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Deep Sleepers: Tight Ends

The Footballguys staff digs deep for sleepers at tight end

A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. This article specifically targets deep sleeper value (players that can be found very late in a fantasy draft). In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look deeper than the top 150 players and identify players that should significantly outperform their late draft position. These players should be your targets after the 12th round of your draft.

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Wide Receivers Wide Receivers Wide Receivers
Tight Ends Tight Ends Tight Ends

Player Receiving 6 Votes

Vance McDonald, San Franciso

Phil Alexander: A strong preseason has finally given McDonald's ADP a slight bump, but he still offers significant profit potential as a 13th round pick. McDonald's big preseason comes on the heels of an eight-game stretch in which he led the 49ers in red zone targets and touchdowns after Blaine Gabbert took over at quarterback last season. Because McDonald was largely considered a bust prior to last year's stretch run, it's easy to forget he's a former second-round draft pick who has nearly unrivaled athletic ability for his size. Between Chip Kelly's fast-paced scheme, the 49ers sub-par defense, and a largely unproven wide receiver depth chart, there are plenty of reasons to expect the 49ers to pass enough for McDonald to maintain at least the TE15 pace he finished last season on, with the upside for more.

Sigmund Bloom: The 49ers are going to be one of the worst teams in the league this year, but under Chip Kelly they are likely to be among the league leaders in offensive snaps. That equals a big opportunity for McDonald, who was one of presumptive starter Blaine Gabbert's favorite targets last year. McDonald could share snaps with Garrett Celek, but he'll be the primary receiving tight end. He was a top 10 tight end on a points per game basis from Weeks 11-16 last year. As long as Gabbert wins the quarterback job, put McDonald on your late target list if you neglect tight end early.

Mike Brown: Much like the Torrey Smith situation, McDonald will have value simply by virtue of being the starter on an offense that looks as putrid as San Francisco's. There aren't very many players of high talent on that unit, but at the same time they've got a coach who loves to run a whole lotta plays. With the volume of pass attempts they are likely to make, someone has to benefit. And that someone will be McDonald.

Jeff Haseley: We know Chip Kelly likes to involve the tight end in his offense and Vance McDonald is the 49ers primary receiving tight end. One would suggest he's in for an increase in target volume and production. I'm buying on McDonald and you can get him late - after the Top 15 tight ends are selected.

Ryan Hester: The tight end play-side component of Chip Kelly’s offense has always been present, and McDonald is a plus receiver for the position. He showed his capabilities on his 43-yard touchdown catch, where he faked out a defender after hauling in Blaine Gabbert’s pass. If McDonald can hold off Garrett Celek (who is admittedly a better blocker but less of a receiving weapon) and get the large majority of San Francisco’s snaps, he’ll have streaming value in some weeks. As TE26, that’s significant value.

Devin Knotts: Chip Kelly offenses have always incorporated the tight end heavily since coming to the NFL as in 2014 and 2015 the Eagles tight ends have over 1,000 yards total in each of the two seasons. Vance McDonald is looking to be the starter in San Francisco, which means that Vance McDonald should be the primary focus for this production. McDonald is currently being drafted as the 28th tight end which for an offensive scheme that puts such a heavy emphasis on throwing to the tight end should be able to have a breakout year this season.

Player Receiving 4 Votes

Jared Cook, Green Bay

Sigmund Bloom: Cook has never lived up to the promise of his prodigious physical tools, but he has never had a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers either. He will share tight end snaps with Richard Rodgers, but Cook is clearly the more talented receiver and runner after the catch. Davante Adams is backing into the #3 wide receiver job by default, but if Cook clicks with his quarterback, he could seize a good share of the targets as the #3 option in the offense and gain fantasy relevance.

Ryan Hester: Richard Rodgers can block and run slowly. Jared Cook can stretch seams and give his offense a vertical threat right down the middle of the field for which safeties have to account. Imagine Jordy Nelson running a deep post from the right side and Cook running a vertical seam up the hashmark. Who does the safety cover? Even if Cook doesn’t get the target in this scenario each time, the fact that it can stress a defense could earn Cook more snaps over Rodgers. A player who will be on the field often in Green Bay’s offense is worth a pick after 180 in your draft.

Ari Ingel: It's much easier to play with Aaron Rodgers than the dreck he's had to deal with in Tennessee and St Louis. He's 6'5" 246lbs, runs a 4.50 forty and has a 41 inch vertical… that's the definition of a freak athlete. At his current late 15th round ADP, there is only upside and he has clicked with Rodgers big time.

Daniel Simpkins: Most owners have been burned by Cook enough that they don’t want to take the plunge again. They are worried that he will do what he has always done -- flash his abilities in preseason, but never live up to the hype when the regular season is in progress. Recall that Cook has spent his entire career playing in Jeff Fisher systems. We know how prolific the Packers’ system can be when firing on all cylinders. Richard Rogers is competent, but not the athletically dominant player that the Packers have been seeking since the days of Jermichael Finley. Rogers and Cook seem to be riffing well in practices. If things break right, Cook could develop into a top-ten fantasy tight end at the price of a late-13th-round pick.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

Charles Clay, Buffalo

Chris Feery: It’s fairly common knowledge that the Bills offense will be of the ground and pound variety this season, and that leads to the team’s pass catchers - outside of Sammy Watkins - to become an afterthought on draft day. That makes sense when we’re talking about the team’s other wide receivers, but it’s leading Charles Clay to be pretty undervalued. He actually developed a solid rapport with Tyrod Taylor in 2015, and that should only continue to blossom in their second year together. While Rex Ryan is definitely inclined to lean heavily on the running game, he’s also not afraid to take some shots down the field. Taylor also happens to throw a pretty nice deep ball, and that was clearly evident when he hit Clay for a 59-yard gain during the Bills second preseason game. Deep ball aside, we can expect Clay to receive a healthy amount of targets in 2016, and he can easily outproduce several of the tight ends that are currently being drafted ahead of him.

John Mamula: Charles Clay will see an increased amount of targets this season as the Buffalo Bills look to take the next step in their passing game. Rex Ryan recently said that Clay needs to be more of a factor in the red zone. The Bills only had one touchdown by a tight end in the red zone last season. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor and Clay are both coming into their second season with the team. Look for more of a comfort level this season.

Matt Waldman: The biggest problem with Clay last year was the number of times Tyrod Taylor failed to spot him wide open in the middle of the field. The Bills staff have made this known to Taylor and I believe adjustments will be made. I think Clay has top-10 upside and huge potential as big-play threat. He caught a 58-yard bomb against the Giants in Week 2 of the preseason because Taylor made a point to look for him on a scramble drill.

Zach Miller, Chicago

Jeff Haseley: People are shying away from Zach Miller due to his concussion issues in the preseason, but as long as he is healthy, Miller represents a reliable option for Jay Cutler and the Bears offense. He came on strong in the second half of the 2015 season and should pick up where he left off. He's a decent second tight end to target if you have a deep roster. Stash him and wait to see if he's cleared to play. The missed practice time could hurt his ability to make an immediate impact, but I can see him paying dividends by Week 4 or 5.

John Mamula: Zach Miller is in-line for an increased workload due to the departure of Martellus Bennett. Over the past 3 seasons, Bennett’s target totals in Chicago read: 94 targets in 2013, 128 targets in 2014, and 80 targets in 11 games in 2015. Last season as a backup to Bennett, Miller caught 34 passes for 439 yards and 5 touchdowns, finishing as the 16th best TE. Miller is a fantastic TE2 currently being drafted outside the Top 17 TEs.

Mark Wimer: Miller has a scary injury history, but he was VERY scary to opposing defensive coordinators as the Bears' lead tight end late last season. With Martellus Bennett now in New England, Miller could easily become the #2 target in Chicago behind Alshon Jeffery. Miller caught five TDs in only part of a season as the lead tight end for Jay Cutler (week nine-season end) last year. Miller has top-10 potential at his position and should be on your short list of options at tight end this year. He's risky, but the reward could be outsized compared to the cheap draft pick you need to invest in him.

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota

James Brimacombe: In 5 seasons with the Vikings, Rudolph has only played a full 16 games twice. One of those years was last season as he has a personal best 495 receiving yards and added 49 receptions and 5 touchdowns. With the Vikings offense evolving, Rudolph could see additional opportunities in the red zone.

Jeff Pasquino: Kyle Rudolph is a former Pro Bowl tight end that has missed time in both 2013 and 2014 with injuries, but he returned last year to finish the season as TE14 despite a learning season for his quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. Rudolph is the very definition of a solid TE2 with a high floor and plenty of upside if the passing game starts to return to value for the Vikings’ offense. Teams will focus on stopping Adrian Peterson first, so quick passes over the middle to Rudolph will be there all season for Bridgewater. I think Rudolph offers strong upside as a late TE2 in fantasy drafts this year.

Matt Waldman: He had to stay at the line of scrimmage a lot more than he ever did so he could help pass protect. I expect he'll benefit from the healthy offensive line and earn a lot more looks down field and in the red zone. He already burned Seattle for two strong gains up the seam last week.

Clive Walford, Oakland

Andy Hicks: Clive Walford had a fantastic rookie season all things considered. The Raiders need a big guy who take the pressure off for David Carr and allow the rest of the offense to flourish. Mychal Rivera has proven to be limited in his opportunities to date and I would expect Walford to take the role and not look back this season. It may be one season too early, but this is likely to be the last season Walford presents as such value.

Jeff Pasquino: Clive Walford came on strong late in the season last year, finishing his rookie campaign strong with the Raiders at 28-329-3 for Oakland. Derek Carr is entering his third season as the starting quarterback in Oakland and has Walford along with two strong wideouts (Amani Cooper, Michael Crabtree) to round out the passing game. Walford could push for TE1 value this season and is a great value late in fantasy drafts. I love his status as a TE2 in drafts with upside.

Mark Wimer: Walford plays for a young, improving offense and showed flashes of production last year. He's an excellent choice as your backup tight end based on his upside playing alongside Derek Carr/the Raiders' improving unit this year. During training camp the coaching staff has talked up his involvement in the first team offense and indicated they want to get Walford more touches this season.

Ben Watson, Baltimore

Ryan Hester: Watson is in a suddenly-crowded tight end group in Baltimore with second-year man Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore also at the position. Gillmore is often injured, though, and Williams is still a question mark. And when a General Manager like Ozzie Newsome makes a surprising move like signing Watson, it's worth noting. Baltimore's receiving corps is also shaky with injuries, so this is as much as "someone has to catch passes" dart-throw as it is a nod to Watson's ability – though he probably does represent the best red zone threat on the team.

Stephen Holloway: Watson had a career season last year in New Orleans and is currently listed as the starting tight end in Baltimore. With all the wide receiver injuries, he could again surprise for the second year in a row. Watson remains athletic at 35 years old and is a very smart football player.

Chad Parsons: Ben Watson is my favorite sleeper this year. He resides in the dark corners of a valley in the ocean even among deep sleepers. Few consider Ben Watson a part of any draft plan for 2016. Watson emerged with a career year in 2015 when all the hype was on Josh Hill in New Orleans. In the offseason, Baltimore signed Watson when they had a myriad of tight end options already under contract. However, Maxx Williams is still ramping up his game in Year 2, Crockett Gillmore is recovering from injury, Nick Boyle is suspended, and Dennis Pitta is still a long-shot to return to prominence. Watson has a real chance to emerge as one of the top options in the Baltimore passing game with question marks around the wide receiver depth chart as well. Watson is my darkhorse bet for TE1 production for pennies on the dollar.

Player Receiving 2 Votes

Virgil Green, Denver

Mike Brown: With all of the uncertainty around the Denver quarterback situation, a lot of people are steering clear of Denver skill players entirely. Don't be one of those people. Just understand where the value lies. No matter who wins the job, it's going to be a marginal starter at best, and probably someone with limited experience. That tends to suggest that the tight end will be a big recipient of work in terms of check downs and quick releases. Enter Green, who has the talent to be a TE1 as soon as this season.

Ari Ingel: Green is a freak athlete who has been used mainly as a blocker so far despite working mainly a pass catching tight end in college. Has been their number one tight end in camp and catching touchdowns regularly. The Kubiak offense loves involving the tight end. He has a lot of upside if they do indeed use him this year and if they can find a quarterback to throw him the ball. Lots of "ifs," but the talent is there.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay

Daniel Simpkins: We’ve seen signs that the Buccaneers coaching staff is displeased with Austin Seferian-Jenkins. First, there was the incident in which he was kicked out of practice for not knowing what he was supposed to be doing. Then there was the immaturity he displayed in arguing with fans on social media. Last week, Cameron Brate had replaced Seferian-Jenkins as the number one tight end on the preseason depth chart. While Brate has moved back into second team work, the signs are clearly there that Seferian-Jenkins is on thin ice. Cameron Brate played well in relief of Jenkins last year and became a trusted target for Jameis Winston. Aside from the mental issues with Seferian-Jenkins, there has also been the constant health problems. If either of these problems keep Seferian-Jenkins off the field, Brate could once again be a surprise for his owners.

Jordan Cameron, Miami

Andy Hicks: Jordan Cameron was a disappointment in his first season with the Dolphins. With a new coaching regime, who know how to use a Tight End, expect Cameron to rebound spectacularly in 2016. With Julius Thomas, Adam Gase got him to 12 touchdowns in both 2013 and 2014, while with Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller last year in Chicago he got a combined 87 receptions for 878 yards and 8 touchdowns. With the Browns, Cameron proved that he has the ability to be an elite producer. Don't sleep on his chances to return there this season.

Josh Hill, New Orleans

Justin Howe: Coby Fleener will start, but likely won't have a stranglehold on tight end snaps. Hill is young and athletic, and he's been absurdly productive in the red zone, with 8 touchdowns across just 32 career catches. He's a red zone specialist, but a coveted one – the Saints matched an offer sheet to retain his services. Hill is an ideal final-round pick in best ball formats, and he warrants a close eye in any deep-drafting league.

Jesse James, Pittsburgh

Justin Howe: He's not the most explosive athlete, but at 6'7", he fits the bill of a towering touchdown producer. Heath Miller frequently had Ben Roethlisberger's eye on underneath routes, so to make a fair amount of PPR noise. Of course, all of his value hinges upon Ladarius Green's health, but he remains close to free to acquire. He works well as a deep-league TE2 for as long as Green is out.

Troy Niklas, Arizona

Ari Ingel: He's a long shot in an offense that has so many weapons, but Niklas was their 2nd round pick two years ago and has been likened to Travis Kelce. He is currently running with the first team offense and has a chance to make an impact if you are looking for a late round reach.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay

Stephen Holloway: My ranking TE17 – Seaferian-Jenkins has not had a good camp and has been reportedly in the coach’s dog-house for dogging it in practice. Still, he is a talented and athletic player who could produce if the light ever comes on. And again, he could be cut. He is a great boom/bust selection late in your draft that if he fails to play much early can be sent packing from your roster, but he could really be good.

Will Tye, NY Giants

Jason Wood: Will Tye is a better player than Larry Donnell. It's only a matter of time before Tye emerges as the better fit in Ben McAdoo's wide-open passing attack. Pro rating Tye's 8 starts last season over a full 16 games yields 100 targets, 68 receptions, 774 yards and 6 touchdowns. He's big, young, an elite athlete and outperformed Donnell when given the opportunity. What's not to like as your late round tight end, particularly if you're looking for a high upside option to go along with a high floor starter.