NFL Free Agency Analysis: Dynasty Buys at Tight End
With the Buccaneers having claimed the title of Super Bowl champions, the 2020 NFL season has officially concluded. Savvy dynasty GMs should begin planning ahead, as the 2021 NFL league year will begin soon on March 17th.
When free agency opens up, teams re-signing players to new contracts or declining to do so will create a flurry of musical chairs with immediate impacts to players’ dynasty values. The salary cap has generally increased year over year, but with the COVID pandemic, it’s expected to decrease from 2020 to 2021 to around $181 million. And as always, unforeseen trades are sure to occur.
Here are a few dynasty buys at wide receiver to target in trades right now based on their team’s pending free agents, but be aware that these are all calculated gambles at this point in the offseason, so keep the price point in mind. ADP data used is courtesy of Dynasty League Football as of January 2021.
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Dynasty Buys at Tight End
T.J. Hockenson – TE5 – 60th overall
While the prospect of Jared Goff as the new starting quarterback in Detroit might scare some dynasty GMs who have T.J. Hockenson on their roster, it shouldn’t. With Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola all pending free agents, there’s a possibility that Hockenson could lead the Lions in targets next season. And in 2020 with the Rams, Goff targeted a tight end on 21 percent of his pass attempts, whereas Hockenson logged a 17 percent target share in Detroit last season.
Even with the Lions expected to add some depth at wide receiver via either free agency or the draft, Hockenson could see a career-high in targets in 2021. In PPR scoring, and particular in tight end premium leagues, Hockenson is a buy-high worth targeting, as him finishing as the top fantasy tight end next year isn’t out of the realm of possibility. He’ll be among the more expensive dynasty buys, costing a first-round rookie pick at minimum, but Hockenson could be worth far more a year from now.
Jonnu Smith – TE13 – 123rd overall
Measuring in at 6’3 and 250 lbs., Jonnu Smith is one of the most athletic players at the tight end position, having run a 4.62 40-yard dash despite his size and having tested in the 93rd percentile for vertical jump and 95th percentile for broad jump. In fact, this past year, Smith’s 5.8 yards after the catch per reception ranked fifth among tight ends, ahead of other elite receiving tight ends like Travis Kelce and Darren Waller.
The difference was that Smith saw just 65 targets, and even that was a career-high for him! Prior to 2020, Smith had never eclipsed 44 targets in a season. With Smith slated to hit free agency, whatever happens will likely be a win for his fantasy value going forward. The likelihood of him leaving Tennessee is fairly high given their salary cap situation, in which case he could finally see significant target volume. And on the off chance that he stays a Titan, that probably means that Corey Davis is gone, which still vaults Smith into the no. 2 receiver role. Smith should be a priority target to acquire in dynasty trades right now at the price of an early second-round rookie pick or less.
Donald Parham – TE31 – 235th overall
The third-year tight end bounced around some practice squads and flashed in the XFL before landing with the Chargers last year. Like Smith, Donald Parham is an athletic marvel, and though he played limited snaps behind Hunter Henry in 2020, he averaged 5.6 yards after contact per reception, tying Kelce. And when Henry missed the final two games of the season after being placed on the COVID reserve list, Parham showed some chemistry with Justin Herbert, catching five of his seven targets over that span for 84 yards and a touchdown.
If Henry were to part ways with the Chargers this offseason, Parham would likely be the incumbent starter heading into 2021. While his blocking prowess is still to be determined, potentially limiting his snaps, Parham’s abilities as a receiver could still make him productive from a fantasy standpoint. He shouldn’t cost more than a third or fourth-round rookie pick, but a top-12 fantasy finish at his position isn’t out of the question. Given his inexpensive price, Parham is among the best dynasty buys at tight end considering his upside.
Mo Alie-Cox – TE38 – 272nd overall
It’s honestly quite baffling as to why the Colts continued to utilize Trey Burton and Jack Doyle over Mo Alie-Cox for the duration of the 2020 season when Alie-Cox was clearly the best playmaker among the group. He averaged 12.7 yards per reception this past year, which ranked seventh-best among all tight ends. And per Pro Football Focus, only five tight ends averaged two or more yards per route run in 2020: George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, Mark Andrews, and…Alie-Cox.
Burton is an unrestricted free agent, Alie-Cox is a restricted free agent, and the Colts could save over $4 million if they were to cut Doyle. There’s a path to the starting tight end role in Indianapolis for Alie-Cox, and he’d have a high fantasy ceiling with Carson Wentz now the Colts’ starting quarterback, but Alie-Cox could also excel as the starter elsewhere. In particular, the Eagles are an intriguing potential landing spot with Zach Ertz a cut candidate and given the fact that their current head coach, Nick Sirianni, and tight ends coach, Jason Michael, were both with the Colts last year. Alie-Cox has back-end TE1 potential next year but will cost just a third-round rookie pick or less right now to acquire.
Anthony Firkser – TE41 – 283rd overall
We already discussed the looming possibility of Jonnu Smith leaving Tennessee above, and if so, then another option for the Titans could be to retain Anthony Firkser, who is a restricted free agent. It’ll be interesting to see how Tennessee chooses to prioritize their free agent tight ends, if at all, with new offensive coordinator Todd Downing previously having served as the tight ends coach for the Titans.
There is concern that Firkser’s inadequacies as a blocker will continue to limit his snaps whether in Tennessee or elsewhere, and he’s nothing special from an athletic standpoint. However, when Smith exited the Week 6 game against Houston early with an ankle injury, we saw Firkser stand out as a reliable receiver in a shootout game script, logging eight catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Firkser is among the cheapest dynasty buys at tight end, and while he may never be a true difference-maker at the position in fantasy, he’s basically free right now to acquire and has high-end TE2 upside.
Cameron Brate was productive in a few games for Tampa Bay this past year. With Rob Gronkowski, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown all pending free agents, there’s a chance that Brate could step into a role with more targets next season. There’s also the possibility that Brate will become a cap casualty with the Buccaneers prioritizing other signings and becomes another team’s primary tight end. And though it’s likely that the Packers will retain restricted free agent Robert Tonyan, there is a small chance that they don’t depending on the tender. Jace Sternberger is practically free right now and could possibly see a large spike in value in the event that Tonyan were to leave Green Bay.
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