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Late Round Tight Ends

How to find some late-round TEs with big fantasy upside

When it comes to picking out NFL tight ends for fantasy purposes, it does not take much to figure out who the top candidates are this season. If you are looking for some late value picks, however, you have come to the right place. What I want to find for all of us here are tight ends that should be getting several targets a game. With five or more balls headed their way each week, they should be able to haul in at least three on average and have a shot at 40-50 yards a week and possibly a touchdown. That may not sound like much, but that works out to be 48 catches and 640-800 yards a year, which would put any TE right near the Top 12 last season (provided he scored a few times). Not bad at all.

So what's the plan? I have looked at several different ways to pick up some valuable tight ends later in fantasy drafts before, but this time I am going to get a bit more scientific. Here I will take a look at an overall ADP list and pick out three different types of teams. Oddly enough, I care more about the wide receivers on a given team than about the tight ends. The reasoning is pretty simple - if the quarterback on a given team has limited options, the ball has to go somewhere. What better option than a big guy over the middle?

I broke the 32 NFL teams down and kept the ones that fit into three basic categories:

  1. Teams with no WRs in the Top 50 ADP List
  2. Teams with only 1 WR in the Top 30 ADP List
  3. Teams with 1-2 WRs in the Top 50 ADP List but none in the Top 30

Here are the results:

Category 1 - Teams with no WRs in the Top 50 ADP list

This may be surprising to some, but there are usually a few teams each year with absolutely terrible wide receiver options. This season has two, one due to a team apparently planning to run, run and run some more (Tennessee) and another coming off of a dreadful season that included the first ever major injury to their starting quarterback.  Baltimore has Joe Flacco back now at 100%, but will Steve Smith (WR51) be able to be the top target again?  Is Mike Wallace (WR69), Kamar Aiken (WR55) or Breshad Perriman (WR61) a possible help to the receiving corps?  Will any tight end be worth owning for the Ravens?  That is all part of the reason that most teams are avoiding the Baltimore passing attack.  Stepping back for a moment, Baltimore could have a strong case for a good tight end to emerge, and the best candidate is either second year TE Maxx Williams, Crockett Gillmore, veteran Ben Watson or (if he returns) comeback of the year candidate Dennis Pitta.  They say when you have two quarterbacks you have none, but four tight ends?  I think everyone should rightly pass here.

That leaves the Titans to be discussed, and it is quite evident that their leading target this year should be the one that led the team in yards and scores in 2015 - Delanie Walker.  The problem here, of course, is that Walker is already a TE1 and getting selected as the 5th-7th tight end off the board, so he will not help in our search for a late round tight end value pick.

Bottom line from Category 1:   Delanie Walker is a Top 5 tight end and Baltimore is a mess.  Pass on these two groups for late value tight ends, unless one tight end emerges for the Ravens.

Category 2 - Teams with only 1 WR in the Top 30 ADP list

This group of teams is the largest group to consider (nine NFL teams), but some of them are easily scratched off because either (A) their starting tight end is a top option (Top 12 ADP) or because (B) their TE has an ADP lower than Death Valley. Quickly looking over the list, we have to dismiss New England's Rob Gronkowski, Carolina's Greg Olsen, Kansas City's Travis Kelce and Cincinnati's Tyler Eifert as four "Type A" tight ends. With that said, let's transfer our gaze to "Type B". That leaves five teams to go over, so let's hit it:

  • Houston – The Texans have a rough passing game because of a younger and relatively inexperienced starting quarterback (Brock Osweiler) and just DeAndre Hopkins as a viable receiving target.  The cast of characters at tight end in Houston are barely recognizable names, even in Texas.  C.J. Fiedorowicz is the top option right now, followed by Ryan Griffin and undrafted rookie Stephen Anderson. I think we can safely scratch this group off of our list.
  • Tampa Bay – The Buccaneers have two options here with Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Cameron Brate, neither of which project to be worth much this season.  But, as my good friend Cecil Lammey reminded me several times last year, no quarterback targeted the tight end more in college than Jameis Winston, so there is hope for value here if either Seferian-Jenkins or Brate wins the starting role and gets some chances.  I will leave both on the waiver wire for now, but I will keep an eye on this situation throughout August and September.
  • Atlanta - No, Tony Gonzalez is not coming back, but the Falcons did draft a very promising rookie this year in Austin Hooper.  Expecting too much of a rookie in his first season is asking for trouble, but Hooper has the talent to push veteran Jacob Tamme for chances this year.  Matt Ryan certainly has gone towards the tight end (Gonzalez) in the past, so if Hooper gets a lot of play, he could have some value - but like in Tampa Bay, I am in wait and see mode here only.
  • Buffalo - Charles Clay was pushing for borderline TE1 status when he was with Miami and then he did post some solid numbers in Buffalo, right up until Rex Ryan pulled in the reins on the passing game with Tyrod Taylor.  Clay did get 77 targets in 2015, but that is nowhere close to TE1 value.  In a limited passing game, even the top tight end for the Bills is not worth a roster spot.
  • Dallas – Here is possibly the best of the best in this group.  Veteran tight end Jason Witten is like a poor man's Tony Gonzalez - he never seems to retire, and he is always productive when healthy.  Now, he offers next to nothing after the catch, but he sees the field the most of any tight end for the Cowboys and he is one of Tony Romo's favorite targets.  Witten is available in the TE2 group this year with an ADP of 150 overall, putting him in the middle of Round 13.  That represents a good value pick in my book.  

Bottom line from Category 2:  Jason Witten is the best of the group, unless rookie Austin Hooper starts to emerge.  Grabn Witten in the middle of Round 13 and be very happy with a strong TE2 with upside.

Category 3 - Teams with 1-2 WRs in the Top 50 ADP list but none in the Top 30

This group of teams is usually much smaller than Category 2, but several NFL WR1s are just sitting outside the Top 30 this season, which puts this category at five teams this year.  Two of the five teams have two receivers on the list (Cleveland, Minnesota) while the other three have just one WR in the Top 50.  All five have potential for value for a tight end to emerge as the #2 target in that respective passing game.  Cleveland's Gary Barnidge (TE10) and Washington's Jordan Reed (TE2) are too high on the ADP list, so we are now down to just three teams to dig into:

  • San Francicso – Not a very sexy team or offense to look at, and Vance McDonald (TE26) is barely worth a mention.  The quarterback situation is not very stable, and frankly I would not trust a tight end for the 49ers this season.  Let's move on.
  • Los Angeles – At first glance the tight end position for the Rams looks crowded, but I really do not see much talent ahead of rookie Tyler Higbee in Los Angles.  The Rams are likely to turn the reins over to fellow rookie Jared Goff at quarterback, and what better safety net is there than a big target over the middle?  The Rams are likely to struggle this year and they will need to throw, and Higbee was a big part of the West Virginia offense in college.  I like him as a very solid sleeper that you can grab at or near the end of your draft since his ADP is well over 240.
  • Minnesota - The Vikings only offer Stephon Diggs and rookie Laquon Treadwell at receiver, making the tight end at or near the top of the target list for QB Teddy Bridgewater.  That makes Kyle Rudolph (another Pro Bowler) a great value target.  Granted, Minnesota wants to run the ball and play defense, but they are back inside a dome this season and Rudolph can get open, especially down the middle and in the red zone.  Consider me a fan of grabbing Rudolph as a solid TE2 value with an ADP of 200 (TE22), putting him close to the end of most drafts (roughly Round 17).     

Bottom line from Category 3:  Both Kyle Rudolph (TE22, ADP 200) and rookie Tyler Higbee (ADP over 240) are strong options in this category.  Rudolph is the preferred option as a former Pro Bowler that can offer great value as a TE2 with TE1 upside. 

If you are waiting this season to pick up a tight end later in your draft or even just looking for a good second (or third) option, take a longer look at the guys outlined here. Values exist at TE outside of the Top 10-12 names that are going to go in the first half of your fantasy drafts, so do not overlook the later guys who can help your team get those extra points and win a few more games this year.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.