player who rarely pass blocks is not punished if he does well in the receiving game. 

Run Blocking Total Points are also factored in to highlight the secondary responsibility of a good tight end. This metric is what shot Cole Kmet up the stats’ leaderboard, playing in an offense that is run heavy.

The rest of the metrics all measure how good a tight end is in the receiving game. Of note, Kyle Pitts was 1st in the ADoT metric and Travis Kelce was 6th in the Broken Tackles and Missed Tackles Per Rec.

What the Stats Showed

The Top 4 players in the pass game Total Points metric were all in the Top 4 of the stats’ list.

Mark Andrews finished ahead of George Kittle in the metric, but Kittle finished ahead of Andrews in Run Blocking Total Points, Broken and Missed Tackles Per Reception, Yards After Catch Per Reception, and On-Target Catch Percentage. Kyle Pitts was 4th in the pass game metric despite playing in only 10 games (and in a very low-volume pass offense) last season, emphasizing how productive he was in his rookie season. Travis Kelce, who was first in this metric, nearly doubled the value of second place Kittle, with 42 Total Points per season compared to 24. His production in Receiving Total Points over the last 3 years would make him a Top 5 receiver overall. 

The Top 4 in the stats’ list also all came in the Top 10 in Targets Above Expectation. This metric measures how many targets the player themselves generates based on contextual factors like alignment, coverage, and route type. Other than No. 10-ranked Pat Friermuth (14th), no other player in the Top 10 on the stats’ list came in the Top 15. Generating one’s own targets was a separator for the Top 4 on the list.

Yards After Catch Per Reception numbers for Kelce (2nd in Top 10) and Kittle (3rd in Top 10) separated themselves from Andrews (Last in Top 10). Dallas Goedert, who placed fifth overall, came out the best in this metric among the top ten players, ranking 14th among tight ends with 6.7 YAC/R. Goedert was also solid in all other metrics, coming in 7th overall in pass game Total Points, 8th in Run Blocking Total Points, and 25th (3rd in the Top 10) in Broken and Missed Tackles Per Reception.

What the Scouts Thought

This one lacks a little suspense. Both lists had Travis Kelce as the best tight end in the league.  From a scouts’ perspective, Bryce Rossler states, “He is one of the best tight ends of all-time. Probably only Gronk above him. His route-running is amazing, his yards after the catch ability is amazing, and he’s a pretty good athlete.” 

Both groups also had the same players at No. 2 and No. 3. The scouts found T.J. Hockenson to be 4th on their list while the stats guys did not have them in their Top 10.

As to why, Jeff said, “His ability to produce no matter who his quarterback is, no matter what kind of offense he’s in, is something you don’t find in a lot of tight ends.” He goes on to say, “Not to mention his huge wingspan, being able to post up linebackers over the middle, and challenge cornerbacks on out routes is something that is really hard to find in the position.”

One of the differences on the scouts’ list was that they included Jaguars tight end Evan Engram at number 8. “He might not have the gaudy numbers you look for, but when you watch him play, he’s a guy the defense has to account for. He’s a legitimate receiving threat,” Jeff said. “I would not be surprised if he has a bigger year than he did last year in this upcoming season.” 

Want to hear more discussion and debate? Check out this episode of the podcast: