Tight End Sleepers, Values and Targets
Strategies involving the tight end position vary from analyst to analyst. There are those who believe 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 TE. Then there are those who believe that drafting an elite TE is a good foundation for a championship roster. I typically fall into the latter group, but in recent seasons, I have varied my approach based on the makeup of the position and whether there was a screaming value at the position in the later rounds.
I’ll often go into my draft having identified my quarterback and tight end targets and then build my draft strategy around those two positions, finding running backs and receivers that fit within that framework.
This year, there is not a tight end that jumps out as a “must-have” incredible value in the middle or later rounds, so I’m typically drafting a tight end early, either one of the Big Three—Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz—or attempting to nab Hunter Henry from the next tier. Evan Engram, O.J. Howard and Jared Cook are also possibilities in the fifth or sixth round.
I’ve divvied up the TEs into three groups: Values (going in the fifth to 13th round), Sleepers (14th round or later), and Targets (i.e., players I’m actively targeting in any given draft).
Tight End Values
There is plenty of reason to be optimistic about Engram’s upside in 2019. Odell Beckham has been traded away, and Engram has played at a 76-945-6.0 pace in the 15 games over the last two seasons when Beckham has been sidelined. That pace jumps to 82-1043-5.8 when the four games that Sterling Shepard missed are excluded. (In other words, he was more efficient with Shepard in the lineup than without him, which bodes well for 2019.) The wild card is Golden Tate, who has been a target hog at times in his career. There is also the matter of the substandard quality of the targets from Eli Manning, who is well past his prime. Most signs point to a career year for Engram, but between Tate and Manning, there are a few different reasons why he may fail to live up to expectations. Still, I’m quite comfortable drafting him in the fifth or sixth round as my TE1.
Bruce Arians has a reputation for underutilizing the tight end position in the passing game, so the usage of Howard in 2019 is a bit of an unknown. Arians actually won’t be calling plays—new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will have that duty—but Arians will surely have a heavy hand in designing the offense. The important thing to keep in mind is that Arians hasn’t had a tight end of Howard’s caliber in his 14 years as an offensive coordinator or head coach. His most productive tight end was Heath Miller, who averaged 3.6 catches for 41 yards and 0.27 touchdowns in 74 games under Arians, though Miller’s best season (76-789-6) would certainly be a good season for Howard, who was in the midst of a breakout season when he injured his foot and ankle in Week 11. He was the No. 6 fantasy tight end at that point. Given Arians’ history, Howard is a bit of a risk/reward pick in the middle rounds, but it’s usually smart to bet on talent, and Howard has it.
Note: If you don’t want to use one of your first three picks on a tight end, the ADPs of Henry, Engram and Howard are such that you are pretty much guaranteed that one will be available for you in the fifth round, maybe even the sixth.
Cook finished as the No. 5 tight end last season, turning 101 targets into 68 catches for 896 yards and six touchdowns. It was his best fantasy season of his career and he subsequently signed a deal with the Saints that averaged $7.5 million per year. It’s feasible that he’ll see the third-most targets on the team behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. The Saints’ tight end coach, Dan Campbell, has raved about Cook this offseason, called him a “phenomenal athlete” who can “really help” the team provide a “vertical stretch down the field.”
In 2018, only eight tight ends had a higher per game average than Doyle, though the presence of Eric Ebron obviously caps Doyle’s upside, as long as Ebron is healthy. Still, Doyle is a good value as the 19th tight end off the board in early drafts, and would have top-five upside if anything were to happen to Ebron.
Continue reading for six more TE values, six TE sleepers and five TEs John is targeting regularly in drafts...
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