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Slow Starters Ready to Break Out in Fantasy?

We are now more than a third of the way into the fantasy football season and a seemingly clearer picture is available across the landscape. After a pandemic-shortened offseason and lack of preseason exposure, there were plenty of worries headed into the first month specifically. Thus far, one of the most prevalent topics with regards to how the pandemic played a part in fantasy is injuries because that is the easiest connection to make between lack of training camp reps, allowing for limited ramp-up time for players.

While injuries are the most tangible, slow-starting players are also ones who may have been hurt by the limited reps. Several skill guys had their snaps/roles cut early on in the season (Joe Mixon for example), yet were brought along over the course of subsequent weeks. Every player's performance is affected differently. Some are due to the pandemic, others are due to a rough schedule. It is often hard to pinpoint but this piece takes the best possible approach to evaluating each player's position.

Here are five slow starters expected to bounce back this season. For any questions on this topic or any other post, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@RotoSurgeon) and shoot it through.

 

Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

I'm not buying any of the Jalen Hurts hype coming from the internet. Wentz has not been perfect, but thus far, he is not the only problem in Philadelphia's offense. Currently, nine out of 11 offensive starters are out with injury. Plus, Wentz is dealing with a league-worst 16 drops from his pass-catchers.

The Zach Ertz injury is a blessing-in-disguise because a plodding TE is now removed from the equation, allowing for more dynamic players to take his place. Richard Rodgers will sub in for the interim and Dallas Goedert, upon return from IR, will then take over. Ertz has been terrible this season despite having a fruitful history as Wentz's safety blanket. He shrinks the field around him, forcing more attention elsewhere.

Losing Miles Sanders would prove costly if the Eagles were not facing the New York Giants this week and then facing off against Dallas' putrid defense afterward. Boston Scott and the backups should fill-in just fine. With a bye week right after, Sanders should be fully healthy for the stretch run to take control of the NFC East in the second half.

Jalen Reagor's timetable to return from his thumb injury lines up here as well along with DeSean Jackson and Lane Johnson. The Eagles are in the most advantageous position within the division, making it possible they even add a dynamic piece at the trade deadline given the plethora of receivers potentially available for trade. Wentz is currently QB15 in scoring with a ceiling around the top-six given his increased rushing. Wentz is running more, and more efficiently than ever with 6.1 yards-per-carry on 28 carries. He is on pace for a career-high 75 attempts and already has four touchdowns on the ground which make up for and negate the increased turnovers this season.

 

Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

It is inconceivable that Akers only played one snap this past weekend versus the 49ers but it happened and Rams head coach Sean McVay's "game-flow" explanation was a non-answer. Akers was not drafted with their first pick in the 2020 draft and named starter out the gates to ride the bench. Either there was an issue in practice or Akers is still not fully healthy.

Despite playing 13 snaps in Week 5 and touching the ball nine times, it did not make much sense to keep him benched the next week, especially with McVay commenting on his increased involvement. Akers returned along a reasonable timeline from his rib cartilage injury, yet the "optimal recovery time" according to Inside Injuries of The Athletic is five weeks as to not re-aggravate the rib. Akers suffered the injury in Week 2 and we are now heading into Week 7.

Darrell Henderson has looked very good in a handful of games and mediocre in others. Nevertheless, he has the "hot-hand" and will continue to start until he is usurped or fails. Akers will have to be the one to usurp him and fortunately for fantasy GMs who are stashing him, he is quite capable. Henderson is seldom used on third-down and obvious passing-situations because of his limitations as a pass-blocker and receiver. This is where Akers could thrive and eat into the RB snaps.

Malcolm Brown has been a black hole when given touches since Week 2 but that is nothing new. Brown is averaging 3.7 yards-per-carry and 2.2 yards-per-target thus far, below-pedestrian numbers. If Akers' issue with getting on the field is due to the Rams' desire to unleash him on third-down and passing downs, there is a fantasy monster brewing that should have been unleashed earlier.

 

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

Hilton has been extremely disappointing early on, no one is arguing against that. The assumption coming into the season was that despite a clear decline for Philip Rivers, the fringe Hall-of-Fame QB would still be an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett as a passer. That, unfortunately, has not been very true as Rivers is looking like a shell of himself but the Colts are winning games on the back of their top-three defense. The addition of RB Jonathan Taylor in the second round of the 2020 draft was meant to spark the offense as well but he has been just as disappointing, if not more than Rivers given the high hopes that come with youth. All-in-all, the Colts' offense is bad.

Hilton's 6.5 yards-per-target on the season is a career-low and he has not found the end-zone yet through six games. However, he did have a TD called back this past week on a penalty far away from the play. He has six red-zone targets on the season and is still building rapport with Rivers. Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr. are out for the foreseeable future and now Hilton is playing nearly every snap. Over the first four weeks, he did not play more than 80% of the offensive snaps in a single game, but these past two, he has played 95% and 94%, respectively. Hilton owns a 19% target share this season with a season-high 10 coming two weeks ago versus the Browns. He is still fast/explosive and has brighter days ahead given a very soft second-half schedule.

 

Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens

Hollywood Brown is one of the fastest players in the league playing on arguably the most versatile offense, and yet, his fantasy production is lacking in 2020. Part of the reason for this is Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' low-passing volume, and another is the lack of need for extensive receiving production.

Brown has just one red-zone target on the season and did not crack 80% of snaps through the first four weeks of the season but has 86% and 85% over the past two weeks, respectively. The Ravens have outscored opponents thus far by a margin of 75 points. In their one loss to the Chiefs, Brown was blanketed and then phased out from the game by being on the opposite end of a blowout.

Brown's home-run ability makes him a stereotypical boom-or-bust option but with a 26% target share and nine yards-per-target, he is just on the wrong end of touchdown variance with one on the season. He's a fantasy star on the cusp of breaking out.

 

Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns

Austin Hooper has ascended to fantasy relevance over the past few weeks but has yet to truly break out. After signing the largest free-agent TE contract ever, Hooper was expected to be a massive part of Cleveland's offense after a fantastic stretch in Atlanta. While a good bit of his production was driven by a high-volume passing offense next to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, Hooper held his own with a large target share and end-zone production.

Through the first three weeks of the 2020 season, Hooper totaled seven receptions on 10 targets for 62 yards and no touchdowns. Just this past week, he had five receptions on six targets for 52 yards with 57 yards the game prior. Snaps have not been an issue as he is on the field plenty but with David Njoku back in the mix, he has seen a dip below 80% over the past two weeks despite an increase in targets.

Fortunately, Njoku has once again requested a trade out from Cleveland, leaving Hooper and Harrison Bryant as the primary options at the position. Hooper played up to 98% of the snaps in games sans Njoku and will likely carry a massive share moving forward. He's building rapport with QB Baker Mayfield but there is work to be done.

Having only two red-zone targets thus far is disappointing, but that could change as the chemistry grows. Cleveland is being forced to throw more often than they'd like with star RB Nick Chubb out-of-commission. Hooper's role will continue to grow and it could hopefully blossom in the second half of this season.



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Tight End Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 7

Week 7 is not going to be a lucky one for millions of fantasy football managers. The bye week is going to create some gaping holes at the tight end position for millions of fantasy squads. The biggest loss is Baltimore’s Mark Andrews, although Miami’s Mike Gesicki, Indianapolis’ Mo-Alie Cox, and Minnesota’s Irv Smith Jr. will be missed by many fantasy teams as well.

To win fantasy football leagues, you need to have depth at every position and need to weather roster-related storms by making smart pickups on the waiver wire. This week will test the waiver wire skills of many fantasy managers.

Here are the top tight end candidates to pick up in fantasy football leagues heading into Week 7!

 

Top Tight End Waiver Wire Options

Anthony Firkser, Tennessee Titans

0% rostered

Little did we know we may have a future Hall of Famer on our hands with Firkser! One minute he is Jonnu Smith's hardly-heralded backup. Next minute he is a fantasy darling or demigod because he caught eight passes for 113 and a touchdown. This is the crazy world of fantasy football, folks!

We are not sure of the extent of Smith’s ankle injury, so Firkser’s fantasy value is tied to that. The longer Smith is out, the longer Firsker has fantasy worth. It is that simple. All I know is Ryan Tannehill is throwing passes these days like he is the second coming of Joe Montana, so if Firkser is Tennessee’s top tight end the next couple weeks than he is somebody to consider picking up for short-term help if you are in need at that position.

Darren Fells, Houston Texans

5% rostered

There are not many tight ends who have been better the past two weeks than Fells, who racked up eight catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Fells has reminded fantasy managers that when given the opportunity to play he can find the end zone as quickly as Kim Kardashian can find a camera to pose in front of. As long as Jordan Akins misses time with his injuries, Fells will be a fantasy force since QB Deshaun Watson trusts him inside the red zone.

Fells will be facing a Green Bay defense that has allowed a tight end to break the 50-yard barrier three times over its past four games. The Packers-Texans game will be a shootout, so as long as Fells is starting he is an excellent play this week whether you pick him up in a regular league or stick him into your DFS contest lineup.

 

Other Tight End Options to Consider

Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

9% rostered

Smith was a wall of glass the first month of the season. Now Kirk Cousins is finding him almost as often as he is finding opposing cornerbacks. Smith has recorded eight catches for 119 yards over the past two weeks and has found his groove in Minnesota’s inconsistent offense. More importantly, he is in the process of leapfrogging veteran Kyle Rudolph atop the Vikings depth chart at tight end, which makes him more attractive in dynasty leagues and standard leagues. Smith is on bye this week but should be a constant contributor from here on out.

Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

6% rostered

For the third week in a row, Brate is one of the top tight ends available in many fantasy leagues. This has more to do with the lack of available playmakers at the position on waiver wires than it does about how valuable he is, though. The re-emergence of Rob Gronkowski and the return of wideout Chris Godwin will stunt Brate’s fantasy worth, but Brate could do some damage running routes against Las Vegas’ beatable defensive backfield this weekend.

Trey Burton, Indianapolis Colts

20% rostered

For whatever reason, T.Y. Hilton is not receiving the volume of targets he has the past several seasons in Indy. Meanwhile, Indianapolis has a rotating “Tight End of the Week” thing going on. One week Mo-Alie Cox wins the award. Next week it is Jack Doyle. This past Sunday it was Mr. Burton, who scored one touchdown on a run and another on a catch after being M.I.A. since 2018. It is hard to bank on him consistently producing since Indy has three solid tight ends, but he is worth a watch. Just know you will not get anything out of him until Week 8 since he is off this upcoming week.

Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams

3% rostered

Tyler Higbee entered the season as a top-10 fantasy tight end. Everett has more receptions, yards and targets over the Rams’ past two games, however. Everett has above-average speed and playmaking ability for a tight end and should continue to be featured almost as often as Higbee when both tight ends are healthy. Everett has a stiff test against Chicago’s defense next Monday night, so he may be someone to consider more this week if you are looking long-term fantasy-wise.

 

Don’t Forget About…

Logan Thomas, Washington Redskins

15% rostered

Thomas and his whopping 7.6 yards per catch have not been wowing many fantasy managers this year, but Washington’s No. 1 TE has had at least four targets in each of his outings this season. Thomas is also coming off his best game of the season (3-42-1) and has Dallas’ porous secondary lined up next. He is an intriguing one-week play thanks to his targets and his matchup.

Adam Shaheen, Miami Dolphins

0% rostered

Is Mike Gesicki in danger of losing his job as Miami’s top tight end? It is probably farfetched, but Shaheen has scored touchdowns in back-to-back weeks and is a former second-round pick who has been besieged with injuries over his career. Now that he is finally healthy he seems to be coming into his own. The only issues for Shaheen are that Gesicki is still around and will take his targets, and that Miami is on bye this week.

Dan Arnold, Arizona Cardinals

0% rostered

Kliff Kingsbury loves having Kyler Murray pass the ball early and often. He just does not love having Murray pass to his tight ends. This makes Arnold not very attractive in fantasy leagues because he is targeted less than Joe Biden is by MSNBC. But Arnold is facing Seattle’s 32nd-ranked pass defense, so Arnold could have his best game of the season this week.



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Tight End Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 6

Week 6 is not going to be kind to fantasy football managers at the tight end position.

Four teams are on bye, which means fantasy players will not have Las Vegas’ Darren Waller, New Orleans’ Jared Cook, Los Angeles’ Hunter Henry, and Seattle’s Greg Olsen at their disposal. On top of that, fantasy footballers might have to live another week without Denver’s Noah Fant and Philadelphia’s Dallas Goedert due to their injuries. And do I even have to mention how COVID and the NFL’s rescheduling of games has wreaked havoc on fantasy GMs across the country?

If you need a tight end for your fantasy squad this week, you are shopping at the right store! Here are the top tight end candidates to pick up in fantasy football leagues heading into Week 6!

 

Top Tight End Waiver Wire Options

Jimmy Graham, Chicago Bears

40% rostered

Graham is getting to be the Cris Carter of 2020 --- all he does is catch touchdown passes. The veteran fantasy stud has four touchdowns in Chicago’s first five games and has been equally as comfortable whether Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky is his quarterback.

Graham is not racking up lots of yardage (34 yards per week) and is not busting many long gainers (9.9 YPC, no 30-yard receptions yet), but he is more dependable and reliable than most tight ends on fantasy waiver wires at this juncture. Graham has a rough matchup in Week 6 against an above-average Carolina Panthers pass defense that has not allowed a tight end TD over its first five games, but even if Graham does not help fantasy managers this week he certainly should during other weeks later this season.

Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2% rostered

Tampa Bay has as many injured pass catchers as Texas Roadhouse has steaks. That is why it was no surprise Brate started seeing many more Tom Brady passes head his direction, especially because O.J. Howard suffered his season-ending Achilles injury, elevating Brate as Tampa’s No. 2 TE behind Rob Gronkowski.

Brate caught five passes for 44 yards on six targets this past Thursday night and should continue to be given ample opportunities on passes over the middle of 10 yards or less, along with inside the red zone. Brate is facing a stiff challenge from a Green Bay defense that should be fresh coming off a bye and that has not allowed a tight end to score this year, but he hauled in two touchdowns in his only career game against the Packers so do not be shocked if he has a solid outing.

 

Other Tight End Options to Consider

Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts

36% rostered

Fantasy GMs should not kick Cox to the curb over one poor performance. He has been one of the pleasant surprises at the position this season and should not be punished for last game, where he went catchless against Cleveland. Cox recorded 174 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the three games prior and has a mouthwatering matchup versus the pitiful Cincinnati Bengals and their inexperienced secondary up next. Jack Doyle has done nothing to deter Philip Rivers from throwing to Cox since returning from injury.

Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

6% rostered

Smith was an invisible man over the opening month of the season (two catches for 14 yards), but quarterback Kirk Cousins found the young upstart for a couple nice plays this past Sunday night. Smith racked up four receptions for 64 yards and should be included in the Vikings offensive game plans much more regularly after this prime-time effort. Smith should have no trouble having another plus game this Sunday against Atlanta, whose secondary is too banged-up and not talented enough to cover most NFL-caliber pass catchers.

Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams

1% rostered

Before Tyler Higbee lost his mind and had his scintillating five-game stretch for the Rams at the tail end of the 2019 campaign, Everett had a four-game span where he caught 18 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns before being derailed by an injury. Everett is looking now like he did during that hot streak. The big man caught four passes for 90 yards against Washington in Week 5 and could push for a bigger role in the Rams passing attack if he keeps contributing like this. Everett is one to watch for in deep leagues, but it is too early to peg him as a savior in standard leagues.

 

Don’t Forget About…

Darren Fells, Houston Texans

2% rostered

Fells’ fantasy value has fallen off the charts this season as up-and-coming Jordan Akins has overshadowed and outplayed him. With Akins concussed and not in uniform this past weekend, however, Fells regained his 2019 form and gifted shrewd fantasy managers 57 yards and a touchdown for easily his best game of the young season. If Akins misses more time, Fells could be a low-cost spot starter for fantasy purposes.

Drew Sample, Cincinnati Bengals

4% rostered

Cincy’s second-round pick from 2019 has two 40-yard games over the past month, but he has yet to find the end zone or become a consistent fantasy threat. If you can be patient with Sample, though, he could develop his chemistry with QB Joe Burrow over the course of the season and become a decent piece of your roster in dynasty leagues for 2021.

Greg Olsen, Seattle Seahawks

29% rostered

Olsen’s numbers are not as flashy or as helpful as they were during his prime with the Carolina Panthers, but the longtime veteran is still serviceable for fantasy football. Olsen is on bye this week so he will be of no use to fantasy players in the short term, and it would be nice if he was the Seahawks tight end catching Russell Wilson TD tosses and not Will Dissly. If you could use a better backup on your fantasy roster, however, Olsen could help, especially Wilson starts trusting him more as the season wears on.

Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills

2% rostered

Knox is now caught in a timeshare situation with Tyler Kroft, which does not do any fantasy favors for either man. But while Kroft is the multimillionaire veteran, Knox is the future and needs to be kept an eye on over the next several weeks. If Knox shows any signs of life, scoop him up in dynasty leagues and stash him at the bottom of your roster. One of these days the light will go on and he will become a decent fantasy option.



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Tape Tells All: Robert Tonyan's Week 4 Performance

Finding a consistent NFL tight end for fantasy purposes isn't an easy thing to do.

But maybe there's hope that a new player is about to enter that tier: Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan.

In this week's edition of Tape Tells All, I'll be looking at Tonyan's three-touchdown Week 4 to see if his recent production can be sustained.

 

Background Information

Robert Tonyan has now caught five touchdown passes this season. He leads the team in receiving touchdowns by a wide margin over Aaron Jones, Allen Lazard, and Davante Adams, who all have two.

In fact, his five touchdowns tie him for the NFL lead with Mike Evans. 25 percent of the way through the season, that's a notable thing.

Also notable is that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has always been a quarterback who led to inconsistent production for tight ends. You can attribute that to the fact that his best tight ends have been Jermichael Finley and past-prime Jimmy Graham, but Rodgers has always seemed to look for wide receivers in the passing game more than other positions.

But injuries can change things. The Packers are currently without Davante Adams and Allen Lazard, and while Adams is expected back as early as next game, Lazard is set to still miss some time, and the options behind Lazard are replacement-level guys at best. Which means that hey -- it's entirely possible that Tonyan is going to be a key going forward.

 

The Game Tape

So, let's see what Tonyan did on Monday night.

.

On his first catch, Tonyan starts as one of two in-line tight ends on the right side of the formation. At the snap, he comes across the middle of the play, getting some separation from the linebacker covering him, then making the reception and turning upfield to gain some yards.

I'm impressed by Tonyan's ability to get that separation. I know, I know, workout metrics can be misleading, but look at this:

image from PlayerProfiler.com

Those are incredibly impressive numbers, especially when all taken together. And one play in, we're seeing that speed on tape.

Moving on to the next play for Tonyan:

Again, Tonyan's in-line here. He takes off streaking towards the end zone at the snap and once again is being covered by a linebacker and friends -- don't think linebackers should be covering Tonyan at this p0int! By the time this defense realizes Tonyan's heading directly for the end zone, it's too late for 54 to catch up to him, which leaves Atlanta hoping they can get a safety to slide over and meet Tonyan before he gets the touchdown. Spoiler: doesn't work, as they all collide inside the five and Tonyan falls into his first touchdown of the game.

Hey, it's basically that same crossing route that Tonyan ran on his first reception. And why not go back to it, as he's got the speed to exploit the slower defender. Aaron Rodgers places the ball well here, and Tonyan gets enough space to make the catch. Touchdown.

And then there was the other touchdown:

I...what...is...

Tonyan is working more as a slot guy than a tight end here, is running the streak, and just gets upturned like five yards down the field. Play over, right?

Nah. He just casually gets up and is like "let me finish this route," and with the player who was defending him going down, he's wide open to just finish the route and score the touchdown.

This is such a weird play that it taught he zilch about Tonyan except for the fact he plays hard, which is a really abstract quality that doesn't impact my analysis of him. But hey, overall, this was a very good game for him!

 

Fantasy Impact

So, what do we make of this?

Tonyan's workout metrics are incredibly encouraging, and that they've actually translated into real production so far is even more encouraging. His ability to create space on these crossing patterns sets him up as a strong short-yardage option for Aaron Rodgers, especially down in the red zone.

And his speed also means he can be used in the vertical passing attack. That first touchdown is a great example of how Tonyan can get going down the field and creates a huge mismatch for the Packers offense to take advantage of.

By now, I assume Tonyan is no longer sitting on the waiver wire in your leagues. If he is for some reason, definitely add him right now. Don't pass go, don't etc. etc. etc. Pick up Tonyan.

The real question is how to think of him now that he's on your team.

Obviously, you start Tonyan when he has a good matchup, or you start him if the tight end you drafted to be your starter is hurt.

But is he someone you can lock in as a weekly TE1?

The skills are there. The passing volume is there.

But the Packers have a Week 5 bye, which gives them time to get healthier, which means that we should expect Davante Adams to be on the field the next time the Packers play.

Still, while Tonyan's role will decrease as other options become available, his usage is trending up and he's played at least 60 percent of snaps in each game. It's hard to just dismiss him due to the return of Adams. I think he's a high-end TE2 moving forward, with the upside to be a consistent TE1 if the usage remains after the bye. Worst case for Tonyan is being a viable streaming play each week, and if that's the worst case for an Aaron Rodgers tight end, then you know he's a talented player.



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NextGen Stats - Wide Receiver/Tight End Breakdowns and Takeaways

I can't believe it. Months of waiting, painful empty weekends, and now a quarter of the NFL season is suddenly gone! But I'm not going to lie, I love the moment when the whistle blows to end the week on Monday nights. It is just the confirmation that we have another full round of data in our hands, and for a nerd like me, that's great. As a reader that likes this type of content, you might feel the same.

To gain the biggest edge in your fantasy football league, it's necessary to understand how to apply the advanced statistics being used in sports nowadays. Back in the day, it was all about wins and losses, passing yards, and touchdowns scored. It's not that those stats are now worthless, they just don't offer enough information to savvy analysts. While football is still in its infancy compared to baseball in terms of analytics, the evolution the sport has seen lately in those terms is notable.

Each week, I'll be tackling NFL's Next Gen Stats, bringing you data from the previous week's games with notable takeaways you should consider when assessing fantasy players for the upcoming week. In case you're new to the series, or Next Gen Stats altogether, I recommend you read our NGS-primer. Now, let's get to the data!

 

Week 4 - TE/WR Air Yards Breakdown - NextGenStats

If you remember the introductory post to the series, you already know Air Yards tells us the vertical yards on a pass attempt from the line of scrimmage to the point where the ball was caught by the receiver (or the catch failed to be completed.) I will be using mainly two metrics here: Average Targeted Air Yards (TAY), and %Share of Team's Air Yards (TAY%)TAY tells us how many air yards a receiver is thrown per target. TAY% measures the percentage of Air Yards a receiver was thrown at over the sum of his team's total Air Yards.

With four weeks in the books, we can (at least moderately) say that we have enough data to assess what and what not is going on at the wide receiver and tight end positions. This doesn't mean Air Yard values are already stabilized, not close to it, but it is highly probable that what we see in Weeks 1-4 stays mostly the same at least in the short-to-mid-term future, with high chances of staying on similar levels for the full season.

Today, I'll present each of the stats from the NFL's advanced metrics site, its correlation with receiver fantasy points, and a list of leaders and trailers in each category along with some notes and takeaways on both the players' and the metrics' impact on fantasy football as a whole.

So let's dive in. Note: The cutoff is set at 10 targets for both WR and TE.

 

Cushion / Separation

Correlation with Fantasy Points: negative-9% / 8%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • In a flip of what we saw over the full 2019 season, the SEP and the FP/G posted through four weeks of play correlate positively. Last season that wasn't the case, but so far (albeit on a very small sample of just four games) we're seeing the opposite to what happened last year. Don't get too high on it, as the relationship amounts to a virtually insignificant 9%...
  • Before we get deeper, let's give a shout-out to Demarcus Robinson for holding onto the highest SEP mark for another week, even with a low number of targets (11, min. set at 10 for W4) through four games. He's almost a full yard ahead of no. 2 Robert Tonyan and that's the same distance as there is between Tonyan and no. 7 George Kittle.
  • As always, plenty of tight ends made it to the top of the leaderboard. They get targeted mostly when they're open, and that's why five of the top 11 players in SEP play at that position. That doesn't mean they aren't all good enough to get separation on their own merits instead of always being left open by defenses, though (looking at you, Kittle).
  • There are 135 qualified WR/TEs in this week's rundown. Grouped by team, Kansas City is the squad with the highest SEP on average (3.9) yards, followed by Seattle (3.5) and Arizona (3.4).
  • On the other end of the SEP leaderboard, the Dolphins trail every other squad on average SEP among their receivers (2.0), with Chicago at 2.3 and Detroit at 2.3. Don't hate on Fitzpatrick, Trubisky, or Foles: those receiving corps are making things tough as nails for them all to complete passes on such tight spaces.
  • As is often the case, and as the first point of this section highlights, high or low SEP marks don't translate into more or fewer fantasy points. Green Bay receivers have the highest PPG average at 16.6 with a SEP of 3.3 but are followed by Minnesota's (16.5 PPG) with a SEP of 2.5...
  • While receivers can control their separation averages, they can't directly affect the cushion defenders give them. Although virtually not related to fantasy points in any way, the relationship is negative: more cushion, fewer PPG.
  • At the top of the leaderboard, your usual suspects: burners in the shape of K.J. Hamler (8.7 CUSH) and DeSean Jackson (8.1). More interesting, though, are the cases of elite players like DeAndre Hopkins (7.7) and Amari Cooper (7.4), as they can do it all and the cushion they are given is more related to their all-around abilities rather than just their deep-route running.
  • Through Week 4, only 28 receivers are averaging 15+ PPG. Of those, only Hopkins, Cooper, and Adam Thielen have CUSH marks above 6.7 (all 7.3+).
  • At the same time, only five players are averaging 15+ PPG while being given fewer than 5.0 yards of CUSH (Allen Robinson II, Robert Tonyan, Davante Adams, Terry McLaurin, and DK Metcalf).
  • Breakdown by teams: Denver (6.9), Carolina (6.8), and the Jets (6.5) receivers are given the largest CUSH on the league; Indianapolis (4.9), Green Bay (5.0), and Cleveland (5.0) the smallest. Not a coincidence the leading two teams have K.J. Hamler/Tim Patrick/Robby Anderson, while the trailing two feature the likes of Mo Alie-Cox/Robert Tonyan/Michael Pittman Jr.
  • As a curiosity: A.J. Green as the worst combined CUSH+SEP mark at just 6.0 yards. Defenders have closed on him, and he has been absolutely terrible at getting separation at the point of the catch. Forgettable season by the veteran on his comeback year.

 

Targeted Air Yards / % Share of Team's Air Yards

Correlation with Fantasy Points: 6% / 46%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • Opportunity trumps everything in fantasy football, and it can be seen in the highly related link between the percentage of yards a team/QB throws toward a player and the fantasy point he scores.
  • This is made clear by the table above, which I have sorted by Targeted Air Yards% (among teammates). Virtually every player (except MVS) shown at the top of the table (and in fact, every player with a TAY% higher than 34%) is averaging double-digit fantasy points through Week 4.
  • Oh, and this has yet to catch up in terms of correlation with fantasy points: last season the relationship ended at a positive 71% between TAY% and PPG, so we're still way behind that mark.
  • While Justin Jefferson has had a breakout during the past two weeks, he's miles away from reaching Adam Thielen's league-leading TAY% of 49.1 percent. Thielen is the only player getting more than 40% of his team's AY while keeping up a catch rate above 64%.
  • Speaking of Thielen, Minnesota's qualified receivers also have the highest TAY average of all teams at 14.9. Not only that, but the distance with the second-highest team (Denver, 12.2 TAY) is as big as that between Denver and no. 19 (!) Jacksonville (9.5 TAY).
  • All five Kansas City's qualified receivers (min. 10 targets) make up for 100% of the team's TAY%. They are the only team to reach that full percentage. Seattle's four players sit second at 95%, with Dallas (five players) and Tampa Bay (six) at 94%.
  • At the other end, Las Vegas' qualified receivers (three players, min. 10 targets) only account for 55.9% of the team TAY, followed by Tennessee (three) at 61.5% and the Jets (four) at 67.2%.
  • Those last two points highlight the difference between established offenses that always operate on the same terms and use the same players and squads that have suffered injuries and have needed to share the ball between many more players to start the year.
  • The relationship between aDOT (TAY) and fantasy points is almost nonexistent, but at least there is some positive correlation there. Not much, though, as six players have 16.8+ TAY marks and three of them are averaging 10+ PPG while the other three are below that mark...
  • Marquise Brown has the highest TAY (17.7) and also the third-highest TAY% (44.9) among all qualified players. He's both a deep threat and the most sought-after player by Lamar Jackson.
  • In a completely opposite situation, Michael Gallup ranks second in TAY (17.4) but his TAY% among Cowboys only gets to 26.4%. I mean, that's the secondary effect of playing in such a loaded offense that features all of Gallup, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott...
  • Only five of 35 qualified tight ends currently have aDOT marks above 10.0 yards per target. Of those, just two (Mark Andrews and Mike Gesicki) hold those values while having been targeted 20+ times through four games.
  • Even with a paltry 5.8 TAY Darren Waller has gathered 25.5 of Las Vegas' TAY%. Obviously, that's because he's been targeted a monster 40 times already, while no other tight end is over 33 targets (Kelce) in four games combined.
  • After his incredible Week 4 performance, George Kittle leads all WR/TEs in PPG with 24.7. Even with that, he only has a TAY% in San Francisco of 15.2%. Davante Adams is in a similar situation, having just 14.95% of Green Bay's TAY%. The common denominator: both have missed time, lowering their shares as they couldn't rack up AY while their teammates did.
  • Other than those two outliers, every WR/TE averaging 18+ PPG currently holds a TAY% of at least 20%. Again, the correlation is just at 41% through four games, while last season it ended at 71%, so expect the likes of Justin Jefferson, Darren Waller, Cooper Kupp, Keenan Allen, or Mike Evans (all with TAY% above 20% already) to improve their PPG averages through the next few weeks.

 

Receptions / Targets / Catch% / Touchdowns

Correlation with Fantasy Points: 74% / 62% / 35% / 80%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • Obviously, receptions trump targets in terms of fantasy-point production (in PPR formats, that is) because well, they hand out actual fantasy points. That's why 14 of 16 (87.5%) players with 20+ receptions are averaging 16+ PPG through four weeks of play.
  • Up to 37 receivers have logged between 15 and 19 receptions but only eight of them (21.6%) are averaging 15+ PPG.
  • All but four of 28 players averaging 15+ PPG have been targeted 20+ times. The four with fewer than 20 targets still putting up those PPG: DJ Chark Jr., JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Lazard, and Kenny Golladay (all missed time, which if it hadn't happened would have fostered them to the 20+ target group).
  • With 40 targets in 4 games, Darren Waller is the only tight end averaging 10+ per game, which tells you everything you need to know about Las Vegas' offense. Kelce is second at 33 with Engram coming in third with 30.
  • Five wideouts with 40+ targets, but with widely varying receiving numbers: only Cooper and Hopkins have catch rates above 65% while Keenan Allen, Allen Robinson, and Calvin Ridley are at or below that mark.
  • Of the wide receivers with those 40+ targets through four games, expect some positive regression on the touchdown department for the top three as they only have one TD on the year. Just on pure volume, the scores will come without a doubt.
  • Just one player holding onto the perfect 100% catch rate through four weeks while having 10+ targets: Willie Snead IV, 10-for-10. His PPG average: a putrid 6.9...
  • Actual impressive catch rates: Kittle 95% (19-for-20, 24.7 PPG), DJ Chark Jr. 93.8% (15-for-16, 17.8), Davante 85% (17-for-20, 24.1), and Hopkins 84.8% (39-for-46, 21.2).
  • One thing is not like the others in the chart above: A.J. Green has 33 targets... and just 14 catches for a catch rate of 42.4% and an average of 6.5 PPG. Stinker of a season so far for him, being the only player with more than 28 targets and a catch rate below 51%.
  • Shouts out to Mike Evans and Robert Tonyan (what) for being the only players with more than a touchdown per game through four weeks. Evans, I can understand, but Tonyan has overperformed as hell with a TD rate of 35.7% per target (5 in just 14 targets, three scores in Week 4 alone).
  • Positive touchdown-regression tracker: Green, D.J. Moore, Edelman, and Engram have 30+ targets and no scores. Cooper, Allen, Hopkins, and Waller have 40+ (!) targets and just one TD.
  • Negative touchdown-regression tracker: Tonyan, Andrews, Jonnu Smith, JuJu, Chark, and Higbee all have 3+ TDs on 20 or fewer targets.

 

Yards / "Total" Yards (Air Yds + YAC) / "Air" Yards

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2019 season): 80% / 70% / negative-8%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • Nothing surprising here, as receiving yardage is factored into the calculation of fantasy points without much hard-math involved. Leaders in yardage average the most fantasy points, with touchdowns and receptions just being a weekly bonus to their tallies.
  • The race is hot at the top: three players with 400+ receiving yards already and all inside a two-yard gap. Oh, and it is not that no. 4 Hopkins is far from them with 397 himself...
  • Also: Kelce is the most ridiculous thing to grace a gridiron. That's it. That's the take.
  • Counting stats are nice, but what if we factor targets in? That changes the picture, vastly. Among receivers with 20+ targets, Justin Jefferson has the highest Y/T at 17.4 followed by DK Metcalf (ridiculous season), Will Fuller V, and Scotty Miller. Shouts out to the three non-DK guys for exploiting the game with nobody expecting it!
  • Here's to hope David Moore, Mo Alie-Cox, Andy Isabella, Willie Snead IV, and Josh Reynolds see more targets down the road. All of them are averaging 11.0+ Y/T but none has been targeted more than 13 times this season.
  • The Air Yards leaderboard is always bonkers. Four players with 264+ air yards through four weeks, but widely varying percentages in terms of how many of their total yards have come through the actual air: from Calvin Ridley's 85.4% to Amari Cooper's 65.3%.
  • Of 18 receivers with at least 200 air yards, only two (Justin Jefferson and DeAndre Hopkins) have YAC% of 35%+. That's the sweet spot: reliable targets downfield with the bonus upside after the catch.
  • Kudos to Isaiah Wright for pulling off the negative-AY feat with minus-5 air yards and 44 total yards on the season, generating 111% of his yardage after the catch. LOL
  • The most airborne of players: Kenny Stills with only 1.1 percent YAC%, followed by Preston Williams (9 percent) and K.J. Hamler (11.5). Adam Thielen is fourth (13.4) but it is not that he's needed to catch-and-run a lot to generate fantasy points as Kirk Cousins has thrown his way in the end zone a lot and he already has 4 TDs through four games.

 

Yards After Catch / Expected YAC / YAC Above Expectation

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2019 season): 18% / 8% / 24%

Leaders and Trailers: 

Leaderboard Notes:

  • Even though it's been four weeks already, I would advise not getting too lost in this data for the time being. Things will take a little bit more to stabilize as more reps are factored into the stat lines.
  • Jamison Crowder keeps being the no. 1 player over expectations, but as you know that is still the secondary effect of his Week 1 reception for a touchdown that absolutely skewed his +/- as he dodged the defense and added a ton of yards after the catch in a single play, boosting his overperformance.
  • Someone I trust more, though, is no. 2 Justin Jefferson. I was hesitant after his Week 3 performance, but he doubled down on it in Week 4, and with back-to-back great showcases I'm getting every Jefferson share I can put my hands on. Kid's legit, folks.
  • All players with a plus/minus of 2.5+ currently averaging 14+ PPG, with four of them almost at 18+. Bet on overachievers, they have the ability in them.
  • Only Davante Adams (-0.1) and Tyler Lockett (-0.3) have negative YACOE (+/-) while still averaging 20+ PPG.
  • At the other end, though, among the worst receivers on average PPG (below 4.6) only three (Deonte Harris, Van Jefferson, and Demarcus Robinson have positive YACOE marks. Those are middling names that have been targeted just 10 or 11 times, though.
  • Looking at receivers with at least 20 targets so far, we find 73 qualified players. Of those 73, 24 are averaging negative YACOE and are averaging 12.4 PPG. The remaining 49 have positive YACOE marks and are averaging 13.3 PPG.
  • In the same group of 73, there are 14 players at-or-below -0.5 YACOE and they are averaging 12.1 PPG. There are 21 players at-or-above 1.0 YACOE and they are averaging 13.5 PPG. The distance between both groups will keep rising, as the correlation should go up as we get deeper into the season (judging by 2019 stats).

That's it for today. Until we meet again next week, I hope you can crush your waiver wire, set up the best possible lineup, and get ready for another weekend full of fireworks!



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Tight End Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 5

The 2020 NFL season has not been easy on fantasy football general managers.

If fantasy footballers did not already have enough to contend with between injuries (O.J. Howard, Noah Fant, Jordan Akins) and COVID preventing their players on Pittsburgh and Tennessee from taking the field, here comes the first round of byes! No game for the Green Bay Packers or the Detroit Lions this week, so no Robert Tonyan or T.J. Hockenson for fantasy players to use. There are some tight ends available on fantasy waiver wires and free agent lists heading into the upcoming week that should be able to help in a pinch, though.

Here are the top tight end candidates to pick up in fantasy football leagues heading into Week 5! Please note that Chicago Jimmy Graham, Cleveland’s Austin Hooper and Dallas’ Dalton Schultz are owned in about half of leagues, so while that is a little too much to make this column, one or more might be available in your league.

 

Top Tight End Waiver Wire Options for Week 5

Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts

33% rostered

One good week could be a fluke. Two good weeks could be the start of something. But three good weeks is a trend. Cox has done well for three straight weeks now, so it is time for the fantasy football world to take notice and take him seriously. He is using his basketball body and becoming a fantasy football force.

Cox has 174 receiving yards and two touchdowns over his past three games. There are warning signs with Cox, though. Veterans tight end teammates Jack Doyle and Trey Burton have both returned from their injuries. Cox only has five targets over Indianapolis’ last two contest, and his track record coming into 2020 was not exactly fantasy friendly. Cox is playing the best ball of his short career, however, and faces a Cleveland defense that just allowed Dallas’ Dak Prescott to throw for 500 yards this past weekend. Pick Cox up and ride his hot streak out --- if it ever ends.

Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

0% rostered

Remember this guy? For a three-year span between 2016 and 2018, Brate was finding the end zone as often as a nerdy guy finds the friend zone with pretty girls out of his league. Brate hauled in 20 touchdown passes over that time and was a fantasy force. Then O.J. Howard was drafted in the first round. Then Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to join Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. Then Brate went from fantasy hero to fantasy zero.

A lot can change on a dime in fantasy football. Howard injured his Achilles, and Gronk is not looking like the Gronk that was the top tight end in fantasy football during his glory years in New England. The door is now open for Brate to become a decent points producer again. He has Brady throwing to him and has wonderful wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin opening up the middle for him. Brate is not going to rack up more than 20-30 yards per week, but he could start scoring a touchdown every other game like he did back a few years ago. Do not be worried about Brate facing Chicago on Thursday night as the Bears have allowed tight ends to catch TD tosses three times in four games.

 

Other Tight End Options to Consider

Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers

25% rostered

Don't look now, but Tonyan has become a top-5 fantasy tight end! While Green Bay's receiving corps has been decimated by injuries, Tonyan has gone from being a pedestrian backup to being a Pro Bowl-caliber player. He leads all tight ends with five touchdowns and has become Aaron Rodgers' top target while Davante Adams and Allen Lazard have been sidelined. Tonyan's 6-98-3 line this past Monday night certainly won fantasy games and contests for millions in the fantasy football community.

Tonyan might be on bye this week, but that does not mean you cannot pick him up immediately and use him in Week 6 or 7. Just proceed with caution, though. Adams will probably be back in Week 6 and taking some of Tonyan's targets. Also remember that Tonyan's big game on Monday came against an Atlanta secondary that was practically pulling high school players off the street to fill in for all of their injured safeties and corners. Tonyan is a fine addition for fantasy teams, but temper expectations if you think he is going to be Travis Kelce-like all season long.

Greg Olsen, Seattle Seahawks

22% rostered

Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf hog all the targets and touchdowns in Seattle’s passing attack, but Olsen has 10 receptions for 96 yards over the Seahawks past two victories and is appearing more comfortable with quarterback Russell Wilson. Olsen will run routes against a Minnesota defense that is near the bottom of the league in pass defense, so pick him up whether you need him for this week or the next few.

Drew Sample, Cincinnati Bengals

3% rostered

The jury is still on out on what Cincinnati’s promising tight end is going to give fantasy managers this year. He could be the carbon copy of C.J. Uzomah in terms of stats and fantasy value, or he could turn into an above-average tight end that could be a benefit in dynasty leagues for years to come. Sample has broken the 40-yard barrier in two of his past three games and could have a fine fantasy future with franchise cornerstone Joe Burrow if things break right for him.

 

Jordan Akins, Houston Texans

13% rostered

Akins was concussed in his last game so his availability for this week is up in the air. What’s not up in the air is if this guy can play. Akins has had 39 receiving or more in three of his four outings this year and has passed Darren Fells on the depth chart at tight end. If Akins can suit up Sunday he has a mouthwatering matchup against a Jacksonville defense that made Tennessee’s Jonnu Smith look like a Hall of Famer a couple weeks ago.

 

Don’t Forget About…

Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers

8% rostered

It’s not every day I tout a tight end who has five receptions for 30 yards and one touchdown…on the season. Thomas was banged-up entering the season and had to deal with a new quarterback, so patience was definitely needed. Thomas is a better pickup in a league where you can stash him for a few weeks before you press him into duty on your active roster. The kid has talent, but we need to know if he has his helmet on straight before we can count on him in fantasy leagues on a weekly basis.

Dan Arnold, Arizona Cardinals

0% rostered

I know what you are thinking. Craig has lost his damn mind. Couple things to consider, however. Arnold just had his best game of the short season (four receptions for 39 yards). More importantly, this week Arizona plays the worst team in the NFL, the New York Jets. Even Arnold could post some solid numbers against the Jets.

Tyler Eifert, Jacksonville Jaguars

9% rostered

Eifert would be a more attractive get if teammate James O’ Shaughnessy was not virtually matching his numbers on the season. Countless injuries have really robbed him of some of his physical gifts. Yet Eifert is serviceable and could find the end zone this week against an 0-4 Houston team that makes mental mistakes in pass coverage.

Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos

0% rostered

Say his name three times fast and I swear you magically get a mustache like Gardner Minshew’s appear on your face. Give it a try. Albert O. might find the field now that Noah Fant will be sidelined due to an ankle injury. Vets Nick Vannett and Jake Butt are warm bodies who can block. Okwuegbunam has pass-catching skills that make him a fantasy option the minute he is given a true opportunity. His odds of the rookie getting that opportunity are a little bit better with Fant out.



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Regression is Coming - Five Players Bound to Decline

It's been three weeks of games already. That means we're quickly approaching the completion of the first quarter of the season. Time flies, folks. With a big enough sample of data already in our hands, it's time we start separating the wheat from the chaff before it's too late. And that's what I'm here for.

By my count, at least 90 players--all positions considered--have been on the field for 150 or more snaps so far this season. Those 90 players are averaging 186 snaps through Week 3, which means they are playing near 62 any given Sunday. More than enough to put up numbers, right? Well, that's correct, but how are they scoring fantasy points? Are they getting them with season-long sustainable production, or have they just put on some fluky, bound to regress performances?

Today, I'm taking a look at some players around the league to let you know about their scoring so far this season, and how it is more than probable that they drop their production levels during the next few weeks. Let's go analyze!

 

Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Before you close this tab and label me as a hater, let me tell you that I am and have always been Allen's no. 1 stan. This is not hating on Allen, it is just pointing out facts.

After three games, Allen leads all quarterbacks (tied with Russell Wilson) in fantasy points (100.9) and is second in FP per dropback with 0.79 (Wilson is first with 0.83). You can make a case for Wilson to drop his production too, but Wilson at least has some serious track record to make me believe he can average 20+ FPPG while Allen has been average through two pro-years averaging 17 and 18 FP per game.

So far, Allen has completed 81 passes against 6 drops. Among QBs with at least 100 pass attempts (20), Allen has the 9th-lowest drop-to-completion ratio. He has also passed for more than 300 yards in all three games of the season, being the only player to do so. He's second to Wilson (14) in touchdowns with 10 in three games.

Although he's not the highest-yardage rusher of the league (8th, 83 rushing yards) Allen has scored 2 TDs on the ground already, becoming one of just five QBs having 2+ scores rushing through W3.

While Allen ranks first in EP, that is, has had the best chances at getting high fantasy-point tallies, he's also third at the QB position in surpassing the expectations. In fact, strictly looking at passing numbers, he ranks second with 22.7 FPOE. All things considered, it's going to be tough for Allen to keep all of those marks up for much longer.

 

James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

Former Illinois State running back and undrafted free-agent signee James Robinson has taken the league by storm in his rookie season. Three weeks into the year, Robinson is the RB5 only behind Kamara, Jones, Elliott, and Gordon in PPR points. He's already reached 61.9 for an average of 20.6 FPPG after replacing always-underperforming Leonard Fournette in Jacksonville. That, my friends, is unexpected and probably unsustainable at the very least.

It is too early to know if Robinson's performances are just a fluke, or if he's actually a stud on his way to becoming one the best rushers in the league. That being said, though, the EP he's been put in position to get (22nd-most among RBs) and the way in which he's overperforming the expectations (3rd-highest FPOE) don't align at all. And the marks he's putting up make it clear.

Robinson has played 101 snaps in 2020. In those plays, he has seen 54 opportunities and turned 53 of them in actual touches. He's converted 10 of 11 targets and rushed the ball 43 times already. Not only is Robinson good at running with the rock, but he's also played to an incredible level as a low-volume receiver so far this season averaging 11.7 yards per target and 12.9 per reception (both lead the league among RBs with at least 10 targets, and it is not even close).

Only two other RBs are generating more PPR points per snap (Mostert, Kamara, and Jones) than Robinson (0.61) among players with at least 25 opportunities through W3, and Robinson is also generating the 8th-highest PPR points per touch (1.17). The rookie has scored 3 TDs too, one of only 10 rushers to do so this season.

 

Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots

Veteran rusher Rex Burkhead is currently the RB17 in PPR leagues. He's scored 46.9 points in three games playing for the Patriots and as part of an infinite-RB-committee backfield that will be welcoming back even more players soon.

Looking at Burkhead counting stats you'll be amazed at his production given his low-key profile entering the year: he is averaging 15.6 FPPG, has caught 11 of 15 targets for 96 yards and a score, and most importantly he's rushed the ball a super-efficient 19 times for 83 yards (4.4 YPC) and 2 TDs on the season.

Now compare those numbers to these ones: 13 rushing attempts, 4 of 6 receptions, 81 yards from scrimmage, zero touchdowns. Those were Burkhead numbers in weeks 1-2. And those stats are most probably what we should expect from Burkhead going forward, not his monster W3 performance (6 carries for 49 yards and 2 TDs, 7 receptions for 49 yards and 1 TD).

Rex Burkhead featured in 13 games in 2019 and finished with 103.1 PPR points as the RB47. This season, in just three games, he's already at 46.9 (that is 45.5 percent of all points he got last season in four-times more games). Among running backs with at least 30 touches through Week 3, Burkhead (1.56) ranks second to Alvin Kamara (1.84) in PPR points per touch and he's 13th in PPR points per snap played.

Of Burkhead's 46.9 PPR points, 74.2 percent of them came in just his Week 3 performance against Las Vegas. Forget about this becoming the average and expect a hard-hitting regression coming his way.

 

D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks

Truth be told, calling Metcalf regression-bound might be a stretch at this point. The Seahawk has played all three games to an impossibly steady average level of performance: 19.5, 19.2, and 19.0 are the PPR points he's scored to start the season, which amounts to virtually no variation at all in his scores. And in fact, his stats have been very similar game to game: 4 receptions in each of them, 95/92/110 yards in order, and one TD in every game. That's insane.

Obviously, such a great three-game span has Metcalf ranked as the WR5 in 2020 with 57.7 fantasy points. Now, the problem I see with Metcalf is his usage and the ridiculous efficiency he's put up through Week 3. Metcalf has played 199 snaps, and just for context, Tyler Lockett has played 194 himself in the same offense. Lockett has scored 73.9 PPR points in the same games.

The difference between Lockett and Metcalf, though, is that Lockett is averaging a reasonable 0.38 PPR points per snap to Metcalf's 0.30, but Metcalf is outperforming Locket by a thousand miles in PPR points per touch: Metcalf has just 12 receptions for 297 yards and 3 TDs (should have been 4 had he not fumbled in W3 near the end zone) while Lockett has 259 yards and 4 TDs in twice those receptions (24).

Metcalf has caught just 60% of the passes thrown his way, has an aDOT of 17.5 yards downfield (third-highest among WRs targeted 20+ times), and his averages of 14.9 Y/Tgt and 24.8 Y/R (!!!) aren't even close to the rest of the players at the position. To put a cherry on top of this unsustainable level of performance, Metcalf is also averaging 5.3 YAC good for 6th among WRs.

We all know Russ is cooking, and Metcalf is definitely eating. But at this rate, the logical next event is for Metcalf to put on a dud and have very serious indigestion served by Chef Wilson.

 

Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans

As I'm writing this (Saturday), we have already watched the match between the Jets and the Broncos from the W4 scheduled games. Right now only three tight ends have reached 49+ PPR points in the season (Smith, Noah Fant, and Travis Kelce) and just two are averaging more than 14 FPPG (Kelce and Smith). Not bad, right?

Jonnu Smith (179) leads Tennessee is snaps played, followed by Corey Davis (171) and Derrick Henry (161). One man missing that top-three but expected to get there in due time: WR A.J. Brown, who has been out from Week 2 on after getting injured. That alone is reason enough to expect some regression from Smith. But there is more to it.

In a similar case to that of Burkhead (read above), Jonnu Smith has tallied most of his fantasy points in just one game in Week 2. After starting the season with a relatively good game (4-36-1 for 13.6 PPR points) he absolutely exploded in Week 2 against Jacksonville posting a 4-84-2 line that rocketed Smith to 24.4 fantasy points and a TE4 finish on the week. He came back to Earth already last weekend when he could only reach 11.1 PPR points even while having a season-high in receptions with 5 and being targeted the most times so far this season (8).

The tight end position holds no secrets. It is the most volatile one, and heavily touchdown-dependent. Up to 25 tight ends have been on the field 120+ snaps through Week 3 and W4's TNF. Of those, Jonnu Smith is averaging the second-most PPR points per snap (0.27) while "only" having 181 receiving yards compared to Fant's 219 and Kelce's 227. The reason? Smith's 3 TDs compared to Kelce's and Fant's 2 TDs.

On top of all of the prior numbers, Smith is also posting the highest YAC average at 7.5 yards (T.J. Hockenson is second at 7.3; no other TE is over 6.5 YAC), the highest Y/R average at 13.9 (Higbee is second at 13.4)... but one of the lowest catch rates among the heavy-use TEs this year catching just 65% of his targets (Kelce, for context, is catching 84% of his targets).



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Tight End Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 4

The tight end pickings are starting to get slimmer on fantasy football waiver wires. While we are still a week away from being on bye, fantasy general managers are still probably going to be missing some of their tight ends heading into Week 4.

San Francisco’s George Kittle and Jordan Reed and Philadelphia’s Dallas Goedert are banged-up for starters. There are some one-week stopgap options available on fantasy free agent lists, but there are not a lot of tight ends out there that are going to provide fantasy players help over the entire season.

Here are the top tight end candidates to pick up in fantasy football leagues heading into Week 4.

 

Top Tight End Waiver Wire Options for Week 4

Jimmy Graham, Chicago Bears

8% rostered

Old man Graham keeps plugging along, even after a decade in the league and numerous injuries to his lower limbs. He must have sipped from a Fountain of Youth before his third game of the season --- or he was just fortunate to be “covered” by a porous Atlanta secondary. Whatever the case, Graham caught sixth passes for 60 yards and two touchdowns during Chicago’s comeback win in Week 3.

Who knows who Chicago’s quarterback will be this week? Has Nick Foles wrested the starting signal caller job away with his amazing second-half comeback? Or will Mitchell Trubisky get a second chance after being unceremoniously pulled? Graham has had success with both quarterbacks so far, so it might not matter. Graham is not someone fantasy players can count on consistently because he is a shell of his former self, but the wily veteran continues to find the end zone enough to make himself a fantasy force when plugged into a lineup at the right time.

Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts

9% rostered

Cox can no longer be considered a one-game wonder. Now he has back-to-back great games to his credit. The former basketballer followed up his 111-yard breakout game from Week 2 by catching three passes for 50 yards and a TD in a laugher of a win versus the New York Jets. These are easily the two best games of Cox’s short career, which begs this question. Is Cox a two-week wonder?

Veteran PPR asset Jack Doyle is still going to take some targets and turn them into seven-yard gains. Here are three things going in Cox’s favor, however. He has a quarterback in Philip Rivers with a history of throwing successfully to tight ends, he has plenty of potential and physical ability, and this week he will be up against a Chicago Bears Defense that has allowed two tight ends to find the end zone in their first three games. Take a flyer and hope Cox’s fantasy value goes higher!

 

Other Tight End Options to Consider

Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys

31% rostered

13 receptions, 16 targets, 136 receiving yards and a touchdown in two weeks is nothing to ignore. I know Schultz should take a back seat in Dallas’ passing game behind the Cowboys’ talented trio of wideouts, but he is providing Dak Prescott the perfect safety valve and big-bodied target over the middle. Schultz is not going to rack up many 100-yard games over the course of the season, but he could supply fantasy managers with several games of 40-plus yards and sprinkle in some scores.

Chris Herndon, New York Jets

32% rostered

The Jets are hapless and hopeless, especially on offense. They are at the point where they are going to have to raid CFL rosters for receivers. With Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman and Le’Veon Bell all dealing with injuries, Herndon is the de facto top pass catcher on the roster. That can only mean good things for a player’s fantasy value, even if he is in a funk George Clinton could be proud of. While Herndon has done no fantasy favors for anybody this year (10-63-0), he might have no choice but to stumble into receptions and yards simply because Sam Darnold will have no one else to throw to.

Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers

0% rostered

Tonyan will be rostered in at least one percent of leagues after hauling in five Aaron Rodgers missiles for 50 yards and a TD this past Sunday evening. Those fantasy pundits who believed Jace Sternberger was going to be Green Bay’s top tight end might have to rethink their position. Tonyan could continue to be a red zone force next Monday night against an Atlanta defense that has made most pass catchers look like Jerry Rice this year.

Tyler Kroft, Buffalo Bills

0% rostered

Buffalo signed Kroft for multimillions to be its pass-catching tight end a couple years ago, but injuries and inconsistent play have been the norm for him since donning a Bills jersey. Kroft surprisingly snagged two Josh Allen touchdown tosses this past Sunday, though. Is this a sign of things to come or an aberration? Dawson Knox remains the tight end of the future, but Kroft might suddenly have become the tight end of the present in Buffalo, especially now that Knox has a concussion.

Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team

33% rostered

Thomas is averaging eight targets per game, which is better than Los Angeles’ Tyler Higbee, New York’s Evan Engram and Cleveland’s Austin Hooper. The problem is he not doing much with them. His weekly average of four catches and 30 yards per contest is not going to win fantasy players any leagues or DFS contests. Keep Thomas in mind since his target rate is so high, but do not expect him to become the next Shannon Sharpe anytime soon.

Greg Olsen, Seattle Seahawks

22% rostered

There is no quarterback throwing the ball better right now than Russell Wilson, so to be the top tight end in a Wilson-led offense makes Olsen an attractive get. Olsen is not the same player he was during his glory years with the Carolina Panthers and has not been aimed at much (11 times in three games), but playing a part in such a high-powered passing attack will pay off dividends for Olsen at certain points of the season.

 

Don’t Forget About…

Drew Sample, Cincinnati Bengals

9% rostered

While the sample size on Sample is small, the potential for great things is large for this young upstart. It would have been nice for Sample to see more than one target this past week when Joe Burrow put the ball in the air 44 times, though. Cincinnati’s second-round pick from 2019 will develop eventually and probably become a solid fantasy fixture, but he is more of a find in a dynasty league than a standard league.

Jordan Akins, Houston Texans

6% rostered

Akins is outplaying and outperforming Houston’s better fantasy tight end from 2019, Darren Fells. The big fellow with the above-average speed now has 11 receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown, which puts him on pace to obliterate his previous personal bests. Akins has upside and is playing in a passing attack that is still trying to find a top target to replace DeAndre Hopkins. Stay tuned to see if Akins is the man to step up in the coming weeks.



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Completed Air Yards Over Expectation - Fantasy Football Risers, Fallers

If you play fantasy football, you know your great deal of statistics and metrics. At the end of the day, we need some way to measure production. While the basic numbers (targets, receptions, yards,...) are often enough to give us a solid idea of what we're dealing with, the truth is that the deeper we dig, the more information we get, and the more data points we have to make sound decisions that help our teams.

At this point in time, the NFL analytics movement is going forward at a good pace and through the last few years, we have seen concepts make it to the surface and become mainstream when assessing players. Enter Air Yards, and "stats over expectation". For example, the very own NFL is publishing data related to how quarterbacks are completing passes over or under expectation over NextGenStats, that is, if they are connecting with receivers in plays they shouldn't (based on historical data) or the opposite. The same goes for rushers and the yards they gain, or receivers and the yards after catch they are able to rack up.

One metric that doesn't appear in NGS, though, is Completed Air Yards Over Expectation. Today, I'll be writing about it and how the field of NFL players have feared in that metric through two weeks of games and leading up to this Sunday's slate of games. Let's get to it.

 

Completed Air Yards Over Expectation (CAYOE) Model

Although the NFL has made public multiple "over-expectation" metrics already, one that is not available but can be easily calculated is the one named in this section's headline: Completed Air Yards Over Expectation (CAYOE). I'm not using NGS data nor model to calculate those values, though, so you might find some differences if you make calculations yourself using those numbers.

As we know the completion probability of every pass thrown by quarterbacks (from zero percent to 100 percent), the air yards traveled by each of those passes, and whether they finished as being completed throws or incomplete ones, we can calculate the CAYOE of each play/receiver and come up with a total and an average per target easily.

 

This is the formula I'm using:

CAYOE = (IF (Complete Pass) THEN (AirYds) ELSE 0) - (IF (AirYds)>0 then COMP%*AirYds ELSE 0)

 

Basically, I look for air yards gained in a play (AirYds if the pass is completed, 0 if it is not), and subtract CMP%*AirYds from it. That means that for example, a pass of 10 AirYds with a 100% chance of being completed would yield the following formula:

CAYOE = 10 - (1.0*10) = 0

 

Meaning the receiver was 100% expected to make the catch, and did so, so he gained no CAYOE at all. If the pass only had a 50% chance of being completed and the receiver hauled it in, though, that'd mean:

CAYOE = 10 - (0.5*10) = 10 - 5 = 5

 

The receiver would be expected to make that catch 50% of the times he's being targeted with it, and as he completed it, he gained 5 CAYOE. Had he missed the reception, then it'd have been "0 - 5 = -5 CAYOE".

 

CAYOE Leaders/Trailers Through Week 2 (Individual Games)

First of all, here is the leaderboard (top-10 leaders and bottom-10 trailers) through two weeks of games, with the performances taken individually--meaning each game is considered separate from each other instead of all combined (we'll tackle that in later in the next section). I have set the minimum targets at 5 for each player/game and sorted the leaderboard by CAYOE/Target.

Some quick takeaways:

  • Julian Edelman had an impossible Week 2 performance. He was targeted more than 10 times (it has happened only 28 times this season through two weeks of games) and racked up the most yards of every player in Weeks 1 and 2 with his 179 (16.2 per target). 86% of those yards came through the air, with just 25 after the catch.
  • Edelman's 83 CAYOE almost doubled the second-highest mark of the first two weeks (Darius Slayton's 43), although on a per-target average the difference wasn't that large between Edelman (7.5) and Marquise Brown (6.5).
  • Edelman's biggest bump in CAYOE came from this insane downfield completion (28% completion probability):

 

  • Don't get it wrong, though: Edelman's 83 CAYOE had little to do with his season average as he posted a negative minus-8 (-1.1 CAYOE/Tgt) in Week 1. The 83-mark was definitely a weekend-winning stat, but it was also a large outlier.
  • Minnesota had a great debut this season with Adam Thielen as its new WR1 after Diggs departure, and he played to the expected level--actually, over it. He was targeted 9 times, reached 112 yards virtually without needing YAC at all (4), and averaged 4.3 CAYOE/Tgt to make the top-10 so far this season. But look at what happened in Week 2: Thielen reached just under a quarter of his Week 1 yard-tally when he should have at least completed receptions for double his yards, and posted one of the bottom-10 CAYOE/Tgt of the first two weeks.
  • Both Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Green were the only players to post CAYOE marks at-or-under minus-45. No matter what, they were targeted 10+ times each and wildly underperformed the expectations with less than 30 completed air yards while expected to reach at least 59 in each of those two games.
  • Shame on Christian Kirk. The volume was low at just five targets, but he and his minus-3 completed air yards didn't help Kyler Murray at all while he should have racked up 26 for (at least) an average of 5.0 yards per target without taking potential YAC into account. His worst play in terms of CAYOE was a ball that he was so close to catching but ultimately couldn't:

 

CAYOE Leaders/Trailers Through Week 2 (Season Totals)

With the individual games covered, here is the season-long leaderboard (top-10 leaders and bottom-10 trailers) through two weeks of games. I have set the minimum targets at 10 for each player and sorted the leaderboard by CAYOE/Target over the year.

Some quick takeaways:

  • As I told you above, Edelman's Week 1 was far worse (he posted a negative CAYOE of minus-8) than his Week 2, but even with that he still leads the field through two weeks of play for an average of 4.2 CAYOE/Tgt. Brown also retains his no. 2 spot, in this case with steadier performances of 39 and 6 CAYOE respectively.
  • While Stefon Diggs has been targeted the fifth-most times this season (22), he ranks fifth overall in CAYOE/Tgt after hauling in passes for a combined 67 air yards over expectation. That raw mark is the second-largest only behind Edelman, but it's much healthier as Diggs had 27 CAYOE in W1 and 40 in W2 compared to the much-more-volatile Edelman numbers.
  • This has been Diggs' best play so far, good for all of 24 CAYOE in W2:

 

  • Atlanta's Calvin Ridley is the only player to have accrued more than 200 completed air yards through Week 2 games. He's 13 yards over second-best Stefon Diggs, although he's averaged 0.5 CAYOE/Tgt less than the latter and both are tied with 239 receiving yards.
  • If we go by expected-CAY, then the best receivers of the season should actually be D.J. Moore (153 eCAY) and A.J. Green (148). While Moore has produced at least to those expectations (160 CAY, 0.3 CAYOE/Tgt), Green has been absolutely atrocious with just 67 CAY for a minus-3.7 CAYOE/Tgt.
  • No wonder why Green is the worst receiver so far, no matter the angle you look at him from:

 

  • Although Corey Davis missed on the top-10, he's got the 15th-best CAYOE mark of the year so far and he's converted the most targets in first downs (77%). Only Cooper Kupp (73%) and Calvin Ridley (70%) are at-or-above 70% on the season while targeted at least 10 times.
  • One of the most talked-about players during the first couple of weeks of the season has been TE Logan Thomas, from Washington. He's been good for TE18 through Week 2, but he's been far from efficient completing just 36 air yards of an expected 73 (minus-2.2 CAYOE/Tgt) and still tied with Terry McLaurin (another underperformed) in targets (17).
  • This pass-incomplete combination between QB Dwayne Haskins Jr. and TE Logan Thomas has been the most costly CAYOE-wise from the tight end (minus-9.7 CAYOE, 70% completion probability):

 

Get ready for another Sunday of action, packed-full of interesting matchups. With three matches in the bag when all is said and done after today's (and tomorrow's) slate of games, we should start to see trends solidifying and outliers getting wiped out of the map. Here's to hope Julian Edelman keeps it up and A.J. Green rebounds to his years-prior self and helps Joe Burrow at least a bit more than he has so far this season.



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Tight End Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 3

Two weeks down, two tight ends down!

The pickings are not slim at the tight end position in most fantasy leagues this early in the season. There are still plenty of grizzled veterans and up-and-coming youngsters to choose from for fantasy football managers. That is good news for those who might need a fill-in with San Francisco’s George Kittle and Indianapolis’ Jack Doyle possibly missing their Week 3 games with injuries after being sidelined this past week.

Here are the top tight end candidates to pick up in fantasy football leagues heading into Week 3:

 

Top Tight End Waiver Wire Options for Week 3

Jordan Reed, San Francisco 49ers

6% rostered

Remember this guy? Once one of the top tight ends in fantasy football when he stormed onto the fantasy scene with 87 receptions for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns back in 2015, Reed is relevant again after a couple concussion-marred years. In a shocking twist of events, Reed was one of the few 49ers not injured this past Sunday by the New York Jets.

Reed racked up seven catches for 50 yards and two touchdowns against the hapless Jets and seemed revitalized. If Kittle misses another game or two due to his knee injury, Reed could be a top-10 fantasy tight end on those weeks. And even if Kittle comes back, the injury-riddled 49ers could use both Kittle and Reed in two-TE formations and Reed could still hold some fantasy value in a receiver-starved offense like the Niners’. Take a flyer on Reed and pray he does not get hurt again.

Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys

1% rostered

Who? Guaranteed only fantasy players in NFC East-only leagues and tight-end touchdown leagues knew who Schultz was heading into the season. The loss of starting tight end Blake Jarwin to a season-ending injury was a gain for the fantasy worth of Schultz, Dallas’ fourth-round pick in 2018. No one could have imagined how well he would have done in his first start, however.

All Schultz did against Atlanta’s shredable defense was catch nine passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. On an explosive team with three above-average wide receivers, Schultz led Dallas’ pass-catching corps with 10 targets. With the Cowboys playing three consecutive home games against Cleveland, New York Giants and Arizona in Weeks 4 through 6, the schedule is favorable for Schultz. Let’s hope Schultz is not a one-week wonder and the fantasy players with a gaping hole at tight end could plug it with this fantasy surprise.

 

Other Tight End Options to Consider

Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team

32% rostered

Being one of the top targets in Washington is probably like being the most valuable item at a dollar store, but Thomas will give fantasy managers bang for that buck they spend on him. He has used his large frame to attract quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ attention (17 targets in two games) and should continue to see plenty of passes head his way since Washington is lacking any threats among its receivers other than standout Terry McLaurin.

Tyler Eifert, Jacksonville Jaguars

10% rostered

The oft-injured Eifert is looking to stay healthy for the second season in a row, and so far, so good on that front. He is also doing well as Jacksonville’s top tight end as he managed to snag three Gardner Minshew passes for 36 yards and a score in Week 2 after being a fantasy dud in Week 1. The Jaguars passing attack and offense overall has played better than expected in the early going, so Eifert will continue to be productive as long as he stays on the field.

Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts

1% rostered

Anyone see this coming?  After never having more than 35 receiving yards in any of the first 26 games of his NFL career, all Cox did was catch a career-high five passes for 111 yards. With starting tight end Jack Doyle banged-up and No. 2 wide receiver Parris Campbell injured as well, Cox and his basketball body might be primed to have the most successful stats stretch of his young career.

 

Don’t Forget About…

O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

31% rostered

How is it that Howard has outpointed Rob Gronkowski in both of Tampa Bay’s two games after being virtually ignored by head coach Bruce Arians during the 2019 season? Well, Gronk has been invisible (two catches for 11 yards on four targets), which has made it easier for Howard to be better, that’s for sure. If Gronkowski cannot grasp the offense or re-retires to become a WWE champion again, Howard could vault back into the top-15 among fantasy tight ends.

Greg Olsen, Seattle Seahawks

30% rostered

Olsen was shut out in Week 2 even though his QB Russell Wilson found the time and the receivers to throw five touchdown strikes this past Sunday night. The longtime fantasy stalwart did have a TD in Week 1, however, and can be a red-zone asset to Wilson and fantasy squads in the coming weeks.

Jordan Akins, Houston Texans

2% rostered

The third-year tight end is showing signs of life in Houston’s underachieving offense through two weeks, which is a pleasant surprise considering incumbent starter Darren Fells was coming off a career year. Akins has nine receptions for 94 yards and a TD entering Week 3, but temper your expectations since Fells is still entrenched in the tight end mix in the Texans offense.

Drew Sample, Cincinnati Bengals

1% rostered

C.J. Uzomah was looking like a breakout candidate at tight end until an unfortunate Achilles injury this past Thursday night put his season on ice. Now Sample, Cincinnati’s second-round pick from 2019, gets to step in as the Bengals’ top tight end. If he and rookie quarterback Joe Burrow can create some chemistry together, Sample could end up being a bargain-basement steal, especially in dynasty leagues.  With A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd distracting defenses from the outside, Sample should be able to do damage over the middle.



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Tight End Start/Sit Advice - Week 2

Pierre Camus (@Roto_Chef) and Chris Mangano (@ChrisMangano) break down the tight end position to help with tough fantasy football lineup decisions for Week 2 of the 2020 NFL season. Who should you start or sit among those in starting consideration at TE?

Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well!

Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.

 

Week 2 TE Start/Sit

Pierre reviews tight ends with tough matchups or lower ownership that might be worth benching or putting into your lineup this week.

Players discussed in this episode:

Jared Cook
Hayden Hurst
Austin Hooper
Jack Doyle
Dallas Goedert
Logan Thomas

Boom & Bust Picks of the Week!


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NextGen Stats - Wide Receiver/Tight End Breakdowns and Takeaways

We made it! We wagered through a long and tedious preseason but real football hit us in the forehead for the first time this season during the past few days and change. But just as soon as it came, it went. The first week of the season is over and we have some tasty numbers already available and ready to be crunched.

To gain the biggest edge in your fantasy football league, it's necessary to understand how to apply the advanced statistics being used in sports nowadays. Back in the day, it was all about wins and losses, passing yards, and touchdowns scored. It's not that those stats are now worthless, they just don't offer enough information to savvy analysts. While football is still in its infancy compared to baseball in terms of analytics, the evolution the sport has seen lately in those terms is notable.

Each week, I'll be tackling NFL's Next Gen Stats, bringing you data from the previous week's games with notable takeaways you should consider when assessing fantasy players for the upcoming week. In case you're new to the series, or Next Gen Stats altogether, I recommend you read our NGS-primer. Now, let's get to the data!

 

Week 1 - TE/WR Air Yards Don't Lie - NextGenStats

If you remember the introductory post to the series, you already know Air Yards tells us the vertical yards on a pass attempt from the line of scrimmage to the point where the ball was caught by the receiver (or the catch failed to be completed.) I will be using mainly two metrics here: Average Targeted Air Yards (TAY), and %Share of Team's Air Yards (TAY%)TAY tells us how many air yards a receiver is thrown per target. TAY% measures the percentage of Air Yards a receiver was thrown at over the sum of his team's total Air Yards.

As we have only seen one week of action, it would be a little hasty to make too many conclusions out of just one game worth of data. That is why I'm leaning toward receivers (wideouts and tight ends) for the first entry of the series. This doesn't mean Air Yard values are already stabilized, not close to it, but it is highly probable that what we see in Week 1 stays the same at least in the short-term future.

Today, I'll present each of the stats from the NFL's advanced metrics site, its correlation with receiver fantasy points, and a list of leaders and trailers in each category along with some notes and takeaways on both the players' and the metrics' impact on fantasy football as a whole.

So let's dive in. Note: The cutoff is set at 5 targets for both WR and TE.

 

Cushion / Separation

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2019 season): negative-15% / negative-24%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • I have sorted the leaderboard by SEP just because it has a little higher relationship with fantasy points. As you can see, a third of the players with high SEP values are tight ends. That comes down to them not being covered as tightly as other, more skillful receivers. Also, tight ends are often used as security blankets, so they're thrown passes only when they're quite open.
  • That's not the only reason, though, as most tight ends also find it hard to really separate from defenders because of their frames and how their bodies are built. Let's say they're not speedsters.
  • Even giving him one of the largest CUSH (separation between the receiver and the defender prior to the snap), Demarcus Robinson (7.0) lapped the field in terms of SEP (separation between the receiver and the closest defender at catch-point) with a 1.5-yard difference between him and no. 2 Greg Ward (5.5). Robinson is a burner and ankle-breaker, and he proved so in his 6 targets from W1. That difference between Robinson and the second-highest SEPwas the same as the one between Ward and no. 13 Cole Beasley (4.0).
  • Although Robert Woods and Jerry Jeudy posted lower SEP values, the truth is that both of them did so on 8 targets, which made their values more "stable" even on a still small sample.
  • Up to nine players averaged at least an 8-yard CUSH, with Curtis Samuel (8 targets) and Amari Cooper (14) leading the pack. Cooper made the most of those early-separation gifts, catching 71.4% of his passes even while getting closed at the point of the catch to just 2.4 SEP yards.
  • Darren Waller (8.1) was the only tight end to average an 8+ CUSH, virtually the same as teammate WR Henry Ruggs III (8.2). The next TE in the list was Chris Herndon (7.9), and no other player at the position reached even a 7-yard CUSH.
  • Every WR/TE to score 20+ PPR points in Week 1 averaged a SEP under 4 yards except Dallas Goedert (4.1). But to prove the low relationship between SEP and fantasy points, it also was true that the seven-lowest scorers (under 5 PPR-points) all had SEP values under 3.4 yards...
  • The same happened with CUSH and scoring. Of those averaging at least 8 yards of cushion, only Cooper and Thielen reached 18+ PPR points... but the same happened at the opposite end of the board: only Anthony Miller and Noah Fant scored 17+ PPR points while having CUSH marks under 4.2 yards.
  • In a few words: don't rely on CUSH or SEP. Those are a couple of descriptivenot predictive stats.

 

Targeted Air Yards / % Share of Team's Air Yards

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2019 season): 20% / 71%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • Opportunity trumps everything in fantasy football, and it can be seen in the highly related link between the percentage of yards a team/QB throws toward a player and the fantasy point he scores.
  • This is made clear by the table above, which I have sorted by Targeted Air Yards% (among teammates). Virtually every player (except Henry Ruggs) shown at the top of the table (and in fact, every player with a TAY% higher than 41%) reached double-digit fantasy points in W1.
  • It is rather impressive to find Jared Cook in the table above. His 48.4 TAY% was not only the highest among Saints, but he also was the only tight end to rank inside the top-34 players in that stat (TE Logan Thomas was the 35th WR/TE in TAY%). That doesn't mean his actual TAY were super high, coming in at just 10.7 (third-lowest among WR/TEs with a 43%+ TAY%).
  • Being targeted is nice. Being targeted for huge yardage is better, but it is also riskier as those booming plays have a lower chance to end in completions/scores often. That's why DeSean Jackson (obviously...) led W1 in TAY (29.1) but only finished with two receptions in seven targets for 6.6 PPR. Something similar happened to Ruggs, who couldn't break the 10-PPR barrier.
  • On the positive side of things, Marquise Brown kept being a deep-threat with his 21.0 TAY for 15.1 PPR points, while Marquez VS also posted 20+ TAY and finished in the double-digits scoring 19.6 fantasy points.
  • Watch out for Mark Andrews' season in Baltimore. The talk about tight ends always come down to Ertz/Kelce/Kittle, but Andrews was targeted the furthest downfield of any TE (13.0 TAY), caught five of six targets, and finished W1 as the TE2 only behind Dallas Goedert.
  • Some team/player/air-yard/usage notes: Henry Ruggs had the biggest difference in TAY% with the second most-used player of his team (Darren Waller), so he will improve his fantasy scores down the road.
  • Julian Edelman finished second in that regard, with a clear WR1 role in New England. Darius Slayton closed the top-3 in Week 1 with 44.4% of the Giants air yards going his way.
  • On the other side of the spectrum, the no. 1/2 receiving-pairs to finish the closest in TAY% were John Brown and Stefon Diggs, T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell, Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill, Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin, and Logan Thomas and Terry McLaurin.

 

Receptions / Targets / Catch% / Touchdowns

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2019 season): 86% / 85% / 22% / 73%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • Obviously, receptions trump targets in terms of fantasy-point production (in PPR formats, that is) because well, they hand out actual fantasy points. That's why 25 of 27 (92.6%) players with 6+ receptions reached double-digit PPR points in W1.
  • That being said, though, nine of 11 (81.8%) players with 10+ targets reached 10+ PPR points, and 26 of 36 (72.2%) players with 8+ targets did so too.
  • Don't overthink it: chase targets when drafting/trading for/acquiring players through waivers.
  • No tight end was targeted 10 times in Week 1, with Dallas Goedert logging nine targets from Carson Wentz and leading in that front. Waller, Hunter Henry, and Logan Thomas had eight targets each... and as you could expect all of them finished with 10+ PPR points.
  • Shouts out to Hopkins and Adams, both with 14 receptions. All of their numbers were pretty close, but Adams clearly mattered the most for his fantasy GMs as he scored a couple of TDs to Hopkins' none, boosting his fantasy point tally up to 41.6 (!) PPR points.
  • Hopkins was, though, the only player targeted 10+ times to post a catch rate of over 83%. He was automatic in Week 1 playing for his new team in the Cardinals. The numbers will regress, obviously, but Hopkins and Arizona can't probably be happier with their partnership. Adams and Will Fuller V were the only other two players with catch rates of 80%+ while targeted 10+ times.

 

"Total" Yards (Air Yds + YAC) / "Air" Yards

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2019 season): 90% / 84%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • Nothing surprising here, as receiving yardage is factored into the calculation of fantasy points without much hard math involved. Leaders in yardage average the most fantasy points, with the touchdowns and receptions just being a weekly bonus to their tallies (ask Davante Adams...)
  • Julio hasn't lost a step, Adams is the only viable option in Green Bay's attack, and pretty much the same goes for Hopkins in Arizona. Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage finishing with 114+ yards each, though? That was absolute incredible for Atlanta to pull off, as it is not often seen three WRs reaching those marks.
  • Perhaps most interestingly, none of those three Falcons got more than 43% of their yards after the catch. That means that QB Matt Ryan was spot-on and deadly accurate on his throws, not having to rely on extra efforts from his receivers.
  • Two players finished W1 with all of their yards coming after the catch: TE Jonnu Smith (36 yards) and WR Demarcus Robinson (20). Only three more players reached their yards with 80%+ of them after the catch (Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Jamison Crowder.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, both TE Mike Gesicki and WR Trent Taylor logged no yards after the catch at all, yet they only got 30 and seven yards respectively. Adam Thielen was much more impressive here, with 110 yards of which 108 went to him through the air and only two (1.8%) he added after the catch.

 

Yards After Catch / Expected YAC / YAC Above Expectation

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2019 season): 6% / negative-5% / 11%

Leaders and Trailers: 

Leaderboard Notes:

  • Don't get too lost in this data with just one week of games in the books. Things will take a little bit of time to stabilize as more reps are factored into the stat lines.
  • Jamison Crowder is a great example of this effect. His reception for a touchdown last Sunday absolutely skewed his +/- as he dodged the defense and added a ton of yards after catch in a single play, boosting his overperformance to almost twice the levels of second-ranked Robby Anderson (who himself had another ridiculously long-YAC scoring play).
  • No players finished last season with more than 8.8 YAC/R, while six of them reached that mark in Week 1. Again, don't bet on that staying there, even less with two tight ends among those in the six-player group.
  • The same goes for the expected YAC/R. Only Deebo Samuel (7.5) topped the 6.2 mark, while up to 14 (!) players did so this past weekend. That's insane and not realistic at all. Expect some regression to the mean soon.
  • Even though Brandin Cooks posted the fourth-highest +/-, his fantasy production was putrid (4.0 PPR points). Normal, considering he only had a couple of receptions on five targets for just 20 yards and no scores. Similar case to that of Demarcus Robinson and his 1.7 +/- for just 5.0 PPR points on a 6/3/56/0 game.
  • On the other end, get excited about Stefon Diggs and (perhaps) Logan Thomas. They had the second- and third-lowest +/- marks of the weekend at -3.7 yet both scored 13+ PPR points, clearly exceeding the expectations even though they could add a lot of yardage after the catch. Same for Corey Davis and Will Fuller V.

That's it for today. Until we meet again next week, I hope you can crush your waiver wire, set up the best possible lineup, and get ready for another weekend full of fireworks!



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Tight End Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 2

If you think your fantasy football team is hurting at the tight end position, now is the time to fix the problem.

One week of the 2020 NFL regular season is in the books. When it comes to the tight ends, there is never as much juice on fantasy league waiver wires and free-agent lists than right now. The cupboards are stocked. You have your veterans to go after in standard leagues, and you have your youngsters to go after in dynasty leagues. There are plenty of tight ends to choose from.

Here are the top tight end candidates to pick up in fantasy football leagues heading into Week 2:

 

Top Tight End Waiver Wire Options for Week 2

Greg Olsen, Seattle Seahawks

26% rostered

Fantasy managers probably did not know what the change of scenery would do for Olsen’s fantasy value when he left the Carolina Panthers after a decade to join Seattle. The early returns are very promising. Even with incumbent starter Will Dissly returning to the fold after having his 2019 season shortened by an injury, Olsen found a place in Seattle’s above-average offense.

Olsen caught all four passes Russell Wilson threw to him in Week 1 and came away with 24 yards and his first TD in his first game as a Seahawk. I know Olsen has had numerous foot problems the past couple years and is not the same player who had three consecutive 1,000-yard years between 2014 and 2016, but I also know Wilson loves throwing to his tight ends down in the red zone, and Olsen should be open with secondaries concentrating on wideouts Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Olsen is a great get since he is available in more than half of leagues, even with a tough matchup in Week 2 versus New England’s staunch secondary.

Jimmy Graham, Chicago Bears

5%rostered

Chicago has had as much luck with their tight ends in recent years as I have attempting to solve the Rubik’s Cube. The Bears hope longtime veteran and fantasy favorite Graham can stabilize the position. Graham is nowhere near the Pro Bowl player he used to be thanks to several injuries and Father Time, but he converted seven targets into three receptions for 25 yards and a touchdown against Detroit during the opening week.

The jury is out on how well the New York Giants pass defense will be in 2020, but it certainly was not good in 2019. The Giants ranked 28th against the pass and most experts do not believe they will cover pass-catchers much better this year. Graham has fared well against the Giants, catching 13 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns in a trio of career contests. If Graham stays healthy, he can be a decent addition for a fantasy squad since the Bears do not have an upper-echelon receiving corps, whether you need him for just next week or for several weeks.

 

Other Tight End Options to Consider

O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

17% rostered

Do you really think Rob Gronkowski is going to suit up for all 16 of Tampa Bay’s games this year? Gronk failed to do so in each of his last seven seasons that led up to his one-year retirement. So if and when Gronkowski’s body fails him, Howard could step in and become a top-12 fantasy tight end again with Tom Brady leading him to touchdown opportunities. Do not write him off just yet, especially after he managed to have 36 yards and a TD in Week1 when sharing the field with Gronk.

Logan Thomas, Washington Redskins

2% rostered

Thomas played a pivotal role in Washington’s astounding and confounding comeback against Philadelphia in Week 1, hauling in four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. Thomas led his team in targets and provided a big body for scattershot signal caller Dwayne Haskins. Washington will probably be trailing a lot and throwing a lot late in games, and Thomas will be one of the biggest benefactors of that.

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

2% rostered

Njoku was buried so far in Cleveland’s doghouse last season that the ASPCA could not have gotten him out. Then the Browns signed Austin Hooper to a multimillion-dollar deal this offseason, which made Njoku a distant No. 2 on the depth chart. Yet Njoku was the one who caught a Baker Mayfield touchdown toss in Week 1 and 50 receiving yards before suffering a knee injury, so fantasy managers have to keep tabs on the former first-round pick in case Cleveland features him more often. Just pay attention to the injury reports to see if Njoku will miss any time based on a late-game injury.

UPDATE: Njoku is expected to miss at least three games.

 

Don’t Forget About…

Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills

3% rostered

Having two 1,000-yard receivers (Stefon Diggs and John Brown) and a couple running backs with decent hands on the roster will not make it easy on Knox’s target total, but fantasy managers should not sleep on Buffalo’s third-round pick from 2019. Knox is a talented young tight end who would prosper more in another offense but has value in dynasty leagues due to his upside.

Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers

15% rostered

Thomas shrugged off a toe injury to catch both of the passes thrown his way this past Sunday, but his fantasy impact was minimal. He will be Carolina’s top tight end from here on out, however, so there is no reason to give up on the third-year man just because he had one lackluster outing. Better things are in the offing for this 24-year-old.

Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

13% rostered

Splitting time and targets with tight end teammate Kyle Rudolph does Smith no fantasy favors, though he is the one with the better pass-receiving skills and better fantasy future. With the aforementioned Diggs in Buffalo, it should only mean a larger role in Minnesota’s passing plans for Smith. Top target Adam Thielen cannot catch all of the Kirk Cousins passes, and Smith has a shot to end up as the No. 2 target if things break right this season.



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Why Noah Fant Will Be This Year's Breakout Tight End

Every year in fantasy football, the tight end position is, for lack of a better word, mediocre.

There are a few stars at the top and then a group of indistinguishable players in the middle. Sometimes though, there is one who waded through the muck and rises to the top of the heap. Last season, we had Darren Waller finishing as TE4 after going mostly undrafted in fantasy. Before this, it was Eric Ebron with 13 TD in 2018 and George Kittle exploding on the scene, Evan Engram's rookie year in 2017, etc. So who is the likely candidate to make the jump this season?

There are a few contenders. Mark Andrews pretty much broke out last year and has an ADP to match, so he is out. A great choice is Hayden Hurst. After being traded from Baltimore to Atlanta to replace Austin Hooper, he will join an offense who threw the ball 80 more times in 2019 than any other team. But there is another gentleman who has a better path to success. A player who is athletic like Engram, on a good offense and young. Oh, and like Kittle, he comes from the tight end factory which is Iowa.

 

A New Mile High Offense

The Denver Broncos took Fant in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft, adding him to Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton in the passing game. Emmanuel Sanders was gone halfway through the season and the Broncos reloaded on offense during the off-season. With the addition of Melvin Gordon III to the backfield alongside Phillip Lindsay, the run game will be far better than it was a season ago. Gordon is a major upgrade over Devontae Booker who is now in Las Vegas. With the pass-catching potential in addition to his rush work, Gordon could be a bell cow, or a committee leader.

In the passing game, Denver drafted Jerry Jeudy as well as K.J. Hamler. Jeudy, who was considered by many the best receiver in the class, is a technician on the level of Keenan Allen and Stefon Diggs. Not the biggest or the fastest, he will run routes precisely which will allow him to get open. Much like Allen with the Chargers and Amari Cooper in his rookie season, Jeudy will find it easier to acclimate to the NFL then receivers who rely on speed or size to thrive.

In K.J. Hamler, we have the opposite. He is small at less than six feet and 175 pounds. He was also injured at the combine which allowed him to slip. This could be an issue early in the season as he and Jeudy try to join Sutton to create an elite receiving group.

With all of this said, Noah Fant will be the forgotten man in the offense. With all the other weapons to concentrate on, Fant, who had 40 receptions for 562 yards and three TD as a rookie will be left open. Not only will opposing defenses be worried about Sutton, Jeudy and Hamler but with the proficient nature of Gordon in the passing game, Fant is likely the fourth or fifth option defenses will plan for. That may not be the case for Lock, who will look to Fant across the middle frequently.

 

Mismatch Waiting to Happen

At almost 15 yards per reception last season, Noah Fant can spread defenses thin. He is too fast to be guarded by a linebacker and with the trio of receivers, there will not be enough defensive backs to control him.

His first season in Denver was solid for a tight end. He is one of a handful of players to have more than 500 receiving yards at the position as a rookie. That's something George Kittle, Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce did not accomplish. He may not join that elite group this season but he is well on his way to a successful season and career.

If you are a fantasy manager who waits on tight end, it can be nerve-racking. The comfort of a Kelce or Kittle is nice. It also costs a lot to get such comfort. In this case, it means passing up a high-end RB or WR. Noah Fant is currently going in the 10th round and isn't a sure starter on many rosters. At this price, you can build up a great team before drafting him. If it does not work out early in the season, you can pick up any other of the other tight ends with a chance to finish from six to 12 in the fantasy ranks.

For those who have already drafted, Fant could be someone to target in the trade market early on before he blows up. Take the chance on an athletic TE in a budding offense and ride the wave to fantasy glory.



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Tight End Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 1

Did you finish your fantasy football draft and realize that you forgot to take a viable tight end? Are the only tight ends on your fantasy roster Jordan Akins and Trey Burton? If you fall into one of these categories, you came to the right place.

All of the undrafted tight ends in your fantasy leagues are available on the waiver wire, so if you made a grave draft mistake or do not like the matchups your current tight ends have Week 1, maybe one of the tight ends highlighted below could bail you out.

Here are some tight ends to consider adding via your fantasy league’s waiver wire heading into Week 1:

 

TE Waiver Wire Options for Week 1

Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers (34% rostered)

Greg Olsen ruled the tight end roost in Carolina for almost a decade, but now it is Thomas’ time to shine since Olsen took his talents to the Seattle Seahawks during the offseason. Fantasy general managers have avoided Thomas during their drafts this month as he was only taken in one-third of leagues. This has more to do about what he did not do last season (16-136-1) with Olsen blocking his target opportunities and people writing him off. Thomas should not be shunned, though.

Thomas is entering his third season and his first as a starter, but he showed flashes of what he can do when he is the No. 1 TE during his rookie campaign in 2018. Filling in for an injured Olsen, Thomas racked up 25 receptions for 246 and two touchdowns over his final five games of the season. While his target total will be stunted because Christian McCaffrey hogs 8-10 per game, Thomas could carve out a solid spot in Carolina’s offense this year and has a decent home matchup versus the Las Vegas Raiders during the opening week as long as his toe injury is minor.

Christopher Herndon, New York Jets (51% rostered)

Injuries and a suspension only allowed Herndon to find the field for one game during the 2019 season. Just one. Punters were more valuable fantasy-wise last season. So he might be forgotten by fantasy players with short-term memories or those that believe Ryan Griffin was signed to a multimillion-dollar extension to be New York’s starting tight end and relegate Herndon to understudy status.

Even though Griffin is a veteran and caught a career-high five touchdown passes last season, Herndon is the more talented pass catcher of the two. Herndon is a tight end with the body and skills of a wide receiver. He was second among rookie tight ends in 2018 with 502 receiving yards and developed a great chemistry with quarterback Sam Darnold. The Jets have one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL heading into the upcoming season. Herndon could be one of Darnold’s top two targets if no other Jets WR steps up other than Jamison Crowder. Take a flyer on Herndon if your tight end troops are mediocre. Just do not use him Week 1 against Buffalo’s stingy pass defense.

Tyler Eifert, Jacksonville Jaguars (25% rostered)

Eifert has never found a body part he could not injure. Not many top tight ends have been plagued throughout their career by major injuries more than he has. 2019 was the first time in his seven-year career that Eifert suited up for all 16 games. In four of the six seasons leading up to last year he had played in eight games or less.  This is why he is currently available in almost 75 percent of fantasy leagues.

A change of scenery may not make Eifert any less injury-prone, but it could help his fantasy value. His main competition for tight end targets in Jacksonville was youngster Josh Oliver, who was placed on injured reserve with a season-ending injury. Eifert is now Gardner Minshaw’s top tight end as he heads into a home game against an Indianapolis Colts Defense that ranked 23rd against the pass last season. Do not pick up Eifert thinking you will get 13 touchdowns out of him like fantasy managers did back in 2015, but IF he stays healthy he could muster up 600 receiving yards and six touchdowns this year.

 

Other Options to Consider

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (41% rostered)

Rudolph went undrafted in more than half of leagues because many fantasy players feel 2019 second-round pick Irv Smith is the better pass receiver and will take more time and targets away from Rudolph this season. Minnesota’s tight end twosome should get more action now that No. 2 WR Stefon Diggs was traded to the Buffalo Bills, though, so do not be surprised if he puts up 500 yards and a half-dozen touchdowns.

Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team (6% rostered)

Thomas is in line to be the de facto replacement for Jordan Reed as Washington’s No. 1 tight end despite only having 35 career catches to his name. While he has shown little burst as a tight end (9.1 YPC), the converted quarterback has a big body and could make some plays inside the red zone if given the chance. One thing is for sure --- Washington will be trailing in most of their games, so there will be plenty of passes thrown late in contests that could go Thomas’ way.

 

Don’t Forget About…

Dan Arnold, Arizona Cardinals (1% rostered)

Arnold caught two touchdown tosses in a brief three-game stint with Arizona last season and has beatable competition in Maxx Williams when it comes to tight end targets in the Cards passing attack. He is only 25 years old, has upside and is playing in an offense that will be throwing the ball a lot in 2020.  Arnold has been one of the most-added tight ends in fantasy football over the past couple days.



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Deep Draft Sleepers: Tight End

Fantasy football can be unpredictable. In a position like tight end, there are several elite options to draft before the value of the players starts to fall off. Therefore, though it is integral to draft a great TE, some managers may look to stock up at other positions.

While that may be an effective strategy, having a capable TE for your team is just as beneficial. Luckily, even if you don’t draft the best tight end, the waiver wire is likely stocked with some sleepers who you could stream during a week depending on the matchup.

Remember, each team may not have an elite TE1, but they do have a TE1. So, while the TE1 or TE2 of a team may be less valued than guys like Kittle, Ertz, and Kelce, they could still have decent weeks. Here’s a list of some deep sleeper TEs who could provide more value when digging past the surface.

 

Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers and Greg Olsen split this offseason, leaving 24-year-old Ian Thomas to take over the TE1 duties. While he has only two seasons of NFL experience under his belt (and they were modest campaigns), Thomas has a chance to cement a bigger role for himself in this Teddy Bridgewater offense.

In 2019, the TE played 16 games, but only managed 16 receptions, 30 targets, 136 yards, 8.5 yards per catch, and one touchdown. His rookie year in 2018 was much better, as he compiled 36 receptions, 49 targets, 333 yards, 9.3 yards per catch, and two touchdowns in 16 games. The Indiana product finished 28th among fantasy tight ends in 2018 and 55th in 2019. Thomas is dealing with a toe injury that he suffered on August 31st, but coach Matt Rhule is not too worried. Assuming he can play healthy during the season, the new top TE on Carolina provides deep sleeper value as he has essentially no competition for his role and can see a decent number of targets headed his way.

 

Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams

Even with Rams’ TE Tyler Higbee having a breakout season in 2019 and him getting all the fantasy headlines coming into this season, backup Gerald Everett quietly put up a respectable campaign with the Rams too. He accumulated 37 receptions, 60 targets, 408 yards, 11 yards per catch, and two touchdowns in 13 games last season. The 2017 pick had career-highs in receptions, targets, and yards. He also finished 28th among fantasy tight ends.

Heading into the offseason and fantasy drafts for 2020, Higbee is considered the Rams tight end to draft, but Everett could remain in the mix for a good number of targets. This is considering he has a rapport with Jared Goff, and the WRs room is a bit scattered. This is because Cooper Kupp tends to be nursing setbacks more frequently than anticipated and that only leaves Robert Woods and rookie Van Jefferson after him considering Brandin Cooks is gone.

 

Darren Fells, Houston Texans

With DeAndre Hopkins now gone, the Houston Texans can potentially split their targets more evenly. They do have some talented receivers, but tight end Darren Fells returns as the TE1 and is coming off a decent 2019 season. The 34-year-old was a great target for Deshaun Watson last year as he notched 34 receptions, 48 targets, 341 yards, 10 yards per catch, and seven touchdowns. He quietly finished 13th among fantasy tight ends in 2019, but not many managers may even consider Fells to be their backup TE this season, hence fueling his status as a deep sleeper.

 

Jace Sternberger, Green Bay Packers

Yes, Jace Sternberger has played six total games in the NFL with the Packers for a grand total of one target to his name, but hear me out. Aaron Rodgers needs to throw the ball to someone other than Davante Adams each play, or else that will get old. The other Green Bay receivers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard have not exploded in terms of their role on the team.

Jimmy Graham is also no longer in Green Bay, so Sternberger is listed as the top TE on this depth chart. His “competition” is Robert Tonyan, rookie Josiah Deguara, and veteran Marcedes Lewis, all of which are not considered real threats to take away Sternberger’s role.

Simply put, the Packers still don’t have enough quality receiving options, so even a “rookie” like Sternberger could be given a chance and emerge as a sleeper if he turns his opportunities into big plays. After all, in his one year at Texas A&M in 2018, the 24-year-old notched 48 receptions, 832 yards, 17.3 yards per catch, and 10 touchdowns in 13 games. That must count for something, right? He also received Consensus All-American and First-Team All-SEC in 2018. All I’m saying is he brings potential.

 

Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills

The Bills are expected to better this season, and hopefully so will TE Dawson Knox. The 23-year-old was just drafted last year and had a modest rookie campaign with 28 receptions, 50 targets, 388 yards, 13.9 yards per catch, and two touchdowns in 15 games. He finished 29th among fantasy tight ends.

QB Josh Allen is slowly becoming better and with new WR Stefon Diggs, the Bills could be airing out the ball more. This means Knox could get in on the action, as he did have good involvement last season. As the unquestioned TE1 on this team, the young TE could bring sleeper value on this rising team.

 

Tyler Eifert, Jacksonville Jaguars

When he’s healthy, Tyler Eifert can be a force on the field. The 2013 first-round pick is now in Jacksonville after spending seven years in Cincinnati. Eifert is coming to a team that isn’t expected to do anything, especially after their recent roster purge, but QB Gardner Minshew II is out to prove he is the Jags’ QB of the future. This means that the offense will try very hard to win games, meaning Eifert has a chance to redeem himself as a quality fantasy TE because he is the TE1 on this team with no real competition.

The 30- year-old still did muster 43 receptions, 63 targets, 436 yards, 10.1 yards per catch, and three touchdowns in 16 games last season, the first time in his career he has ever played a full season. He finished 21st among fantasy tight ends. Could Eifert finally be trending upwards again? We will find out soon.



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Target Regression Candidates: Tight End

In the NFL and fantasy football, things can change as easily as the snap of a finger from campaign to campaign. One season, somebody breaks a record, and the next, they are fighting for targets and struggling to produce.

Based on game script, chemistry, and availability of weapons, targets can fluctuate for pass-catchers. In a position like TE, targets could be hard to come by at all depending on which team you are on. Naturally, some TEs could have breakout seasons too. Nevertheless, if your last name is not Kittle, Ertz, Kelce, etc., you may have to work extra hard to snatch away targets from WRs.

Heading into 2020, there are quite a few TEs who should be due for a target regression. The small collection of tight ends who have a huge role in their offense are not affected by this, but aging veterans or those who may have to deal with new additions on the team could be in trouble in terms of their fantasy value. Let’s look at some candidates who are due for fewer targets in 2020:

 

Jason Witten, Las Vegas Raiders

For this article, specifically, Jason Witten is the biggest name to probably experience a target regression. The 38-year-old returned to the Cowboys last season after a brief one-year retirement. Nevertheless, he still finished 10th among tight ends in targets with 83. For a guy who returned to the game after retirement, that’s not bad at all.

In addition, Witten compiled 63 receptions, 529 yards, 8.4 yards per catch, and four touchdowns in 16 games. This offseason, the Tennessee product decided to head West and sign with Vegas. It will be a problem for an aging veteran like Witten to produce on this team considering they have young wideouts like Henry Ruggs III and Tyrell Williams, along with a breakout tight end in Darren Waller.

Last season, Waller accumulated an incredible 90 receptions, 117 targets, 1,145 yards, 12.7 yards per catch, and three touchdowns in his fourth-year of playing in the NFL. Coming off a proven year, Waller has solidified his role as the TE1 on the Raiders and Witten will now be a TE2 on the team who should see a notable decrease in targets.

 

Greg Olsen, Seattle Seahawks

Like Jason Witten, 35-year-old veteran Greg Olsen played admirably in his last season with the Carolina Panthers in 2019. The TE notched 82 targets, which ranked 11th among NFL tight ends. The Miami product finished with 52 receptions, 597 yards, 11.5 yards per catch, and two touchdowns in 14 games last year.

Like Witten, Olsen decided to head West this season too, as in Seattle. Now on a new team, Olsen’s role is better than that of Witten, as he will be the TE1 heading into the season, but he will nevertheless have to fight with WRs Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, along with other TEs Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister, for targets.

Dissly dealt with injuries the past two seasons, but when healthy, he proved to be serviceable for QB Russell Wilson. The TE grabbed 23 receptions, 27 targets, 262 yards, 11.4 yards per catch, and four touchdowns in six games in 2019. This means there should be no doubts about the 24-year-old’s ability to play.

Hollister also amassed 41 receptions, 59 targets, 349 yards, 8.5 yards per catch, and three touchdowns in 11 games last season. This TE is also only 26, so if Olsen experiences any setbacks or struggles on the field, these two TEs can capably fill in for him. Expect Olsen to have a decrease in targets due to other pass-catchers and while also needing to build rapport with Russell Wilson.

 

Jimmy Graham, Chicago Bears

Jimmy Graham proved to fantasy owners last season that he isn’t what he used to be in terms of being a dominant player. His 2019 season with Green Bay was one of the worst statistical campaigns he endured during his 10-year career. Last season, the TE finished 18th in targets among tight ends with 60. Nevertheless, that was the second-lowest target total of his career, only ahead of his rookie season.

In addition, Graham posted 38 receptions, 447 yards, 11.8 yards per catch, and three touchdowns. He recorded his second-lowest career reception and yard total as well, only ahead of his rookie season again. For this aging veteran who is now on the Chicago Bears, targets may come at the beginning of the season, but the Bears drafted another tight end in Cole Kmet out of Notre Dame for a reason. Therefore, Graham’s time in the Windy City may not be as impactful because of his age and the fact that a young tight end could cut into his production at any time in 2020. If last year was any indication, Graham could see a similar number of targets to 2019 or even end up with less considering the Bears generally have better receivers than the 2019 Packers.

 

Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For Tampa Bay tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, who finished 22nd and 25th in targets among tight ends last season with 56 and 53 targets, respectively, the goal of getting more targets this season is now complicated by the presence of former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and the 2019 breakout of WR Chris Godwin. This is already adding to the presence of elite receiver Mike Evans.

The Bucs have plenty of mouths to feed, and their tight end position has become crowded suddenly. As if fighting with each other was not hard enough, Brate and Howard will now have to share targets with Gronkowski, who already has chemistry with QB Tom Brady.

It’s not like all three tight ends aren’t talented, but there are simply too many mouths to feed for each to get very decent production. This is also factoring in the WRs. Howard finished with 34 receptions, 53 targets (career-high), 459 yards, 13.5 yards per catch, and one touchdown last season. Brate recorded 36 receptions, 55 targets, 311 yards, 8.6 yards per catch, and four touchdowns last season.

Not only will the presence of other talented pass-catchers lower their targets, but Howard and Brate enter the season as the TE2 and TE3 on the team, respectively. Their overall fantasy values now lower as a result too.



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Updated Tight End PPR Draft Rankings and Analysis

For the first time in what feels like an eternity, there are more than five tight ends to get excited about heading into a fantasy football season!

Breakout seasons from Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, and more propelled the position to new heights in 2019. Fantasy players will no longer be overcome with a sense of dread if they don't land a tight end before Zach Ertz gets selected. In years past, players would be talking themselves into Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen as passable starters. Those guys still start in the NFL, but we have them ranked in the mid-20s rather than the early teens this year. We've got a new group of promising tight ends to talk ourselves into.

There's a lot to like from the tight end position this year. We'll be breaking down each tier of tight ends from our RotoBaller Rankings. You can find the full list here.

 

Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings

Position Rank Position Tier Player Name Overall Rank Overall Tier
1 1 Travis Kelce 18 3
2 1 George Kittle 21 3
3 2 Mark Andrews 38 4
4 2 Zach Ertz 43 4
5 2 Darren Waller 53 5
6 3 Tyler Higbee 71 5
7 3 Hunter Henry 72 5
8 4 Evan Engram 84 6
9 4 Rob Gronkowski 86 6
10 4 Austin Hooper 94 7
11 4 Jared Cook 95 7
12 4 Hayden Hurst 98 7
13 5 Noah Fant 116 8
14 5 Mike Gesicki 118 8
15 5 Jack Doyle 124 8
16 5 T.J. Hockenson 131 8
17 5 Dallas Goedert 138 9
18 5 Jonnu Smith 140 9
19 5 Blake Jarwin 144 9
20 5 Eric Ebron 148 9
21 6 Irv Smith Jr. 168 10
22 6 Chris Herndon IV 171 11
23 6 Ian Thomas 179 11
24 7 Jace Sternberger 209 12
25 7 Dawson Knox 218 13
26 7 Jimmy Graham 224 13
27 7 Greg Olsen 226 13
28 7 Kyle Rudolph 229 13
29 7 O.J. Howard 239 13
30 7 Will Dissly 240 13
31 7 Jordan Thomas 250 14
32 7 Gerald Everett 253 14
33 7 Virgil Green 254 14
34 7 Darren Fells 256 14
35 8 Tyler Eifert 274 15
36 8 Devin Asiasi 278 15
37 8 Durham Smythe 279 15
38 8 David Njoku 284 15
39 8 Levine Toilolo 286 15
40 8 Vance McDonald 291 15
41 8 Marcedes Lewis 298 15
42 8 James O'Shaughnessy 304 15
43 8 Dan Arnold 305 15
44 8 Chris Manhertz 308 15
45 8 C.J. Uzomah 309 15
46 9 Jeremy Sprinkle 313 16
47 9 Robert Tonyan 316 16
48 9 Cameron Brate 318 16
49 9 Blake Bell 320 16
50 9 Daniel Brown 321 16
51 9 Nick Boyle 322 16
52 9 Trevon Wesco 324 16
53 9 MyCole Pruitt 336 16
54 9 Ryan Griffin 338 16
55 10 Cole Kmet 349 17
56 10 Anthony Firkser 350 17
57 10 Harrison Bryant 363 17
58 10 Trey Burton 364 17
59 10 Foster Moreau 368 17
60 10 Tyler Conklin 369 17
61 10 Kaden Smith 370 17
62 10 Jason Witten 371 17
63 10 Charlie Woerner 378 17
64 10 Delanie Walker 380 17
65 10 Seth DeValve 381 17
66 10 Jordan Akins 382 17
67 10 Josh Oliver 386 18
68 10 Adam Trautman 388 18
69 10 Jacob Hollister 398 18
70 10 Albert Okwuegbunam 404 18
71 11 Maxx Williams 411 18
72 11 Jesse James 416 18
73 11 Jaeden Graham 424 18
74 11 Johnny Mundt 429 18
75 11 Demetrius Harris 430 18
76 11 Drew Sample 431 18
77 11 Colby Parkinson 434 18
78 11 Dalton Keene 435 18
79 11 Deon Yelder 438 18
80 11 Derek Carrier 440 18
81 11 Kahale Warring 442 18
82 11 Joshua Perkins 446 19
83 11 Thaddeus Moss 448 19
84 11 Cethan Carter 452 19
85 11 Brycen Hopkins 454 19
86 11 Richard Rodgers 457 19
87 11 Mo Alie-Cox 458 19
88 11 Dalton Schultz 462 19
89 11 Josh Hill 468 19
90 11 Hunter Bryant 479 19
91 11 Nick Vannett 484 20
92 11 Jordan Reed 489 20
93 11 Matt LaCosse 493 20
94 11 Ricky Seals-Jones 494 20
95 11 Tyler Kroft 495 20
96 11 Ross Dwelley 497 20
97 11 Logan Thomas 509 20

Tier 1

Travis Kelce, George Kittle

Fresh off two massive paydays, Kittle and Kelce find themselves once again a tier above the rest of the pack. RotoBaller has Kelce ranked as the 18th overall player, with Kittle following behind at number 21.

Both guys seem like safe bets to finish as top-five tight ends. Kelce notched 97 receptions for 1,229 yards and six total touchdowns, somehow regressing in each of those numbers from the previous season. He's a top option in a passing game led by a quarterback who's on pace to be one of the all-time greats. He should be the first tight end off the board in 2020, but Kittle is a fine consolation prize for owners looking to grab an elite tight end.

 

Tier 2

Mark Andrews, Zach Ertz, Darren Waller

Fantasy players who chose to wait on a tight end in 2019 were rewarded if they grabbed Mark Andrews late in their draft. Andrews broke out in a big way last season, leading all TEs in touchdowns with 10. Even if Andrews doesn't reach double-digit touchdowns again, he's a top pass catcher in an elite offense and belongs in this tier. Don't be surprised if he crosses the 1,000-yard mark this season.

Waller broke out in an even bigger way than Andrews last season, finishing as the TE3. His 90 receptions and 1,145 yards were second only to Travis Kelce among tight ends. Many have pegged Waller as a regression candidate, noting the numerous pass-catchers the Raiders added this offseason in addition to his low touchdown total last season. But Waller clearly still has a place in the passing game. He has valuable experience playing with Derek Carr and the Raiders made a big financial commitment to him. Even if he doesn't finish as a top-three tight end again, it would be a shock if he doesn't finish as a TE1 this year.

Zach Ertz has finished as a top-four tight end for the past three years and has been a top-10 tight end for the past five years. There's no reason to expect any serious regression here. He's one of the safest fantasy choices you can make in 2020.

 

Tier 3

Tyler Higbee, Hunter Henry

For the final five games of last season, Tyler Higbee was the best tight end in the NFL. He averaged 21.4 PPR PPG, nearly five points more than the next highest tight end. The problem is that he was 35th among tight ends for the 12 weeks that preceded that. He has an incredibly high ceiling and a dangerously low floor in 2020. He's easily the riskiest option of the tight ends so far, but as we saw last year, his ceiling may be the TE1. 

Will Gerald Everett's return impact Higbee's targets? Will the departure of Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley II impact Higbee's targets? Were the last five games of the season a fluke, or did we witness Higbee's true form? These are all questions fantasy players will have to consider when selecting Higbee.

 

Tier 4

Evan Engram, Rob Gronkowski, Austin Hooper, Jared Cook, Hayden Hurst

Evan Engram might be the top pass catcher on the Giants if he plays all 16 games this year. The problem is that he has missed 13 games over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, Engram may be shaping up to be this generation's Jordan Reed. But he managed to rank seventh among tight ends in PPR PPG last season, and will always be a "set it and forget it" type of player when he's active. The injury risk is going to be baked into his ADP.

The more casual the league you play in, the higher Rob Gronkowski's ADP is going to be. Just don't forget that Gronk had the worst year of his career before retiring in 2018 and that he's playing for a coach who's more likely to get his punter consistently involved in the passing game before he gets his tight ends involved. Having Tom Brady and Gronk might force his hand to use his tight end more, but there's a lot of risk with Gronk this season.

Austin Hooper finished third among tight ends in PPR PPG last season with 14.7. He left Atlanta for Cleveland in the offseason and his replacement, Hayden Hurst, falls just two spots below him in our rankings. Choosing between the two is simple: did Hooper blow up last season because he's talented, or did he blow up because of the situation he was in?

Hooper joins a talented, and crowded, group of pass-catchers in Cleveland. The Browns gave Hooper a nice payday when they signed him, but it doesn't even sniff what they have invested in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, the team's top two receivers. Hurst will also have to compete for targets with a talented group of receivers, but 2019 proved that Atlanta has no problem getting the tight end involved. Both guys have big question marks. But the upside is much more promising than some of the tight ends you'd be drafting in this range in previous years.

 

Tier 5

Noah Fant, Mike Gesicki, Jack Doyle, T.J. Hockenson, Dallas Goedert, Jonnu Smith, Blake Jarwin, Eric Ebron

Tier five is filled with young, talented tight ends who will all be seen as blow-up candidates

College teammates Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson were both drafted in the first round of last year's draft. Neither guy has a chance to be the team's top pass-catcher in 2020, and it's unlikely that either one is even the second option in the passing game. Fant specifically has to compete for targets with Courtland Sutton, two rookie receivers who the team spent high draft capital on, and an incoming Melvin Gordon III out of the backfield. But both guys showed promise in 2019 and tight ends have historically taken to the NFL slower than other skill positions.

Both Fant and Hockenson have a ton of promise. Still, that's all it is, promise. There's a reason they're available this late, but don't be surprised if one of these guys finishes as a TE1 this season. If I had to bet on one of them, I'd bet on Hockenson, simply because he has less competition for targets and a better quarterback.

If you're looking to find this year's Mark Andrews or Darren Waller, Miami tight end Mike Gesicki fits the mold better than anyone. The Dolphins have one proven wide receiver after a few players opted out due to COVID-19. Gesicki finished second among Miami pass-catchers last season in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns, and he somehow has even less competition for targets in 2020. Gesicki is a former second-round pick who has been quietly coming into his own as a solid NFL tight end. Quarterback play is going to be a question mark in Miami this season, but somebody has to catch passes from these guys. If you plan on waiting on tight end, Gesicki might need to be a priority. His ranking as TE14 feels a bit low to me.

Like Gesicki, Tennessee tight end Jonnu Smith finds himself out of Delanie Walker's shadow and in position to be the No. 2 pass-catcher on the Titans, but his ceiling doesn't feel quite as high. The Titans are going to feed Derrick Henry as much as possible and their receiver room is a bit deeper than Miami's. Still, Smith certainly has appeal at his ADP for those waiting on tight end in deeper leagues.

Pittsburgh acquisition Eric Ebron rounds out the top 20. Ebron has some appeal due to his name value and his memorable 13 touchdown season just two years ago, but I'm not buying into any hype here. Maybe there's a chance that Ebron picks up where Vance McDonald left off in 2018. Does reading that sentence really get you excited about anything? I see much more value in Chris Herndon (TE22) and Ian Thomas (TE23) than I do Ebron in 2020.



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Boom or Bust Tight End Predictions: Gronk, Fant, and Herndon

For the last few seasons, tight end position was essentially a barren wasteland - there were a couple of elite options in the top tier, but beyond that was slim pickings for fantasy players. This is no longer the case, as tight end is as deep as it's ever been. There are elite options at the top, mixed with ascending players in the middle, followed by breakout candidates in the later rounds.

In this year's draft, my preferred strategy is to wait on tight end if I miss out on Travis Kelce or George Kittle, simply because there is so much depth at the position and I'd rather use those earlier picks on wide receivers and running backs. That's not to say that I don't like players like Mark Andrews, Zach Ertz, Darren Waller, or Evan Engram, I'm just really bullish on the slew of young and athletic tight ends available towards the end of your draft.

In this article, I'll take a look at two tight ends that I expect to boom and deliver premium value on their ADPs, while also picking one to bust who you should avoid at all costs, using FantasyPros ADP in PPR formats. Let's take dig deeper into Rob Gronkowski, Noah Fant, and Chris Herndon to find out which of these players is a boom and which is a bust.

 

Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

ADP: TE9, 78th Overall

The news of Gronk's return to re-unite with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay sent shockwaves across the football world. After all, Gronk is widely considered to be one of, if not the greatest tight end in NFL history. He's coming off a full year away from football and entering his age-31 season only two years removed from a season where he put up 69 receptions for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games. Gronk also joins a star-studded receiving core that includes Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, so this should be a prolific offense with several opportunities for touchdowns to go around.

The problem is that Gronk has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, especially nagging back issues that don't simply go away from a year away from football. He has only played in 35-of-48 games in his last three seasons, so it's hard to project a full season for Gronk in his return from retirement. We also need to consider the Buccaneers' depth at tight end - O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are good players who will likely eat into Gronk's snap and target share. As a team with Super Bowl aspirations, the Bucs would be wise to limit Gronk's snaps to keep him fresh for the stretch run. It's also important to note the devalued role of the tight end in Bruce Arians' offense - just look at how it suppressed Howard's production last season.

It just doesn't feel wise to invest in Gronk as a top-10 tight end in his first season coming out of retirement, playing for a team that is loaded at tight end, especially in a year with so many options at the position. For that reason, I'm OUT.

Verdict: BUST

 

Noah Fant, Denver Broncos

ADP: TE13, 108th Overall

Fant has an athletic profile that makes your jaw drop, ranking in the 97th-percentile or higher in speed, burst, agility, and catch radius scores on PlayerProfiler. He also has a 94th-percentile SPARQ score, 19.8 breakout age (84th-percentile), and 30.4% college dominator rating (88th-percentile). This is the kind of profile that gives Fant the upside to ascend to the elite tier of tight ends. As a rookie, he flashed this athleticism with two 100-yard games on four or fewer receptions, including a 75-yard touchdown. Fant also posted 8.52 yards per target, which ranks 8th among rookie tight ends (with at least 50 targets) since the merger, behind notable names like Mark Andrews and Rob Gronkowski. We have the makings of a special player here.

The Broncos added rookies Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler at wide receiver, a duo that could combine with Courtland Sutton to take away targets from Fant, which is concerning since the Broncos have Drew Lock at quarterback and only averaged 31.5 pass attempts per game in 2019, ranking 27th in the NFL. The good news is that the team has a new offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur, whose offenses ranked in the top-10 in pass attempts in five of his last seven seasons as the play-caller for the Giants, Vikings, and Eagles. With the added weapons and new play-caller, we can safely project an increase in pass attempts for the Broncos. Jeudy and Hamler have upside, but they're rookies, and Fant has a good chance of ranking top-two on the team in target share.

Fant is quite possibly the most athletic tight end in the NFL and you're able to draft him outside of the top-12 right now. He has everything you want in a breakout candidate, making him my favorite tight end to target this season.

Verdict: BOOM

 

Chris Herndon, New York Jets

ADP: TE20, 163rd Overall

Herndon had an impressive rookie season back in 2018, putting up 39 receptions for 502 yards and four touchdowns. The list of tight ends with 500+ yards as rookies includes several great players such as Rob Gronkowski, Mark Andrews, and George Kittle. Herndon also posted 8.96 yards per target, ranking 5th among rookie tight ends (with at least 50 targets) since the merger. He also plays for a Jets team with no established alpha-WR1 - Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman are good players, but they won't be force-fed targets as the clear number one in the pecking order. This means that Herndon has a chance to rack up targets in this offense. The Jets also traded safety Jamal Adams and C.J. Mosley opted out, so this is a mediocre defense which will lead to more passing volume and opportunities for Herndon.

The risk here is that Herndon is less proven than other tight ends ranked above him, especially since his sophomore season was washed out due to injuries. He also does not have the same type of impressive athletic traits that players like Noah Fant, Mike Gesicki, and Jonnu Smith. But this is a player with a clear path to targets who has already established a strong rapport with quarterback Sam Darnold. We also can project Darnold to improve in his third season as a starter - let's not forget that he's still only 23 years old - so this bodes well for Herndon.

Exploit the buying opportunity caused by a lost sophomore season. Herndon is a terrific target if you decide to wait deep in your draft to address the tight end position. He has a real shot at cracking the top-12.

Verdict: BOOM



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2020 Fantasy Football Tight End Rookie Rankings: Post-NFL Draft

Welcome back RotoBallers! Below you will find our staff's updated 2020 fantasy football rookie tight end rankings. These rankings are being released after the 2020 NFL Draft, but things will of course change as we get closer to the NFL season. Those of you who are regular RotoBaller readers have likely already seen our updated overall fantasy football rookie rankings, released the morning after the draft. Now it's time to break those down in detail, going position by position with some tiered rankings analysis.

The RotoBaller crew has been busy fine-tuning all fantasy football rankings in the hours immediately following the conclusion of the 2020 NFL Draft. The first task was to focus on the recently-selected prospects in order to prepare dynasty owners for upcoming rookie drafts. Analysts Brandon MurchisonPhil Clark, and Pierre Camus have put together their early consensus tight end rookie rankings (with overall rookie rankings listed) for our loyal readers to use to their advantage.

The tight end position is arguably the least-reliable position for immediate contributions considering the nuances that many rookies need to learn - run blocking, pass blocking, route trees, motion concepts, etc. Since 1996 only three rookie tight ends have scored over 100 points and only five have finished in the top-10 at the position during that season. In addition, the 2020 NFL Draft class was deep at many positions but tight end was certainly not one of them, so while we explore the rookie tight end class, it's important to keep in mind that most of these players will have little success during their first season and only a small handful of them are likely to become fantasy-viable in general. That's why it's so crucial that you select the right one in upcoming drafts.

 

NFL TE Rookie Rankings for Fantasy Football (Post-Draft)

Be sure to also check out our fantasy football rankings and analysis for the 2020 rookie running backs, rookie wide receiversrookie quarterbacks, and our top 130 rookies list.

Tier Rank Player Name Pos Pierre Brandon Phil
4 26 Cole Kmet TE 23 30 24
4 34 Devin Asiasi TE 36 36 32
5 39 Adam Trautman TE 33 38 43
5 43 Harrison Bryant TE 54 37 34
5 44 Albert Okwuegbunam TE 49 41 46
5 45 Brycen Hopkins TE 45 52 48
6 46 Dalton Keene TE 52 46 #N/A
6 48 Josiah Deguara TE #N/A 47 59
7 57 Thaddeus Moss TE 43 51 81
8 66 Hunter Bryant TE #N/A 71 57
8 67 Colby Parkinson TE 59 60 73
9 80 Charlie Woerner TE 71 #N/A #N/A
9 85 Stephen Sullivan TE #N/A #N/A 74
9 86 Sean McKeon TE 74 #N/A #N/A
10 91 Cheyenne O'Grady TE #N/A 109 50
10 98 Jared Pinkney TE #N/A 84 #N/A
10 99 Jacob Breeland TE 72 105 76

 

Tier 1 - TE Rookie Rankings

Tier 4 for All Rookie Positions/Ranks

Cole Kmet was the first tight end off the board and joins a ridiculously large tight end group in Chicago that is currently at ten after undrafted free agent signings. Obviously, the room will not end up that crowded, but the Bears did just throw $9 million guaranteed at Jimmy Graham on a two-year deal, which suggests they view him as a starting option.

Graham hasn't been effective in years, so Kmet could easily beat him out, but the rookie is not a strong enough blocker to currently start in the Bears offense, which asks their tight end to go in motion and block out in space a fair bit. If Kmet does improve there and gets on the field more, he could become fantasy relevant by the end of the season or in 2021 since the tight end is a crucial part of the Bears system and the Notre Dame product is a good in-line threat.

His hands are solid, but not great, and he's not going to do much damage after the catch so his upside will always be dependent on seeing a large enough target share and getting red zone looks, but there aren't many sure-fire hits at the tight end position anyway.

Devin Asiasi becomes an intriguing name because of where he landed. We all know the Patriots have loved to use their tight end in the past, but with Tom Brady gone and Bill Belichick likely not far behind him, the Patriots offense could look vastly different in a year or two. Asiasi is a bit of a raw prospect with only one year of production in college and work still to do on filling out his frame and getting stronger as a blocker.

However, he has upside as a receiving target, with good hands and solid quickness for the position. The Patriots are notoriously hesitant to allow rookies on the field, so Asiasi will need to show himself to be a consistently strong blocker at the NFL level before he sees any action, but his overall athleticism and solid hands give him more potential upside than Kmet, just with a much lower floor.

 

Tier 2 - TE Rookie Rankings

Tier 5 for All Rookie Positions/Ranks

Adam Trautman may be my favorite tight end in this class from a long-term fantasy perspective. He's a bit raw since he came into college as a quarterback, but he has ideal size for the position and tremendous athleticism. He was a basketball player, so he can keep defenders on his back and go up and high point a pass, but he also has the versatility to line up in different formations.

He's learning the technical aspects of blocking, but he has shown an aptitude and a desire for it, which is encouraging. He also landed in an ideal long-term spot. He won't contribute much as a rookie given his necessary growth and the presence of Jared Cook, but Cook is 33 and signed for only one more year, so Trautman could emerge in 2021 as a top-10 fantasy tight end in the Saints high-powered offense.

Harrison Bryant is a gifted receiver who ended up in a poor spot. The Browns just signed Austin Hooper to be the highest-paid tight end in football and still have David Njoku on the roster - a former first-round pick with elite athleticism who they couldn't find a way to get production out of when he was healthy. Bryant's future will entirely depend on how he is deployed because he is not strong enough or a good enough blocker to be a traditional tight end.

He will need to go in motion or line up out wide and operate mainly as a receiver. That's problematic on a roster that already has Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Austin Hooper. Until one or more of those players leaves town, it's hard to see Bryant having much fantasy value, but with trade rumors circling around OBJ, you could take a stab at the rookie and hope he becomes a Gerald Everett-type in the Browns offense.

Albert Okwuegbunam also landed in a bad spot for consistent fantasy value. Yes, he gets to play with his former college teammate Drew Lock, but he's also playing behind last year's first-round pick Noah Fant. The two are similar as "speed" players at the position, but Fant has much better quickness which allows him to get open underneath more often than Okquegbunam showed in college. The rookie's ceiling appears to be as a back-up tight end who could hit a splash play or two with his good straight-line speed.

Brycen Hopkins is another player who landed in a poor spot for immediate production. A solid receiving option with elite route running ability and the hands to be an effective downfield threat, Hopkins joins a tight end room that already has two similar players in Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee.

Despite not being exceptionally big, Hopkins is a willing and able blocker in space, so he fits in perfectly with the Rams offensive scheme; he just won't have much playing time early on to demonstrate that. Higbee is under contract until 2023, but Everett will come off the books after this season, so there is a chance for Hopkins to carve out a large share of the tight end role if the Rams decide not to bring Everett back. It's a roll of the dice, but the upside is there for him to be just behind Trautman in terms of ultimate fantasy success in his current system.

 

Tier 3 - TE Rookie Rankings

Tier 6 for All Rookie Positions/Ranks

Dalton Keene was the other tight end the Patriots took in the draft. An extremely versatile athlete, Keene managed to show out despite few opportunities at Virginia Tech. He proved to be a strong blocker with good hands that was able to break tackles and fight for jump balls.

As an alleged exceptional worker, Keene has the chance to be the type of player that is far more successful as a professional than a collegiate athlete, and he's in the system to do it. Based on his flashes of playmaking ability and his grinder mentality, I'd pick Keene over Asiasi as my long-term bet in New England, but it just might take a few years.

 

Tier 4 and Later - TE Rookie Rankings

Tier 7 for All Rookie Positions/Ranks

Thaddeus Moss is another one of the players in the aforementioned Bears tight end room after latching on as one of the higher-profile undrafted free agents. Randy Moss' son is not a dynamic athlete, which is likely why he slipped in the draft, but he is a physical and capable blocker, which will keep him on the field in the NFL, particularly in the red zone. Since Moss also has a wide catch radius and solid hands, his ability as a blocker could allow him to become a touchdown-dependent threat in the NFL, much in the same way Kyle Rudolph has.

Colby Parkinson landed in possibly the best spot after being drafted by the Seahawks. Pete Carrol's offense loves to use the tight end and so does Russell Wilson, which is why an unknown player like Will Dissly was able to rise to fantasy prominence this past season. However, Dissly has now suffered season-ending leg injuries in back-to-back seasons which left Jacob Hollister as the top option in Seattle.

Parkinson is a massive 6'7" and has shown the ability to make strong catches with his hands, which gives him an incredible catch radius. He's a willing blocker, so he doesn't need to be removed from the field in run situations, and his size obviously gives him huge touchdown potential. He works best in a tandem with a small more athletic player like Hollister, so Parkinson has the upside in this offense to be snagged late in dynasty drafts.

Sean McKeon picked a good spot for himself by signing an undrafted free agent contract with the Cowboys, who brought Jason Witten out of retirement because they were so disappointed with their tight end performance. McKeon is similar in that he's not an elite athlete but has exception hands and the ability to make difficult contested catches. He's an effective blocker but not exceptionally big or strong, so he won't be an every-down player; however, he could easily fill the role that Witten had for years in Dallas as a smart player who gets the most of his limited athletic ability.

Hunter Bryant is more of a move tight end who will contribute as a wide receiver rather than an in-line blocker. He has great ability after the catch and solid quickness, which will enable him to lineup flexed out wide in the slot. Bryant will likely not emerge as a starter at tight end given his size limitations and the presence of T.J. Hockenson, but Detroit doesn't exactly have a stable underneath option in their passing game, so it might come down to a battle between Bryant and fellow rookie Quentin Cepheus to see who fills that role. Bryant's ceiling is likely capped in that situation, but he has enough athleticism to become an intriguing stash in deeper leagues as a potential big slot receiving option.

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Tight End Best-Ball Tiered Rankings and Analysis - August

Tight ends continue to climb in valuation, as top-notch players like Travis Kelce and George Kittle have entered the conversation as late first-round or early second-round picks in best ball formats with TE Premium scoring such as FFPC. Even in typical scoring formats, some fantasy managers want to secure a relatively safe option at an unpredictable position.

The NFL season is fast approaching, which means time is running out for best ball drafts to begin. We will continue to update rankings in every format throughout the offseason and you can find the latest rankings here.

In this column, we will evaluate the latest tight end rankings for best ball drafts. Complete your best-ball draft prep by reading about our tiered rankings at running back, wide receiver, and quarterback.

 

TE Best Ball Rankings

Position Rank Position Tier Player Name Overall Rank Overall Tier
1 1 Travis Kelce 22 3
2 1 George Kittle 23 3
3 2 Mark Andrews 46 4
4 2 Zach Ertz 51 5
5 2 Darren Waller 62 6
6 2 Evan Engram 68 6
7 2 Austin Hooper 72 6
8 2 Hunter Henry 76 7
9 2 Tyler Higbee 81 7
10 3 Mike Gesicki 95 8
11 3 Jared Cook 107 9
12 3 T.J. Hockenson 108 9
13 3 Rob Gronkowski 110 9
14 3 Noah Fant 113 10
15 4 Hayden Hurst 122 10
16 4 Dallas Goedert 124 10
17 5 Ian Thomas 141 11
18 5 Blake Jarwin 147 11
19 5 Eric Ebron 149 12
20 5 Chris Herndon 156 12
21 5 Jack Doyle 159 13
22 5 Jonnu Smith 169 13
23 5 Greg Olsen 172 13
24 6 Dawson Knox 189 14
25 6 Jace Sternberger 191 14
26 6 Irv Smith Jr. 194 14
27 6 O.J. Howard 196 14
28 7 Gerald Everett 208 15
29 7 Trey Burton 213 15
30 7 Tyler Eifert 234 16
31 7 Kyle Rudolph 238 16
32 7 Cameron Brate 242 16
33 7 Will Dissly 246 16
34 7 David Njoku 259 17
35 7 Jimmy Graham 268 18
36 7 Cole Kmet 280 18
37 8 Brycen Hopkins 296 18
38 8 Vance McDonald 305 19
39 8 Foster Moreau 321 19
40 9 Darren Fells 344 20
41 9 Albert Okwuegbunam 345 20
42 9 Ryan Griffin 347 20
43 9 Devin Asiasi 355 20
44 9 Josh Oliver 356 20
45 9 Kaden Smith 357 20
46 9 Thaddeus Moss 358 20
47 9 Mo Alie-Cox 370 21
48 9 Adam Trautman 371 21
49 9 Jordan Akins 374 21
50 9 Drew Sample 375 21
51 9 C.J. Uzomah 376 21
52 9 Harrison Bryant 378 21
53 9 Nick Boyle 380 21
54 9 Kahale Warring 381 21

 

Tier 1

It's clear that there is a top-two rather than a top-three this year and a clear separation with a 23-spot drop from the top tier until the second. Kelce typically goes first but I am giving the slight edge to Kittle. The injuries to San Francisco's wide receivers will necessitate Kittle carrying a bigger load; even the smallest of increases will push Kittle over Kelce in terms of production. Their per-game averages were nearly identical last year.

You can't go wrong with either one, especially in a TE-premium format, so this isn't a decision to sweat so much as which RB do you settle on if you are drafted a tight end first.

 

Tier 2

Zach Ertz has officially lost his spot as TE3. Mark Andrews owns a higher ADP in nearly all formats and I personally ranked him a full two rounds higher, although one of our rankers still has Ertz ahead of him. There could be some trepidation based on Andrews' health condition (Type 1 Diabetes) and many have speculated that he could opt out of the season. He has stated otherwise and seems dedicated to getting Baltimore to the Super Bowl, so his draft risk should be mitigated.

To say Tyler Higbee is a polarizing player in the fantasy community is putting things lightly. For perspective, our three rankers have him at 66, 102, and 155 overall. That's quite a discrepancy. Then again, what are we supposed to make of this roller-coaster of a 2019?

For transparency's sake, I'm in the middle of our rankers at 102, placing Higbee firmly in tier three and just inside the top 10 at the tight end position. There is no way he repeats last year's stretch between Week 13-16 but it's also unlikely he reverts to being a non-factor. The Rams found something that works and will have to utilize 12 formation more often. Not only did it actually work, but Brandin Cooks is gone as is Todd Gurley, who was an excellent receiver out of the backfield. Best ball drafters shouldn't reach for Higbee expecting a breakout but he should be a solid source of points throughout the year. Don't forget about Gerald Everett though - he will get his share of targets.

 

Tier 3

How can we identify this year's breakout performer at tight end? That's the million-dollar question each year. I won't profess to have clairvoyance, but I do know that surprising TE performers usually emerge as a result of a weak wide receiver group. Darren Waller was far and away the top receiver in Oakland last year with a 25.2% target share because his next closest competition was oft-injured Tyrell Williams (14.5%) and rookie Hunter Renfrow (14.2%). The next two target leaders were running backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. This is why the Raiders spent three draft picks on receivers.

Back to the question: who could break out this year? The most likely candidate has to be Mike Gesicki. We already know about his insane combine numbers but now the opportunity is there in his third NFL season. Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns have both opted out of 2020, so the Dolphins have DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Jakeem Grant, and Isaiah Ford as their top receiving options. Throw in Williams returning from an ACL tear and Parker being completely untrustworthy (yes, jaded Dolphins fan here) as someone who's missed 11 games and just played his first full season out of five, there is a good chance Gesicki becomes a constant target.

My next favorite choice as a late TE1 selection is Noah Fant. I recognize the questions surrounding Drew Lock's development and Fant's inexperience but the ceiling is too tantalizing to pass up. Outside of Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, the Broncos still lack depth at receiver, especially if KJ Hamler's hamstring injury lingers into the regular season.

New offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur should make a positive impact as well. Before his disappointing stint as head coach of the Giants, he managed offenses that finished top-12 in passing yardage in four of his five seasons as OC between Minnesota and Philadelphia. Fant has 4.5 speed and run-after-catch ability that plays well in best ball where he can provide spikes in production.

 

Tier 4

If Higbee was polarizing, Hayden Hurst is downright controversial. Mike Riggall is bullish to the nth degree, ranking Hurst 91 overall as his TE13. Phil Clark isn't buying it, dropping Hurst to 230 overall. Once more, I'm the middle man with Hurst at 166. I was a big fan when he was drafted by Baltimore in the first round (by legendary tight end Ozzie Newsome no less) but he struggled with injuries early and never usurped the starting job from Mark Andrews.

Now, he inherits the role that made Austin Hooper the top-scoring TE in the first half of last year and is tied to Matt Ryan as his signal-caller. Context clues point to a potential breakout but we should pump the brakes a bit. It's not a straightforward comparison, but I can't help be reminded of Coby Fleener a few years ago. He was solid in Indy for four seasons and then signed by the Saints to be the primary tight end. Expectations went through the roof as he was on a top-notch passing offense with a Hall of Fame QB in Drew Brees. It didn't go so well, as he totaled 631 yards and three touchdowns. Not terrible but based on his insane 7.01 ADP in 2016, it was a massive letdown. Hurst will need to find his way in this offense and will defer to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley most of the time. He's a decent backup but do not count on him as a fantasy starter, even in best ball.

 

Tier 5

It seems as if Blake Jarwin is the trendy sleeper at this position but I can't bring myself to rank him inside the top 200. If we assume he can effectively replace Jason Witten's production from last year, that would make him fantasy TE12 in half-PPR. While that provides great return on investment based on his ADP, it also assumes that he will take over Witten's 75.4% offensive snap share and that CeeDee Lamb won't cut into his targets.

Kellen Moore stays on as offensive coordinator but Mike McCarthy is an experienced play-caller and will surely have an influence on the way things are run in-game. His offenses in Green Bay provided more opportunities to slot receivers than tight ends. Jarwin isn't a bad pick based on where he's going in FFPC drafts as the 18th TE off the board, especially with an extra half-point per reception, so this is the place to target him if at all.

Chris Herndon is a low-end preseason sleeper who is getting a little buzz. It's hard to trust someone who suffered both a suspension and a season-ending injury last year. Not to mention the fact he's on an Adam Gase offense... Still, Herndon seems to be the primary tight end for the Jets with very little competition for targets in a thin receiving corps. If he can keep it together, both physically and mentally, he has the talent to make plays after the catch as he did for the Miami Hurricanes.

 

Tier 6 and lower

Trey Burton was once a trendy sleeper but was simply average in his first year with Chicago before missing half of 2019 with injuries, producing little when he did play. He'll backup Jack Doyle, who is the TE to own in Indy, but bears monitoring if you draft three TEs. If anybody loves throwing to the tight end, it's gotta be Philip Rivers, right?

With the expected ascension of Irv Smith Jr. up the pecking order in Minnesota, Rudolph has become a non-factor for fantasy managers. It should be noted that Stefon Diggs' absence vacates an average of 121 targets per season since Kirk Cousins arrived and rookie Justin Jefferson is unlikely to absorb all of those. If Dalvin Cook continues to hold out or gets injured (again), the team could lean on Rudolph more than expected. There isn't a very high ceiling but he did finish as TE14 last year in fantasy, so he makes for a safe backup who is being discredited in drafts.

The final player on our list is one I must take responsibility for. I snuck Kahale Warring into my TE rankings as a dark horse for your final roster spot in best ball.

The Texans liked him enough to spend a third-round pick on him last year, only to see him miss the entire season. Darren Fells was the most productive tight end in Houston and was re-signed but is more of a backup plan than anything. Bill O'Brien loves his guys and Warring should get every shot to make an impression. Another former basketball player with elite athleticism at the position, the upside is high enough that he warrants a draft pick more so than Fells or most other backup tight ends.

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Updated Tight End Draft Rankings - Standard Scoring (Non-PPR)

The NFL season will be here quicker than Travis Kelce runs a slant route.

RotoBaller’s tight end rankings for standard fantasy football leagues have not changed drastically during the offseason, but there have been some risers and fallers to make note of. Most of the fantasy value changes have to do with the supporting casts around the tight ends in question changing either due to COVID opt-outs or other roster-related moves. If you want to be successful in fantasy football, you have to keep your eyes and ears open during the offseason. Yesterday’s sixth-ranked tight end might become tomorrow’s fifth-ranked in the blink of an eye.

Here is my analysis of RotoBaller’s current 2020 tight end rankings for standard leagues:

 

Tight End Standard Rankings and Tiers

Position Rank Position Tier Player Name Overall Rank Overall Tier
1 1 Travis Kelce 17 2
2 1 George Kittle 20 3
3 2 Mark Andrews 35 3
4 2 Zach Ertz 52 5
5 2 Darren Waller 56 5
6 3 Hunter Henry 69 5
7 3 Tyler Higbee 70 5
8 4 Rob Gronkowski 84 6
9 4 Jared Cook 88 6
10 4 Evan Engram 90 7
11 4 Hayden Hurst 97 7
12 4 Austin Hooper 101 7
13 4 Noah Fant 109 7
14 5 Mike Gesicki 124 8
15 5 Jack Doyle 135 9
16 5 Dallas Goedert 136 9
17 5 T.J. Hockenson 137 9
18 5 Jonnu Smith 138 9
19 5 Eric Ebron 140 9
20 5 Blake Jarwin 145 9
21 6 Chris Herndon IV 166 10
22 6 Irv Smith Jr. 173 11
23 6 Greg Olsen 191 11
24 6 Ian Thomas 193 11
25 7 Jace Sternberger 206 12
26 7 Dawson Knox 226 13
27 7 Dan Arnold 227 13
28 7 O.J. Howard 230 13
29 7 Kyle Rudolph 234 13
30 7 Will Dissly 236 13
31 7 Jimmy Graham 238 13
32 7 Jordan Thomas 244 13
33 7 Darren Fells 249 14
34 8 Gerald Everett 260 14
35 8 C.J. Uzomah 262 14
36 8 Nick Boyle 268 14
37 8 Durham Smythe 270 15
38 8 Levine Toilolo 272 15
39 8 David Njoku 283 15
40 8 Tyler Eifert 285 15
41 8 Marcedes Lewis 286 15
42 8 Chris Manhertz 288 15
43 8 Jacob Hollister 291 15
44 8 Devin Asiasi 295 15
45 9 Cameron Brate 300 15
46 9 Robert Tonyan 301 15
47 9 Vance McDonald 302 15
48 9 Daniel Brown 306 15
49 9 Trevon Wesco 309 15
50 9 Blake Bell 310 15
51 9 Jordan Akins 312 15
52 9 MyCole Pruitt 319 16
53 9 James O'Shaughnessy 321 16
54 9 Tyler Conklin 322 16
55 9 Charlie Woerner 325 16
56 9 Jeremy Sprinkle 326 16
57 9 Seth DeValve 331 16
58 10 Johnny Mundt 341 16
59 10 Adam Trautman 342 16
60 10 Foster Moreau 344 16
61 10 Jason Witten 346 17
62 10 Anthony Firkser 348 17
63 10 Trey Burton 349 17
64 10 Ryan Griffin 352 17
65 10 Deon Yelder 353 17
66 10 Josh Oliver 356 17
67 10 Derek Carrier 357 17
68 10 Joshua Perkins 362 17
69 10 Delanie Walker 368 17
70 10 Richard Rodgers 369 17
71 10 Cethan Carter 376 17
72 10 Cole Kmet 379 17
73 10 Drew Sample 383 17
74 10 Demetrius Harris 384 18
75 10 Harrison Bryant 393 18
76 10 Kaden Smith 403 18
77 10 Jaeden Graham 408 18
78 10 Albert Okwuegbunam 413 18
79 10 Jesse James 415 18
80 10 Maxx Williams 418 18
81 10 Mo Alie-Cox 421 18
82 10 Kahale Warring 423 18
83 10 Ricky Seals-Jones 424 18
84 10 Dalton Keene 444 19
85 10 Dalton Schultz 455 19
86 10 Josh Hill 467 19
87 10 Nick Vannett 484 20
88 10 Matt LaCosse 487 20
89 10 Tyler Kroft 496 20
90 10 Logan Thomas 498 20
91 10 Ross Dwelley 502 20

 

Tier 1

Kelce and Kittle deserve the most money out of all tight ends and have both been paid handsomely this offseason, with both of them signing multimillion-dollar extensions this month. Kelce has four straight seasons of 80 receptions and 1,000 yards to his credit and has only missed one game over the past six years. Kittle is coming off back-to-back campaigns of at least 85 catches and 1,000 yards despite being stuck in a run-first offense. There is no debate that they are the top two tight ends in fantasy football

 

Tier 2

Andrews had fantasy players worried that his Type 1 diabetes would cause him to opt out of the upcoming season, but it appears that he give it a go, which is great news considering he topped all tight ends with 10 touchdowns last season. Philadelphia drafted TCU standout Jalen Reagor in the first round of April’s draft, but Ertz will continue to be the focal point of the Eagles passing attack, even with tight end teammate Dallas Goedert taking some targets. Waller racks up receptions and yards with the best of them at the position, but the fact that he only scored three touchdowns last year and that the Raiders upgraded their receiving corps keep him out of the top tier.

 

Tier 3

Henry has as much upside and talent as any tight end in the NFL, but he has two things going against him that keep him in this third tier. One is his lack of durability (23 missed games in first four seasons). The other is that Tyrod Taylor or rookie Justin Herbert will be throwing to him and not Philip Rivers. Higbee was the breakout star and arguably the most valuable waiver addition in fantasy leagues in 2019. The questions are was his fantastic five-game stretch at the end of last year (43 receptions for 522 yards) a fluke and will Gerald Everett cause the Rams tight-end twosome to lose value if the pair splits time and targets.

 

Tier 4

While fantasy players should be titillated by the fact that Gronkowski has come out of retirement to join old quarterback buddy Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, the fact is that the injury-prone Gronk has two other above-average tight ends (O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate) and arguably the top tandem of receivers in the NFL (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) to fight with for targets. He cannot in good conscience be rated much higher than this. Cook is more durable than Engram, has a better track record than Hurst or Fant, and has a much better QB passing to him than Hooper, hence the higher spot in the rankings.

Hurst has been a prime mover in the tight end rankings, though. He has moved up 10 spots and two tiers since my May column about tight ends in standard leagues came out.

 

Tier 5

Gesicki’s target total should go up this year now that Miami wideouts Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson have both opted out of the 2020 season. Doyle should be buoyed by the quarterback upgrade of Indianapolis replacing Jacoby Brissett with the aforementioned Philip Rivers, not to mention no longer having to share the tight end targets with Eric Ebron.

Hockenson battled ankle, shoulder and concussion problems during his rookie year and had a stint on the COVID-19 list a few weeks ago, but if he can just stay on the field he should have a super sophomore season.

 

Tier 6

Now that longtime top tight end Greg Olsen has taken his talents to Seattle, Thomas has the golden opportunity to prove he can be a No. 1 tight end. Granted, he will have Teddy Bridgewater as his quarterback, who did not do any fantasy favors for Jared Cook in New Orleans last season. Cook only had 13 receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns in the five games Bridgewater subbed in for the injured Drew Brees.

 

Tier 7 and Lower

Knox was lining up to have a super sophomore season after showing glimpses of being a future fantasy force during his rookie campaign. Buffalo trading for Stefon Diggs to team with incumbent top target John Brown and slot receiver Cole Beasley might limit the targets Knox sees in 2020, though.

Will DeAndre Hopkins having his talents traded to Arizona help or hurt Fells’ fantasy value? That is the question for players who are not sure if Fells is a TE1 or TE2 coming into 2020 after his career year (seven TD) last season. Fells might get more looks, but will he get more opportunities for touchdowns if Hopkins is not around to help Houston get in the red zone? Fells has dropped in the rankings over the past couple months, so we expect him to struggle.

Howard had everything go against him in 2019, especially a head coach who never used him consistently and wavered in how involved he wanted Howard in the offense. Now that Gronkowski is in Tampa, it is hard to fathom Howard getting much more than 50 receptions and 550 yards with everyone that needs to be fed in that hungry Buccaneers passing attack.



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Bust Watch: Three Overvalued Tight Ends for 2020

Tight end is a deeper position heading into 2020 than in any other year in recent memory. You don't have to draft studs like Travis Kelce or George Kittle to feel good about your tight end situation this season. Plenty of young, promising talent emerged in 2019, while some older names continued to perform or even re-emerged onto the scene.

There's going to be a lot of players to consider for your TE1 this season. If you're not drafting one of the top four guys, you need to make sure you make the right decision. I'm here to help you avoid making the wrong decision.

If you're considering making any of the following three players your lead tight end this season, it might be time to consider a different approach. Here are some potential busts you should be aware of:

 

Rob Gronkowski - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (79 ADP, TE9)

Rob Gronkowski's ADP is noticeably higher in ESPN leagues, where more casual players play. (via Fantasy Pros)

Gronk will certainly be one of the more polarizing options at the tight end position in 2020. His current FantasyPros PPR ADP is TE9, but he's being drafted as a TE6 in ESPN leagues. His ADP is useless due to the variance of his draft positioning between expert and non-expert leagues. You're going to have to reach for Gronk if you want him on your fantasy team this year, but he's not worth it.

Let's start with the former Patriot himself. After a decade of dominance, the TE showed clear signs of slowing down in 2018, finishing as the 11th overall TE in PPR scoring and ninth in fantasy points-per-game. He averaged just 52.5 yards per game, the lowest since his rookie season. He only scored three touchdowns, making it just the third time in his career he grabbed less than eight touchdowns. In those other two seasons with just three touchdowns, he played in eight or fewer games. He appeared in 13 games in 2018. The decline was enough to make Gronk retire, at least temporarily.

Maybe a year off was exactly what the talented player needed? Even so, it remains highly unlikely he'll even sniff the production he was known for in New England. Tampa Bay had two talented tight ends on their roster last season in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. They barely threw either one the ball, and the duo combined for 70 catches on 108 targets for 770 yards and five touchdowns. If you combined Brate and Howard's 2019 numbers, they would have finished as TE7 in overall PPR fantasy points and 11th in points-per-game at the position.

Gronk would have to absorb every single target the duo received in 2019 for me to consider him where his ADP is going to end up in 2020. But both Brate and Howard are still on the team! Therefore, Gronk is going to have to fight for targets at his own position, a position largely ignored by head coach Bruce Arians during his time in the NFL. We haven't even mentioned the fact that he also has WRs Chris Godwin and Mike Evans to compete with for targets. Don't buy Gronk on his name value. He'll be a better real-life player than a fantasy player in 2020.

Jared Cook - New Orleans Saints (95 ADP, TE10)

Jared Cook hauled in nine touchdowns in his first season with the Saints last year. It was the second-highest total at the position, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens' Mark Andrews. Both Cook and Andrews may be due for a touchdown regression in 2020, and there is one notable difference between the two players. Andrews is a blooming young tight end playing with the reigning MVP (Lamar Jackson) at quarterback in an offense without much competition for targets. Cook is an aging, inconsistent player paired with an aging quarterback (Drew Brees) in an offense featuring the league's most targeted receiver (Michael Thomas) and one of the most versatile running backs (Alvin Kamara).

Cook finished as the overall TE7 in PPR scoring last year despite scoring three or more touchdowns than five of the six players who finished ahead of him. His numbers were bloated by an unsustainable touchdown total. The last Saints tight end to put up solid numbers was Benjamin Watson in 2015. Watson recorded over 800 yards and nabbed six touchdowns. The following season, the Saints paired their WR1, Brandin Cooks, with a guy named Michael Thomas, and Watson's replacement Coby Fleener saw his numbers go down across the board.

What did the Saints do this offseason? Well, they paired Michael Thomas with Emmanuel Sanders, easily the best WR2 the team has had since Cooks was traded following the 2016 season. Thomas, Sanders, and Alvin Kamara are all going to see targets and touchdowns before Jared Cook. Do we really expect a 33-year-old tight end to build on a 43 reception, 705-yard season? Plus, it's nearly impossible to build on a total of nine touchdowns. The Saints have a lot of talent that is going to see the ball before Cook. He'll be involved, but there are just more intriguing, higher-upside options at TE10 than this NOLA tight end.

 

Noah Fant - Denver Broncos (109 Overall, TE12)

I like Noah Fant. He's a good prospect and I think he's going to be a good player. Coming off a solid rookie year, he has a chance to be a blow-up candidate in 2020. But, standing at TE12 and likely being drafted as a starting tight end, I think there are more intriguing options here.

Similarly to Tampa Bay and New Orleans, Denver's offense is crowded. In 2019, Fant likely saw a bit more work than a rookie tight end should have due to a lack of passing options on the team. Nevertheless, the Broncos spent high draft capital on two wide receivers in Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. They also spent a pretty penny on former Charger Melvin Gordon III, a running back who's made a career as a dual-threat guy. RBs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay combined for 98 targets last season, but neither guy is known to be a pass-catching back.

Fant finished second on the team in targets last season. Can he repeat? It's possible, but unlikely. Gordon is certainly going to take some work in the passing game. Denver didn't draft Jeudy and Hamler to sit on the bench. All three guys are going to catch passes in addition to Courtland Sutton, the team's top option who saw nearly twice as many targets as Fant last season. On top of all this, we don't even know if the Broncos have a good quarterback. The team loaded this offense with weapons to put QB Drew Lock in a position to succeed. His best path to doing that is by spreading the wealth.

Fant has a chance to explode this year. But guys like Mike Gesicki, Hayden Hurst, T.J. Hockenson, and Jonnu Smith have a more likely path to a breakout season, and they're all being drafted behind Fant. If you're going to wait to draft a starting tight end, look for a guy who has a clear path to heavy targets.



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Stop That Hype Train! Rob Gronkowski

For the first time in a long, long time, many of us are viewing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a legitimate threat in the NFC. Those are words that many of us would have never thought of saying before Tom Brady made the surprising decision to head down to Central Florida this offseason.

Now, the Bucs have a crazy good offense that features WRs Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, along with TE O.J. Howard and Brady’s old buddy Rob Gronkowski. After calling it a career a year ago, “Gronk” has decided to rejoin his longtime pal in Tampa to hopefully hoist another Lombardi or two.

Gronkowski is now 31-years-old and coming off a gap year. Remember, one of the primary reasons he retired was dealing with the physical aftermath of so many hits and injuries. Now older in age and still dealing with wear and tear on his body, Gronkowski may not be the same guy he once was on the field and in fantasy. Let’s break down his value.

 

2018 Recap

The University of Arizona product last played in 2018 with the New England Patriots in what was supposed to be his final NFL season. The 31-year-old played 13 games but had an “off-year” compared to what he produced in other seasons while playing at least that many games. Nevertheless, Gronk had 47 receptions, 72/574 targets (12.5%), 682 yards, 14.5 yards per catch, and three touchdowns. He finished 11th among fantasy tight ends. Among NFL tight ends, Gronk notably ranked 13th in receptions and 18th in touchdowns.

The tight end played a total of nine seasons with New England and he managed to play at least 13 or more games in six of those seasons. He recorded his second-lowest receptions, targets, and receiving yards, along with his lowest touchdown rate, in the 2018 campaign when comparing those six seasons. His lowest numbers in receptions, targets, and receiving yards from those six seasons came during his rookie year in 2010. These 2018 ranks depict the decline the tight end was going through during his age-29 season before he retired.

 

2020 Outlook

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have terrific chemistry together and the GOAT can always rely on his buddy to be a safety blanket on the field and red zone. Now on Tampa together, things will be a bit different though. Compared to recent seasons in New England, Brady has two elite pass-catchers in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans.

The QB also has multiple tight ends to throw to as well including O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. If Gronk gets double-teamed, there is no reason why Brady can’t throw it to someone else. After all, he’s been holding offseason workouts to build chemistry with guys other than Gronk. Unlike much of his time in New England, Gronkowski will have to fight for targets with two other capable tight ends.

Alabama product O.J. Howard is only 25-years-old and coming off two respectable seasons. The 2017 first-round pick stockpiled 34 receptions, 53/630 targets (8.4%), 459 yards, 13.5 yards per catch, and one touchdown in 14 games during the 2019 season. In 2018, Howard recorded 34 receptions, 48/625 targets (7.7%), 565 yards, 16.6 yards per catch, and five touchdowns in 10 games. He is more than capable of cutting into Gronk’s production and targets.

Cameron Brate is also a respectable tight end. The 29-year-old accumulated 36 receptions, 55/630 targets (8.7%), 311 yards, 8.6 yards per catch, and four touchdowns in 16 games last season. The Harvard product has played in the NFL for six seasons now and has proved he can ever shoulder a large role, as evidence of his 2016 season.

Because Brady’s longtime teammate is returning after a one-year hiatus and has logged more hits on his body than the other pass-catchers, we don’t know how quickly he can return to form and how dominant he will be on the field this Fall. In addition, the Bucs have a significantly more prolific and talented receiving unit than New England did in Gronk’s final couple of years. Thus, the ball could be more spread around because there are plenty of receivers who could be productive. Gronk should be viewed as a low TE1 in redraft heading into draft day. However, considering his decline in 2018, his one-year hiatus, the history of injuries, and increased competition for targets, there is a chance he may not ball-out in the way fantasy owners have grown accustomed to over the years.



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Noah Fant - 2020 Fantasy Football Sleeper 

The Denver Broncos continued their downward spiral in 2019, making it the fourth consecutive season of no playoffs for the team after winning Super Bowl 50 in 2015. Denver did continue to improve its offense though as rookie QB Drew Lock out of Missouri started in five games at the end of the season and went an impressive 4-1.

After a robust draft and free agency that loaded up this offense, the Broncos are a sleeper pick to make the playoffs in 2020. Thus, Denver does indeed have some intriguing fantasy prospects who could have a breakout season (aside from Lock).

One of those players is now second-year tight end Noah Fant, who has one NFL season under his belt and looks to build on his rookie campaign in 2020 with a big role on this offense. Let’s break down Fant’s potential fantasy value for the 2020 season and see if there's reason to believe he could outperform his current ADP in fantasy football drafts.

 

2019 Recap

Nebraska native Noah Fant played three seasons at the University of Iowa before being drafted 20th overall in the 2019 draft. The 22-year-old appeared in all 16 games for the Denver Broncos last season and finished second to WR Courtland Sutton on the pass-catching unit in receptions, targets, yards, yards per catch, and touchdowns.

The 6’4” tight end compiled 40 receptions, 66/504 targets (13.1%), 562 yards, 14.1 yards per catch, three touchdowns, and 35.1 yards per game. He had 388 yards after catch and only five dropped passes. Fant also had an incredible 8.5 yards after the catch per reception, which tied for second among NFL pass-catchers.

The Iowa product generally went under-the-radar in fantasy last season, but quietly put up respectable numbers. He finished 16th among fantasy tight ends. Among NFL tight ends, Fant finished 18th in receptions, 13th in receiving yards, 14th in yards per catch, fifth in yards after the catch, and 15th in targets.

 

2020 Outlook

The Broncos weren’t a high-powered offense last season with veteran QB Joe Flacco running the show for most of the season. Entering 2020, the offense has some different pieces and a few youngsters on this team already have some decent NFL experience. This includes Drew Lock, Fant, and Courtland Sutton.

The Broncos now have a loaded offense that features RB Melvin Gordon, RB Phillip Lindsay, rookie WR Jerry Jeudy, rookie WR K.J. Hamler, WR Courtland Sutton, and Noah Fant. With the addition of new receivers, Fant may have to fight for targets; however, on the TEs depth chart, he is number one. The TE  also did play a big role in this offense last season as a rookie, which is encouraging for his potential opportunities in 2020. In addition, he is bigger than the wide receivers in size (6’4”, 249 lbs), so he can emerge as a safety blanket for Lock as well as a red-zone target.

Veteran TEs Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman are below Fant on the depth chart, but they pose no threat to his TE1 role. Vannett played 16 total games for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks last season and only garnered a total of 17 receptions, 22 targets, and 166 yards. In four NFL seasons, the Ohio State product has not gotten more than 269 yards in a season.

Meanwhile, Heuerman has played for the Broncos for the past four seasons but has never eclipsed more than 281 yards in a season. Last season, the Ohio State product played in 14 games and only managed 14 receptions, 20/504 targets (4.0%), 114 yards, 8.1 yards per catch, and one touchdown. Fant recorded more yards and better stats than both tight ends as a rookie, so there should be no worries about either significantly cutting into his production.

With one year of experience, a large role on this offense last season, being atop the TEs depth chart, and the chance to play a big role in a potentially explosive offense in 2020, there are many factors contributing to Noah Fant’s sleeper status for this upcoming fantasy season. Based on his fantasy and stat ranks from last year, consider Fant a low TE1 heading into drafts in redraft leagues. He can be drafted as a TE1 in leagues consisting of 12-14 teams and has the potential to reel in huge numbers depending on the matchup.



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Fantasy Football ADP Fallers for Tight Ends

We continue looking at ADP risers and fallers through the offseason as we already completed our first run back in June. You can check our first review of the early-summer risers and fallers at running backwide receivertight end, and quarterback.

Average Draft Position (ADP) indicates the average position where a player is drafted over more than one fantasy football draft. You can consider it as the price you have to pay to draft and get a player in your team.

ADPs are helpful to gauge the average value of players on draft day as viewed by the competition.

 

Tight Ends - ADP Fallers

 

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

Although David Njoku's ADP has trended upwards during the days leading up to this writeup, the drop has been of more than 1.5 rounds overall during the past month. Njoku is entering his fourth year in the league but only has two seasons worth considering he missed 12 games alone last season. Oh, and this offseason has definitely been a wild one for the TE after he asked for a trade out of Cleveland and then no longer was pursuing a move at the start of August.

At his peak level, Njoku is a potential 150-PPR point player. The problem when it comes to improving his fantasy results is he will share the field with Austin Hooper, who the team acquired this offseason as a free agent, thus making Njoku the TE2 of the Browns instead of the leading man at the position. Not only that, but he'll need to fight for opportunities with a stacked offense that includes the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry (both top-24 WRs) as receivers, and Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as rushers with pass-catching prowess.

In their last run of projections, PFF has the Miami product finishing 2020 with a paltry 77 PPR points, which is way below Hooper's 132, and just 8.4 percent of the team's targets (Hooper would see 14.7 percent of them). As crazy as it might sound, Njoku is currently a better value pick than Hooper, which doesn't mean he's a better fantasy player or play, though. That is what happens when you have an overall ADP of 222. It's hard not to play above that level, although Njoku projects to finish the year as the 220th-best fantasy player, so he's an average bet at the very best. If you play in a league with 40 roster-spots per team, then go and get him just in case Hooper gets injured down the road or something. If you don't, absolutely fade him.

 

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

At the same time Irv Smith Jr.'s ADP is getting up by the day, Kyle Rudolph's has plummeted more than a round in redraft leagues during the past few weeks. While Smith is the youngest of the two and should make a jump in his sophomore year this season, Rudolph is the veteran and proven tight end on these Vikings. And it is not the mere age/experience factor that will swing things in favor of one or the other. Both TEs project to finish 2020 very closely in the PPR leaderboard, with Smith Jr. at 120 PPR and Rudolph at 109 himself.

What is the main difference though? The price to pay for those similar production levels. While Smith (TE20) ranks two spots ahead of Rudolph (TE22) in 2020 projections, the price these two are getting drafted by is widely separated. In fact, Smith's current ADP of 135 overall (12th round) is more than 50 spots higher than Rudolph's at 189 (undrafted in 12-team leagues). The projections are quite different for a measly 10-point PPR difference.

What does all of this mean? Well, you should fade Smith and his rising ADP and aim to draft Rudolph with a last-round pick or snatch him up from the waiver wire as soon as he enters it. This makes the veteran TE your super-sub and stream option from the bench if you have another player to start weekly. Rudolph is the only player with a positive ROI among the top-30 TEs right now and he could turn into a much better value if Smith doesn't improve in his second year or flops a bit through the season.

 

Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills

Dawson Knox is entering his second NFL season as the leading tight end for the Buffalo Bills. Tyler Kroft will back him up as the TE2, but he shouldn't be that much of a threat to get opportunities from Knox. Looking at PFF projections, Knox should be the fourth most-targeted Bill, getting around 12.7 percent of the offensive targets. That's actually not horrific, as he ranks 22nd among TEs in the NFL.

Even if he gets there in terms of opportunities and plays efficiently, Knox is not worth the price currently being paid for his services. Fantasy GMs have realized this and it has led to a drop of almost a full round in his ADP during the past month. The 23-year-old is getting off draft boards as the TE26 (ADP of 163 OVR), yet he projects to finish with under 100 PPR points (97) and as just the 194th-best player in 2020 fantasy leagues. As you can see, that's a 30+ difference between ADP and final rank, making Knox a poor value at his current average draft position.

Either the downtrend shown in the TE's ADP keeps going for a while leading up to the start of the year, or drafting Knox would be a terrible move for any fantasy GM this season. Up to four tight ends (Gerald Everett, Kyle Rudolph, Will Dissly, and Nick Boyle) project to finish 2020 with 100+ PPR points and are currently getting drafted after Knox, so you know what to do.



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Stop that Hype Train! Blake Jarwin

The Dallas Cowboys loaded up their offense through the draft, getting Oklahoma wideout CeeDee Lamb with the 17th pick. Now, Dallas has a great QB in Dak Prescott, a workhorse back in Ezekiel Elliott, and three great wideouts in Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup.

Longtime tight end Jason Witten returned last season to Dallas after one year in the commentating booth. This offseason, he headed to Las Vegas to join the Raiders, meaning Blake Jarwin is the new lead tight end (again). The Cowboys have plenty of talent on their offense, meaning quite a few fantasy-relevant players. Nevertheless, tight end is not their strongest position, so just because Jarwin is the lead tight end, he isn’t an automatic lock to thrive in this high-powered offense.

The now fourth-year player went undrafted out of Oklahoma State in 2017 and has only played two NFL seasons so far (2018 and 2019). Let’s look at Jarwin’s stats and outlook of why he could very well end up being a bust.

 

2019 Recap

With Jason Witten on the team in 2019, Jarwin was the TE2 and finished sixth in receptions, targets, and yards on the team. He compiled 31 receptions, 41/597 targets (6.9%), 365 yards, 11.8 yards per catch, 22.8 yards per game, 5.1 yards after the catch per reception, and three touchdowns in 16 games.

The 26-year-old finished 25th among fantasy tight ends last season. Among NFL tight ends, the Oklahoma State product finished 36th in receiving yards per game, 33rd in receptions, 27th in yards, 34th in yards per reception, and 23rd in touchdowns.

 

2020 Outlook

Even though he could have had a breakout season in 2018 with Jason Witten not being on the team, Blake Jarwin did better statistically with Witten on the team in 2019.

As the lead tight end for the Cowboys in 2018, the 26-year-old accumulated 27 receptions, 36/527 targets (6.8%), 307 yards, 11.4 yards per catch, three touchdowns, and 19.2 yards per game. He finished 26th among fantasy tight ends.

The Cowboys may not rely on tight ends for much pass-catching in 2020 considering they have a robust running game and wide receiver core. This is also considering Michael Gallup is now a much better player and the presence of CeeDee Lamb will naturally cut many targets for the tight ends.

The only real competition for the 2017 pick on the TEs unit is Dalton Schultz. Schultz was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 draft out of Stanford and has two years of NFL experience under his belt. Nevertheless, the 24-year-old has had more abysmal stats than Jarwin, compiling 13 receptions, 19 targets, 122 yards, 9.4 yards per catch, and no touchdowns in 27 games.

Last season, Schultz could only muster one reception, two targets, and six yards in 16 games, which might as well be nothing. Therefore, Jarwin doesn’t have too much to worry about in terms of someone else taking his lead role.

Nevertheless, Jarwin did not prove his value to the Cowboys in the two seasons he has played for them, and being atop the TEs depth chart does not necessarily mean anything positive for his fantasy value. The tight end’s small expected role in 2020, the fact that he did not capitalize as the TE1 in 2018, and his 21 yards per game during his career clearly put him on the path to another underwhelming year in fantasy. He’s a backup tight end in bigger fantasy redraft leagues at best.



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ADP Risers at Tight End

We continue looking at ADP risers and fallers through the offseason as we already completed our first run back in June. You can check our first review of the early-summer risers and fallers at running backwide receivertight end, and quarterback.

Average Draft Position (ADP) indicates the average position where a player is drafted over more than one fantasy football draft. You can consider it as the price you have to pay to draft and get a player in your team.

ADPs are helpful to gauge the average value of players on draft day as viewed by the competition.

 

Tight End - ADP Risers

 

Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

Slowly but surely, fantasy GMs are buying more and more into the upside of second-year TE Irv Smith Jr. The sophomore on the Vikings might feel like a good deal at his current ADP of 135 OVR and TE23 off the board, but that's not really the truth. What is the reason behind it? First and foremost, when looking straight at PFF projections, Smith Jr. would finish 2020 with 120 PPR points, which is good for TE20, but only the 169th-best player in fantasy football overall. That's more than a 30-player gap between his draft position and his expected production.

The projection isn't wild either. Only two spots behind Irv Smith Jr. in the 2020 PPR rankings is where we find Minny's TE2 (or is it TE1?), veteran Kyle Rudolph, with 109 PPR himself. If you remove one of them from the equation, reaching 200 PPR would still be hard to accomplish but one of them could get there because of pure volume. Sadly, that isn't going to be the case and both TEs will either be sharing the field at the same time on two-TE formation sets or staying off the grass while the other gets reps.

For what it is worth, Rudolph is a much better value than Smith these days. As I already said, Rudolph projects to notch only 10 fewer PPR points while his ADP (189.3) is virtually making him a free asset not drafted in most leagues. It's much better to snatch the veteran for free rather than risking a post-10th round pick on the sophomore Smith Jr. Don't buy into the trend at this price.

 

Tyler Eifert, Jacksonville Jaguars

The problem with Tyler Eifert isn't hard to spot: injuries and health issues. As you can see in the table above which analyzes several tight ends active from 2013-2019, Eifert is the one with the second-fewest played games (min. 50 games while scoring 9.0+ PPG). That's only because Austin Hooper didn't debut until the 2016 season. In the same 2013-19 span, Jared Cook has accrued 936 PPR points total (only because he's remained on the field) while the former Bengal has only been able to put up 549 PPR points himself even with a slightly better average.

That explains why even though he is now the clear-cut TE1 of the Jaguars entering 2020, Eifert is still mostly getting undrafted in any type of re-draft league with an ADP over 200 overall. When drafted, he is getting off the board inside the 18th round of drafts these days...

All things considered, fantasy GMs have been boosting his ADP a bit lately, making him the TE31 in drafts while he has a projection to finish as the TE37 (80.6 PPR) next year. It checks as if he's going to play between eight and nine games at his career-average 9.3 PPG. Don't waste a pick on Eifert, but if you miss on the top-dogs at the position and have to stream players,  this TE shouldn't be the worst option.

 

Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts

Jack Doyle's ADP hasn't stopped rising in the past few weeks and months, and the Colt is currently getting drafted as the TE19 in re-draft leagues with an overall ADP of 117.9. That makes him quite a bad value, as he projects to finish in the top-159 players in fantasy football PPR leagues with just 127 fantasy points. Doyle's biggest selling point is he might end up with the third-most receptions among all Indianapolis' players behind only WRs  T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell.

That is only part of the story, though. If we focus on deeper numbers instead of just target projections, things don't look that bright. Doyle projects to get 70 targets, third-most in Indy. But, RB Nyheim Hines and rookie WR Michael Pittman Jr. project for 64 each, which means that the target share for Doyle would be 13.4% and that of the other two would be 12.4% each. Any small change in those numbers would put Doyle as low as the fifth most-used receiver in this offense, which looks much worse than the third, right?

It doesn't make much sense to spend a draft pick inside the first ten rounds on Doyle even with QB Philip Rivers looking toward TEs often. I'd leave Doyle's ADP rising while looking for other ways to find a weekly tight end or just bank on a streaming strategy before drafting this TE at his current price.



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Irv Smith Jr. (TE, MIN) - 2020 Fantasy Football Sleeper

The Minnesota Vikings enter the 2020 season with high hopes of winning the NFC North Division title on the heels of a 2019 campaign, which saw them finish 10-6 and reach the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. The team will still be led by Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, and Adam Thielen, however, they recently traded away their leading target earner in Stefon Diggs. This means the offense will likely flow through different avenues to make up for the departing 94 targets he garnered.

For this reason, Irv Smith Jr. makes for an interesting sleeper candidate heading into 2020. Smith was selected in the second round of the 2019 draft and had an immediate impact on the Vikings' offense, which is unique because tight ends often struggle mightily in their rookie season. He even managed to go tit-for-tat with Kyle Rudolph, who has been the top tight end in Minnesota for nearly the entire decade. Further improvement in 2020 should mean Smith takes over as the leading target earner at tight end.

Let's take a deeper look into Smith's 2019 season, as well as some of his advanced metrics, to show exactly why he could become a standout sleeper heading into 2020.

 

A New Tight End Emerging in Minneapolis?

Irv Smitj Jr. had a solid rookie season for a tight end in 2019 by hauling in 36 of his 47 targets for 311 yards and two scores. This nearly matched Kyle Rudolph in targets (48), receptions (39), and yards (367), but trailed significantly in touchdowns as Rudolph finished with six and was a clear red-zone threat. As a rookie, Smith showed a lot of promise in his advanced metrics, especially for a tight end. He accounted for 8.3% of all Vikings' air yards, which ranked him in the top 28% of the league at tight end. This is a big reason he was known for making big plays as he hauled in five receptions of 20-plus yards, which is a number Rudolph has reached only four times in his nine-year career.

Smith also showed relatively solid hands in 2019 as noted by his 75% catch rate. This was good enough to rank him in the top 27% of the league and could certainly increase in his second year as he develops more of a rapport with Kirk Cousins. Smith showed speed in 2019 as well, which was noted by his 4.63 40-yard dash time. This ranked him in the top 22% among tight ends and is a skill set that cannot be taught and could lead to even more big plays in 2020.

Smith garnered 11% of the Vikings targets in 2019, which put him in the top 22% in the league amongst the position. This is important when you consider the departure of Stefon Diggs. Diggs had 94 targets in 2019 and has since been traded to Buffalo. There is no one in Minnesota to vacuum up those additional targets except for first-round draft pick, Justin Jefferson. Jefferson will certainly grab some of the departed targets, but rookie wide receivers tend to struggle in the first couple years of their career and Cousins should feel more comfortable getting Smith involved in the passing game early on in 2020.

The current ADP for Smith is 301 and he is being taken as the 28th tight end off the board. This means he is not being drafted in 12-team leagues unless the league is incredibly deep. He makes for a solid selection in the final round of your draft as a potential "wait and see" bench tight end or someone to add to the top of your waiver wire watch list. He also makes for a solid buy in dynasty leagues as his value should increase in the coming seasons.



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Stop that Hype Train! Hayden Hurst

Hayden Hurst, the 25th overall pick of the 2018 draft, has yet to live up to his draft status. You can blame the foot fracture he suffered in his rookie season for this, or that the tight end position usually involves a longer learning curve, but whatever your viewpoint is of Hurst, ehe fact of the matter is that he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens to be “the guy” at tight end and it never happened.

The guy who ultimately ended up being that player for Baltimore is Mark Andrews (who happened to be taken 61 picks later in the same draft). Now going into year three, Hurst has a clearer path to production being at the top of the depth chart in his new home with the Atlanta Falcons.

Hypothetically, he should produce and live up to expectations, but will he?

 

A New Nest to Call Home

Austin Hooper enjoyed a career year in 2019 catching passes from Matt Ryan. He parlayed that successful year into a multi-year contract with the Cleveland Browns. The Falcons could have matched the offer sheet from the Browns, but they elected not to, thus ending Hooper’s tenure in Atlanta. If they valued Hooper enough, they would have matched the offer. But, the sense from their response is that they feel that the offensive scheme is favorable enough that another capable player at a lesser price could be successful in that spot. Enter Hayden Hurst.

Atlanta led the league last year in total pass attempts. In 2018, Atlanta was in the top-five in that department. In targeting the tight end position, Matt Ryan completed 77.14% of his passes – to Austin Hooper specifically, he completed 77.78% of his passes. And no, Hooper was not a part-time, rotational player. He was by far the tight end that saw the most action for the team. In total, he saw 90 targets come his way, third to only Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. In the red zone, Hooper saw 15 targets in his direction, and he turned those into nine catches, with seven being touchdowns.

Given these stats, his athletic profile, and the fact that he sits unchallenged at the top of the tight end depth chart, Hurts should excel with his new team. All that said, let’s pump the brakes just a bit.

Given the unprecedented nature of the off-season, the fact that the preseason is no longer a thing this year, and general uncertainty of the regular season, we should be a little skeptical. Hurst is behind in terms of conditioning, getting acclimated with his new teammates, and most importantly, learning and practicing the intricacies of a new playbook. We also simply cannot ignore the fact that due to the small sample size of body of work we have, he is unproven at this point.

In the two years Hurst has been in the league, he has not seen the field a whole lot. In his 2018 rookie season, he appeared in 12 games with zero starts (in on 23% of available snaps), and last year he played in all 16 games, with four starts (in on 41% of available snaps). Based on the limited action he did see, Pro Football Focus awarded him an overall offensive grade of 73.1 for his efforts – good for 12th in the league. While this grade is certainly not awful, it also doesn’t exactly scream exciting potential ready to be unleashed.

For a tight end to be an every-down-player, the skill set should be that of one who is a strong receiver and blocker. While, again, his receiving grade of 77.3 is pretty solid, it does not come near to the elite tight ends in the league (think George Kittle and Travis Kelce). An area that Hurst will really have to improve in order to stay on the field longer is his run blocking. In this area, he graded out quite poorly. Out of 70 qualified tight ends, Hurst graded as the 53rd best with a score of 51.3 – yikes.

 

Solid Not Spectacular

The problem I have with Hurst going into this season is that he is being seen as this potential breakout candidate, on exactly that, potential, and thus being ranked fairly high (tight end rankings) on draft boards – in some cases higher than Hunter Henry, Tyler Higbee, Noah Fant, and Austin Hooper. I’m not saying he won’t have a good year, or that you shouldn’t draft Hayden Hurst at all, what I am saying is to not reach for the guy simply because of a theoretically good spot he is in. At times he has shown flashes of being a productive tight end in the league, but not consistently enough – albeit based on a small sample size.

If you like your assembled roster at a specific point, and you find yourself in a position to draft Hurst in a reasonable range (rounds 8-10), then by all means go for it. But, don’t go reaching for the guy too much when there are other young, capable players you can find in the later rounds.



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