Today we continue with June fantasy draft prep by jumping in to the tight end tiers.
Tier-based drafting has been a strategy I have employed with success, both in redraft and keeper leagues. It helps to develop clear gaps between the value of two players and as you go down the tiers, these gaps materialize. Using a straight list makes it difficult to establish player value relevant to your current pick when in the draft room. Tier-based drafting helps to eliminate confusion and develop a clear vision for getting the most value out of your selections. Here I will dive into the tight end tiers for fantasy purposes.
Tight End Tier 1: George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz
Like the running back position, there are no surprises among the Tier 1 tight ends with these three clearly ahead of the field. George Kittle is coming off an historic 2018 which saw him go 88/1377/5 and yet he still feels undervalued. The return of Jimmy Garrapolo and the emergence of some other weapons in the passing game will provide help from a matchup standpoint. There should be positive touchdown regression coming as well so while the yardage might normalize, the former Hawkeye has a rock solid floor/ceiling combo.
Playing with Pat Mahomes in Kansas City has boosted Travis Kelce’s numbers as he posted his first 100-catch season in 2018. He should once again receive 150+ targets and with Tyreke Hill’s status in limbo, Kelce enters the year with the highest ceiling of any tight end. I think there is a legitimate chance that if Hill misses time, Kelce could lead the NFL in receptions and touchdowns this season.
Speaking of receptions, Zach Ertz ended 2018 with 116 catches which ranked second in the NFL behind Michael Thomas. Ertz was the only player on the Eagles to have 100 or more targets last year and had an incredible 59 more than Nelson Algohor, who was second on the team. With the upgrade at quarterback from Nick Foles to Carson Wentz, Ertz will continue to be a target hog.
Tight End Tier 2: Evan Engram, OJ Howard
Only five tight ends garnered more than 100 targets last year, with Kittle, Kelce, and Ertz being three of them so the drop out of Tier 1 is precipitous. All is not lost if you miss out on drafting one of them but it becomes a question of risk and reward. I am higher on Evan Engram than most because the departure of Odell Beckham Jr. opens up a ton of opportunity within the Giants’ passing game. Engram finished 2018 on a tear with 22 catches for 340 yards and a touchdown over his last four games.
Bruce Arians arrival in Tampa should mean more attempts for Jameis Winston. OJ Howard becomes a prime beneficiary after posting back-t0-back seasons of 16.6 YPC with the growth for more. Under Arians, the Cardinals posted two seasons with an average of more than 10 air yards per attempts. Arians has never had a tight end weapon in the mold of Howard, who is a great downfield threat. The former Alabama product has the potential to make a giant leap statistically this season.
Tight End Tier 3: Jared Cook, Hunter Henry, David Njoku, Austin Hooper, Mark Andrews
In signing with New Orleans, Jared Cook presents an intriguing case for 2019. On one hand, he is coming off a career year where he was targeted 101 times and caught 68 passes for 869 yards. Playing with Drew Brees on an offense that was 3rd in the league in points per game theoretically gives Cook the chance to increase his production. But he is 32 and will likely be no better than the third option in the passing game behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. It is unreasonable to believe he will approach the same number of targets he had in 2018 so with Cook you are banking on a boost in efficiency. Replicating his 2018 will be difficult so temper expectations.
After tearing his ACL in May of 2018, Hunter Henry returns to a loaded Chargers offense. Despite having plenty of weapons in the passing game, Philip Rivers attempted just 507 passes last fall. Given that plus the presence of Keenan Allen and the emergence of Mike Williams, I have some concerns about Henry’s market share. However, Tyrell William’s departure opens up 65 targets and if Henry can be deployed as a Red Zone weapon he will almost assuredly finish in the top-10 at the position.
The Cleveland Browns hype train has left the station and for good reason. Offseason additions aside, the continued improvement of David Njoku, who had a nice little breakout in his sophomore season, should be garnering more attention. He was second on the team in targets (88), receptions (56), yards (639), and touchdowns (4) in 2018. Like Hunter Henry, there are some target share concerns here as the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. is sure to soak up a lot of Baker Mayfield‘s attention. The difference I see is that the Browns offense should ascend to the top-10 of the NFL which should mean more efficiency, yards, and scoring. Even with the addition of Beckham Jr., Njoku is a draft day bargain based on the value relative to his cost.
I am not the giver of hot takes, but my first tight end cheat code for this year is Austin Hooper. Right now he is falling outside the top-100 in most drafts which seems egregious. If you miss out on one of the Big 3 at the position, I think the draft strategy that makes the most sense is to wait until Round 8 or 9 and grab Hooper at the discount. Last year, Hooper ranked 4th among tight ends in receptions and was 7th in targets and yards. The Falcons offense will thrive in a wide open NFC South, making Hooper one of the best draft values available this year.
Surprisingly, Mark Andrews might be the biggest buy on this list for me and is my second cheat code. Hayden Hurst is looking iffy for the start of camp and Andrews is coming off a quietly successful rookie year with 34 receptions for 552 yards and 3 TDs. That is an eye-popping 16.2 YPC for the former Oklahoma Sooner and his current ADP is in the 170 range. Next year at this time we could be talking about Andrews being a top-5 player at the position.
Tight End Tier 4: Eric Ebron, Vance McDonald, Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton, TJ Hockenson
This tier has one guy I will not be targeting in Eric Ebron. Ebron helped a lot of owners to a fantasy title last year but he did it with what was likely an unsustainable touchdown rate. If you dig into Ebron’s stat line, his 2018 numbers are pretty much in line with his historical averages. Nothing pops off the page for receptions, yardage, or yards per catch. With Jack Doyle and Mo Allie-Cox on the Colts roster, I don’t trust him and he is being overdrafted.
Assuming they stay healthy, Vance McDonald and Trey Burton could both return terrific value. McDonald will be part of a Steelers offense that has to replace Antonio Brown which should mean uptick on the 72 targets he received in 2018. He also has the ability to do this. Burton was finally able to start all 16 games last year and thrived in Matt Nagy’s offense to the tune of 54/569/6. My concern with Burton is the uneven play of quarterback Mitch Trubisky but with an ADP of 128.1, you can do worse in the 10th Round.
I have seen some love for Jimmy Graham to have some sort of late-career renaissance and I don’t see it. He turns 33 in November and while his target share should be stable, his Red Zone efficiency took a massive hit in Green Bay. I will probably have zero shares of Graham this fall.
In time, TJ Hockenson is going to be a really good tight end but banking on fantasy production in 2019 is a risky investment. Since 2000, there have only been 11 rookie tight ends to eclipse 500 yards receiving with two of those coming last year. Could Hockenson be the 12th? That’s a complicated question that only Matt Patricia and Darrell Bevell can answer. Good luck solving that riddle.
Tight End Tier 5: Chris Herndon, Dallas Goedert, Noah Fant, Mike Gesicki
This is the tier with youth that has potential. In most redraft leagues these guys will go undrafted but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a couple of these names in the top-10 at the position by the end of the year. For dynasty leagues, Mike Gesicki is coming in at a nice discount. He is probably my highest owned tight end. Dallas Goedert is just a Zach Ertz injury away from being viable across every format and he carries some standalone value as well.
The Broncos haven’t had a true receiving threat at tight end since Julius Thomas but that is exactly what Noah Fant gives them. His 2019 outlook is less certain than even Hockenson’s but in Dynasty Leagues he is obviously a hot commodity. Chris Herndon had flashes in 2018 as he came away with a 39/502/4 stat line. With Sam Darnold coming into his 2nd season, Herndon’s fantasy arrow is pointing straight up.
Tier 6: Jace Sternberger, Irv Smith, Jr., Dawson Knox, Matt LaCosse, Darren Waller
For Dynasty Leagues, this tier is juicy with some interesting names. Matt LaCosse and Darren Waller are late-round dart throws who are in good spots to produce. Jace Sternberger, Irv Smith Jr., and Dawson Knox are rookies who may be a year or two away from being fantasy relevant.
Tier 7: Delanie Walker, Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen, Jack Doyle, Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert
This is the tier of the walking wounded. I would be higher on Delanie Walker but he is 35. Walker is also coming off a gruesome ankle injury which caps his cieling. Jordan Reed would be a top-8 tight end if he could stay healthy. We all know there is no chance of that happening. Personally, I am steering clear of this tier unless its a best ball format.
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