Tight Ends to Target & Avoid in 2019
Author: Kiel Messinger (@KielMessiFFA)
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Tight ends are like modern artists, there are a few great ones, but oh boy it's bad after that. The dreaded tier drop at tight end was always massive, but last season, like Eli Manning's inaccuracy, it reached new heights. The difference between the TE 3 and TE 6 was 95 PPR fantasy points. Having elite production at tight end can give you a significant weekly positional advantage over your whole league. Unlike the quarterback position, only a few tight ends will give you high-end reliable production, so claiming one of those few (for the right price) should be a priority. With that in mind, here are the tight ends I am targeting at their current ADP.
Travis Kelce (ADP: TE #1)
Regression. You will hear this word from every analyst when they discuss the Chiefs offense, and rightfully so. The Chiefs offense reached extraordinary efficiency last season that is unlikely to repeat. However, the more you look at Kelce's numbers, the more it becomes clear that he should be an exception to this. While many analysts are arguing that Kelce will need to repeat last season's production to warrant first round consideration, I don't see any reason why he can't. Despite Patrick Mahomes throwing no-look 50 yard passes on the run across his body, Kelce's efficiency did not improve last season. His yards per target and catch percentage were both BELOW his career average. The only reason his numbers were higher was because he got more targets, and with an atrocious defense, suspect running game, and elite quarterback, it is unlikely the Chiefs are going to decrease their passing volume. Kelce would have finished as a top 8 WIDE RECEIVER last season, and he has shown durability and consistency over the past three seasons. He is well worth a late first round pick.
O.J. Howard (ADP: TE #4)
"I really like that football player named O.J." said no one ever. In all seriousness, Howard has all the tools to become the next elite fantasy tight end. It isn't bold to say Howard is borderline elite already because last season, when on the field, he was the TE 5 in points per game. And that was his second season in the NFL. Though there are some exceptions like Zach Ertz, most elite tight ends are physical specimens whose combination of speed and size is a mismatch for opposing defenses. Howard more than fits the bill as he is 6'6, the same height as Rob Gronkowski, and ran a 4.51 40 yard dash (Gronk ran a 4.68). He has applied this physical dominance on the field, with over 16 yards per reception in both of his NFL seasons.
With the talent and production, the only factor left is opportunity. With the loss of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson, the Buccaneers have over 170 targets available this season, and to receive those they brought in... Breshad Perriman. Though Godwin and Evans will get their share, the offense will be among the most pass-heavy in the league, so Howard could see a massive uptick in volume. With Bruce Arians at the helm, they should be more effective as well, making Howard primed for a breakout.
Vance McDonald (ADP: TE #9)
Speaking of physical specimens, Vance Mcdonald is a monster. If you need proof, search "Vance Mcdonald obliterates Chris Conte," on YouTube, watch the video, watch it again, put on your white pants (this may be out of order), and then watch it three more times. That video alone should be enough for you to draft him, but if not, here's a bit more. Last season, though Vance had only 72 targets, he was the TE 10 in fantasy. The loss of Antonio Brown and Jesse James leaves 200 targets on the table, and though the team will pass less and likely be less efficient, this still leaves opportunity for Vance to see increased volume, which he has been productive with in the past (7.8 yards per target).
Trey Burton (ADP: TE #15)
Burton disappointed many fantasy owners including myself who thought he could break into the elite tier of fantasy tight ends. This season, Burton is the definition of a post-hype sleeper. Going extremely late in drafts, we saw Burton's floor last season, which is the TE 7. Though his production last season was replaceable, he could take significant strides this season, given that it is his second year in the offense. As we have seen with teams like the Falcons in the past, it often takes a season for a team to adjust to a new play-caller.
The offense showed flashes throughout last season, but with an elite defense it was not called upon to perform consistently. This season, with the defense expecting to regress, the offense and passing game will have to step-up, and Trubisky should improve heading into his third season. With higher passing volume, Burton, who has been efficient with his targets in the past (68.4% catch rate), could be in line for his breakout season, at a much more appealing cost. Though he may not play in the pre-season, he is almost free in drafts.
Mark Andrews (ADP: TE #18)
Rookie tight ends don't produce. Over the past decade, the only top ten rookie fantasy tight ends were Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, and Gronk. Yet, Andrews impressed in his limited time last season, with more yards, touchdowns, and fantasy points than George Kittle's rookie year, on fewer targets.
Yes, I know Lamar Jackson is not an elite passer, but Andrews was surprisingly better over the second half of the season, when Jackson was the quarterback. He also produced while starting only three games and splitting snaps with Hayden Hurst, who is currently injured and was clearly inferior to Andrews. Assuming the job is his, and if Jackson's arm takes a step forward, Andrews could be in for a breakout year.
Jordan Reed (ADP: TE #19)
I know he's injury prone. But the truth is, I don't really care. At this price, that really shouldn't matter. When on the field, Reed has been a fantasy star throughout his career. Though he may not have the upside he did earlier in his career, where he finished as the TE 1 in points per game in both 2015 and 2016, he is still a physical freak, and the number 1 target on his offense. Though last season was statistically unimpressive for Reed, he still showed his explosiveness, with 10.3 yards per reception (10.2 career average).
The team went through four starting quarterbacks last season, and though Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins are likely nothing special, anything is an improvement from Mark Sanchez. Reed will produce when healthy, so take however many games he starts and then stream the position when he goes down.
Austin Hooper finished as the TE 6 last season, averaging just eight half-PPR points per game. After the top 5 or so guys, you really didn't want any tight ends as a week to week starter. 22 tight ends averaged at least six half-PPR points per game. Therefore, nearly all of a TE’s week to week production was replaceable by a streamer. So, why is this important? This year, there are six or so guys that are likely to be above replacement level, with a couple more who have the potential for more. If you take anything from this article, DO NOT reach for replacement level production.
If you don't get one of the elite guys like Kelce or Kittle, and miss out on guys with elite upside like O.J. Howard, it is not worth a mid-round pick for something similar to what you can get in the 15th round, or even off the waivers. With that in mind, a lot of these tight ends will finish around their ADP's, because at tight end, it is not difficult to finish inside the top 10. However, not all top 10 tight ends are created equal, and I am aiming for the upside of someone who could be above replacement level, which most of these guys don't have.
Zach Ertz (ADP: TE #2)
Ertz posted not only career highs in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns last season, but also broke the all time record for tight end receptions. Ertz is and will likely be a fantasy stud in 2019. However, my concern is that he is being drafted at his ceiling. To justify their current draft price, the big three tight ends will have to repeat their historic numbers last season, and once again be a significant advantage over the rest of the position.
With less big play ability than Kelce and Kittle (11.0 career yards per reception), Ertz is dependent on volume to be elite last season (156 targets). With the addition of Desean Jackson, development of Dallas Goedert, and possible emergence of Miles Sanders as a pass-catcher, there is no way Ertz maintains his target share. Though he will likely finish as a top 5 tight end, Ertz is unlikely to return value on his early third round draft price.
Eric Ebron (ADP: TE #7)
I have a thing against tight ends who aren't good at football, and Ebron fits the bill. Despite catching thirteen touchdowns last season, Ebron was not the best tight end on his team. Jack Doyle played more snaps and had more targets than Ebron when healthy. Additionally, Ebron caught only 60% of his targets, among the lowest percentages in the league. That poor efficiency makes Ebron dependent on having the best touchdown rate in the league once again. Along with the return of Jack Doyle, the team brought in Parris Campbell and Devin Funchess to spread the ball around even more. Therefore, Ebron's touchdowns will drop, a word that should be familiar to him.
Jared Cook (ADP: TE #8)
I can't believe I'm saying this but moving from Derek Carr to Drew Brees is a downgrade (for Cook at least). Cook, a forever league average replacement level tight end, broke out at the tender age of 31 in the fantasy friendly location of Oakland last season. For the first time in his career, Cook had triple digit targets, and also for the first time in his career, actually produced something with his targets. Despite having a career catch percentage under 60%, Cook caught over 67% of his passes last season. As much as it does take someone truly special to catch 8% more of your targets from Derek Carr than Aaron Rodgers, given Cook's history, last year's efficiency was likely a fluke.
Though he now has the extraordinarily efficient Drew Brees this season, his volume will take a massive step down, as last year, after the departure of Amari Cooper, he was literally the only Cook in the kitchen. In New Orleans, both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are due for massive target shares in an offense that does not throw very often anymore, especially near the goal line (league leaders in red zone rushing percentage). With last season's production, and the new landing spot, Cook is a tempting mid-round pick, but the situation looks like massive bait.
Austin Hooper (ADP: TE #11)
Austin Hooper is a replacement level tight end. That is just what he is, and there are plenty of people being drafted behind him who have significantly more upside than Hooper. As discussed in the introduction, Hooper did finish as the sixth best fantasy tight end last season, but you don't want eight points per game from your tight end, or at least you don't want to pay for it.
The problem I have with Hooper is that there is no room for improvement. Hooper reached a career high in targets, catches, yards, and touchdowns last season, but the Falcons were also extremely pass-heavy. With a healthy defense and running back, they could likely decrease their passing volume. Hooper’s targets could drop even more with the emergence of Calvin Ridley, who many are expecting to see triple digit targets. Hooper will likely be a top ten tight end, but he does not have the upside to be above replacement level.
T.J Hockenson (ADP: TE #12)
Hockenson will be a great player in the NFL. Just not this season. Over the past decade, there have been just three rookie tight ends to finish as a TE1. Two years ago, Engram was only able to produce when both Odell Beckham Jr and Sterling Shepard went down. Sure, if both Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay BOTH go down, Hockenson will have value, but that can be said for just about any tight end in the league. Take your shots on exciting rookies at other positions, as it is no knock on Hockenson's talent to say it is extremely unlikely he has fantasy relevance in 2019.