Target Analysis Breakdown: Tight Ends
- Martellus Bennett CHI: Bennett is going to be a hot name at TE this year in the fantasy world, and for good reason. Bennett set career marks in receptions (90), yards (916), and touchdowns (6) in 2014. It was the second straight year he set career marks in all 3 categories. Bennett was 1 of 5 TEs to score 200+ points (PPR) last year when he posted 217. 6th place (Travis Kelce) scored 177 points, 40 less. That’s 2.5 points per week which, all you fantasy junkies know, could be the difference between victory and defeat at least once a season. With Brandon Marshall gone I expect Bennett to set news highs in targets and catches in 2015 with that 100-catch* mountain being realistically attainable.
- Rob Gronkowski NE: Since coming into the league Gronk has finished the year as a TE1 in 4 of 5 seasons. He played just 7 games in 2013 but still averaged 17.5 PPG, 2nd best among tight ends that year. He’s caught double-digit TDs in 4 of 5 seasons (again 2013 being the year he didn’t). Even with the time Brady will miss (4 games currently, but the appeal process could drop that number down) Gronk will still post his stellar numbers. I mean who do inexperienced NFL quarterbacks target when their in trouble? The old safety valve tight end. Gronk has averaged over 18 ppg the last four years, and 2015 will be no different.
- Jimmy Graham NO (SEA): Last year Jimmy Graham’s stat line read: 85-889-10. Good enough to finish 3rd among TEs when the year closed out. Oh and those numbers were his worst (other than TDs) since his rookie season in 2010. Now Graham is in Seattle there is debate as to wether he will post his usual Graham-esque numbers. I say he does, and then some. I get Seattle may not have thrown as much as New Orelans the last few years**, but Russell Wilson was never given a target like Jimmy. Graham has had more yards each year since 2011 than Seattle’s leading receiver. Graham has had two 1000-yard seasons over the past 4 years, no Seahawks wide receiver has hit 900 in a season. He will be just fine in Seattle.
- Greg Olsen CAR: In 2014 Olsen had his 3rd straight season with 100+ targets while managing to hit 1000+ yards (1008) for the first time in his career. He actually tied for the team high in receiving yards with rookie wide out Kelvin Benjamin, but Olsen was able to reel in 11 more passes on 21 fewer targets. Olsen has played all 16 games every year since 2008, and has had 5 or more touchdowns each year over that same time span. Olsen has finished in the top 7 among TEs (PPR) each of the last 3 seasons. Even with the drafting of Devin Funchess to pair with Benjamin, Greg Olsen will still be one of Cam’s top 2 targets in 2015.
- Delanie Walker TEN: His 2 seasons in Tennessee Walker has averaged 61 catches for 730 yards and 5TDs. He’s averaged double-digit points (11) each game with the Titans while finishing as a TE1 in PPR scoring both seasons as well. Here’s who’s been passing to him since his days in Nashville: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Charlie Whitehurst, and Zach Mettenburger. What a rag-tag bunch. They sound like the beginning of a bad joke … so four quarterbacks walk into a bar; the biggest bust out of the state of Washington since Ryan Leaf, an Ivy-league journeymen, a career back-up, and a rookie with injury problems … but once again enter a rookie QB. Mariota will definitely target Walker like most rookies do tight ends, and somehow Mariota could be the best QB Walker has played with in Tennessee. If Walker stays healthy he’s going to be a steal on draft day yet again.
- Antonio Gates SD: Gates had himself a resurgence of sorts last year. After averaging 174 points per year (PPR) from 2010-2013, Gates posted 223 points his most since 2009 and 4th most of his 12 year career. His 12 touchdowns last year was the first time he posted double-digit scores since 2010. He may have even been the steal of some drafts with his ADP in 2014 being 13.10 and yet he finished as the 3rd best PPR tight end. So we should expect another top 5 performance in 2015 right? Not so fast. Gates hasn’t scored double-digit touchdowns in back-to-back years since 04-05, and hasn’t had 3+ straight years with 800+ yards since a stretch from 04-07. Right now Gates’ ADP is 8.10 going 5 rounds earlier than last year and ahead of guys like Owen Daniels, Delanie Walker, and Coby Fleener. Lets not forget Gates said earlier in the offseason he wanted to take a step back this year. Go ahead and let someone take Gates way too early and watch them be way too disappointed as the year goes on.
- Mychal Rivera OAK: Rivera saw 91 targets in 2014, beyond a healthy amount. He saw his receptions increase by 50% (38 to 57) and his yardage jumped 31% (407 to 534) while he scored 4TDs in both seasons. Solid increases and a year under his belt with 2nd year QB Derek Carr are all positives, but with every up comes a down. The Raiders drafted Amari Cooper to be a stud at wide receiver and be Carr’s go-to guy. Oakland also drafted another TE in Clive Walford, an athletic tight end who could cause the Raiders to sue more 2 TE sets, and they scooped up pass-catching back Roy Helu in free agency. Rivera could be a consistent guy as a fantasy option but sadly that consistency will keep him as a mid to low TE2, especially with the new weapons Carr will be using in 2015 and beyond.
- Jared Cook STL: Cook broke the 90 target mark for the first time in his career last year, ending 2014 with 91. Cook has seen 68 or more targets each of the last 4 seasons, reeling in just under 61% of those while posting 500+ yards and 3+ touchdowns in each of those years as well. However he hasn’t finished better than a mid-level TE2 in 3 of those 4 years. New QB Nick Foles is still not a proven NFL caliber quarterback even being 2 years removed from the 29:2 TD:INT ratio. Even in that year Foles didn’t have a TE finish better than 20th, which was Brent Celek while Zach Ertz finished 22nd. The Rams have Lance Kendricks to feed at TE as well as Cook, and Kendricks hasn’t had fewer than 4TDs each of the last 3 seasons. Cook can be a bye week filler but not someone to be trusted or used weekly.
- Heath Miller PIT: Miller had his 3rd best fantasy season of his career in 2014. Catching 66 of his 89 targets for 761 yards and 3 scores. The Steelers offense really began clicking last year and the do have arguably the best wide out and running back in the NFL, so they very well could average over 27 points per game again in 2015 (which was the first time the Steelers offense finished in the top 10 of PPG since 2007). But how much will Miller contribute? In the last 5 years Miller has scored more than 3TDs in a season just once (8 in 2012), and over that same span he’s finished as a top 10 TE just once and finished better than 19th just twice. Don’t forget the emergence of Martavius Bryant at WR last year. Bryant came in week 7 and kept it turned on basically the rest of the way. After week 7, Miller caught 2 touchdowns … Bryant caught 2 touchdowns … in a game … twice, while reeling in 8 total scores. Miller, like many others on the list at this point, is a bye week filler than anything but with slightly more upside since he’s on a better offense than most.
- Jason Witten DAL: Witten had 87 targets last year, his 11th consecutive season with 80+ targets; only Tony Gonzalez has more straight seasons with 80+ targets in NFL history with 14. Witten had 5+ touchdowns last year for the 4th time in 5 seasons, and once again surpassed 700 yards (he’s done that every year since 2004). 2014 is also the 8th straight year Witten finished in the top 10 TEs in fantasy scoring. As great as that all is, time for some bad news. Witten’s 64 receptions and 703 yards were both his fewest since 2006. And although he’s been a top 10 TE since 2007 when he finished #1, here’s how he’s finished the following years: 2nd, 5th, 1st, 5th, 3rd, 6th, 9th.The last 3 years are the only pattern of steady decline. Dez Bryant will once again command near 150 targets and fellow TE Galvin Escobar, although not going to steal a ton of targets, has been sneaking away more and more touchdowns by the the year (2TDs in 2013; 4TDs in 2014). Witten could still finish as a low end TE1 but if he slips out of the top 12 come years end, don’t be shocked.
- Larry Donnell NYG: Donnell made a name for himself on a Thursday night against the Redskins when he hauled in 7 passes for 54 yards and 3 touchdowns. He became a hot waiver wire pick up and ended up finishing the year as the 12th best PPR tight end. Not bad … although he did have inflated stats. That Redskins games came in week 4 of the year. Donnell accumulated 236 yards and 4TDs over the first 4 weeks of the year. When it was all said and done those numbers ended up accounting for 38% of his total yards and 66% of his touchdowns. That’s a huge amount of numbers in 25% of his games. Donnell also had 5 catches in all 4 of his first games. In the final 12 games of the year Donnell caught 5+ passes just twice. Now is it a coincidence Odell Beckham Jr began playing week 5 when Donnell’s stats began then downward slide? Probably not but ODB is back and somehow going to be better. The Giants also added in Shane Vereen for passing downs, and Victor Cruz will need his targets when he returns as well. Donnell will still see looks but they will be decreased so unless a major cog in the Giants passing clock goes down, don’t expect TE1 numbers from Donnell.
- Zach Ertz PHI: Although Ertz failed to match his touchdown production in 2014 that he posted his rookie season in 2013 (3TDs to 4TDs), Ertz caught more passes (58) in 2014 than total targets he saw in 2013 (55) and his yardage jumped up an additional 50% (469 to 702)! While he didn’t quite hit expectation we had for him in the preseason of last year, he did finish as the 13th best TE. Not only did Ertz show strides in year two, but he also has the benefit of having more NFL receiving experience than the Eagles current top 2 targets (Jordan Matthews and rookie Nelson Agholor), but he also has the easiest preseason strength of schedule among tight ends. Ertz will once again be expected to produce as a mid-level TE1 and with a lot of uncertainty and new players coming in at skill positions, Ertz is a leg up on most of his teammates who will command targets.
- Coby Fleener IND: Fleener has seen an increase in all major passing categories since his rookie season 3 short years ago. He lead the Colts with 8 receiving TDs (fellow TE Dwayne Allen also scored 8 times in 2014), and those 8TDs were actually 3rd most among TEs. His 774 yards were 8th amongst tight ends in 2014. The Colts did virtually everything they could this offseason to help stud QB Andrew Luck succeed and make a deep playoff run. Stronger at o-line, running back, and wide receiver. The Colts could challenge the Packers for most dominate offense in 2015, and throughout the year Coby Fleener will be a force at tight end to reckon with. While he may never post Gronk or Graham like numbers with all the mouths to feed in Indy, Fleener should still be a consistent mid-level TE1 for the foreseeable future.
- Travis Kelce KC: 67 catches on 81 targets for 862 yards and 5 scores out of basically a rookie tight end, no complaints here! Kelce finished as the 6th best PPR tight end in 2014 and after being drafted as the 16th TE off draft boards, after the likes of Vernon Davis (5th TE off the board; finished 35th), Jordan Reed (8th TE off the board; finished 21st), and Ladarius Green (14th TE off the board; finished 52nd). Now the true debate for 2015 and Kelce’s value: what will the WRs do? After catching a combined 0TDs as a unit in 2014, Kansas City brought in former Andy Reid player Jeremy Maclin while drafting Chris Conley. Albert Wilson looked better than not bad down the stretch last year as a rookie. So if this wide receiving corps clicks then what? Kelce is still going to be drafted as a TE1 and should be. He may see fewer looks with strong WRs around him, but going from the only real receiving threat (who wasn’t a RB) to having talented pass catchers around him means more single and softer coverage. That means bigger chunks of yards and his 6’6” frame will continue to be targeted frequently in the red zone again (13 targets and all 5 scores from inside the opponents 20 last year).
- Charles Clay MIA (BUF): When Clay was targeted just shy of 100 time in 2013 (98 times) and finished as a top 10 TE in both standard (7th) and PPR (8th) scoring, big things were expected in 2014. Clay battled injury and, despite being targeted 81 times he finished with 154 fewer yards and 3 fewer scores than the previous year. Now Clay is moved on to AFC east rival Buffalo. The Bills have Shady in the backfield and a stud WR in Sammy Watkins, but their QB situation is one of the worst in the NFL. Clay’s current ADP of 13.05 is pretty fitting; 20th TE off the board which means you’re taking him on the off chance he can have a big year but not relying on him as an every week starter heading into 2015.
- Jermaine Gresham CIN: Gresham underwent herniated disk surgery in March and his timetable for return is still in question. He could do a few teams some good that are in bad tight end spots (Cardinals, Falcons, and Saints jump to my mind), but until he is medically cleared he won’t have a city (career-wise) to call home. Gresham has had just a single 100-yard receiving game in his career, and just 4 games in his 5 year career with 70 or more yards. Even if he gets a chance to play in 2015, he’s a huge risk to count on. Stay away and see where he lands for 2016.
- Owen Daniels BAL (DEN): Daniels 72 targets last year marked the 3rd time in 4 years that he saw 70+ looks. When he missed that number in 2013 he only played 5 games but was on pace for a career high 128 targets. Daniels has had multiple touchdown receptions every year of his 9 year career, and has averaged 8+ fantasy (PPR) ppg every year since 2007. Not bad numbers for a guy who’s never had a stud QB throwing him the ball. Now Daniels is in Denver with Peyton Manning, and even though Manning isn’t what he was a few years ago he is still the best QB Daniels will have ever had throwing to him. Add in Gary Kubiak as the new Broncos head coach (he has been Daniels coach ever year of his career) and Daniels could be in for a career year across the board.
- Scott Chandler BUF (NE): Chandler is going from being the main TE target in Buffalo to the back up to Gronk in New England. Think he sees a huge decrease in the 60+ targets he’s seen in each of the last 3 years? Yeah me too. Chandler could take that Tim Wright role for the Patriots this season, sneaking in a big game sprinkled into his average game of 3 points. Even in those big games you have to rely on Chandler to catch a TD or 2 to even be useful. However as long as Gronkowski is healthy you aren’t risking playing Chandler in a TE spot on the marginal chance he may find the end zone. If Gronk should miss anytime this year than Chandler is a veteran who’s shown he can play, will have Brady slinging him the rock and can step in and fill a fantasy void at TE if need be then.
- Jordan Reed WSH: Very disappointing year out of Reed last year. A guy many thought would be a huge sleeper was just a huge dud. He scored as many touchdowns as you and me last year while gaining fewer yards than 2013 despite playing 2 more games and catching 5 more passes. The true positive of Reed for 2015 is his targets. He saw 7 or more targets in 5 of 11 games last year, and saw fewer than 4 targets just 3 times. If the Redskins get their QB situation to just normal this year than Reed still has the ability to be a sleeper again. If Reed gets hurt yet again in 2015 than he’s going to carry the injury-prone tag with him forever as well as perennial bust. If you draft Reed this year make sure you have a more solid options in front of him cause you’re taking a flyer on upside.
- Julius Thomas DEN (JAX): Even though he missed 4 games last year, Thomas still caught 12TDs .. again. His receptions (65 to 43) and yards (788 to 489) both decreased drastically, but that touchdown consistency is what keeps him in the elite TE talk. He’s not spotty in the TD receptions either. In 2013 he caught 12 total TDs scoring in 12 different games and never having back-to-back weeks of being shut out of the end zone. 2014 saw Thomas post a 6-game scoring streak to open the year (longest of his career) and scored his 12TDs over 8 games. Moving on to Jacksonville from Denver is interesting. Bortles isn’t Manning, but for a young gun he has shown potential and having a big receiving threat like Thomas will only help. If Thomas comes out healthy in 2015 he could once again see double-digit scores while boosting his catches and yards totals from 2014.
* Should Bennett catch 100 balls he’d be just the 4th TE of all time to accomplish the feat; Tony Gonzalez (102 in 2004), Dallas Clark (100 in 2009), and Jason Witten (110 in 2012).
** Since 2012 the Saints have attempted 671, 651, and 659 passes respectively while the Seahawks have thrown just 405, 420, and 454 in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Three Up/Three Down
Every year we see new players emerge as passing threats as well as watch some people drop the ball for their opportunity to reappear on this list next season. So who could make the leap to potential PPR glory? And who will trip and fall flat in 2015? Here are a few names to keep in mind.
The Three Up
Jordan Cameron MIA
Kyle Rudolph MIN
Maxx Williams BAL
The Three Down
Larry Donnell NYG
Antonio Gates SD
Scott Chandler NE