Fantasy Football Tight End Sleepers, Values and Targets
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 TE. Then there are those who believe that drafting an elite TE 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 TEs instead of drafting one early. Also, the top TE used to go in the middle of the third 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.
So now I’ll often go into a draft having already picked out my target(s) at TE and at QB, and then I’ll draft RBs and WRs around those picks. This year, there is a group of TEs going in the late 7th round (Kyle Rudolph) through the middle of the 10th round (Jack Doyle), and I’d be perfectly happy starting any of them in Week 1. Update (8/30): Given Andrew Luck's shoulder injury, I'm less comfortable with Doyle than I was earlier in the offseason. Things get pretty dicey after that, so I’ve typically been scooping one up in the 8th or 9th round to ensure that I get one from that tier.
I’ll discuss all of those players below, along with a few fallback options if things go sideways. But first, I’d like to mention Travis Kelce because I have been getting him from time to time in the mid- to late-third, where there seems to be a drop-off in talent across the board.
After finishing No. 6 as a rookie and No. 8 as a sophomore (in PPR formats), Kelce was the top overall TE in 2016, though he was No. 2 in per-game average behind Gronkowski. Although his usage isn't as consistent as I'd like, he's primed for another big year in Andy Reid's offense, especially with the release of Jeremy Maclin. In the five games that Maclin was either very limited or missed altogether, Kelce saw 9.0 targets per game en route to 14.9 PPG (PPR). That’s a 238-point pace, and only five TEs have had better seasons in the last four years.
If Gronkowski is around in the late second round, he’s an option as well, if you can live with the injury risk.
I’ve divvied up the TEs into three groups: Targets (i.e., players I’m actively targeting in any given draft), Values (going in the 9th-12th round) and Sleepers (13th round or later).
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings (in the 7th round)
Rudolph led his position in targets and finished second in scoring at his position. Despite what should be an improved running game, his role should continue into 2017 with Sam Bradford, who has the shortest average attempt distance among qualified passers last season. He did perform better (15.3 PPR PPG) in the six games that Stefon Diggs was either sidelined or saw fewer than 6 targets, but he also produced top-five numbers (11.7 PPG) at his position in the 10 games in which Diggs saw at least 6 targets.
Delanie Walker, Titans (8th)
Walker has been a 4for4 favorite since he arrived in Tennessee in 2013. Since then, he has posted four straight top-11 finishes, including back-to-back finishes in the top five in 2015 and 2016. There is some reason for concern heading into 2017 since he’s entering his age-33 season and the Titans have invested heavily in the passing game by drafting Corey Davis and signing Eric Decker. Targets may be a little tougher to come by for Walker, though he should remain heavily involved in the offense.
Ertz has increased his production as his career has progressed. He finished No. 23 as a rookie, No. 13 as a sophomore, No. 9 in 2015 and finally No. 6 in 2016. At this point, he’s sort of a poor man’s Travis Kelce in that he sees a lot of volume but doesn’t score many touchdowns. Ertz has seen 106-plus targets in back-to-back seasons. He should continue to be very involved in the Philadelphia passing game despite the addition of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith thanks to the Eagles’ decision to trade Jordan Matthews away.
Continue reading for 10 more Sleepers, Values, and Targets...