Tight End Landscape for 2020

Written by: Justin Stephens Twitter: @JustinFF_ Affilliate: @toiletstotitles 

Traditionally speaking, I am typically the kind of fantasy manager that will draft a tight end (TE) very late in the draft. It isn’t a pivotal position in most fantasy formats. Unless you are playing in a format that requires that you start two TE or if there is a larger premium for TE in your league, you can pretty easily stream your TE from week to week from the free agent market. Some years you may even get fortunate enough to pick up a TE from the free agency that happens to hit.

Another reason why it is nice to draft your TE late, is that you have very little draft capital invested in the position. This allows you the ability and freedom of dropping the guy you drafted without feeling like you have given up too much. For example, I drafted O.J. Howard in one league last season in the 6th round of a redraft league. This was against my traditional way of drafting. Maybe it was the value I felt he had at that point. Maybe it was the freak athleticism that we saw from him pre-injuries. Maybe it was the dozen or more Jell-O-shots I had consumed at the live draft party. Regardless, it was a poor decision, so I am going to use that poor decision as a lesson tool for this article, so I don’t feel as bad about it. 

As we all know, Howard vastly under-performed last season. After about 3 or 4 weeks of starting my 6th round pick, I had a tough decision to make. Do I hang on to him? I mean I did spend a high draft pick for him, and I only get to start 1 TE in this league. If I give up on him and pick up a random Free Agent TE, then I’m just throwing away that pick. I ultimately did cut him and began the streaming game after week 4, but it was a big hit for that first 4 weeks that I had wished I had let someone else take. Had I simply taken a TE late and he under-performed, I could have broken ties with him and moved on after week 1 or 2 and been better off for it.

Conversely, in most of the rest of my leagues, I had decided to do what I typically do and I waited until the later rounds and took guys that I had high hopes for. Mainly Mark Andrews last season. The thought process here is that if my TE does not breakout or even have a decent season, I can feel free to drop him at any time to start streaming the position and if he does play well, then I got a good TE at a great price.

Below is an example of my traditional style of drafting in most leagues (With the exception of my Chargers Defense pick. I never take a defense that early. It was a strategy play according to this league’s rules to determine the divisions last season). I drafted out of the 12 spot in this draft. This was a 1 TE and 1 QB league.  

 

Notice that I only took 1 TE and it was late in the 14th round. I’m not showing you this to brag about the amazing draft I had, even though it was clearly an amazing draft and I obviously chose my best 2019 draft to share with you. I chose this draft board because it is on brand with my style for 1 TE redraft leagues. Of course, you do have to be flexible. If Travis Kelce falls to me in the 3rd round, I am drafting him. All I am saying is that you must make sure that the value is unbelievably good to take a TE (or QB in 1 QB leagues) in the earlier rounds.

In the above draft, had Mark Andrews not panned out and was simply a mediocre TE, then I would have only missed out on my 14th round pick. I understand that a bust could happen with any player at any position, but with Running Backs and Wide Receivers, you will be drafting multiple players to fill more than 1 or 2 starting roles for your roster increasing the likelihood of drafting someone else to fill that role of the player that was a bust. 

With all of this in consideration, I would like to point out that this season in particular has an enormous amount of quality TE prospects. There are many TEs this season that are primed and ready to have a huge season. There are also several younger TE prospects that could make a splash and come out of nowhere like Mark Andrews did last season. The rest of this article is going to focus on many of these later round TE that you may want to target for your squad. 

Hayden Hurst- 

Austin Hooper had a career season last year with the Falcons. He is now with the Browns, but he is leaving behind a 97 target, 787 yard and 6 TD vacancy. Meanwhile, Hurst was a backup to Mark Andrews in Baltimore last season and is now in Atlanta to fill the hole that Hooper is leaving behind. It is important (as you will see with several other examples in this article) to note that in most cases, TEs do take a few years to really mold into great fantasy values. A great example of this is Hooper himself. His 3rd year in the NFL was his TE “breakout” season with 88 targets, 660 yards, and 4 TD’s. This makes 2 seasons in a row of consistent use for the TE position in the Falcons’ offense. While Hurst was a backup in Baltimore, he was actually surprisingly efficient. He caught 30 passes on 39 targets and hauled in 2 TDs. I don’t expect that kind of efficiency to continue. He is bound to see a regression there. Where I see him excelling is in his opportunity. I get that vacated targets do not necessarily equal opportunity alone. But Hurst has shown an ability to play at a high level along with those vacated targets. 

Austin Hooper/David Njoku-

Hooper’s prevalent stats are listed above, but I’d like to focus on someone else’s stats before I continue with Hooper. David Njoku had a respectable season for a Rookie TE. Remember what I stated before about TEs typically taking some extra time to come into their own in the NFL. He matched his 4 TD performance in his 2nd season and nearly doubled his production in every other relevant statistical category as well. Then came year 3. In 2019 Njoku was being mentioned as a premium breakout candidate. He had Baker Mayfield, OBJ, Landry… That offense was supposed to be a dream team of sorts. Then the injuries hit early and often. Having only 1 offseason to work with proved to be not nearly enough time for this team to gel. Njoku himself had a reasonable Week 1 performance (4/37/1) against what would later prove to be a solid Titans defense. Then an injury essentially ended his season in Week 2. So why are we so quick to believe that Njoku will no longer be a thing in Cleveland? Hooper and Njoku both have big play ability in the NFL. They have both gone through the first few rough seasons. There is no reason to believe that they won’t both be relevant in 2020. Njoku has requested a trade this offseason. If that happens, then Hooper will be right back up near the top of my TE ranks (after the studs of course), but until then, I am tempering my expectations due to the limited opportunities that I believe both of these TEs will have.

Noah Fant-

Fant is clearly a Dynasty Darling, but this is a Redraft Article. I still like Fant late in redraft leagues as well. This man has big play potential and the Broncos appear to be focusing on the running attack. They signed Melvin Gordon and still have Phillip Lindsay. Both of these backs are capable of receiving balls out of the backfield and will require some attention from the linebackers. Linebackers that normally would be focusing more on the TE position. Drew Lock is still unproven at the NFL level and typically young Quarterbacks rely heavily on the dump off game. I believe this will give Fant that added opportunity to excel this season. Last year Fant finished as the TE16 overall. This was mainly due to getting his feet wet in the first half of the season because in the 2nd half of the season he scored 2 of his 3 TDs, had 377 of his 562 yards, both of his 100+ yard games, and all 4 of his catches that went for more than 30 yards. All of this happened on exactly half of his receptions and exactly half of his targets. In other words, he was targeted 33 times and had 20 catches in the first 9 games and was a mediocre TE at best. Then he had 33 targets and 20 catches in the last 9 games and he was a fantasy relevant TE with much better efficiency. A lot of this came off of 3 major games, but I think it says a lot that his best game the first half was 4/31/1 against the struggling Jaguars and his 3 good games in the 2nd half were 4/115/1 (Browns), 4/60/0 (Vikings), and 4/113/1 (Texans). Figure in what I’ve been saying about TEs getting better as their careers continue. I like this guy.

Rob Gronkowski/O.J. Howard- 

Gronk seems to be a popular late round guy for many. He isn’t personally someone that I will be targeting, but I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t at least mention some of the biggest reasons why people are targeting him. Tom Brady. That’s the biggest reason. We all know about the majestic connection that these two had in New England. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are both still in town, but greatly underperformed last season. I still feel confident that Howard will bounce back with a more consistent QB. Howard had 11 TDs over his first 2 seasons. Last year his stats were very similar (better in some categories) as to his first 2 seasons. But he only caught 1 TD. That is a very low number for a TE of Howard’s athletic abilities. I sense a positive regression coming his way with Tom Brady at the helm. I also feel that Gronk, after taking a season off to work as an analyst, will be greatly reduced in his involvement. I could be wrong here. Jason Witten came out of retirement to return into a large role in a high powered offense and finished as the PPR TE11 overall last season, but he still had 7 games where he finished with 7.3 points or less. This is similar to the numbers that we may see from Gronk. That isn’t very good consistency. He is very likely still going to be a big Red-zone target for Brady and that should not be overlooked. But when I am looking for a late round TE, I’m looking for a guy that I feel confident will likely be a large part of his team’s offense. If I miss on that, Gronk and O.J. are both players that I may be willing to stream later after the draft.

Tyler Higbee/Gerald Everett- 

My initial thoughts on this duo was that I’m not a fan of either because one really only excelled without the other in the lineup so they were cannibalizing each other’s values. After further review, I feel that I was mistaken. Obviously Everett did better when Higbee was out and vice versa. However, Higbee was utilized exceptionally more than Everett. This was especially true at the end of the 2019 season when Everett was healthy and the Rams simply didn’t use him at all. Over the last 5 weeks of the season, Higbee went 43/522/2… IN 5 GAMES!!! Many drafted TEs have not reached those numbers over an entire season. Higbee ended the season as the TE8 overall last season and I’m certain that many people will have the same initial doubts of him that I had. This is evident by his current 7.12 ADP. We must also consider that Jared Goff simply isn’t all that good at football. He has gotten worse, not better and bad QBs tend to lean on TEs and RBs out of the backfield. All of this also makes me feel really good about avoiding Everett unless Higbee gets injured.

Jared Cook- 

Cook had an underwhelming start to the 2019 season. In the first 8 weeks he had 4 PPR games of less than 6 points and missed 2 games. He also went without Brees for most of that stretch. From week 10 on when he was healthy and had Brees, he only had 1 single digit game (9.4). He also accumulated 7 of his 9 TDs during that stretch. Even with the bad start to the season, Cook ended as the TE7 overall. If you believe that Brees has 1 more great “Swan song” season in him, then you should believe in Cook as well.

Mike Gesicki- 

You might notice a bit of a trend in the TEs that I really like and Gesicki meets that trend. The trend is simple. I want a TE that has little to no competition for targets at his position, a mediocre or worse QB situation, someone that has broken through the rough early years, and a TE that played well down the stretch at the end of the previous season. With Gesicki, I could even throw in that he has played all 16 games of his career, so injuries aren’t as much of a concern for him either as they may be for some TEs. He scored 5 TDs in the final 6 games last season when he was averaging nearly 8 targets per game. He had 0 TDs in the first 10 games of the season when he was averaging just 5 targets per game. It is also important to note that the final games were against weaker opponents like the Jets, Giants and Bengals. But they did face the Patriots and Eagles during that time as well. What this means is that if things are going well and they are able to run their offense in a positive or even neutral game script, then they are involving Gesicki as a heavy part of their offense. 

Dallas Goedert- 

Goedert is a contradiction to most of the things that I said about what I like about Gesicki. Goedert does have competition for targets at his position. In fact, he is the competition. He isn’t even the starter for his own team. Also, when healthy, most would say that Wentz is a better than average QB. Goedert did play exceptionally well to end the season last year and he had a nice breakout season in 2019. Zach Ertz (The starting TE) ended the season as the TE4 overall and Goedert finished at TE10. There is a chance that the Eagles continue with a 2 TE set, but I highly doubt it. They were forced to last season with major injuries to the WR position. They are getting Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson back, J.J. Arcega Whiteside is returning for his 2nd season, and the Eagles have added WRs Jalen Reagor from TCU and Boise State’s John Hightower in the recent NFL draft. So with all the added competition coming back the opportunities will drop drastically. I do see situations where the Eagles run a 2 TE set, but they will most likely stick with Ertz for most of their packages. Goedert will still have a role because he is too talented not to be. So for his mid 14th round ADP, he may be worth a flier, but with all of the other good TE options in the league to choose from, I am probably off of the Goedert train until Ertz moves on.

Jonnu Smith- 

Jonnu Smith and Ryan Tannehill both have something in common. They both took over the starting role for the Titans in Week 7 of 2019. Jonnu finished as the TE19 overall, but only had 12.7 PPR points through the first 6 games. He did have 3 games with 2 or fewer points and a 4.8 point game in the final 10 games, but had 5 games ranging from 9.4-19.8 during that time as well. This kind of inconsistency may leave you wanting more during the season, but if your redraft league is a best ball league, you’ll be glad you drafted Jonnu for this season.

Jack Doyle/Trey Burton- 

I would have bet dollars to donuts that Jack Doyle would be the clear cut TE to have in Indy after Eric Ebron left. At least that was before the Colts went and signed Philip Rivers. One thing that I have praised about the Colts organization and Chris Ballard himself is that he has always been about promoting from within and giving the opportunities to the guys already on the roster first. Then they fooled me and signed Rivers to give Coach Frank Reich his old QB back. Well guess what… Many people seem to forget that Trey Burton (recently signed with the Colts this offseason) was Frank’s TE in Philadelphia for 2 years. This could potentially mean more opportunity for Burton than some may consider. Burton was still that backup and realistically has only had 1 very fantasy relevant season in his 6 year career. Doyle is definitely the better TE and knows the offense. He finished as the TE 14 overall last season and that was while playing 2nd fiddle to the often injured Eric Ebron. Now as the probable starter and with a lesser backup than he was to Ebron as his real competition, and considering that Rivers has a long track record of peppering his TEs, I could easily see a scenario for a top 10 season for Doyle.

Blake Jarwin- 

Just as a reminder to everyone, I did predict on Twitter (@JustinFF_) last season that Jason Witten would finish as a top 12 fantasy TE, making him worth drafting in the later rounds. He finished 11th. The major reason I felt this way was because the Cowboys had an amazing running game with a stellar offensive line, an accurate QB that could move the pocket, and other great options to take away some of the pressure from the TE position. What’s changed besides Witten going to the Raiders and leaving all these vacated targets to Jarwin? Not much, except that they did upgrade their slot WR from Randall Cobb to CeeDee Lamb, the rookie out of Oklahoma. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is also great at catching the ball out of the backfield as well. You could argue that this is a lot of people to have to feed the ball too, but even if Jarwin only gets half of the vacated targets left behind from Witten along with the targets he already received last season, that’s still 83 total targets. Witten himself had 83 targets last season. There is no real competition coming out of the TE position in Dallas, so it is unrealistic to believe that Jarwin will only gain 83 targets in this high flying offense. I am making my prediction again. Blake Jarwin will easily finish as a top 12 fantasy WR in 2020.

Dawson Knox- 

A lot of people are high on Dawson Knox’s potential to be a breakout sleeper this year. I don’t personally understand that. I get that Tyler Kroft, Lee Smith, and Tommy Sweeney aren’t exactly threats to take away his opportunities, but they weren’t for Knox’s rookie year either and he vastly underperformed expectations. This is also only his 2nd year in the league, so the thought that it typically takes 3-4 years at least for a TE to really gain traction in the NFL is also sticking to skull. Also, having the mediocre QB isn’t really much of an advantage here like it normally would be for a TE, because Josh Allen, while mediocre, will tuck the ball and run before he concerns himself with finding that TE dump off outlet. I’m avoiding Dawson Knox this season and I feel there is a reason why his ADP is essentially equal to not being drafted at all in most leagues. 

Ian Thomas/Jace Sternberger- 

If you really want to reach for a TE that is going undrafted in most leagues that has a shot at making a big splash, look no further than these 2 guys right here. After 9 years of being the go to man in Carolina, Greg Olsen has moved on to Seattle, leaving the door open for Ian Thomas to step in. Thomas is a highly unproven TE that is really only on this list due to the high volume of targets that he could be in store to get. He isn’t one of my favorites on this list, but he did meet my minimum requirements to be considered as a potential breakout guy. I do love his toughness and grit.

Jace Sternberger however, is on this list because I think he is personally my 2nd favorite late round guy to target behind Jarwin. I wish I had a more solid argument for why I feel this way, but I’ll be honest…. This is mostly a gut call. Sternberger missed almost the entire regular season last year in his Rookie season, then made it back on the field in time for the playoffs. I think it speaks volumes of this young man that the Packers were willing to trust the Rookie with a big role on a big stage like that. It says even more that during the NFC Title game, Rodgers couldn’t stop looking for him and even trusted him in the endzone for a TD catch. Rodgers doesn’t trust people often, but when he does, he is Jordy Nelson. I get that Rodgers doesn’t historically use his TEs, but maybe that is more of a Mike McCarthy offensive scheme sort of thing. Or maybe Rodgers simply hasn’t had a TE that he trusts. Regardless, I look for Jace to be a 2nd tier target in redrafts for the 2021 season after the season he is about to put up in 2020.

Irv Smith/Kyle Rudolph-

As a Notre Dame fan, I love Kyle Rudolph. I truly do. As an NFL fan, I know he is well past his prime and I’d love to see him move on to another team and become a nice role player somewhere and help open up the opportunity for Irv Smith. Rudolph’s contract is unattainable after the 2020 season, so his exit is inevitable. However, if this happens before the 2020 season, I will be all-in on Irv Smith like I am with Jarwin and Sternberger. As a Rookie, Irv had a contested catch ratio of 80%. That was 2nd in the league. He also finished as the TE32 overall, in minimal playing time behind Rudolph. He had only 2 TDs on 47 targets. With a contested catch ratio like his, that number should be higher in 2020. Rudolph had 7 targets in the last 4 games to Irv’s 12. This could be an indication that the changing of the guard has already begun, but unfortunately that is too small of a sample size to take to heart. Even if Irv is given the rains this season, if Rudolph is still there it will be too much of a split for me to trust outside of a streaming possibility for either one.

Nick Boyle-

Nick Boyle is an extreme dark horse and I get why most people aren’t considering him as even a late round flier in most drafts, but if you are in a deep league or a TE premium league, you should consider taking him with your last pick. Here is why. In the final round you are searching for that guy with the best shot at a path to opportunity and success. Nick Boyle backs up Mark Andrews. Mark Andrews has a severe case of Type-1 diabetes. In a normal this wouldn’t be something to even bat an eye about with the high tech insulin pumps that they have. Jay Cutler had a long 12 year career of getting knocked around with Type-1 diabetes. This isn’t a normal year in the NFL or for the planet for that matter. This is the year of the COVID. Having Type-1 diabetes makes Andrews far more susceptible to having major life threating issues if he were to contract the COVID-19 virus. He is one of only a very few NFL players that have to make a tough decision of sitting out the entire season due to the virus. If he does sit out, Boyle now becomes the TE1 on a team that had the 3rd highest scoring TE in fantasy football last season. Boyle was targeted 43 times as the 3rd TE on his own team. Don’t forget too that Hayden Hurst took his talents to Atlanta leaving his 39 targets behind as well and Mark Andrews had 98 targets. That’s an unreal 180 targets to the TE position that could all be up for grabs if Andrews were to sit out. Obviously Boyle would not get even half of these targets most likely, but the potential is clearly there for some stand-alone value and possibly 80 targets at the very least if Andrews sits out.

T.J. Hockenson-

Hockenson is another TE that is getting a lot of high praise for the upcoming season that I just don’t get. He had an incredible stat line in Week 1 with 6/131/1, but it was against the Cardinals. He ended up with only 1 other game in double digits in PPR. To Hock’s defense, he was missing his QB for half of the season and we did have an 8 game sample to look at with Stafford before he went down. During that stretch, Stafford was peppering Hock with targets. 38 to be exact. That equals out to a pace of 76 targets over the season. There is no doubt that he will be the 3rd option in a pass heavy offense so that does bode well for his consideration on Draft Day. However, he did only catch 22 of those passes for a pretty low 58% catch rate. He also only had a 34.6% contested catch rate which is also very low. These things can and likely will be fixed over time with experience. I do feel that Hock is going to be a really good TE in the league one day, but I also feel that he is a player that likely will have to develop into it. Therefore, I want to wait until I see some serious improvement before I buy into it. But buying into volume alone, I can’t get upset if you want to draft him late. I’ll be waiting to stream him later.

Chris Herndon-

Herndon was talked about quite a bit headed into last season. He had an impressive Rookie season with a 39/502/4 stat line. He suffered a season ending injury in Week 1. There is still plenty of talent there, but his biggest question marks revolve around how ineffective the Jets’ offense is and the fact that Ryan Griffin stepped in nicely in Herndon’s absence as the TE 22 overall. There were not a lot of balls thrown to the TE position due to the fact that the Jets needed the TEs to help with blocking support. I still feel strongly that Herndon will be the main TE for the Jets, but I see more questions and concerns than answers.

Eric Ebron, Greg Olsen, C.J. Uzomah, Will Dissly, Darren Fells and Maxx Williams 

These are all honorable mentions for this article that are guys based on opportunity, talent, history, returning from injury, etc… that I chose not to write about because I simply don’t see it happening for them. I still wanted to list them so that you can research their situations and decide for yourself. If you would like a detailed opinion for any of these guys you may contact me on Twitter @JustinFF_ or by E-Mail: toiletstotitles@gmail.com.

FusionFFB Written by:

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *