Value Plays: Tight Ends - Footballguys

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

Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay

Holloway: Cameron Brate has finished among the top ten tight ends for two consecutive seasons, averaging 52.5 catches for 625 yards and 7 touchdowns. Despite the Bucs drafting O. J. Howard a year ago, they signed Brate to a six-year, $41 million contract with $18 million guaranteed this offseason. Brate had twice as many targets as Howard last year and led the tight ends with 13 red zone targets. Brate will continue to attract targets from his quarterback going forward.

Howe: Lost in the shuffle of excitement over 2017 top pick O.J. Howard, Brate continues to provide outstanding value on the back halves of drafts. He’s developed an underrated connection with Jameis Winston, producing as a sporadic TE1 over the past two years. Since becoming a full-time player in Week 3 of 2016, Brate has drawn 14.2% of team targets over 22 full games alongside Winston (he beat out Howard 63-38 in games they played together fully last season). That kind of rate would give him an easy 85-90 targets over another 600-attempt Tampa Bay season, which is outstanding volume for his ADP – and that’s before we consider his touchdown prowess. Since the start of 2016, Brate has drawn 13 looks from inside the 10-yard line – as many as Rob Gronkowski and more than Travis Kelce – and altogether scored on 14 of his 105 receptions.

Pasquino: This one is pretty simple. Brate is being drafted as TE2 right now, but he finished last year as the eighth-best tight end in fantasy even with O.J. Howard trying to compete for targets. Jameis Winston loves to throw to tight ends, especially in the red zone, and Brate has repeatedly demonstrated skill at getting open and pulling down scores. Howard had six touchdowns last season, but Brate also had six. New England used to have two top-notch fantasy tight ends, and the Buccaneers could be on the verge of having something similar if they can get their offense on track this year.

Waldman: The conventional expectation is that second-year tight end O.J. Howard will emerge as the do-it-all option for the Buccaneers. However, Brate was the seventh-most targeted tight end in the league in the red zone last year and his five touchdowns tied him for fifth at the position. Jameis Winston trusts Brate, who thrives in tight windows and quick-hitting targets. Howard has great athletic skill but was almost never used in this capacity at Alabama. Unless Howard demonstrates in August that he’s in the verge of a monster season, Brate will remain a value play for a quarterback who has leaned on him during a period of tremendous struggle in the red zone.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Jack Doyle, Indianapolis

Hindery: Doyle is being drafted outside of the Top 10 at tight end despite finishing as TE6 (PPR scoring) last season with Jacoby Brissett leading the Colts offense. Even with Eric Ebron added to the mix, there are plenty of targets to go around in the Colts offense that could start both Chester Rogers and Ryan Grant at wide receiver alongside T.Y. Hilton. Doyle should see the second-most targets in this Colts passing offense. Assuming Andrew Luck is back, Doyle will again be a rock-solid TE1 who should outperform current ADP.

Howe: Doyle’s excellent 2016-17 run lost some luster when the team brought in Eric Ebron this offseason, but there’s no real reason to doubt his borderline-TE1 credentials. Ebron has always been flaky and often beset by injury, and Doyle is the clear every-down option there. Andrew Luck runs a fast-paced offense, with plenty of targets to go around but few viable pass-catchers to take advantage. And he’s always been enamored of his tight ends, sending a disproportionate number of red zone attention their way dating back to his Stanford days. This offense should easily support two fantasy-usable tight ends. Besides, Doyle split time (just 48% of snaps) with Dwayne Allen and still caught 44 passes over 13 games together. All told, the floor here is pretty sturdy, and the upside for another 60-catch and/or 8-touchdown season is well worth a stab after the first two tight end tiers are off the board.

George Kittle, San Francisco

Alexander: Kittle had an impressive rookie season as far as tight ends go. In fact, he is one of only 10 tight ends since 2000 to exceed 500 receiving yards as a rookie. A strong rapport between Kittle and Jimmy Garoppolo was evident down the stretch, as the two connected 11 times for 194 yards and 1 touchdown from Weeks 15-17, which was good enough to place Kittle as a top-three fantasy tight end over that stretch. Garoppolo's passing touchdown percentage was quite low in comparison to his passing yardage, which suggests we could see some statistical progression towards the norm this year. If we do, expect Kittle to be a major reason why. At 6-foot-4, 247 pounds, with plus-athleticism for his size, Kittle is far and away the 49ers best option in the red zone.

Brimacombe: The tight end position is always one that you want to proceed with caution when it comes to rookies. Last year, George Kittle took exception to that rule and finished the season as the 20th-ranked tight end in his rookie season. Over 15 games, Kittle saw 63 targets for a 43/515/2 stat line and took 54% of the teams' snaps. The 49ers are a team on the rise, and having a piece of the offense at a discounted price makes a lot of sense this year especially at a position that you only have to start one of each week.

David Njoku, Cleveland

Hester: Njoku was a first-round pick in 2017 due to his athleticism and size. Like most rookie tight ends, he didn't adjust instantly to the game and didn't see the field much, especially early in the season. But local papers are already reporting that he'll be the "full-time starter" this season. Simply being on the field more should yield better numbers. Add to that an improved quarterback situation and the expected growth from another offseason of learning, and Njoku has the potential to be a TE1 this season. At this point in drafts, owners should be looking for ceiling; Njoku has a top-six tight end finish in his range of outcomes.

Simpkins: Rookie tight ends are historically a poor bet for fantasy production, but last year’s crop proved to be an exceptional bunch. He was overshadowed by the play of Evan Engram, but David Njoku's 30 receptions, nearly 400 yards, and four touchdowns put him among elite company. Only Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, and Aaron Hernandez ever recorded 30-reception, 300-yard campaigns by age 20. Cleveland has used top picks over the past several drafts to assemble a formidable roster. Acquiring Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield, and Nick Chubb may finally give the team the offensive pieces to the puzzle that will bring them back to respectability. Njoku will be a welcome safety valve and red zone mismatch for this budding unit. The opportunity for Njoku to improve on both yardage and touchdown totals is there, making him a great value at current ADP.

Jordan Reed, Washington

Alexander: It may have taken years, but we're finally getting an injury discount on Jordan Reed. Reed is coming off a career-low six games played and has now appeared in 12 games or fewer in four of his five NFL seasons. No one should have to spell out the risk for you here, but if Reed's off-season toe surgery was a success, the reward is a possible top-three-tight-end fantasy finish. Alex Smith is no stranger to playing with talented tight ends, having supported monster seasons from Vernon Davis and Travis Kelce. And for his own part, Reed was still able to command targets last year (seven per game) while playing hurt and was coming off a trademark multi-touchdown game before the toe injury ended his season. Taking Reed at or ahead of his current ADP is a move that can pay huge dividends, provided you back him up later on with an up-and-comer like Kittle or a solid veteran like Cameron Brate.

Haseley: Jordan Reed may be an injury risk, but when he's healthy, he's one of the best fantasy tight ends in the game. The risk of decreased games lowers him down the draft board, but obtaining him as your second tight end is a decision and investment that could pay big dividends. The top targets on Washington are Jamison Crowder, Chris Thompson, and then Reed. He's going to be a key piece of the offense as long as he is healthy. Obtaining him as a bench player on your roster minimizes the risk. New quarterback Alex Smith has utilized the tight end position heavily in the past, especially Travis Kelce. Reed could follow suit and be a strong middle-late round fantasy gem.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Trey Burton, Chicago

Haseley: The Bears have made moves to improve their offense, most notably the continued development of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky plus the signing of free agent, Allen Robinson. New head coach Matt Nagy comes from a Chiefs team that thrived on offense and made Travis Kelce a household name. Trey Burton may not have stats that jump off the page in his three years of NFL action, but he's relatively young (27) and his skill set is ripe for a breakout as the Bears primary tight-end-receiving weapon. He's the perfect example of a player who could rise into the Top 8 by the end of the year.

Jared Cook, Oakland

Hicks: Jared Cook is a much-maligned character in fantasy football. He is one of only a few tight ends to have 350 receiving yards for eight consecutive seasons. Of course, more touchdowns would be nice, but he offers a solid alternative after all the big name tight ends are gone. At the time you will be considering Cook others are reaching for players that are more likely to flame out than offer anything of substance. New coach, Jon Gruden, uses the position well and you shouldn't see much of a dropoff following a career year in receptions and yardage from Cook.

Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati

Bloom: When it comes to touchdown production on a per-game basis, Eifert is in rarefied air that only includes Rob Gronkowski at the tight end position. Eifert’s recent durability record is terrible, but his ADP has been discounted too greatly. He has a much higher chance at becoming a strong every-week starter at tight end than anyone else around him in a draft, except Jordan Reed, who has a similar durability record. If you don’t get a top-two tight end, Eifert is an easy call at his ADP with a cheap opportunity cost considering the other players available at other positions at that point in your draft. And if he doesn't play, there will be lots of free-agent options available.

Evan Engram, NY Giants

Miglio: Rookie tight ends generally don’t make big fantasy impacts. Evan Engram bucked that notion in a huge way last season, though. Engram crashed the league with 115 targets, second-most at his position and good enough to vault him to fifth in PPR scoring. Imagine what he’ll do in an improved offense with a year under his belt.

Rob Gronkowski, New England

Bloom: On a per-game basis, Rob Gronkowski produces like a WR1, but he is a tight end. That is one of the most unfair advantages in fantasy football, and absolutely worth a first-round pick. Gronkowski does miss time with injuries, but he has played 14 or 15 games in three of the last four seasons. As long as Gronkowski doesn’t cost a first-round pick, he should be considered a solid part of your draft plan.

O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay

Pasquino: Howard is a little less of a value than teammate Cameron Brate, but both are potential fantasy TE1s this year. Both tight ends had half-a-dozen scores in 2017, which is even more remarkable considering that quarterback Jameis Winston only threw 17 total touchdown passes last season (backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick also had three, including one to Brate). Clearly, touchdowns and tight ends are a big deal in Tampa Bay, so both Howard and Brate offer strong value – which will skyrocket should either one miss any time. Howard still has room to grow in his second season, but finishing 16th in standard fantasy scoring last year on just 39 targets shows the potential for him to increase his role and production.