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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 one, but it is a pretty obvious one.  No, it is not Cleveland, but it could be a team even worse this year with the New York Jets being the only team without a wide receiver in the ADP Top 50 list.  With quarterback issues, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker leaving, and now Quincy Enunwa injured, well, in a word - yikes.  This team could set all kinds of ineptitude records for a passing offense.  This is a big reason why Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ADP TE31 and climbing) is a big sleeper option for this coming season.   

Bottom line from Category 1:   The Jets are probably going to be really, really bad, but even inept teams throw the ball a lot.  Austin Seferian-Jenkins costs next to nothing but could have some value and upside, even with quarterback concerns in New York. 

CATEGORY 2 - TEAMS WITH ONLY 1 WR IN THE TOP 30 ADP LIST

This group of teams is the largest group to consider for 2017, and quite possibly a record since I have been doing this analysis.  With 20 out of 32 teams getting just one wide receiver in the Top 30, there is much to discuss.  I am breaking the category into six sub-categories to make this simpler:

Category 2A - Teams with clear stud tight ends (ADP Top 5) that will not have any real draft value.  This includes Washington (Jordan Reed), Carolina (Greg Olsen), Seattle (Jimmy Graham) and the Kansas City Chiefs (Travis Kelce).  All four teams get crossed off the list. 

Category 2B - Teams with just one wide receiver in the Top 50 and value options at tight end.  Two teams in this group for 2017, both in the NFC East.  The Philadelphia Eagles' Zach Ertz has plenty of upside, even as a later TE1, with Carson Wentz continuing to mature in a healthy passing offense.  Even more valuable is the veteran in Dallas, the ageless Jason Witten.  His ADP has him as a strong TE2 and he continues to rack up catches and end zone targets every season.

Category 2C - Teams with solid tight ends as either their second or third option (only 1-2 receivers in the ADP Top 50).  Detroit (Eric Ebron), Minnesota (Kyle Rudolph) and Cincinnati (Tyler Eifert) offer respectable value with lower end TE1s in this category, but three other teams present possibly better targets.  The Colts could have a strong passing game once fully healthy, with Jack Doyle a strong TE2 with big upside option.  Julius Thomas is back with Adam Gase in Miami, and former Colt Coby Fleener has Drew Brees targeting him in a Brandin Cooks-less offense.  

Category 2D - Teams with two viable options, which could wreck the value of both.  Two teams are in this group, as Tampa Bay has both Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard being drafted as TE2s, while the Chargers have Hunter Henry getting pushed for touchdown targets by future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates.

Category 2E - This group would fall in the "not really sure", or "Giant questionmark" group - and I offer up just one member with Austin Hooper in Atlanta.  Matt Ryan spreads the ball around far too much to trust Hooper, even as a TE2.

Category 2F - Group F is our last group, and "F" is the right letter.  This is the group of teams where the tight ends have ADPs lower than Death Valley, and probably for good reason.  Five tight ends wrap up Category 2 in this group.  The Los Angeles Rams' Tyler Higbee was a force in college, but it remains to be seen if he can step up in his second year as a pro.  Arizona and Jacksonville offer no value at tight end, so scratch them off as well.  Houston's C.J. Fiedorowicz is a moderate talent, but the Texans are likely to have quarterback problems.  Rookie Evan Engram closes out the list as a rookie starter for the New York Giants, and rookies rarely offer value.  Couple that with two strong WR1s in Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall and not much should be expected of Engram this season.  

Bottom line from Category 2:  The back end of the TE1s offer some value, but the better options are to target valuable TE2s from this group.  Jason Witten is the best of the category, with Jack Doyle a close second and possibly Julius Thomas in Miami.   Take a tight end in the TE10-18 range, possibly two, and consider a committee approach this season if neither steps up as a true every week starter.

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, and that is certainly the case for 2017.  Only four teams are in this last group, and not many of them look that appealing.  Let's break each one down:

  • San Francicso – Not a very sexy team or offense to look at, and Vance McDonald (TE34) 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.  Yes, this is almost exactly what I said last year.  Let's move on.
  • Baltimore – Questions, questions and more questions for the Ravens this season.  Steve Smith finally retired, but Dennis Pitta hurt his hip for the third time and may never play again.  Baltimore has three receivers that could become respectable WR3s or better - Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman.  No clear starter or value is there at tight end - Ben Watson is the top of the list at ADP of TE30 - so scratch off the Ravens.
  • Chicago – Alshon Jeffery is now an Eagle and Eddie Royal was cut, so all that is left at wide receiver are Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.  Zach Miller put up solid numbers last season, and he could be a favorite target for either Mike Glennon or rookie Mitchell Trubisky.  
  • 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.
  • Buffalo - The Bills just traded away Sammy Watkins to the Rams, and Jordan Matthews (from Philadelphia) could be their top wide receiver.  This puts Charles Clay - who is very cheap at TE25 - in solid consideration.

Bottom line from Category 3:  Both Charles Clay (TE25) and Zach Miller (TE28) are strong options in this category.  Clay is the preferred option but both players offer great upside as TE3s with very high 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.