There were not a ton of noteworthy fantasy performances by tight ends in Week 8. Then again, the New York Giants had a bye week. Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce earned the top spot in Week 8. He put up 19.3 fantasy points on Monday night, a feat arguably as impressive as going an entire game without being flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Kelce joins Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz as the top fantasy tight ends this season. The three are in a tier amongst themselves. They each have at least 500 yards and at least 80 fantasy points thus far this season. Among the big stories to come out of Week 8 is that Washington’s Jordan Reed left his game with a hamstring injury and is not expected to suit up in Week 9. Vernon Davis has actually outperformed Reed in fantasy to this point in the season and should see an even bigger piece of the pie as the featured tight end for the foreseeable future.
As was the case in Week 8, there are several tight ends who will be dealing with bye weeks in Week 9. Rob Gronkowski is the most prominent, of course. Kyle Rudolph and Hunter Henry have lived up to their draft stocks as top-12 tight ends this season, so their off weeks are also a problem for their owners. Unfortunately, owners of Zach Miller have bigger problems than the Chicago Bears’ Week 9 bye. Miller suffered an awful injury in Week 8 and will not only miss the rest of the season, but it’s certainly possible that his playing career is over as well. Here’s hoping Miller can recover and enjoy a happy and healthy life. For those who have tight ends on a bye week, the matchups should help when identifying potential pickups in advance of Week 9. Let’s see how this week’s matchups shake out.
Vernon Davis, Washington Redskins vs. Seattle Seahawks – Initially it felt strange to recommend Vernon Davis as a TE1 option this week due to his, shall we say, veteran status. But even though it feels like Davis has been around forever, he is actually two years younger than Jason Witten, who is currently the overall TE7 on the year. As I mentioned earlier, Davis was already the most productive fantasy tight end in Washington despite the presence of Jordan Reed. So, yes, Vernon Davis is certainly safe to plug into fantasy lineups this week. The Seattle Seahawks gave up a season-low two catches to tight ends in last week’s victory, but have been inconsistent against tight ends throughout the season. They have surrendered at least five catches and 58 yards to opposing tight ends in five of seven games this season. With Jordan Reed expected to sit and with Washington’s wide receivers continuing to struggle, Davis should be a significant part of the game plan. I expect Vernon Davis to be a TE1 in Week 9 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys vs. Kansas City Chiefs – The Kansas City Chiefs are a hard to figure out in terms of their defense against tight ends. They finally allowed their first touchdown to a tight end in garbage time of their Week 8 victory against the Denver Broncos. However, they’ve already allowed 546 receiving yards to tight ends, third-most in the league. They’ve permitted at least 100 yards to tight ends in three separate games this season. With Ezekiel Elliott finally (maybe?) beginning to serve his six-game suspension, Witten should see an uptick in targets. Even if he does not score a touchdown in this game, his volume is secure enough to make him worthy of a starting spot in this matchup. I expect Jason Witten to be a prominent figure in this matchup, and I believe he will be a top-10 tight end in Week 9.
Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans vs. Baltimore Ravens – Delanie Walker has been a solid but underwhelming fantasy tight end over the first half of the season. He is currently just the overall TE17 and still has not caught a touchdown pass in 2017. There is a decent chance, however, that Walker finally catches a touchdown in Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore has allowed six touchdown receptions to tight ends on the season, trailing only the New York Giants in that category. It does need to be noted that Walker left Tennessee’s Week 7 contest in a walking boot after suffering a bone bruise on his ankle. As long as Walker suits up, he should find himself in favorable positions against the Ravens. Walker is still tied for sixth among tight ends in receptions, so he has a pretty safe floor. I think that Delanie Walker will get into the end zone and finish as a top-eight tight end in Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints – Cameron Brate has arguably been the most consistent pass catcher (not just tight end) over the past month. He’s the only player in the NFL who has reached 60 yards receiving in each of the past five games. He’s also been an incredible value, as he was drafted very late in nearly every draft. This week’s date with the New Orleans Saints, however, represents a difficult spot for the Brate Train to keep rolling. The Saints are also on a roll, having won five straight games. The Saints’ recent hot streak is primarily because of the improved play of their defense, which has allowed just 16 points per game during their winning streak. Even that number is slightly inflated, as New Orleans led Detroit 45-10 halfway through the third quarter before letting their foot off the gas and allowing an additional 28 points. New Orleans has allowed an NFL-low 22 receptions to tight ends this season, and Rob Gronkowski is the only tight end to eclipse 30 receiving yards in a game against New Orleans in 2017. If you own Brate, you’re probably starting him regardless of matchup, but expecting Brate to post double-digit fantasy points this week might be asking a bit much.
Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers – Austin Hooper finished with 47 yards and a touchdown in Atlanta’s Week 8 against the New York Jets, finishing the week as the overall TE5. He’s also the overall TE11 on the season. However, he faces a difficult matchup in Week 9. Atlanta will face the Carolina Panthers. It’s Atlanta’s third consecutive road game, and strangely their first divisional game this year. This is noteworthy because all of Atlanta’s remaining opponents rank in the top half of the NFL in fantasy points allowed per game to tight ends. I wouldn’t bet on Hooper finishing the year (or Week 9) as a TE1. Carolina has done a good job limiting tight end production this year. The Panthers have allowed just two tight ends to exceed 30 yards on the season. Strangely enough, they have allowed two other tight ends to catch multiple touchdowns, but I wouldn’t bank on Hooper earning that distinction. I think Austin Hooper is going to fail to live up to his expectations in Week 9 and beyond.
Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers – Eric Ebron was one of my preseason picks to exceed his draft value at the tight end position. It, uh, hasn’t worked out. He’s averaged just “pi” (22/7) fantasy points per game on the year, with just 160 total yards and one touchdown. He did, however, have a season-high 58 yards in Detroit’s Week 8 loss to Pittsburgh. Optimistic owners may hope that Week 8 represents the beginning of an uptick in production, but I don’t see it bearing fruit in Week 9. Ebron and the Lions head to Green Bay to face the Packers on Monday night. Green Bay is the only team in the NFL that has not allowed a tight end to catch a touchdown yet this season. Considering Ebron’s poor touchdown rate throughout his career (just eight touchdown catches in 47 games), it’s unlikely he reaches the end zone in this game. Even with the tight end position quite a bit thinner this week, Eric Ebron is not worthy of a lineup spot in Week 9.
SLEEPER OF THE WEEK:
A.J. Derby, Denver Broncos at Philadelphia Eagles – Despite cringe-worthy play by Denver Broncos’ quarterback Trevor Siemian lately, Denver tight ends have managed to put up TE1 performances in three of their last four games. The primary beneficiary has been A.J. Derby, who has averaged 6.8 fantasy points per game during that stretch. Whether or not Siemian remains the starter in Week 9 is still to be determined, but the system has proven friendly for Broncos’ tight ends recently. This week, Denver travels to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. For as great as Philadelphia has been this season, they haven’t exactly stifled tight end production to this point in the year. They are tied with Baltimore, having allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to tight ends. They’ve also permitted 46 tight end receptions, second-most in the NFL. The probable return of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders may take away from Derby’s upside, but A.J. Derby still has the potential to finish Week 9 as a TE1 in this matchup.