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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 and identify players that should outperform their draft position.

Player Receiving 4 Votes

Martellus Bennett, Green Bay

Phil Alexander: Of all the offseason moves that impacted fantasy football, Bennett landing in Green Bay might have been the best fit. Nevermind the Packers haven't had a top-10 fantasy tight end since Jermichael Finley. They've barely had a tight end at all since Finley. For an idea of what Bennett can accomplish stretching the seam as a Packer, look no further than what Jared Cook was able to do once he was finally healthy and integrated into the offense last year. In Green Bay's three playoff games, Cook combined for 18 receptions, 230 yards, and 2 touchdowns. It's a microscopic sample to be sure, but it suggests Bennett -- a perennial top-10 fantasy tight end -- has top-3 upside playing with Aaron Rodgers.

Ryan Hester: There isn’t much special sauce here. Green Bay passes the ball a ton, and Bennett is an excellent pass-catcher and red zone player. He’s also well-rounded enough to stay on the field on all downs. Any player tied to Aaron Rodgers in the mid-to-late rounds is an attractive asset.

Daniel Simpkins: Aaron Rodgers elevates the value of all with whom he plays. Even Jared Cook, who had been wildly inconsistent throughout his career, managed to have a decent year with Rodgers in Green Bay. Bennett is far more capable than Cook, and though he struggled through an ankle injury last year, he managed to play competently while Rob Gronkowski was out. Half a dozen touchdowns and 600 yards is just the floor for Bennett. At his current ADP, that’s pretty great value.

Mark Wimer: In general, the top-8 tight ends are all priced right about where they should be, but outside of that group Bennett sticks out to me as a modest value. He is in a great situation with the Packers, who love utilizing the tight end but have been frustrated by banged-up starters at the position in recent years. Bennett is tough and plays through nicks and dings that might sideline other guys - if he builds a strong rapport with Rodgers a top-5 finish is well within the realm of possibility.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

Zach Ertz, Philadelphia

Andy Hicks: When you are looking for a starting tight end after all the big names are gone, you should grab Zach Ertz who will outperform most of those taken ahead of him. He has proven durable, unlike many of those that will be drafted earlier. He is only 26, unlike the many ahead of him who are over 30 and is almost a sure thing for at least 100 targets and 800 yards. If he could get a few more touchdowns, he becomes a top-4 tight end. The Philadelphia wide receivers are hardly inspiring and the running game looks like it will struggle as well. Ertz is almost certainly the target for Carson Wentz when he is under pressure and he should easily outperform his draft slot.

Stephen Holloway: Ertz, the Eagles' 2nd-round pick in 2013 played well in his rookie season (36 catches for 469 yards & 4 touchdowns) and has improved his production each season. He has averaged 76.5 receptions, 835 yards and 3 touchdowns the past two years. Ertz led the Eagles in targets over the final five weeks, with 64 and the next highest was only 41. In those games he had 40 catches for 443 yards and 3 touchdowns . Expect similar production in 2017. The additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith may reduce Ertz’s targets a little, but the middle of the field should be cleared more giving him room to operate.

Jason Wood: Zach Ertz was the 8th-ranked tight end in 2016, in spite of scoring just four touchdowns. It’s confounding to see his ADP lower than last year’s finish. Ertz is entering his prime. He’s healthy. Carson Wentz should be better in his second season. The offensive line is healthy (Ertz was forced to stay in as a blocker more last year because of Lane Johnson’s 10-game suspension). The young tight end managed similar production under Chip Kelly (78 receptions for 853 yards) and Doug Pederson (78 receptions for 816 yards) and he has no competition on the roster for tight end snaps. Touchdown variance works in both directions, which means Ertz’ 13 touchdowns in four seasons could easily revert to 6-8 scores in a season). Ertz would vault into the top 3 or 4 at the position with a normalized touchdown output, but even if he continues to fall short in the end zone, he’s a Top 6 tight end in PPR formats.

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota

Stephen Holloway: Rudolph was drafted by the Vikings in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He played early, but his production was spotty at best before the 2016 season. His previous top seasons came in 2012 and in 2015, when he caught around 50 passes for almost 500 yards. He has been productive around the end zone, scoring 22 touchdowns on 182 receptions (12.1%), even before last season. 2016 was by far his best season with 83 receptions for 840 yards and 7 touchdowns, although his touchdown rate slipped to 9%. As well as he played last year, he was especially good down the stretch, catching 44 passes for 436 yards in the last five weeks of the season. Rudolph and Sam Bradford go together like peanut butter and jelly. Bradford has never been known as a deep passer (career 6.56 ypa) or even accurate (career 62.3%), but he set career highs a year ago with 71.6% completion rate and 7.02 ypa and Rudolph was the most targeted Viking. Expect more of the same this year.

Ari Ingel: What a difference a quarterback makes. Potential only lasts so long, fortunately for Rudolph it lasted six years and he finally broke out. The mojo between Bradford and Rudolph is real and there is no reason to doubt it won't continue. Per ESPN Stats, he ran a route on 58 percent of his snaps and was targeted on 23.7 percent of them, on his way to catching 83 passes and 7 touchdowns. A legitimate red zone threat, finishing second in the league in red zone targets with 24, expect similar numbers this year, despite the tendency to still not believe in him. Fight the urge.

Matt Waldman: I don’t think Sam Bradford’s rapport with Rudolph will disappear because the Vikings added Michael Floyd and both Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell are healthier. If anything, I expect Rudolph to be closer to the top-5 options than his current ADP. Bradford throws with strong touch and placement and Rudolph is a trusted option who wins in tight coverage. I think the rest of this receiving corps has to prove that it can hurt Rudolph’s production instead of presuming a regression is all but certain.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Jack Doyle, Indianapolis

Chris Kuczynski: Seemingly coming out of nowhere last season, Doyle quickly became one of Andrew Luck’s favorite targets last season. With the departure of Dwayne Allen, Doyle is now the clear cut number one tight end in the offense and will certainly get plenty of targets, which should allow him to increase his 59 catches, 584 yards and 5 touchdowns from a year ago. The offense will once again be revolved around the passing game, and with wide open competition behind TY Hilton to get the rest of the targets, Doyle can potentially be a solid TE1, at a position that has been down as of late.

Jeff Pasquino: Jameis Winston and Tom Brady are often cited as quarterbacks that love to target tight ends, but Andrew Luck is often overlooked in this category. Winston only has targeted the tight end in his offense about 100 times a season in his first two years, while Brady (and the rest of New England) have looked to Rob Gronkowski and other big TEs 546 times in the past four seasons – only four more than the Colts over the same period. Brady did miss four of those games last year due to suspension, but Luck only played seven contests in 2015. Long story short – the Colts and Andrew Luck love to look to the tight end position, but it has been hard to find one tight end to single out in fantasy because Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle have all been splitting up the workload. Now that both Allen (Patriots) and Fleener (Saints) are out of the picture, it is just Doyle competing with Eric Swoope for the available targets. That’s 149 targets from last season ready to be shared, so if Doyle gets 100 targets, he should produce about 33% more than last year based on his 75 chances. That would mean his 59-584-5 numbers would approach 75-700-7 type production, which puts him in the top-5 tight end conversation. I’ll take that all day long for any tight end I can draft outside the Top 10.

Julius Thomas, Miami

Chris Feery: Julius Thomas never quite delivered on his promise during his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but there’s a solid chance he can turn things around now that he’s taken his talents to the Miami Dolphins. There have been many whispers that he’ll be a big part of the passing attack and a preferred red zone target, and we’ll take the bait. Thomas can be had for TE2 prices, but he has a real chance of finishing the season as a Top 10 tight end.

Jeff Pasquino: The Miami Dolphins traded with Jacksonville to get Julius Thomas this offseason, paying just a seventh round pick to reunite the big tight end with head coach Adam Gase (both formerly in Denver). Thomas snagged 24 touchdowns in 27 games while under Gase in Denver, and news coming out of Miami has Thomas as being a big part of the new offensive scheme with 10-12 touchdown upside. Thomas makes for a strong TE2 option in drafts with good TE1 upside.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Jimmy Graham, Seattle

Matt Waldman: Good receiving tight ends thrive off an effective play-action passing game. Seattle lacked a believable play-action game thanks to an inexperienced and injured ground game and significantly wounded Russell Wilson. Even so, Graham was the No. 4 PPR option. The Seahawks have added depth to a now-healthy running back corps and solidified its interior offensive line. While it would nice if the tackles were better, a healthy Wilson can create as long as he’s not dealing with interior pressure on every down. These factors should help the ground game improve and generate better play-action looks for Graham, who only scored six times last year—his lowest total where he’s started at least 15 games since his rookie year. Some will attribute it to his quad injury, but it’s underestimating the poor play of the offense. I expect a red zone rebound.

Hunter Henry, LA Chargers

Andy Hicks: Hunter Henry had one of the best rookie seasons for a tight end ever. Since the turn of the century the only rookie tight ends to get more fantasy points in their rookie seasons were Rob Gronkowski, Jeremy Shockey, and Aaron Hernandez. I expect Henry to join them as perennial fantasy options and this is the year he should improve rapidly and may be the only year he is a steal in fantasy drafts. His current draft slot is roughly the same position he finished in his rookie season. Any kind of improvement, and that should be expected for a 2nd-year tight end, and he easily becomes a solid starting tight end.

Austin Hooper, Atlanta

Jason Wood: Juxtapose the hype for this year’s rookie tight ends against the forgotten men who were drafted a season ago. Austin Hooper only caught 19 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie, but fantasy owners are making a mistake ignoring the 6’4”, 254-pounder. The Falcons return all the key pieces to the NFL’s top offense, including MVP Matt Ryan. The one missing piece? Veteran tight end Jacob Tamme. Tamme’s departure is a testament to the Falcons’ confidence in Hooper. He could easily see enough targets to return TE1 value for a last round price.