Fantasy Football: Is Norv Turner really a tight end whisperer?

kyle rudolph
Norv Turner

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven’t drafted for your fantasy football leagues already, you’re running out of time. Regardless if you have or haven’t, you more than likely went one of three ways when it came to approaching how you wanted to draft a tight end this year.

  1. You went for one of the big three (Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Julius Thomas) in the first three rounds.
  2. You took a shot on a potential breakout candidate (Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph, Zach Ertz, Jordan Reed) in the round 8 or round 9 range.
  3. You basically punted the position by taking a Heath Miller or Antonio Gates-type player in the later rounds.

Similarly to quarterbacks, each fantasy player has his or her preference when it comes to approaching the position.  Personally, if I can’t get Gronkowski in the third or fourth round, I’m looking at one of the second- or third-tier players like Pitta or Rudolph.  Both players have high-upside appeal with the new offensive systems they are in under new offensive coordinators Gary Kubiak and Norv Turner, respectively.

In draft rooms, though, Rudolph has been the player that everyone seems to want, and with the track record that Turner has had with tight ends, who can blame them?  Going into my draft on Thursday night, I wanted to grab Rudolph, but after I did some research, I realized something interesting.  Perhaps Turner isn’t the tight end wizard that we thought he has been.

Yes, he’s had tremendous success with Gates and Jordan Cameron in San Diego and Cleveland, but what about before that?

Turner has been a coordinator or head coach in the league since 1991.  Over the course of that time, tight ends under Turner have scored 100 fantasy points six times.  Can you guess who they were?

If you guessed Gates (five times) and Cameron (one time), give yourself a pat on the back.

If you go to profootballreference.com and go through the players who Turner coached over that time, you’ll notice none of them were quite the standout-type of players that we see at the position now.  That being said, could it be that Gates and Cameron were possibly just more talented, and that was the reason for the success as opposed to the system?

Gates, whose career high in fantasy points is 2007, his first year in Turner’s system, is largely regarded as one of the most talented tight ends to play the game.  In fact, the former Kent State basketball player revolutionized the position in a way, which opened the door for former college basketball standouts like Cameron, Thomas and Graham to play the game.  Yes, I know about a man named Tony Gonzalez, but let’s not act like Gates didn’t have as much of an impact on the position, too.

So with Gates making up five of the six seasons of 100-plus fantasy points, that leaves Cameron’s 2013 season as the only other one.  Last year, Cameron hauled in 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns, which resulted in 133 fantasy points in standard scoring leagues.

On the surface, it was a great year, but the game-by-game breakdown tells another story.

In the first four games of the season, Cameron caught 43 passes for 360 yards and five touchdown passes, which is good for 66 fantasy points (16.5 per game).

In the remaining 11 games, Cameron pulled in 37 passes for 557 yards and two touchdowns.  Over those last 11 games, Cameron scored 67 fantasy points (6.09 per game).

What happened?

Yes, the Browns went through numerous quarterbacks last year, and none of them were really any good aside from a small sample size shown of Brian Hoyer.  But the real reason is that Josh Gordon entered the picture in Week 3 last year.  Gordon went crazy in his first game off of suspension, as he hauled in 10 catches for 146 yards and a score.  Cameron had six catches for 66 yards, with half of them going for touchdowns, which just skews the numbers even more.

After Week 4, it was Gordon who enjoyed the breakout season, and while Cameron was serviceable, his 100-point season was front loaded.

So, that begs the question, is Rudolph the main target you want in a Turner system, or is it the No. 1 option in the passing attack?  After seeing these numbers, I decided to take a shot on Gronkowski early instead, and I passed on Rudolph.  In the fourth round, I had my eyes set on Cordarrelle Patterson, but he went before I could grab him.

While Rudolph will put together the best season of his young career (even better in PPR), Patterson is the target that you want.  For years, Gates was the go-to receiver for Turner and the Chargers.  There were only two seasons — both of which Gates missed time due to injury — that he didn’t lead the Chargers in receptions under Turner’s tenure.  After his suspension, that was Gordon last year, meaning that Cameron took a back seat.  This year, Patterson will take charge, and he will enjoy a Gordon-type breakout as a top 10 wide receiver in standard leagues.

And by the end of the year, Turner will still have six tight ends in his coaching career to score at least 100 points in a season.

One Comment

  1. Rob Gronkowski

    August 30, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    You should’ve drafted me in the first. I like touchdowns!

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