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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 5 Votes

Zach Ertz, Philadelphia

Jeff Haseley: In addition to Alshon Jeffery seeing an increase in targets due to the Jordan Matthews trade, Zach Ertz will also see an uptick in usage. A 70-80 catch season seems likely and he's being drafted as the 11th tight end off the board. Ertz screams value, especially now that more target shares will be coming his way.

Andy Hicks: 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 last year with 64, while 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 have been offset by the trade of Jordan Matthews, so Ertz should get a similar target number and the middle of the field may be more open, giving him better opportunities per target.

Ari Ingel: The departure of Jordan Matthews helps Ertz more than anyone else on this team, as they worked the same area of the field. In fact, he had a monster 31 targets in the two games Matthews missed last season. When healthy, Ertz is a quality tight end that has a very good connection with Carson Wentz. Although he always seems to start slow, only to come on strong as the season wears on, so hopefully, he can get things going right out of the gate this year. The additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith should also help to open things up for Ertz. He’s a safer option than he was.

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.

Player Receiving 3 Votes

Jack Doyle, Indianapolis

Andy Hicks: Following the departure of Coby Fleener to New Orleans, many expected Dwayne Allen to step into the fold in Indianapolis, but it was 4th-year man Jack Doyle who arrived with 59 receptions for 584 yards and 5 touchdowns. Now Allen has departed as well, meaning that the Colts will look to Doyle to do even more in 2017. Now while Doyle has the upside to be a mid tier TE1, the presence of basketball convert Eric Swoope could eat into his numbers. Draft both if you can, but until Swoope is ready Doyle is a great value pick.

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 now 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.

Jason Wood: The Colts target the tight end position more than almost any team in the league, including 149 targets in 2016. Doyle re-signed, and Dwayne Allen is now a Patriot, which means Doyle is in-line for a significant workload. Erik Swoope is an athletic, high-upside alternative on the roster, but Doyle was given starter’s money, has already produced a fantasy worthy season, and has a rapport with Andrew Luck.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Martellus Bennett, Green Bay

Phil Alexander: Of all the off-season moves that impacted fantasy football, Bennett landing in Green Bay might have been the best fit. Never mind 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.

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. 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.

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota

Stephen Holloway: Kyle 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 last year. 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 have a connection. Bradford, never known as a deep passer (career 6.56 YPA) or even accurate (career 62.3%), set career highs a year ago with 71.6% completion rate and 7.02 YPA, with Rudolph as the most targeted Viking. Expect more of the same this year.

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. Rudolph was among the two most consistent producers at the position last year and that includes games that belong in the highest tier of producers on a weekly basis. On film, 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 1 Vote

Cameron Brate

Justin Howe: Drafters are gushing over O.J. Howard, and maybe they're onto something - he's a gifted, if flawed, prospect. But rookie TEs rarely move the needle much - especially ones who hardly caught the ball in college - and many are underrating Brate's channel with Jameis Winston. His emergence was noted frequently throughout last offseason, and his bond with Winston was likely a major reason Austin Seferian-Jenkins was shipped out of town and not merely benched. Brate has Winston's eye, is a studly red zone producer, and is lasting far too long in drafts while owners expect a raw-ish rookie to almost completely supplant him. To me, he's still an upper-tier TE2 with week-to-week TE1 upside.

Coby Fleener, New Orleans

Ryan Hester: Fleener had the athletic profile and situation to be drafted as top-six tight end a year ago. Now he's not even being drafted as a TE1. His skill is still in tact, so did his situation get worse? Brandin Cooks (and 117 targets) left town; Ted Ginn (and his zero seasons over 60 receptions or 800 yards) have arrived; Willie Snead doesn't score touchdowns, and many think Michael Thomas scored too many last year and is due for regression. Fleener's ADP is a product of a down year adjusting to a new team and system. Expect more volume for him and more touchdowns as a result. He has a clear path a top-10 positional finish for a discount price.

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 be ideal 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

Chris Feery: As a general rule of thumb, rookie tight ends have a tough time acclimating to the NFL. Hunter Henry went against the grain in that regard in 2016, as he posted an impressive line of 36/478/8. All signs point to him taking a proverbial leap forward in year two, and that’s a pretty scary prospect for opposing defensive coordinators. That’s also a potential boon for your fantasy squad, as Henry can be had for a tremendous value. Those that prefer to wait for their tight end should keep Henry’s name circled, as he offers legitimate Top 5 tight end upside at extremely reasonable prices. Antonio Gates is still hanging around, but don’t let that scare you off. There’s more than enough targets to go around in the Chargers offense, and Henry’s in line to get more than his fair share.