Tight end preview

The tight end position is not what it once was, and that’s a good thing for fantasy football owners. Three years ago, just three tight ends with at least 12 games played averaged more than 10 fantasy points per game (half-point PPR scoring). In 2018, the number increased to five, and last year there were eight. This year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see 10 names on that list.

Logically, a deeper tight end position should make Travis Kelce and George Kittle, the consensus Big Two, cheaper. But that hasn’t been the case in my experience. In a recent ESPN draft, Kittle was taken with the 16th pick and Kelce with the 22nd. But not by me. The next tight end off the board was Mark Andrews, in the fifth round (No. 43).

In the above-mentioned draft, I had targeted Darren Waller but he was taken with the 52nd pick. Too early. I took Evan Engram with the first pick in the 9th round (No. 81). Tyler Higbee went next in the 9th round. I favor Higbee over Engram but already own enough shares of Higbee. Frankly, Waller, Higbee and Engram are all fine at the right price.

What’s the right price? The NFFC ADP for Kelce is 23, Kittle 24, Andrews 47, Zach Ertz 55, Waller 68, Higbee 79, Engram 82, Hunter Henry 92, Hayden Hurst 93, and then there’s a cliff. The next TE off the board (NFFC) is Jared Cook at 113. My advice is to select your tight end before you fall off the cliff. In a 12-team league, the cliff may be in the 8th round.    

If you miss one of the nine TEs mentioned in the previous paragraph, you should be prepared to draft two. The reason is because the next tier is a crapshoot. Mark my words, there will be at least one breakout TE from this tier, but no one can predict who that will be. That’s why you take two of them and hope you’re lucky, or get lucky on the waiver wire.     

An infusion of young talent and increased utilization makes the tight end position more interesting this year than in the past. This is a great season to draft two from the group of Cook, Mike Gesicki, Rob Gronkowski, Austin Hooper, Noah Frant, Dallas Goedert, T.J. Hockenson, Jonnu Smith, Jack Doyle and Blake Jarwin. All of them could be had with a pick after 100.

Let’s take a brief look at these 10 tight ends:

JARED COOK, NEW ORLEANS

 It’s very uncommon for tight ends to finish in the top-10 with less than 100 targets, but Cook finished as the No. 7 tight end in 2019 with just 65 targets. He did that because he scored a touchdown every 7.2 targets, a number that is sure to regress. It’s tough to find him more targets in the offense in 2020 with the arrival of Emmanuel Sanders, too.

MIKE GESICKI, MIAMI

The good news is Gesicki totaled 89 targets last year, which ranked seventh among tight ends. The bad news is he finished as the No. 11 TE. The worst news is Chan Gailey is now his offensive coordinator. In the eight years Gailey has called an offense, his tight ends have finished 28th or worse in seven of them.  My recommendation is to pass on him.

ROB GRONKOWSKI, TAMPA BAY

On the surface, Gronkowski seems like a no-brainer. Tom Brady didn’t have a full offseason with his new receivers, so he may gravitate towards his old friend. During Gronkowski’s career, he posted top-five numbers in 40.9 percent of his games – the best of all-time. But he hasn’t played a game in the NFL since 2018, and he was clearly on the decline that year.

AUSTIN HOOPER, CLEVELAND

The Browns paid Austin Hooper a lot of money to join them but they’re also holding onto David Njoku because Head Coach Kevin Stefanski likes to use two tight ends in his offense. The best-case scenario with Hooper is that he gets close to the 70-target mark and scores at least six touchdowns. I would stay away from both of them unless one gets injured.

NOAH FANT, DENVER

Fant is a darling of many pundits, but he’s not my darling. Fant saw 66 targets his rookie year and ranked 15th in expected fantasy points among tight ends. But he didn’t tally more than four targets in any game with Drew Lock. To make matters worse, the Broncos added three talented pass-catching options in Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Melvin Gordon this offseason.

DALLAS GOEDERT, PHILADELPHIA

In my opinion, Goedert is the only true tight end handcuff in the NFL. If you draft Ertz, you should pick up Goedert later in the draft because he would become a top-five TE if Ertz is injured. The upward trajectory in Goedert’s production in 2019 was mostly due to injuries to all of the Eagles wide receivers. He saw at least five targets in 10 of the last 11 games.

T.J. HOCKENSON, DETROIT

Hockenson showed upside in his NFL debut in 2019, racking up 131 yards and a touchdown on six grabs. But that was 36% of his total yards and 50% of his touchdowns in 12 games. This is an offense that is willing to throw the ball, but the key for Hockenson is getting enough volume while sharing the ball with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola.

JONNU SMITH, TENNESSEE

Volume is also a concern for Smith in a run-heavy Titan offense. He’s unlikely to get more than 3-5 targets per game in an offense that is projected for less than 500 pass attempts for the season. Despite Delanie Walker going down for the year, Smith saw more than five targets just twice all season and finished with 44 on the year. It’s best to pass on him.

JACK DOYLE, INDIANAPOLIS

Doyle has the look of a sleeper – especially in the first few weeks of the season with Trey Burton on the IR for the Colts. Now add quarterback Philip Rivers, the guy who’s supported a top-11 tight end in all but one season in his long career, and Doyle looks like a winner. Indy is a team that likes to target tight ends, so Doyle is a sneaky pick in the right matchups.

BLAKE JARWIN, DALLAS

Jarwin and Jason Witten combined for 124 targets last year, and now Witten is gone in Kellen Moore’s tight end friendly offense. Over the last two seasons, Jarwin has seen a total of 77 targets, turning them into 58 receptions for 672 yards and six touchdowns. Witten received 83 targets last year, and if Jarwin sees that kind of volume, he should break out.

You can follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

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