Welcome back to another edition of The Fantasy Detective, where this week we take a look at how important it is to draft a top-tier fantasy TE. Every year, there are fantasy owners who draft their TE (typically Kelce or Andrews) in the first or second round. This decision to pass on a top RB or WR and snag one of the two (or three, if Kittle is healthy) elite fantasy TEs seems like a great one at first glance–but will this strategy hold up against the numbers?

To test this theory, I used the AI simulation technique that I created in my last myth-busters article, What Round Should you Draft a QB in Fantasy. For each simulation, I copied the most effective AI strategy but altered which round it would take a TE in (decreasing it each time). I then compared its distribution of average player WAR following its 1,000 simulations to the two most effective strategies.

We can see that the above distributions all give very similar results, regardless of where the TE is taken (possibly a small advantage taking it 3rd, 9th, 12th, or last).

Let’s look at two specific strategies and their expected top 6 tool-player yields (2RB, 2WR, TE, FLEX).

Strategy 1:

We wait to draft a TE until the 6-10th round, where only the 5-10 top-ranked TEs should be available (Waller, Schultz, Hockenson, Goedert, Knox) according to fantasy ADPs from FantasyPros.com. Below are the projected player types we would get from this draft strategy and their expected average fantasy WARs.

top 10 WR or RB gives you 8.1 WAR (x3)

10-20 WR or RB gives you 6.5 WAR

20-30 WR or RB gives you 5.0 WAR

5-10 TE gives you 7.2 WAR

43 WAR

Strategy 2:

We draft a TE in the first or second round, where we have our pickings of Andrews, Kelce, or Pitts. Below are the projected player types we would get from this draft strategy and their expected average fantasy WARs.

Top 3 TE gives you 9.6 WAR

Top 10 WR or RB gives you 8.1 WAR

10-20 WR or RB gives you 6.5 WAR (x3)

20-30 WR or RB gives you 5.0 WAR

42.2 WAR

Evidently, strategy 1 has a slight edge. Outperforming strategy 2 by 0.8 WAR (let’s call it 1), we can expect 1 more win above replacement with our top 6 tool players from passing on a top-tier fantasy TE. As you will see below, the drop-off in talent from the top 2 TEs is large, but after that is very small. If you’re not chasing Kelce or Andrews (which doesn’t seem too beneficial), there is no rush to grab a TE over a solid RB or WR.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 19: Dallas Goedert #88 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs with the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at Lincoln Financial Field on September 19, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Conclusion

Drafting a top-tier TE is not worth it. It doesn’t provide your team with a higher WAR total and prevents you from getting more valuable tool players at the RB and WR positions, where the talent pool drops off much more egregiously, especially when you need more of them on your team–you need to start either 3 RBs or 3 WRs when you only have to start 1 TE! All in all, wait to draft that TE until (at least) after the 5th round. Focus on those RBs and WRs!