While every player has their price in fantasy football where they offer potential value, most drafts will center around 40-50 target players and key avoid players on an owner's draft board. These strong takes for the upcoming season based on average draft position (ADP) sculpt a draft plan. Here is the early draft plan for the tight end position by myfantasyleague.com ADP through early June on Footballguys.com.
tight endS TO TARGET
eric ebron, te11
Round 1 drafted tight ends are one of the best fantasy investments around. The position is typically slow to get up to speed, but top-drafted ones like Eric Ebron are rock-solid career arc bets to be a fantasy starter. Even Brandon Pettigrew emerged for 11 and 12 PPG within his first three NFL seasons. Ebron has been lackluster to develop through two years, but the opportunity is aligning. Detroit is near the top of the list for teams with available targets from 2015, as I mentioned in my 'Passing Game Shuffle' post. Calvin Johnson's 150 targets are gone of note. Ebron saw 70 targets a year ago and 100+ are within reach in 2016.
zach miller, te19
With Martellus Bennett gone, Miller has no competition for the lead role in Chicago. Journeyman Rob Housler sits at No.2 on the depth chart. With Bennett out of the lineup, Miller had games of 5-85-1, 6-57-0, and 7-69-0 late in the season. Miller has TE1 upside with Alshon Jeffery a consistent banged up option, Kevin White a wild card returning from a redshirt rookie season, and little else in the Chicago passing game.
ben watson, te29
Watson turned in a career year in his mid-30s last year with New Orleans. Surprisingly he signed with a tight end-rich depth chart in Baltimore for decent money ($4 million per year). Crockett Gillmore has logged shoulder and back surgeries of late and Maxx Williams is an average physical talent with a lackluster rookie season under his belt. Watson can step in, like last year, and be the top option in Baltimore. The Ravens passing game is wide open for a breakout fantasy performer this year as Kamar Aiken was the lone option to see even 75 targets in 2015. Breshad Perriman is a wild card returning from a redshirt rookie season, but Watson outside the top-25 tight ends in ADP is a no-brainer bet to be even 75% of what he was with the Saints a year ago with top-15 upside.
vance mcdonald, te32
McDonald is one of the best metric prospects at tight end in recent draft classes. In my projection model, McDonald ranks in the 93rd percentile overall and at least +30% in the three major categories of Size, Athleticism, and Production. The starting job is open in San Francisco and McDonald's to lose at this early stage. Garrett Celek and Blake Bell are potential challengers. Vance McDonald has underwhelmed with his limited playing time to-date but has the profile to be a value in the Chip Kelly offense. At TE32 all McDonald has to do is win the starting job to be worth an upside shot in deeper formats.
tight endS TO AVOID
tyler eifert, TE3
Let's start with the injury for Tyler Eifert, a ligament repair in his ankle, which has the opening weeks of the season in jeopardy. Next, Eifert has missed games in every NFL season-to-date and 19 overall in three years. Another demerit is his likely touchdown regression (13 scores on 52 receptions in 2015). Outside of Rob Gronkowski, projecting a tight end to repeat historic touchdown totals in back-to-back seasons is a dicey game. Other than Gronkowski, Julius Thomas, amidst the high-flying Denver offense in 2013-2014, was the lone option to log consecutive low-volume and high touchdown rate seasons. At TE3, Eifert's ADP is paying for a fully healthy tight end without touchdown regression against them and still paying at their ultimate upside. Eifert is a glaring avoid tight end this season.
zach ertz, te7
Ertz's TE7 ADP matches his positional finish in receiving yards last season. However, Ertz has not been even an average touchdown scorer among the tight end position through three years in the NFL. He has nine total touchdowns through three seasons and 169 receptions. Paying a TE7 price for a tight end needs to come with a top-3 upside. Ertz has a sturdy floor in the top-12, but without touchdown upside or elite target upside, Ertz is a tight end to avoid rather than to a target.
hunter henry, te20
While the long-term outlook for Henry, the top tight end in the 2016 class, is positive betting on a rookie tight end outside of Rob Gronkowski (or Jeremy Shockey) has been a rough proposition in the last 15 years. Antonio Gates is still around and Henry needs an injury for a decent chunk of the season, plus be a historic rookie performer at a slow-progressing position. In deep leagues, target tight ends with better odds and initial opportunity than Hunter Henry.