Target Analysis Breakdown: Tight Ends
- Zach Ertz PHI: Ertz set tight end records last year in targets (152) and receptions (116) while becoming just the 3rd tight end with 150+ targets and the 5th end with better than 100 grabs in a single season. His catch rate of 74% was 3rd best at the position (behind just Austin Hooper and Kyle Rudolph). Ertz had his first 1,000-yard season (1,163) and his 8 touchdowns tied his personal best which was set just a year before in 2017. No one loves throwing to Ertz more than Carson Wentz and with Nick Foles gone and the Eagles banking on a healthy Wentz it’s not crazy to think Ertz can break the records he just set in 2018. The debate will rage as to who should be the first tight end drafted between Ertz and the number two on this list …
- Travis Kelce KC: 2018 saw Travis Kelce become the first tight end in NFL history to have at least three straight seasons with at least 115 targets, 80 receptions, 1,025 yards, and 4 scores. Kelce also joined Ertz last year as one fo three tight ends in NFL history with 150+ targets (Tony Gonzalez did it three times). Kelce had just two games of fewer than 7 targets last year and hit double-digit looks six different times; as many or more than top wide outs like T.Y. Hilton, Robert Woods, Keenan Allen, and Mike Evans. Kelce is an absolute monster, and along with the aforementioned Zach Ertz, it’s between these two giants as the first tight end off the board. They are both basically wide receivers on their teams and will give you WR1 numbers in 2019 like they did in 2018!
- George Kittle SF: Heading into 2019 Kittle should be the third tight end off the board behind Ertz and Kelce and that’s not just because he’s on this list at number three behind both those elite tight ends. After a solid rookie outing in which he closed out 2017 with three straight games of 9+ points, and 13+ in the final two, he kicked it up more than just a single notch in 2018. Kittle was targeted six or more times in 14 of 16 games while seeing double-digit targets four times. He was held under 50 yards in just three games while he hit 100+ four times including a 210-yard performance in week 14; just 4 yards shy of breaking Shannon Sharpe’s single-game tight end record. Kittle had the last laugh though as his 1,377 yards set a single-season record for a tight end. He has scored double-digit points in 15 of his last 18 games dating back to 2017, and it obvious he rounds out the top 3 tight ends entering your 2019 draft.
- Eric Ebron IND: Ebron had a career-year in 2018 across the board while leading tight ends with 13 touchdowns while he was one of five at the position with over 100 looks in his direction. While in theory that sounds all well and good and he should continue performing at an elite level, not everything on the surface is as good as it appears. He caught just 66 balls last year resulting in a 60% catch rate which was 2nd worst on this list and just one of six to catch fewer than 65% of his targets. The Colts added in Devin Funchess via free agency, Parris Campbell in the draft, and fellow tight end Jack Doyle only played six games last year. Ebron is in for a rude awakening this season and before you think about making him a top five tight end off the board, check out why I think he is going to fall back to Earth fast and hard in the 2019 season!
- Jared Cook NO (OAK): Cook had his best year as a pro last season in Oakland with his first 100-target season (101) and career-highs in receptions (68), yards (896), and touchdowns (6). He had 10 games of 8+ points and 7 of those games he went for double-digit points. He had at least 6 targets on eight different occasions and his 4 games of 100+ yards matched his total for such games from 2016 & 2017 combined. Now he moves onto New Orleans and will be playing with Drew Brees, by far the best guy to ever look his direction, and we already know what Brees can do with a useful tight end. Just ask the next guy on this list …
- Jimmy Graham GB: Saying Graham’s 2018 performance was a disappointment is a bit of an understatement. He played with yet another future Hall of Fame QB in Aaron Rodgers and I was all in on Jimmy last season; which bit me in the ass in plenty of leagues. But for those who missed out on Graham last year, this is the season to grab him! Not only will he come with a cheaper price tag, but historically the first season with a team has been his worst. After his rookie year in New Orleans (31-356-5) he never had fewer than 85 catches, 889 yards (two 1,000-yard seasons), or 9 scores (three double-digit touchdown years). He then moved from Brees and The Big Easy to Russell Wilson and The 12’s in Seattle where he seemed to falter year one once again; 48-605-2. Then he had back-to-back seasons averaging better than 10PPG. Last year was his first as a cheesehead and he posted a very similar stat line to year one in Seattle; 55-636-2. If history says he will up his production year two in a new city on average 40 grabs, 500 yards, and 5 scores than his ADP of 19th tight end off the board is BEYOND A STEAL!
- David Njoku CLE: With the addition of OBJ and Kareem Hunt, do we see Njoku’s numbers take a hit in 2019? I won’t say it’s impossible. Last year Njoku had 11 games with at least 5 targets and he failed to get at least four looks only three times in 2018. He scored at least 9 points in 8 of 16 games last year and saw a 50% uptick in targets from his rookie season in 2017 to his sophomore season in 2018. The Browns are a fully loaded gun, Njoku is in the chamber and could fire off at any point, but will he? OBJ will take some targets away but he will also drive away plenty of defenders at the same time. Kareem Hunt is missing the first half of the year on suspension, so if Njoku really sees a hit it won’t come until early November. Draft him with confidence in August but be wary of what can happen down the line and don’t be afraid to sell high if the price being paid to you is right!
- Austin Hooper ATL: Hooper may not have been, or may not be, mentioned in the same breath as Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, or even George Kittle but man can Hooper ball out! He led all tight ends with his almost 81% catch rate last year as he hauled in 71 of 88 targets. Of all NFL players who had at least 85 targets and 70 receptions only Christian McCaffrey (86%), Michael Thomas (85%), and Ezekiel Elliott (81%) had better numbers in their catch rates. That is some elite and rare company Hooper holds. He plays with one of the most underrated fantasy QBs in Matt Ryan on one of the best and most explosive offenses and with defenses needing at least two, if not three guys on Julio Jones at all times, the middle of the field seems to be wide open for Hooper. He finished as TE6 last year with just 4 scores and 660 yards, so he has plenty of room to make moves upwards on this list next season and beyond. Don’t let a run of tight ends early fore your hand to draft one too early, build your roster and wait a round or two later to take Hooper who has the talent and team around him to post elite numbers in 2019.
- Jordan Reed WAS: Reed’s 13 games played last year was the second most in a season in his NFL career and best total since he appeared in 14 back in 2015. He averaged 9PPG last year while catching 50+ passes for the 4th time in the last five years. Reed is much like the Bengals’ Tyler Eifert, super talented but injuries always keep him off the field for at least a handful of games, if not longer, each year. There is a lot of questions with the Redskins offense heading into 2019, starting with the QB position but that situation should benefit Reed no matter who lines up under center. If it’s the rookie Dwayne Haskins, we all know rookies look for those big boy tight ends. If it’s the vet Case Keenum, we saw him help Kyle Rudolph have a big boy year in Minnesota in 2017 as he finished as TE8 and 2nd at the position with 8TDs. Reed is a risky pick with his injury history and uncertainty around him but if it all comes even half together this year he could give you a top 10 tight end year.
- Kyle Rudolph MIN: Rudolph has quietly been on the most consistent tight ends in the last half decade plus in the fantasy football world. He had a monster 2016 season but otherwise he’s just a guy who gets it done each and every year without spending a crazy high pick on him. He’s averaged 8+ points each of the last 7 seasons and has played a full 16-game slate in five of them. He has had better than 80 targets each of the last three years and he hasn’t scored fewer than four times since 2014. The Vikings are one of the best offenses in the league and with teams having to key in on Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the outside, and if Dalvin Cook can remain healthy in his third year, Rudolph could have the quietest top 5 season for a tight end ever!
- Trey Burton CHI: Burton was the most popular name among tight ends before last season’s draft as the “sleeper” at the position that could really give you big production give his draft position, and some might say his season wasn’t big enough for the hype but it’s hard to sneeze at what Burton did his first season in The Windy City. It was the first year he played all 16 games while setting career marks across the board. He was given 4 or more targets in 13 games while posting 8+ points in 10 different weeks and hitting double-digit points six times. His 6 touchdowns ranked 4th among tight ends and he was one of five tight ends with at least 50 catches, 550 yards, and 6 scores. He won’t go high like the elite tight ends, but his ADP as the 12th tight end off the board is an absolute steal if you don’t get your hands on a top 3 or 4 guy at the position.
- Vance McDonald PIT: McDonald was targeted by Big Ben 73 times last year; the first time a Steelers tight end saw 70+ targets since Heath Miller accomplished that feat every season from 2011-2015. So is McDonald becoming Pittsburgh’s next Miller? Seems that way, and he could possibly be bigger. The Steelers lost Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown this offseason so those 237 targets (average between Bell and Brown from 2013-2018) have to go somewhere. Yes, Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner will benefit as well, but don’t expect those guys to each get the better part of 100 looks in 2019. McDonald set career-highs in, not only his targets, but receptions (50), yards (610), and scores (4)
- Rob Gronkowski NE: After a Hall of Fame career, Gronk has hung up his cleats. In NFL history among tight ends he ranked 15th in receptions (521), 9th in yards (7861), and 3rd in touchdowns (79).
- Ricky Seals-Jones ARZ: RSJ is the only tight end to make this list who failed to finish as at least a TE2 as he finished 27th among his peers. He was the only tight end to make this list who failed to catch at least 60% of his targets and he wasn’t even close as he reeled in a pathetic 48%. He had more than 3 catches in just 3 of 15 games and hit double-digit points just three times, never topping 11 in any contests, while he scored fewer than 5 points in 8 games! He’s got another rookie QB throwing to him and Kyler Murray is similar to Lamar Jackson of the Ravens and Jackson’s top tight end didn’t have a season last year to make him even worth of a late round flier pick in this year’s drafts; but more on him later. In the end I’m running away from RSJ like I’m covered in gasoline and he’s a lit match.
- C.J. Uzomah CIN: Uzomah is an interesting character this season. Once again Tyler Eifert will return, but for how long? The guy hasn’t a played a full season since, well ever. So when he goes down is when Uzomah’s value really goes on the rise. He isn’t going to post Kelce or Ertz numbers but he’s much better without Eifert in the line up. Uzomah had three of his four 9+ point performances, and both his double-digit days, with Eifert on IR. Uzomah also had all six of his 5-or-more target games when he was the Bengals top tight end as well as scoring two of his three touchdowns and six of his seven 35+ yard performances without Eifert around. If, and that’s a big if, Eifert can play most, if not all, of the season than Uzomah’s value is minimal at best, but we all know that won’t happen. May be worth a late round pick in deep leagues, if not keep an eye on him and pounce if you’re in a desperate situation at tight end when Eifert goes down.
- Evan Engram NYG: Engram was one of three tight ends to play fewer than 13 games last year and still finish inside the top 24 at the position, and his TE13 finish was tops among those three players. His 11PPG placed him behind Kelce, Ertz, Kittle, Ebron, Cook, and O.J. Howard in that category and Engram was one of five tight ends on this list to catch at least 70% of his targets. The Giants must get him more involved this year with OBJ gone, and the red zone is going to be Engram’s best friend this year with his big-bodied frame and strong hands. Call me crazy but … Engram will be this year’s Eric Ebron; at least in terms of the number of times he finds the end zone. Double-digit touchdowns for Engram in 2019, book it!
- Chris Herndon NYJ: Herndon looked pretty good in his rookie season in 2018 with Gang Green. He was 1 of 11 tight ends in the league with at least 35 catches, 500 yards, and 4 scores. He played in 14 games and scored 8 or more points in half his contests including five games of double-digit points. He closed out last year with 4 or more targets in six of his final eight games. He has a nice chemistry with Sam Darnold and the Jets offense should take another step forward this season, but the biggest question for Herndon is the addition of Le’Veon Bell. Does Bell steal some of Herndon’s looks in 2019? In 2017, his last season playing with the Steelers, tight ends saw 97 targets but last season that numbers mushroomed to 120. Bell is joining a new team and a new system but he will be used like he was in Pittsburgh and if his arrival impacts any one in a negative way I think Herndon takes the hit.
- Gerald Everett LAR: I don’t care Everett made this list, hell it just shows how poor he really is compared to other players at the position. The only tight end on this list to end worse than the TE22 finish Everett produced is the Cardinals’ Ricky Seals-Jones. Everett’s 64% catch rate was 5th worst on this list and his 2 catches per game were dead last. The Rams have so much firepower on offense in the passing game Everett won’t see much work; one double-digit point game, more than 3 grabs just three times and never hit 50 receiving yards. Do not waste your time even looking in the Rams’ tight end direction in your drafts.
- Mark Andrews BAL: While Andrews had consistency throughout 2018 but it wasn’t consistency you’d want on your fantasy team. He had more than 3 grabs just twice and managed to go for double-digit fantasy points twice as well. His 68% catch rate was actually one of the best on this list but his 34 catches were 3rd fewest of the top 20 tight ends. The worst part about his numbers is that his targets decreased from 3.5 per game to 2.5 per game once Lamar Jackson took the starting role. Much like the other tight ends that made the bottom portion of this list, Andrews just isn’t worth a draft pick, especially with certain names moving towns and the crop of rookies that entered the league in the draft this year already in much better situations.
- Cameron Brate TB: Brate made this list by the skin of his teeth. His 49 targets were his fewest since he had 30 in 2015. He also had his fewest reception (30) and yards (289) since that same 2015 season. His 6 scores are what really saved him in term of fantasy points but if he doesn’t find the end zone he’s not very useful at all. Brate played in 15 games last year compared to just 10 for teammate O.J. Howard, but the latter posted 28 more points in 5 fewer games. Howard scored one fewer touchdown, had 4 more receptions and nearly doubled Brate’s yardage (276 more yards for Howard) while having one fewer target. I’m taking Howard over Brate all day this year, it’s clear they are driving to make him the man at the tight end position in Tampa Bay.
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 2019? Here are a few names to keep in mind.
The Three Up
Hunter Henry LAC
O.J. Howard TB
Noah Fant DEN
The Three Down
Eric Ebron IND
Gerald Everett LAR
Cameron Brate TB