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John Carlson and Dustin Keller

Posted by Jason Lisk on September 3, 2009

I've seen John Carlson and Dustin Keller listed fairly high on some draft boards at the tight end position, and it got me wondering. How often does a tight end who has a good rookie season end up having a great career? And are they good value plays in their second season?

We've already seen that the top rookie running backs continue to be good, while the top rookie receivers don't necessarily end up with the best careers from their draft class. Since there are fewer tight ends that come along, I'm not going to actually look at the best tight end from each draft class, but rather, just look at the top rookie tight ends who put up some production--in some years, quite frankly, no rookie tight ends put up fantasy relevant numbers.

Including Carlson and Keller from last season, thirty-two tight ends since 1970 have finished their rookie seasons with at least 400 yards receiving. Here are the other thirty tight ends, in descending order of yards as rookies:

Player			Year	Rec	Yards	TD	FP		Rec	Yards	TD	FP
Jeremy	Shockey		2002	74	894	2	101.4		48	535	2	65.5
Keith 	Jackson		1988	81	869	6	122.9		63	648	3	82.8
Charle	Young		1973	55	854	6	121.4		63	696	3	87.6
Cam 	Cleeland	1998	54	684	6	104.4		26	325	1	38.5
Russ 	Francis		1975	35	636	4	87.6		26	367	3	54.7
Ken	Dilger		1995	42	635	4	87.5		42	503	4	74.3
Ozzie 	Newsome		1978	38	589	2	70.9		55	781	9	132.1
Junior	Miller		1980	46	584	9	112.4		32	398	3	57.8
Ferrell	Edmunds		1988	33	575	3	75.5		32	382	3	56.2
Bob	Tucker		1970	40	571	5	87.1		59	791	4	103.1
Walter	White		1975	23	559	3	73.9		47	808	7	122.8
Raymond	Chester		1970	42	556	7	97.6		28	442	7	86.2
Pete	Mitchell	1995	41	527	2	64.7		52	575	1	63.5
Robert	Awalt		1987	42	526	6	88.6		39	454	4	69.4
Tony 	McGee		1993	44	525	0	52.5		40	492	1	55.2
Dan	Ross		1979	41	516	1	57.6		56	724	4	96.4
Mark	Bavaro		1985	37	511	4	75.1		66	1001	4	124.1
Freddie Jones		1997	41	505	2	62.5		57	602	3	78.2
Mike	Dyal		1989	27	499	2	61.9		3	51	0	5.1
Randy	McMichael	2002	39	485	4	72.5		49	598	2	71.8
Paul	Seal		1974	32	466	3	64.6		28	414	1	47.4
Oscar	Roan		1975	41	463	3	64.3		15	174	4	41.4
Heath	Miller		2005	39	459	6	81.9		34	393	5	69.3
Joe 	Senser		1980	42	447	7	86.7		79	1004	8	148.4
Don 	Bass		1978	27	447	4	68.7		58	724	3	90.4
Zach	Miller		2007	44	444	3	62.4		56	778	1	83.8
Harry	Holt		1983	49	420	3	60		20	261	0	26.1
Jim 	Price		1991	35	410	2	53		34	324	2	44.4
Doug	Jolley		2002	32	409	2	52.9		31	250	1	31
Tim	Wrightman	1985	24	407	1	46.7		22	241	0	24.1

Who's not on that list? Well, pretty much every great tight end of the last forty years. Fourteen tight ends who began their careers since 1970 have accumulated 5,000 or more receiving yards after their rookie seasons. Of those fourteen, only Ozzie Newsome appears on the list above. No Gonzalez, Gates, or Witten. No Shannon Sharpe or Ben Coates. No Kellen Winslow, Jr., Todd Christensen, or Dave Casper.

So, a good rookie season at tight end doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot long term.

What about the next season?

Now, 400 yards isn't exactly an elite performance, so this goes to show you how rare it is for a rookie tight end to excel. Only five rookies scored 96 fantasy points, which would be something like 600 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns in a 16 game season. Three more tight ends averaged an equivalent amount of points in a 14 game schedule. We would expect those higher performances to see some regression back, but most of these performances were not of the elite variety. They were more of the "promising rookie" variety. Here's how they did the following season:

Five of the thirty (Newsome, Joe Senser, Walter White, Mark Bavaro and Dan Ross) had what we might consider real second year breakouts, improving their fantasy point total by more than 30 points over the rookie season and finishing as elite tight ends in fantasy scoring.

Four more showed decent improvement of between 10 and 30 fantasy points over their rookie years (Zach Miller last year, Bob Tucker, Freddie Jones, and Don Bass--though Bass did so while switching to WR in his second year).

Four others basically held their value (finished within 10 fantasy points of their rookie year).

Nine experienced a moderate decline in the second season (between 10 and 30 fantasy points).

Eight had a significant dropoff of more than 30 fantasy points, including six of the eight rookie "breakouts" (and only Bob Tucker improved his numbers in year two among the rookie breakouts)

Which brings us back to Carlson and Keller. I'm not saying don't draft them. Just temper your expectations about how likely it is they will be awesome this year just because they had pretty good roookie seasons, when you feel that urge to take Carlson as the fourth tight end off the board, ahead of some proven elite performers. Looking at the list of previous promising rookies, the downside risk was every bit as much as the upside, even though they may have been expected to make a jump in season two.

Both were pretty old for rookies last year, as Carlson turned 24 right after the draft and Keller turned 24 in September. To put that in perspective, Jason Witten is almost exactly two years older than Carlson but has been producing in the NFL for five seasons.

Carlson's downside risk is that by season's end, he was about the only fish in an injured Seattle pond, and now they've added T.J. Houshmandzadeh and probably will have better health luck at the other receiver positions. Keller's downside risk is that he was playing for a different coaching staff and different starting quarterback.

But if one of them turns in a season like Joe Senser in 1981, please forget where you read this.

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 at 6:05 am and is filed under Fantasy, Player articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.