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Value Plays: Tight Ends

The Footballguys staff finds value at the tight end position

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. In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look through the top 150 players and identify players that should outperform their draft position.

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Players Receiving 8 Votes

Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis

James Brimacombe: The big reason why Allen is such a value is that Coby Fleener has departed to New Orleans and now there is no direct competition for Allen to compete for targets. Allen is currently being drafting in the 11th or 12th round as his stock plummeted after his 16/106/1 season in 2015. With no Fleener in the mix and with a healthy Andrew Luck to start the season you have to like Allen’s chances to rebound and see at least 50+ targets from his quarterback. At his current ADP of TE16 he gives you solid value and has the potential to become a favorite target of Luck.

Ryan Hester: Indianapolis’ passing game is a candidate for positive regression with Andrew Luck’s return to health. Allen and fellow tight end Coby Fleener were both free agents, and the club elected to keep Allen while Fleener signed for similar compensation in New Orleans. On a team whose top receiver is small and hasn’t been a significant red zone threat, Allen could see plenty of touchdown-scoring opportunities throughout 2016.

Justin Howe: By the numbers, Allen probably can't help seeing TE1-level volume in 2016. Coby Fleener is gone, leaving only Allen and a few speculative youngsters on the depth chart. Allen's never been a volume guy, but the Colts vacate 187 targets from 2015 and get their franchise QB back. The offense should again be truly explosive, allowing Allen to build on his already solid efficiency and touchdown rates.

Chris Kuczynski: With Coby Fleener departing to New Orleans, Allen will have plenty of opportunity to compete for targets with the other young receivers behind T.Y. Hilton. Andrew Luck is back to full health and will likely return to top 5 form so all pass catchers should get a significant boost from last season. There was little improvement in the RB depth chart behind 33 year old Frank Gore, and the defense has not really been addressed much either, so the Colts might find themselves trailing in games and throwing a lot. Allen should be able to give owners solid enough production based on volume alone, especially in the redzone. He can taken late in the draft once most teams already have their starting TE.

Bob Magaw: Allen's fantasy value and dynasty fate has been inextricably linked with and suppressed by former Colts teammate and fellow day two TE Coby Fleener. With the departure of Fleener to the Saints, their respective value has been mutually unlocked through the separation. While Allen isn't as dynamic a downfield threat, he has a more complete, superior overall game, and is a more rugged presence in traffic and over the middle. If the coaching staff fixes the OL woes and star QB Andrew Luck stays healthy and returns to his stellar 2014 form, there should be ample opportunity for Allen to assert himself. In the absence of a strong run game, health permitting, he seems destined to crash the top 10 scorers at his position.

John Mamula: Opportunity is knocking on the door for Dwayne Allen. Gone is Coby Fleener and his 84 targets from last season. Allen will see a significant bump in snaps and targets as the main TE in Indianapolis. Thus, as the 16th TE, Allen comes with built-in upside and should outperform his current ADP.

Jeff Pasquino: Everyone loves Coby Fleener in New Orleans right now, but what about his former teammate, Dwayne Allen? For years these two talented tight ends had to split time in Indianapolis. It has been proven that when one of these two gets the bulk of the targets from Andrew Luck, TE1 numbers are well within reach. Allen is available late in drafts (ADP 142, TE17) and offers high upside – exactly what you want from a second tight end in your draft this season.

Mark Wimer: Allen is the clear-cut #1 tight end in Indianapolis now that Coby Fleener hangs his helmet next to Drew Brees' down in New Orleans' locker room. Allen won't have to share touches with Fleener anymore, and even though Allen seems like a crusty old vet of the vintage of Ben Watson, the truth is he is only 26 years old this year. Tight ends have accounted for 32% of Andrew Luck's touchdown pass production in his career - and Allen may snarf up all of those thrown to the tight end position this year in Indianapolis. A top-ten finish at his position would be no surprise, yet he's way down at #16 among the tight ends when looking at ADP.

Martellus Bennett, New England

Mike Brown: Don't be scared off by the Gronk factor. The Patriot offense has obviously supported fantasy production from two tight ends before, and while Bennett's ceiling may be a bit capped due to the presence of Rob Gronkowski, he will still get a healthy share of targets. Why? Because Dion Lewis is still injured, Gronk himself is a bit banged-up, and the New England wide receiving corp leaves something to be desired.

Chris Feery: A poor culture fit in Chicago allowed the New England Patriots to swoop in and acquire Martellus Bennett’s services for a song, and opposing defensive coordinators that have the Patriots on the docket in 2016 may find themselves with some sleepless nights during Patriots week. Bennett is expected to be a big factor in the Patriots passing game, and he’ll allow them to efficiently run the two tight end offense that they terrorized the league with in years past. If Bennett buys into the ‘Patriot Way’ of doing business as anticipated, he will easily exceed the production that would be expected from his current draft position.

Jeff Haseley: Martellus Bennett has shown that he can handle 90 receptions in a season and now he has Tom Brady throwing to him. The Patriots offense may see an uptick in passing with the uncertainty of the running game, which benefits all receivers, including Bennett. I see Bennett as one of the Patriots key receivers this year and he's being treated like a player who will see 50% of offensive snaps. He's a great middle round tight end to target, but I would recommend pairing him with another tight end (not with a Week 9 bye) and playing the hot hand.

Dan Hindery: At TE14, Bennett is a steal. He should put up top-ten numbers at the position in the tight end-friendly Patriots offense. Beat reporters have indicated that the Patriots are likely to use two tight ends on more than 80% of the plays, which means Bennett is going to be on the field most downs. He has always been a talented pass catcher and has flashed the skills in preseason that made him a top fantasy option in previous seasons. Bennett should be especially valuable down the stretch and in the fantasy playoffs, when Tom Brady returns and the Patriots offense should be one of the league's best. Bennett is a top-100 value that is going off the board at least two rounds later than he should be.

Ari Ingel: I'm buying what my man Sig Bloom is selling. While Bennett may not have the same run after the catch ability as Aaron Hernandez, I can see the Patriots using a two tight-end set as their base offense for much of this season. He worked with Tom Brady a lot one-on-one in OTA's and ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss thinks that Bennett will be a "big factor" in the Patriots' offense. Still only 29, there is no reason Bennett can't catch 10 TDs and finish the season as a Top 5 tight end.

Jeff Pasquino: Does anyone remember when New England had two of the Top 5 tight ends in fantasy? I sure do, and I believe that is a distinct possibility once again this year. Bennett will be a favorite target in his first year in New England, and news has been reported that the Patriots could use both Bennett and Rob Gronkowski on the field 80% of the time this year. Bennett offers strong TE1 upside at a very cheap TE2 price.

Daniel Simpkins: New England is showing intentionality to once again go back to using two tight end sets, making Bennett a sneaky value in the 11th-round of drafts. Jimmy Garoppolo looked to get the ball to him often in the first preseason game, signaling he is a bigger part of the plan than most owners think. Gronkowski has also experienced a minor injury scare in practice. If he were to miss significant time as he has in the past, it would only cement Bennett among the top producers at the position.

Matt Waldman: It's difficult to buy into the idea that Bennett, the Patriots' No.2 tight end, will produce as a TE1 when the only time this happened in recent memory is with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Sure, Bennett is now paired with Gronkowski and Bill Belichick, but Hernandez and Gronkowski were an exceptional tandem. Bennett's yards after catch production last year was among the best at the position. The talk in camp is that the offense will use two tight ends as its base set. And the last time the Patriots used this set, the top producer whose production suffered during that 2012 season was Wes Welker, who was a fantasy WR1 the year before. While we all want to believe that we want game-changing info, few of us want to believe it when presented with it. Your loss, my gain.

Player Receiving 4 Votes

Coby Fleener, New Orleans

Mike Brown: Stop me if you've heard this before, but the Saints like to throw the ball to the tight end. After we watched Jimmy Graham spending years re-writing record books, the Saints traded him away to Seattle and got another incredible performance at the tight end spot from...Ben Watson? Yeah, so if Watson can hang 825 yards and 6 touchdowns on the board, the sky is the limit for a guy of Fleener's talents.

Will Grant: On the one hand, expecting Coby Fleener to claim Jimmy Graham’s numbers from two years ago is probably expecting to much. That being said, Fleener is still flying under the radar for a lot of people, and he’s still on the board in the 6th round of many fantasy leagues. That’s way too low for a guy with Fleener’s talent, and with Ben Watson out of the picture, Fleener is clearly the top receiving TE on the team. Fleener could finish this season with 70 catches and over 700 yards receiving. Great value for a 6th round pick, especially in leagues that require a TE to start each week.

Andy Hicks: Tight Ends do very well in New Orleans. Just witness Jimmy Graham in years gone by and an incredible performance from Benjamin Watson last year at the age of 35 to finish as the 7th ranked Tight End. Coby Fleener arrives from Indianapolis with a strong pedigree as his 6th ranked performance in 2014 illustrates, despite the presence of Dwayne Allen. Fleener could easily put up big numbers this year.

Ari Ingel: A lot of people don't trust Fleener as he has dropped far too many passes over the years, but he is a great route runner, knows how to get open and Drew Brees maximizes the talent around him. HC Sean Peyton will use Fleener as a moveable chess piece especially in the redzone where they need to replace departed tight end Ben Watson's 18 red zone targets from last season. It's also worth noting that 11 of Fleener's 18 career touchdowns have come in the red zone and Fleener stands 6'6" while the teams starting wide receivers stand Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead stand 5'10" and 5'11" respectively.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

Gary Barnidge, Cleveland

Devin Knotts: It is rare that we see a 30-year-old tight end breakout after being in the NFL for eight seasons, however, that is exactly what we had last season with Gary Barnidge as he had 79 receptions 1,043 yards, and nine touchdowns. He is being undervalued primarily due to turning 31 years old and being a one year wonder which scares people off. However, Barnidge is a major part of this offense, and while there is a new coaching staff it is one that has a history of incorporating the tight end into the offense which was shown last year when Tyler Eifert scored 13 touchdowns last year under Hue Jackson’s offense. This is a tremendous opportunity to get a player who has shown he can be a top performer and to get him as the 10th overall tight end.

Daniel Simpkins: Though fantasy owners now know Barnidge’s name after last season, they still aren’t giving him his due, as evidenced by his ninth-round price tag. We saw Griffin look his way frequently in the preseason game when the pressure was high. He also received a red zone target from Griffin in that contest. Barnidge will continue to be both a security blanket and a red zone threat for his quarterback. He is a good bet to match his totals from last year. If this offense begins clicking under the tutelage of Hue Jackson, Barnidge could even exceed those numbers.

Jason Wood: In his first seven seasons, Gary Barnidge caught 44 passes COMBINED. So it's understandable that no one – and I mean no one – saw last season coming. Barnidge was one of the lone bright spots in a woeful Browns season – 79 receptions for 1,043 yards and 9 touchdowns. While it's POSSIBLE Barnidge was a one-year wonder, I see a guy that established his value last year in his first real opportunity. The Browns upgraded their play-caller (Hue Jackson) and their quarterback (Robert Griffin), so it's hard for me not to like Barnidge to maintain TE1 value.

Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati

Phil Alexander: Eifert began the offseason as one of the more overvalued players in fantasy football, with an ADP in the late-fourth round. It was a price tag that left little room for inevitable regression after he converted a near-impossible nine-out-of-10 targets from inside the 10-yard-line into touchdowns last season. Since then, ankle surgery has tanked Eifert's ADP three full rounds. With last year's TE3 numbers (on a per game basis) no longer baked into his cost, Eifert once again offers profit potential near the 7-8 turn in 12-team drafts. With recent news Eifert has begun jogging, it appears hopeful he can avoid the PUP list to open the season. If he only misses two or three games, it won't be difficult to find adequate tight end streamers to fill-in while Eifert recovers. And when he gets back, any regression in the touchdown department should be mitigated by the target void left behind in Cincinnati by the departures of Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu. While setbacks suffered by Dion Lewis and Ladarius Green recently reminded us it's dangerous to be an injury optimist this time of year, Eifert's value proposition justifies the risk.

Chris Kuczynski: Eifert is being downgraded in drafts because of his injury recovery, but on a per-game basis, there are very few players in the league that compete with his touchdown output (13 in 2015), particularly from his high volume of targets in the redzone. While he may not be 100% to start the season, with AJ Green and Gio Bernard really his main competition for catches, he should be able to pick back up where he left off and by mid season he will be in the conversation for top 3 at the position.

Jeff Tefertiller: After finishing the season as TE5 in points per game, Tyler Eifert is being drafted as the TE7 off board in the early part of the seventh round. The young tight end came into his own last year and is undervalued due to an ankle injury. While it is entirely possible that Eifert misses a game or two due to an ankle injury, he should easily outproduce his draft position. Eifert’s situation in the Bengals passing game great improved with both Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones leaving in free agency.

Zach Ertz, Philadelphia

Stephen Holloway: I am in the camp that Zach Ertz is young and talented and has been underutilized. Last season, he set career highs in targets with 112 and receptions with 75, yet scored the fewest touchdowns in his three years in the NFL. He dominated down the stretch a year ago with 35 catches for 450 yards and a touchdown in the team’s final four games. Despite the new coaching regime in Philadelphia, I expect an even better season in year four for Ertz.

Justin Howe: I've run my Eagles projections twice recently, and I keep coming up with a healthy 20.7% target share for Ertz. The team's WR stable is thin, and Ertz did draw 20% of Sam Bradford's targets last year. Even in a slowed-down, run-heavy offense, that kind of usage should net Ertz another run at 70 catches. And he's always possessed the athleticism and build – and the college resume – to profile as a solid touchdown producer. He looks like a TE1 lock, and his overall value probably lies at least a round or two higher than his current ADP.

John Mamula: Zach Ertz is currently being drafted as the 9th TE but offers Top 5 upside. Ertz looks to be a focal point of the passing game along with Jordan Matthews this season. Ertz targets and receptions have gradually increased over his past three seasons. (2013, 56 targets with 36 receptions, 2014, 89 targets with 58 receptions, 2015 112 targets with 75 receptions) But Ertz touchdowns have regressed each season, 4 TD in 2013, 3 TD in 2014, 2 TD in 2015. Look for this to stabilize this season and for Ertz to easily return value at his ADP.

Antonio Gates, San Diego

Sigmund Bloom: It's hard to understand why last year's TE7 is going outside of the top 10 tight end taken in some drafts. Sure, he was suspended for the first four games last year and his snaps went down, but his usage is still strong in a great pass offense with a top quarterback, and his competition for targets at tight end - Ladarius Green - is in Pittsburgh now. The team really wants to get Gates his eight touchdowns to break Tony Gonzalez's tight end touchdown record, so look for lots of red zone targets.

Ryan Hester: Gates is a proven commodity on an offense that should still lean on its passing game in 2016. Naysayers will point to his age and injury history. And while he is old and oft-injured, it's worth noting that he entered 2011 with plantar fasciitis – an injury that can make even an in-his-prime player look like he's a broken-down veteran – he still finished that year with 64 catches, 778 yards, and seven touchdowns in 13 games (good for TE7). And even if Gates really falls off the cliff and can't run between the 20s, he'll still be able to use his basketball box-out skills to score touchdowns.

Matt Waldman: Tony Gonzalez was a productive TE1 until he retired. He lost more of his athletic ability than Gates and the Chargers tight end is still playing with the same quarterback that was throwing him the ball during his prime. The tight end and slot receiver positions from a receiving standpoint are more about knowing how to access the open areas of zone coverage more than consistently beating man coverage. Ladarius Green has the athletic ability to beat lots of defenders one-on-one, but he couldn't overtake Gates because Green lacked the understanding of how to be on the same page with his quarterback and read defenses at Gates' level. He's another guy with great, old-man game that I pull out of my back pocket in the 10th round and add him to my roster with no worries.

Delanie Walker, Tennessee

Stephen Holloway: Walker led the Titans a year ago in targets with 133, in receptions with 94, in yardage with 1,088 and in receiving touchdowns with 6. He has great chemistry with Marcus Mariota and should again lead the Titans receivers in many categories.

Devin Knotts: Delanie Walker came into last season and immediately become the number one receiving target in Tennessee for Marcus Mariota’s rookie season. Walker led the NFL in targets, was second in receptions, third in yards, and seventh in touchdowns in 2015. While the touchdowns are an area for improvement and should increase slightly based on the development of Mariota, but Walker provides one of the most consistent options at the tight end spot this season. Walker is very comparable to a player such as Greg Olsen where you know you are going to get production consistently across the season. One of the key differences between the two is that Walker can be had three rounds later creating an opportunity for value.

Mark Wimer: Given the dearth of quality wide receivers among the Titans, Walker should once again be the top target for sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota. Even in this run-centric scheme Walker will score enough to wind up among the top five at his position by year's end, and perhaps among the elite top-three. The trading away of Dorial Green-Beckham to Philadelphia midway through training camp only enhances Walker's appeal for fantasy owners. Who is left besides Walker to catch Mariota's passes this season? Go look it up yourself on Footballguys.com's Tennessee depth chart, and then you'll want Walker for your #1 tight end, too.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Eric Ebron, Detroit

Andy Hicks: The departure of Calvin Johnson leaves a giant hole in the Lions offense and the best man to probably fill that hole is the 6 foot 4, 265 pound 3rd year man Eric Ebron. He is nowhere near the all-round threat that Johnson was, but he improved significantly in his 2nd year. Any improvement this year and he easily moves into starting fantasy Tight End territory. All the training camp talk has focused on him potentially losing his job and suffering a rumored season ending injury. Both of those have been clearly put to rest, but his draft stock took a mighty tumble. Take him as a backup, but don't be surprised if he start for you at some stage of the season.

Bob Magaw: While Ebron has generally been viewed as failing to play up to his immense potential, it is a rare TE that excels as a rookie, and his 2015 second season numbers were boosted from 25-248-1 to 47-537-5. A combo of the passing game void left by Calvin Johnson's departure and a maturing Mathew Stafford capable of better leveraging his athleticism could be the catalyst to a more prominent role in year three. Still just 23, Ebron has elite, blue chip pedigree for a TE (the first at his position to be drafted top 10 overall since Pro Bowler Vernon Davis in 2006). Ebron's nearly 1,000 yards for North Carolina in 2013 eclipsed the ACC record of Davis, and their eerily similar, mirror image FBS career 16+ yard reception averages are among the best ever for first round TEs.

Jason Witten, Dallas

Jeff Haseley: Jason Witten was old last year and he still managed 77 receptions with a less than adequate quarterback for 12 weeks of the season. I expect him to be heavily involved in the offense once again and he's a player you can draft after the Top 12-14 tight ends go off the board.

Jason Wood: Jason Witten is on the verge of some monumental NFL records, and is a lock future Hall of Famer. Fantasy owners don't care about those achievements though, unless they come along with a solid 2016 stat line. The good news is Witten is being treated like he's lost a step even though the numbers belie that contention. Witten's catch rate, YAC and yards per catch are all right in line with his career norms. The only issue last season was the loss of Tony Romo. With Romo healthy, and Dez Bryant back stretching defenses, there's no reason to think Witten can't return to 80+ catch status; which makes him a TE1 in PPR formats.

Player Receiving 1 Vote

Jordan Reed, Washington

Sigmund Bloom: Reed produced at basically the same clip as Rob Gronkowski last year, and only missed two games (with a concussion) despite playing through some minor injuries. He shrugged off his injury prone label, and Washington seems to agree, signing him to a contract with 22 million dollars guaranteed this offseason. If Reed misses two games and puts up Gronkowski numbers (or even surpasses him as the #1 option in a pass first offense) this year, he'll be one of the best values at any position in the draft at a third/fourth round price.