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2020 Fantasy Football: Tight End Busts

Every year players don’t live up to their expectations, and this time we’re talking about 2020 tight end busts. A reminder that busts will be defined as players that will finish lower than their ADP or expectations. Last time we covered a few sleeper tight ends and you can read that here.

After the first handful of tight ends, there’s a large group from TE-6 to TE-20 that could move up or down depending on the matchup or situation. These three tight end busts finished 2019 with great stretches and some may have helped win fantasy leagues. However context matters and we can’t expect these players to produce like that again in 2020. Let’s take a look at three tight end busts and the reasons why.

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2020 Tight End Busts

Austin Hooper, TE, Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns rewarded Austin Hooper and made him one of the highest-paid tight ends with a four year, $42 million deal. In 13 games last season, Hooper finished with 97 targets, 75 receptions, 787 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. All were career highs for him in a pass-heavy offense with the Falcons averaging the most pass attempts per game last year. Now Hooper’s on the Browns that ranked 20th with 33.7 pass attempts per game.

Hooper ranked 7th in total fantasy points and 4th with 9.0 fantasy points per game. He also proved to be consistent last year. In 11 out of 13 weeks, he finished top-14 or better with seven weeks in the top-10. However, the available targets for the Browns are limited. According to a Rotoworld article, the Browns only have 64 available targets. Assuming Hooper received all 64 targets, that’s not enough for him to be productive unless there’s some extreme efficiency. 

Browns Tight End Production

Let’s also take a look at the Browns tight end production with Baker Mayfield the last two seasons. The Browns top tight ends in 2018 and 2019 were David Njoku and Ricky Seals-Jones. Here’s a look at their production, total fantasy points, and fantasy points per game.

David Njoku – 2018

  • Production: 88 targets, 56 receptions, 639 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns
  • Fantasy Points: 87.9 points (8th)
  • Fantasy Points Per Game: 5.5 points per game (15th)

Ricky Seals-Jones – 2019

  • Production: 22 targets, 14 receptions, 229 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns
  • Fantasy Points: 44.9 points (36th)
  • Fantasy Points Per Game: 3.2 points per game (39th)

The recent tight end production doesn’t inspire confidence in Hooper’s 2020 outlook, especially with the limited targets available. It’s hard to imagine Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and the running backs losing touches to Hooper.

Why’s Hooper a 2020 Tight End Bust?

Hooper has a Fantrax ADP of 86 as the 9th tight end drafted. It’s hard to imagine Hooper providing 2019 production in 2020 due to the low volume passing game and lack of available targets. The Browns hired Kevin Stefanski, former Vikings’ offensive coordinator, as their head coach. Last year the Vikings threw the third fewest pass attempts per game. With that said, Hooper’s a 2020 tight end bust. Look to draft tight ends in better situations with more available targets and opportunities. 

Tyler Higbee, TE, Los Angeles Rams

Now let’s look at one of the most talked about tight ends who finished 2019 on a tear. Tyler Higbee ended with 89 targets, 69 receptions, 734 receiving yards, and three total touchdowns. That’s more receptions and receiving yards than he received from 2016-2018.

If we look at the game logs, we see the majority of his production came in weeks 13-17 when he received 64 targets, 47 receptions, 522 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. The bump in targets and production came when teammate Gerald Everett suffered an injury. First, let’s look at Higbee’s and Everett’s average targets and fantasy points when they were both on the field in weeks 1-12.

Average Targets & Fantasy Points Per Game

Everett’s Avg. Targets Everett’s Avg. Points Higbee’s Avg. Targets Higbee’s Avg. Points
Weeks 1-12 5.45 targets/game 8.16 fantasy points/game 3.67 targets/game 5.18 fantasy points/game

When both tight ends were on the field, we can see Everett received more targets and fantasy points through week 12. In week 12, Everett suffered an injury and didn’t return until week 16. Next let’s look at Higbee’s production without Everett. More importantly, we’ll note the team defenses against tight ends during this amazing stretch. 

Weak Defenses Against Tight Ends

Defense vs. TE Fantasy Points Allowed to TE Higbee’s Fantasy Points
Week 13 – Arizona Cardinals Last 13.1  23.7
Week 14 – Seattle Seahawks 3rd worst 9.0 18.6
Week 15 – Dallas Cowboys 7th worst 8.6 23.1
Week 16 – San Francisco 49ers 5th best 5.6 19.4
Week 17 – Arizona Cardinals Last 13.1 22.4

Not surprisingly, Higbee played well without Everett in the lineup. In four out of the five weeks, they faced some of the worst defenses in terms of fantasy points per game allowed to tight ends. Higbee also performed well against a tough defense in the 49ers. Was it the weak defenses, Everett missing, or a combination of factors? 

Average Snaps & Routes

Both tight ends were healthy in weeks 1-12. During that time, both shared snaps and Everett received the majority. In addition, Everett ran more routes than Higbee in that timeframe. 

Everett’s Avg. Snaps Higbee’s Avg. Snaps Everett’s Avg. Routes Higbee’s Avg. Routes
Weeks 1-12  39.6 snaps/game 35.4 snaps/game  20.6 routes/game  9.8 routes/game 

When looking at game logs and the raw totals of snaps and routes, Everett received most of the snaps and routes up to week 10. Around this time, Everett suffered an injury and the Rams switched to more 12-personnel.

From week 11 on, the Rams switched from 11-personnel to 12-personnel. This means they went from having one tight end and three wide receivers (11-personnel) to two tight ends and two wide receivers on the field (12-personnel). According to Sharp Football Stats, their 11-personnel jumped from 10% in weeks 1-10 to 34% in weeks 12-17. 

Why’s Higbee a 2020 Tight End Bust?

In summary, several questions pop up this offseason. Will the Rams continue to play more 12-personnel in 2020? Does a third wide receiver play more with Brandin Cooks gone? Do the Rams play both Everett and Higbee with Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods being the main two receivers? Can Higbee replicate his finish in 2020 or does Everett take away targets now that he’s healthy?

Let’s first note the Rams paid Higbee last September with a four-year, $29-million deal, so they’re committed to him. Yet when healthy, Everett’s surpassed Higbee in snaps, routes, and targets. So how can we expect Higbee to continue the fantasy run again in 2020? The Rams ranked 3rd with 39.5 pass attempts per game and they have 126 available targets, but I’m skeptical about Higbee’s target share. Higbee’s the 8th tight end drafted with a Fantrax ADP of 75, and that’s drafting him at his ceiling. With so many questions, he’s a 2020 tight end bust. I’d rather wait on Hayden Hurst or Jonnu Smith. 

Jared Cook, TE, New Orleans Saints

Veteran Jared Cook racked up a career-high, nine touchdowns last year that helped vault him up the tight end rankings. Last year, Cook ended with 65 targets, 43 receptions, 705 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. He finished 8th in receiving yards and 2nd in touchdowns amongst tight ends. Additionally, he ranked first in yards per reception and yards per target. Cook’s efficiency with the 16th most targets and a 20.9% touchdown rate doesn’t appear to be sustainable. 

Touchdown Rate & Efficiency

Now let’s look at Cook’s crazy high touchdown rate. Last season, Cook ranked 6th in total fantasy points and 5th in fantasy points per game. That might seem great for a tight end receiving targets from Brees, but he’s extremely touchdown dependent with limited receptions. During 10 games last year Cook finished in the top-12 amongst tight ends. In those 10 games, he received all nine of his touchdowns and averaged 3.5 catches per game. Do you think he can repeat that extreme efficiency in 2020? 

Why’s Cook a 2020 Tight End Bust?

Cook’s the 10th tight end drafted with a Fantrax ADP of 96. Let’s also note the Saints added Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason and he’ll likely take away targets. Most importantly, the concerns surround his efficiency with the targets and catches paired with the touchdown rate. Cook’s a 2020 tight end bust that I’m avoiding in all leagues unless it’s a super deep tight end premium league.

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