Target Analysis Breakdown: Tight Ends
- Travis Kelce KC: Kelce had a phenomenal year in 2017 being the only tight end on the board to catch at least 80 passes (83), go for over 1,000 yards (1,038), and find the end zone at least 8 times (8). He led all tight ends with his 5.5 receptions per game, and he’s one of four tight ends to have 80+ targets each of the last four seasons. He’s caught at least 67 passes and given you 11 or more points per game each of his four NFL seasons. While his QB situation has changed from Alex Smith, the conservative vet, to Patrick Mahomes, the young gun with a cannon for an arm, Kelce is still a top tight end in the fantasy world even if he’s not the guy I’d take off the board first myself (we will get to that gentlemen soon).
- Evan Engram NYG: What a rookie season for the Giants tight end! Engram came into the league with high expectations and met or surpassed all of them. Engram was the second tight end in NFL history to garner 100+ targets in his first season (Jeremy Shockey), and just the third to catch at least 60 passes in his first season (Shockey and Keith Jackson). Engram should continue to show improvement entering his second season with Odell Beckham Jr. coming back and the addition of a legit backfield threat in Saquon Barkley, Engram should take another big step forward this year and his current ADP of mid 4th round he could be the steal of the draft at the position.
- Delanie Walker TEN: I don’t have much to say about arguably the most consistent tight end in targets over the last half a decade. Walker is the only tight end to have 100+ looks each of the last four years and in his five seasons in Tennessee he’s never had fewer than 85 targets thrown his way. He has caught at least 60 balls a year, has gone over 800 yards each of the last four seasons and has been held to fewer than 4 scores once in a Titans uniform. Oh, and he’s still being drafted in the late 6th round. The man gets no respect I tell ya!
- Zach Ertz PHI: Hertz has quickly established himself as one of the elite tight ends in the fantasy world over the past three seasons. He’s gotten better than 100 targets each year despite never playing a full 16 game slate. He and Travis Kelce are the only tight ends to have at least 100 targets and 74 catches in each of the last three years. Ertz has never finished with less than 800 yards since 2014 and he’s doubled his touchdown count from 2 in 2015 to 4 in 2016 and to 8 last season. Now, will he hit 16 scores this year? Highly unlikely, but last season was the first year he was consistently dominant from start to finish of a year. He also has fewer competition with Trey Burton and Brent Celek gone. The Eagles will get Carson Wentz back, added a deep threat in Mike Wallace and still retain guys like Alshon Jeffery, Jay Ajayi and Chris Clement. Ertz is in for another more-than-healthy season.
- Jack Doyle IND: Doyle had a career year in 2017 across the board with his 108 targets, 80 receptions, and 690 yards. He had 13 games of 5 or more targets and three games with double-digit looks … oh, and all that came without Andrew Luck in the line up. Now the Colts franchise QB is looking to be ready to start 2018 under center and that only helps Doyle, right? Of course it does! Even with the addition of Eric Ebron (more on him shortly) I can see many more two tight end sets in Indy this year since their wide receiver corps goes T.Y. Hilton, a busboy at a local Chili’s, the Uber driver that took you to your company Christmas party last year, and a guy that was waiting at a bus stop outside Lucas Oil Stadium.
- Rob Gronkowski NE: Not much to say about a guy that is going to the Hall of Fame and could have an argument made as one of the greatest tight ends the game has ever seen. When he’s healthy, he’s giving you big boy points week in and week out. The key is will he be healthy? He’s missed time ever year since 2012 yet he’s averaged better than 17PPG in five of those six years. Obviously he will be one of the first tight ends off the board, as well he should be, but have a back up plan in place when Gronk misses time.
- Jimmy Graham GB (SEA): Here is my pick at the tight end position for first off the board! We’ve all witnessed Graham’s dominance when he was in New Orleans with Drew Brees, and while he wasn’t the same guy in Seattle the past three seasons he still averaged 11PPG in that period while recovering and returning in a big way from a bad knee injury. Now he’s away from a questionable Seahawks offense and onto greener pastures with another future Hall of Fame gun slinger in Aaron Rodgers tossing to him. Rodgers has targeted his revolving door of tight ends an average of 99 times each of the last three years; Graham has seen an average of 86 looks per year but it would have been 99 on the nose had he played a full season in 2015 (destiny? umm yes). Graham saw big years in black and gold but I think he sees even bigger days in green and yellow, book it!
- Jason Witten DAL: Witten retired in the offseason; good luck replacing a Hall of Fame player Dallas!
- Jared Cook OAK: Cook really was up and down last year. He only had 5 games of double-digit points and none of those came in consecutive weeks. He had one of the worst catch percentages (62%) and one of the worst receptions per game (just over 3 per contest). The addition of Jordy Nelson won’t help Cook get more looks, but not like he did much with what he saw anyway. He could be useful as a bye week replacement but not worth drafting outside of deep leagues in 2018.
- Eric Ebron IND (DET): Ebron got to be feeling like George and Weezie cause he’s movin on up this offseason! Matthew Stafford isn’t a slouch at the quarterback position by any means but a healthy Andrew Luck is a huge upgrade for Ebron. Ebron’s numbers slipped somewhat from 2016 to 2017 but he still has gotten 70+ looks in each of the last three seasons while gaining no fewer than 535 yards in any of those seasons. His expectations will be much higher in a better offense but he should see more opportunity without much in the way of pass-catchers ahead of him outside of Doyle and T.Y. Hilton.
- Kyle Rudolph MIN: After his massive 2016 season of 132 targets, Rudolph fell back in line with his normal looks in 2017 with 81, and take away his 2016 numbers and that 81 would still be his second most in a year. So what can we expect this year out of Rudolph? New QB Kirk Cousins is going to be the best quarterback who’s thrown to Rudolph in his career, that’s a plus. Cousins also likes to find his tight ends giving his top guy 87 looks per year, another plus. However, Jordan Reed was Cousins best weapon in Washington, in Minnesota Rudolph is 3rd best at most, that’s a negative. We also will see Dalvin Cook return this year and he looked like the best rookie back last year before going down, another negative. In the end Rudolph should be in that 70-80 target range at best but don’t expect to see 2016 numbers this year or ever again.
- Ben Watson NO (BAL): Watson is going to turn 38 years old this season, so how much does he have left in the tank? He finished as the 11th highest scoring tight end last year in Baltimore but Watson is back in New Orleans with Drew Brees and one of the best offenses in the league. A place where he had his best season in his 13 in the NFL back in 2015 when he had career-highs across the board; 74 grabs on 110 targets for 825 yards and 6 scores. So can he get back to 2015 form? It’s possible but with the tandem of talents backs who can catch I don’t think we see Watson’s same 2015 output. I bet he starts hot with Ingram suspended the first four game then trails off as the season goes along. I mean there have only been four tight ends in NFL history to catch more than 50 balls in a season at age 35 or older; Shannon Sharpe, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, and Benjamin Watson. He’s done it before, but can he do it again? Only time will tell but I say he sees a downswing in production with so many mouths to be fed down in the Bayou.
- Cameron Brate TB: Remember when the Buccaneers drafted O.J. Howard last year and people starting thinking Brate’s stock would slip? Well, they were totally wrong on that one! Brate ended the season with nearly twice as many targets as Howard (77 to 39) while also out-catching him (48 to 26), gaining more yards (591 to 432) and both had 6 scores. It’s apparent Brate is still the man at tight end in Tampa. Yes, Howard will continue to grow and improve but the fact that Brate lost just 5 targets from 2016 to 2017 after Howard was brought in says Cameron will keep being the man. Besides, outside of Mike Evans how much can you trust the Bucs wide outs in an aged DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries? Brate will be a solid late-round tight end that can contribute to your team.
- Charles Clay BUF: Clay’s targets have been coming in solidly the last four years; 84, 78, 87, and 74 this last season. While consistent opportunity is a huge part of fantasy football the other part of the equation is what is done with that opportunity and unfortunately Clay is not giving you the return you’d expect on him. He’s failed to average double-digit points any of the last four seasons. He hasn’t hit 60 catches since 2013 and he’s scored more than 3 times in a season just once since 2014. The Bills just lost Tyrod Taylor and have A.J. McCarron (a backup his career to this point) and rookie Josh Allen competing to step in for the job. Not to mention potential legal troubles for running back LeSean McCoy. Those two issues make me think Clay could see more targets but he’s got to do a lot more than he has with them to make him a worthwhile tight end to use each week.
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins JAX (NYJ): ASJ got himself restarted in New York last season as his 74 targets were a career-high and it wasn’t even close (he had 59 targets combined the previous two seasons). He caught 50 passes in 2017, almost as many as he caught in his first three seasons combined (55) and his 357 yards were also a career best for him to this point. Now ASJ is down in Jacksonville, a much better team and environment than that of the Jets. ASJ’s new quarterback in Blake Bortles has targeted his tight ends an average of 100 times per season since he joined the league in 2014, and with guys behind Seferian-Jenkins like James O’Shaughnessy (35 career targets), Ben Koyack (31 career targets), and Niles Paul (one season of more than 20 looks in six years) it’s safe to say Seferian-Jenkins should see plenty of looks from Bortles and ASJ could be a version of Julius Thomas from 2015 & 2016 (when he averaged 10PPG).
- Vernon Davis WAS: The Key to Davis’ recent success is all thanks to Jordan Reed … well more precisely the lack of Jordan Reed. Davis has been a solid back up tight end in Washington the last two seasons getting himself 59 and 68 targets respectively. Davis, however, needs Reed to be off the field to really get himself the looks owners want for him, and with Reed never playing a full season in the NFL it’s safe to assume Davis will have some nice weeks of opportunity once again in 2018. Last year Davis got 51 of his 68 targets when Reed missed time and Davis never had more than 4 looks with Reed on the field while he got 5+ looks in 5 of the 10 games Reed missed. He has some value when both players are healthy but once Reed goes down (and we all know he will at some point) that’s when Davis’ value really shoots up.
- Austin Hooper ATL: Hooper made big positive stride from his rookie season in 2016 to last year. He went from 19 grabs on 27 looks to 49 receptions on 65 targets. He nearly doubled his yardage total from 271 to 526 while catching 3 scores both seasons. That tells me he’s still a red zone threat but also is getting more involved in the offense as a whole between the 20’s. His catch rate of just over 75% was only bested by Ben Watson (77%) on this list. In 11 games in 2016 he had more than 2 grabs just three times while in 2017 he caught 3+ passes in 9 games. Another season of progression like he saw form year one to year two would put Hooper in that 90-target club among tight ends in 2018 and that could make him a borderline elite talent at the position.
- Jesse James PIT: James has been consistent the last few years getting 60 and 64 targets respectively. He caught 39 and 43 passes for 338 and 372 yards and 3 scores each season. In the Steelers offense the tight end position is almost an afterthought with Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Le’Veon Bell so, while James will contribute, he won’t be more than a potential bye week filler once again in 2018.
- George Kittle SF: Kittle came into the league last year and ended up having an ok season at best. He surpassed 9 fantasy points just three times in 16 games. He was given 5 or more looks just six times in a full 16 game slate. On the plus side he did have more success with Garoppolo under center as Kittle hit 50+ yards and/or a score just once in the first 10 games while he managed to do that kind of damage 3 times in the 6 games Jimmy G was under center. A guy that won’t likely get drafted in your league this year but a name to have in the back of your head in case of injury or if you will be in need of a bye week replacement.
- Hunter Henry LAC: Henry tore his ACL in the offseason and will miss the 2018 campaign.
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 2018? Here are a few names to keep in mind.
The Three Up
Trey Burton CHI
Mike Gesicki MIA
Ricky Seals-Jones ARZ
The Three Down
Ben Watson BAL
Vernon Davis WAS
Jesse James PIT