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 players and identify players that should outperform their draft position. 

Players 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 -- now has clear top-3 upside at the position.

Sigmund Bloom: Bennett might have found a way to improve his quarterback situation from Tom Brady this offseason. The Packers signed him to replace Jared Cook, who was even more banged up than Bennett in 2016. He should induce the team to throw as often to the tight end as they have since the days of Jermichael Finley, which should at least be good enough for mid-low TE1 numbers, if not more if the Packers wide receivers have any injury issues (and of course Bennett can stay healthy himself). He’s an excellent choice for those who wait on tight end.

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.

Jack Doyle, Indianapolis

Chris Kuczynski: Seemingly coming out of nowhere last season, Doyle quickly became one of Andrew Luck’s favorite targets. With the departure of Dwayne Allen, Doyle is now the clear cut No. 1 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 T.Y. Hilton to get the rest of the targets, Doyle can potentially be a low to mid 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 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 product 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.

Darin Tietgen: Quick, name the tight end with the highest catch rate in 2016. Well, if you didn't know, now you do. Doyle was actually No. 15 in all of the NFL in catch rate percentage in 2016 (a healthy 78.7%) and only running backs (who obviously catch shorter passes) were above him. Gone is Dwayne Allen and Andrew Luck should be 100% to start the season. Tight end is looking a little thin these days, and folks will scramble to get their starter earlier in the draft. Many will reach for boom-or-bust types when the far safer option will last much longer.

Jason Wood: Dwayne Allen was supposed to vault into prominence once Coby Fleener signed with New Orleans. Instead, Jack Doyle emerged in his fourth season with 59 receptions for 584 yards and five touchdowns. Allen is now a Patriot, and Indianapolis kept Doyle with a 3-year, $19mm contract including $8mm guaranteed. Doyle is limited physically but has earned Andrew Luck’s trust. Doyle is a high ceiling, low floor option particularly in PPR leagues.

Player 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 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 seasons. Ertz led the Eagles in targets over the final six weeks of the season (71 with next being 41) and finished strong. Expect even more production in his second season with the Eagles. The additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith may reduce Ertz’s targets a little, but the middle of the field should be less congested giving him more room to operate.

Jason Wood: Zach Ertz was the eighth 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’s 13 touchdowns in four seasons could easily revert to 6-8 scores in a season). Ertz would vault into the Top 3 or Top 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.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

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 of 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.

Mark Wimer: In general, the top-8 tight ends are all priced right about where they should be, but Graham sticks out to me as a modest value at his current ADP. I have Graham challenging for top-three (elite) status this year, while he's being drafted closer to the cusp of the Top 8. That one-to-two fantasy points per week difference could be enough to swing a close matchup your way.

Hunter Henry, LA Chargers

Chris Feery: It’s not easy to make a big impact as a rookie tight end, but that’s exactly what Henry managed to do in 2016. Henry found the end zone eight times last season, and his chemistry with quarterback Philip Rivers improved as the season moved along. We’ll look for Henry to have an even larger role this season, and fully expect him to exceed the value afforded by his current average draft position.

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 second-year tight end, and he easily becomes a solid starting tight end.

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota

Stephen Holloway: Rudolph was drafted by the Vikings in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He played early, but his production has been 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%) prior to last season. He had his best season by far in 2016 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%) 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.

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 the bottom half of the Top 10. 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, Tampa Bay

Justin Howe: Drafters are gushing over O.J. Howard, and maybe they're onto something - he's a gifted, if flawed, prospect. But rookie tight ends 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.

Rob Gronkowski, New England

Ari Ingel: Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson and Gronkowski are by far the three most dominant weekly difference makers in fantasy football. His draft position has plummeted due to a down year caused by Brady’s suspension and his back injury. Fully healthy now, Gronk will be just as dominant as ever. Do not let him slip to the third round, because if you do, you are giving your opponent a major advantage right out of the gate.

Greg Olsen, Carolina

Sigmund Bloom: Olsen finished 2016 as a top-3 tight end, and things are looking up enough for him to merit a pick at ADP despite the stiff cost. He was far and away the #1 tight end when Cam Newton got hurt last year, and as Newton’s play dropped off, so did Olsen’s targets and production. This year, Newton is ahead of schedule in recovery from shoulder surgery, and the Panthers will otherwise relying on two underachievers at wide receiver and rookies to round out the passing game. Expect Newton to lean on Olsen and basically treat him as the No. 1 target in the offense.

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