16 Tight End Sleepers & Values
Updated 8/30, new text is indicated in red.
Strategies involving the tight end position vary from analyst to analyst. There are those who believe that it’s an easily replaceable “onesie” position. That is, owners only have to start one per team, so there are always a number of decent options available on the waiver wire, and therefore it’s not worth burning an early round pick on an elite tight end. Then there are those who believe that drafting an elite tight end is a good foundation for a championship roster. I used to fall into the latter group, but the position has become deeper in recent years, making it more feasible to rely on breakout/sleeper tight ends instead of drafting one early. Also, the top tight end used to go in the middle of the 3rd round – I remember getting Antonio Gates there frequently – but now owners will need to spend a 1st- or 2nd-round pick to get Rob Gronkowski.
The most recent free agency period made the tight end position deeper than I can remember. Coby Fleener moved to New Orleans, replacing Ben Watson in a very TE-friendly offense, while leaving Dwayne Allen to play heavier snaps for the Colts. Ladarius Green left sunny San Diego for Pittsburgh, and joins a high-octane offense that’s missing its biggest receiver, Martavis Bryant. (Update: He's been placed on PUP since he's reportedly dealing with headaches from a 2015 concussion, so he's out for the first six weeks.) Meanwhile, Antonio Gates returns to the Chargers for at least one more year. The Patriots traded for Martellus Bennett, hoping that he can be the next Aaron Hernandez (on the field), which leaves Zachary Miller as the primary tight end in Chicago. In Green Bay, the physically-gifted Jared Cook will get to play with a good quarterback for the first time in his career.
Delanie Walker, Fleener and Travis Kelce are often available in the 7th round, and I have no problem with drafting a top-six tight end at that point in the draft if I’m happy with my roster at running back and receiver.
If there’s a better choice in the 7th round at another position, then it’s time to look for value at the position. Below is a list of Values (going in the 8th-11th rounds) along with a list of Sleepers (12th round or later) that owners can target if they elect to wait on the position.
Zach Ertz, Eagles
Ertz finished as the #10 TE in standard scoring, but was #6 after his Week 8 bye, averaging 6.4 catches for 73 yards and 0.25 TD (on 8.8 targets per game) in his final eight games. On the season, he racked up 75 catches for 853 yards and two scores. Given his overall size and relative catch radius, his touchdown rate should increase eventually. Over the last two years, he’s tied with Jordan Matthews for the most targets (10) inside the opponent’s 10-yard line – I call it the “crimson zone” – even though Ertz was only able to catch three passes for a single touchdown. Playing time was the issue in his first two NFL seasons, but he played 72% of the snaps in 2015 and 79% in his last five games. He’ll be playing in a new offense for a new head coach, Doug Pederson, but Travis Kelce was a key part of the Kansas City offense during Pederson’s tenure, so Ertz’s role should remain the same.
Julius Thomas, Jaguars
Thomas missed the first month of the season with a hand injury, but returned in Week 5 to post #11 TE numbers (PPR) the rest of the way. While it is worth noting that he has missed seven games over the past two seasons due to injury, he has reportedly had a great offseason and has spent extra time in the film room with QB Blake Bortles in the hopes of building better chemistry. He has also shown fantastic ability in the crimson zone, converting 17 of his last 24 targets there (for 16 touchdowns) over the last three years.