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Fantasy Football Overvalued and Undervalued: Tight Ends

Tight ends are sort of like quarterbacks for fantasy purposes. You need to start only one tight end each week, and you likely won’t need to draft more than that. The difference is that tight ends are inherently riskier than quarterbacks. The odds of Rob Gronkowski playing in all 16 games in a given season are far less than those of Aaron Rodgers doing so. So if you feel the need to draft a backup tight end, I suppose I won’t kill you for it. I would suggest drafting a single tight end and just picking up the best one available based on matchup during your guy’s bye week. In Fantrax Classic Draft standard leagues, you’re rarely going to use a tight end in the Flex spot. Last season, 13 tight ends averaged at least seven fantasy points per game, with Gronkowski leading the way at exactly nine points per game. This compares quite unfavorably to the 48 wide receivers and 38 running backs who hit those averages. Below are some tight ends who I believe will either exceed expectations or disappoint fantasy owners based on their Average Draft Position (ADP). Choose wisely. This week we’re tweaking the ADP numbers a bit, as we’re going with our very own ADP data!

Last season, Los Angeles Chargers’ (nope, still doesn’t sound right) tight ends combined for 148 targets, 91 catches, 1,051 receiving yards and fifteen touchdowns. That is a massive workload. Unfortunately, when you draft Hunter Henry, you’re not drafting “Chargers’ tight ends.” You’re drafting Henry. That’s not to denigrate Henry himself. Henry had a very impactful fantasy season, particularly considering his status as a rookie. He tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdown receptions, proving to be a valuable asset in the red zone for Philip Rivers. However, Henry still finished only 11th among tight ends in both total fantasy points and fantasy points per game. Henry was targeted on only 9.3% of Chargers’ passes last season. For reference, Kyle Rudolph was targeted on 22.4% of Vikings’ passes in 2016. Henry was sixth on his own team in targets, trailing Melvin Gordon among others. In fact, Henry received only 36.5% of tight end targets in the Chargers’ offense, as Antonio Gates easily outpaced him in that category. Henry eclipsed the 20-yard mark in a paltry six games last season, including the two games Gates missed. That’s the same number of 20-yard games as Dion Sims. Let’s also not forget that Keenan Allen is back this season, and he will demand a lot of targets as well. I do expect Henry to overtake Gates as the Chargers’ best tight end in 2017, but I’m not convinced he’s an every-week fantasy starter quite yet.

O.J. HOWARD – OVERVALUED (10.03, 12)
I just mentioned that Hunter Henry tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdowns a season ago. Care to guess who he was tied with? If you guessed Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed, or Jimmy Graham, you’d be wrong. The answer is Cameron Brate. Brate also had 50% more targets than Henry last season. This isn’t to advocate for Brate – yet – as much as it is to say that people are going a little too crazy with the O.J. Howard love. Brate’s still there and is a significant part of Tampa Bay’s offense. As are Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Adam Humphries. This is not to suggest that Howard will spend 2017 on the sidelines. He was drafted in the first round out of Alabama for a reason, and he will certainly have a role in the Buccaneers’ offense. But I can’t trust him as a fantasy starter right out of the gate. Only seven rookie tight ends in NFL history have had at least 600 receiving yards, and I do not expect O.J. Howard to become the eighth. Even if he does, that doesn’t necessarily make him a fantasy starter. There were 14 other tight ends in the NFL with at least 600 yards last season. And that doesn’t include Rob Gronkowski or Tyler Eifert. Howard is being drafted at his absolute ceiling, and that is not a price I’m willing to pay. In fact, I’d take all of the following tight ends ahead of Howard all day long and twice on Sunday, which is good since most NFL games are still played on Sunday.

Eric Ebron joined the NFL to much fanfare in 2014 after being drafted in the first round of that year’s NFL Draft. He failed to live up to expectations, accumulating only 248 receiving yards and one touchdown during his rookie campaign. His yardage numbers have steadily improved since then, culminating in last season’s total of 711 receiving yards, good for eighth among tight ends in the NFL in total yards and seventh in yards per game. From a fantasy standpoint, Ebron’s Achilles heel has been the end zone. Ebron has hit pay dirt just seven times in 40 games over his three-year NFL career. However, he is a consistent target of Matthew Stafford. Ebron has been targeted at least five times in 18 of his last 20 regular season games, including 12 of 13 last year. Furthermore, the loss of Anquan Boldin leaves some extra targets available, particularly in the red zone. Boldin finished third in the NFL last season with 22 red zone targets, turning six of them into touchdowns. Ebron doesn’t need to have much of that trickle down to him to exceed value this season. Despite missing three games and catching just one touchdown last season, Ebron finished just one touchdown shy of a top-12 fantasy season in terms of total fantasy points. Ebron simply needs to stay on the field in order to become a top-10 fantasy tight end in 2017.

[the_ad id=”384″]I owned Coby Fleener last season and was not happy with him at all. He just seemed to disappoint week in and week out. I didn’t expect him to necessarily be the prolific fantasy asset that Jimmy Graham had proven to be alongside Drew Brees, but I figured he’d at least be Ben Watson. As you may recall, Watson had pretty much been a journeyman throughout most of his career before becoming the Saints’ top option at tight end in 2015 following Graham’s trade to Seattle. Watson set or tied career highs in every statistical category that season, totaling 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns. This was a baseline for what many believed Fleener would provide. Instead, we got 50 catches for 631 yards and three touchdowns. Dreck. However, if we look at the bright side, there’s a buying opportunity here. First, despite the bad year, Fleener did finish as the overall TE13 in standard scoring. So even at his (hopefully) worst, he was a serviceable fantasy tight end. Second, Brandin Cooks is no longer in New Orleans. Though Fleener doesn’t stand to inherit a majority of Cooks’ looks, any increase would obviously be beneficial. Drew Brees targeted his No. 1 tight end a minimum of 110 times in each season from 2011-2015. Last season Fleener saw just 82 targets. If he can approach 100 targets in 2017, Coby Fleener should be a borderline starter in fantasy leagues and easily exceed his current ADP.

I was hesitant to put Brate in this space since I mentioned him when discussing my relative dislike for O.J. Howard. That was until I saw his ADP. TWENTY-FOUR?! Really? Brate finished sixth in fantasy scoring among tight ends last year, and now he’s going twenty-fourth? Fantasy owners are going too far with the O.J. Howard love and even further with the Cameron Brate hate. Brate was one of the best red-zone weapons in the entire NFL last season. When targeted in the red zone in 2016, Brate caught 10 of 14 passes with eight touchdowns. Only Jordy Nelson caught more touchdowns in the red zone than Brate. Another thing for the Brate haters (Braters?) to consider is that even if O.J. Howard lives up to what I personally consider to be unrealistic expectations this season, that doesn’t necessarily take away from Brate. Sure, his target share may decrease a bit with the additions of Howard and DeSean Jackson. However, Brate led all tight ends last season in routes from the slot:

Given Howard’s prowess as a blocker, it’s likely that he could see more time as an in-line blocker in two tight end sets with Brate playing more of the receiving role, particularly early in the year. While I don’t see another top-six fantasy performance out of Brate this season, there is no way (barring injury, of course) that he finishes outside of the top-20 in fantasy scoring among tight ends.


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