Staring into the TE abyss

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In my tight end preview posted on August 15th, I told you about the tight end minefield. My advice was to “go great, or go late.” To go great meant to draft one of the three elite tight ends – Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, or George Kittle. The alternate was to wait until late in the draft and pick up a tight end you could quickly drop if he didn’t work out.

I took my own advice. I have Travis Kelce on one public league team and Darren Waller on another.  But I waited and took Jonnu Smith in the 12th round in my home league. Kelce has proved he was worth a first-round pick, averaging 22.3 PPR fantasy points in the first three games to lead all tight ends. Waller is No. 4, averaging 16.1 PPR fantasy points.

But what about Smith? He’s TE26, averaging 6.0 points in the first three games. Fortunately, I dropped him after the first week (when he had a respectable 9.8 points). Last week, he had one reception on six targets for 1.4 points. I liked Smith as a sleeper heading into the 2021, and he has averaged more than five targets per game. But he has just 74 yards and is yet to score.  

I’m actually considering streaming Smith this week because the Patriots are hosting the Buccaneers. This is the long-awaited return of Tom Brady to New England, and the defending Super Bowl champions are seven-point favorites. It’s a safe bet that the Patriots won’t be able to run on Tampa Bay (no one has yet). But opponents can pass on the Bucs, so that puts Smith in play.

At this point, no one can argue against taking Kelce, or Waller, in the first two rounds of the draft. Kittle, who was drafted in the second or third round, has also paid off marginally. He’s TE6, with 11.5 PPG.  There was some concern about Kittle after a dismal week 2 showing in Philadelphia, but he righted the ship last week, snaring 7-of-9 targets for 92 yards and 17.1 points.

So, if you don’t have Kelce, Waller, or Kittle, you might as well be streaming the position. I would actually recommend trading T.J. Hockenson, Mark Andrews, or Kyle Pitts now for what you can get. You should be able to get a good running back, or wide receiver, for Hockenson or even Andrews.  Both are sell-high players (although Hockenson was higher before the Baltimore game).   

Before you call the men in the white coats, let me remind you of something I mentioned in the preview column last month. Although Hockenson was TE9 last year, he only averaged 12.0 PPG. Andrews, who was TE15, averaged 10.6. Meanwhile, Smith, who was a waiver wire add during the regular season, was TE2 with 16.4 PPG. And what about Pitts? He’s simply the pits.  

If you took Pitts in the fifth round, you were betting on the come. That wasn’t the game of craps, it was just pure crap. I warned you against overpaying for an untried rookie, and now you are stuck with a depreciating asset. Everyone likes to buy low and sell high, but I would recommend you sell low here because the Atlanta offense is burning in a giant dumpster fire.

If you’re streaming the tight end position, you will be staring into the abyss each week. You’ll spend a lot of time and energy trying to decide what makes a tight end streamable. For me, it’s some mixture of matchups, projected target volume and the talent of the player and his quarterback. With targets at a premium, you want them to be good targets to a good receiver.

This week the buzz surrounds Dalton Schultz of Dallas and Tyler Conklin of Minnesota, who were both available on the waiver wire on Tuesday night. In most leagues, they still are. Schultz caught 6-of-7 targets for 80 yards and two touchdowns on Monday night, good for 26 points.  A day earlier, Conklin caught 7-of-8 targets for 70 yards and a touchdown, good for 20 points.

The problem with adding either of them is that they’ve only had one good game (so far). I’m not saying that neither Schultz, no Conklin, are breaking out. One, or both of them might be this year’s breakout. But if you add them this week, you’re chasing last week’s hero. Of course, if one of them goes off again this week, you will be getting in line for a chance to pick up said player.

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

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