• Pat Opperman

Are we drafting tight ends a bit early?

For most of my NFL Fantasy life, I’ve laughed at folks who wasted a third or fourth round pick on a tight end, and that was before Gronk retired.


Tight ends on my roster typically land there after my bench is more than half-filled. I never get the top two or three guys, and after that, it’s a crapshoot anyway.


It usually works out for me, albeit with some fancy streaming.


This season, people are crazy over tight ends. As best we can tell, there are three top-tier guys going before the third round. Then a whole bunch of others falling off the board in the fourth through sixth rounds.


That seems ridiculously high, but you don’t want to be stuck with any of the other guys… or do you?


Here are some quick thoughts on the current top-12 tight ends (by ADP) so far this year, plus a few bonus sleepers.


CREAM OF THE CROP:


Travis Kelce is the only tight end we have no reservations about. He led the standard and PPR leagues comfortably last year, even after scaring us with a zero-point effort on opening day. There is a chance Pat Mahomes will be even more dependent on him this season. His point differential against most tight ends make him worth an early pick.


Zach Ertz and George Kittle are also flying off the board in the second or third rounds. We don’t blame anyone for that as there was a discernible drop-off in points after the top three last season. But we have some concerns.


We all love Kittle. He could be Gronk-West for a long time. But he has a creative offensive coordinator/coach who is dying to show his real offense- something he couldn’t do last year when almost every rusher and wide receiver wound up hurt. Kittle is still a top-three pick, but maybe a round or three later?


Similarly, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor were Philadelphia’s only receivers with two good legs much of last season, and Agholor had a tough time of things. This year, DeSean Jackson joins a healthy slate of receivers. Ertz might lose a few targets to Dallas Goeddert, too. I still think he’s in the top three, but he won’t be on my team unless he’s still there in the fifth round.

THE MIDDLE PACK


OJ Howard (ADP-TE4) had a fine season a year ago, highlighted by a pair of wide open 50-plus yard touchdowns. A new offense brings a risk of role changes, but word from Tampa Bay is Bruce Arians will make Howard the premier tight end over Jameis Winston’s favorite red zone target, Cameron Brate. Could work out, but not until the 6th round.


Evan Engram is getting some shade because of the Giants’ quarterback situation. They will go with either a kangaroo-armed old guy or a raw rookie. The rookie looks good, but he throws the deep ball a lot. Engram might get off to a hot start with Eli Manning looking for escape passes and Golden Tate on suspension. After that, we’re not so sure he worth taking until late in the 7th.


We are glad to see Hunter Henry getting some love as the ADP-6. If he is healthy enough to run and make cuts, he is good enough to be the TE-4 ahead of Howard and Engram.


Jared Cook finally had a good season in Oakland. Now he goes to an offensive machine with a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback. But Drew Brees threw fewer passes last season than any other in his career. New Orleans came within a blown pass-interference call of going to the Super Bowl by running an awful lot. Are we sure Cook will see the 101 targets he got from Derek Carr? Ben Watson saw 46 last year. I’m betting Cook disappoints- though not through any fault of his own.


Jesse James and Antonio Brown are out of the picture, so it makes sense Vance McDonald will become a major factor in the Steeler’s offense, right? Vance’s 2017 playoff performance was supposed to make him a big part last season, too. We think McDonald will have a nice year, slightly ahead of last season’s 6 standard points and 10 PPR points per game. But that’s not enough to warrant using a fifth round pick.


Eric Ebron was the fourth highest scorer overall in both standard and PPR leagues last season. Now, he is being drafted in the ninth position, and there are pundits who think that is too high. Ebron had an insane touchdown: receptions ratio last season and is bound to regress closer to norms. Jack Doyle is healthy and a favorite target of Andrew Luck. But there are two tight ends on the field a lot in Indy. Luck spreads the wealth and Ebron has a nose for the end zone. He’s worth a risk, but way lower than the fifth round he is currently going at.


Poor Man’s Tight Ends?


Cleveland’s David Njoku could benefit from the phenomenon that is Baker Mayfield. Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry will command a lot of targets, but after that, there is no strong number three. Nick Chubb will see his fair share, but with a defense that can get the ball back quickly, Cleveland could have enough plays to finally push Njoku past the “potential” label and into a top tight end. Or maybe not.


Trey Burton was the big gamble last season. He finished with a pedestrian 6/9 standard/PPR points per game average, but he wasn’t even that good. He disappeared for more games than not. But, he is still getting picked up as a borderline TE-1 for some reason.


Delanie Walker is back. If he can stay healthy, he will be a main target of Marcus Mariota. On the other hand, if Ryan Tannehill wins the quarterback job in Tennessee, all bets are off. When Walker did play last season, he averaged less points per game than Burton.


Tight End Sleepers


If both Jack Doyle and Andrew Luck are healthy, then Doyle is worth a late round pick up. Jacoby Brissett tilts the equation toward Ebron.


Austin Hooper is being talked about as a sleeper, but he is awfully uneven. He had five top-6 weeks last season and was nothing better than TE-14 in the other weeks.


We are cautiously optimistic about the Jets’ Chris Herndon. He did a nice job in the second half of last season, picking up six top-ten scoring weeks. With a full off-season to work with Sam Darnold, he could be ready for more appearances near the top. But be careful, because… the Jets.


There is one guy we are very intrigued by. Remember those 101 targets Derek Carr threw to Jared Cook? Oakland sports writers are raving about Darren Waller. He is tall, strong, fast, quick, and apparently he is catching anything thrown his way this preseason.


He is not a rookie, but in a few seasons of work, he has almost as many games played as targets. He did receive a whopping three in one game last season. He caught all three. He’s the guy in Oakland. That could mean more this year than last.

There you go!


Of course, no matter how good a pick looks, it might let you down. Inconsistency and injuries seem to be the tight ends’ mantra.


In fact, here’s an interesting tidbit for you to dwell on as you head into your NFL Fantasy draft: Over the course of Week 15 and 16 last year, the peak of NFL Fantasy Playoff season, only two players were among the top 12 scorers in both weeks. (Engram- 1 & 4; and Herndon 11 & 3)


Kelce finished 4th and 16th. Ertz was the TE-24 before charging back to be the TE-1 in Week 16. Kittle was the TE-13 and 9. Eric Ebron fell of the earth with TE-45 and TE-22 efforts in the playoff weeks.


So… are you sure you don’t want a flex runner or your WR-3 before you grab a tight end?

Pat Opperman, freelance writer, and BABY KNOWS ... are registered
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