Written by: Alexander Amir, @Blitzalytics
To close our our Boom or Bust series we’ll look at the tight end position, which has a very unique amount of volatility. Tight ends that stay healthy are generally very consistent from year to year. Delanie Walker has finished between the 4th and 8th best tight end for four years, and Eric Ebron has been the #12, #13, #15 tight end for the past three seasons, respectively. Greg Olsen was top 10 for five years before his injury last season, while Jimmy Graham has been top 4 every healthy year since 2012. However, tight end is also one of the most injury prone positions. According to Pro Football Logic, amongst all football positions, tight ends have the 2nd highest rate of injuries per game. Running backs are 1st, but they play 14% less snaps than do tight ends. We can see this play out in specific examples, as Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed, probably the two highest-upside tight ends in the game, constantly have questions surrounding their health. Aside from Gronk and Reed, let’s see which guys fit the boom or bust profile this season.
Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers
Boom: As I wrote in the introduction, Graham has been a top 4 tight end every healthy year since 2012. He’s an absolute freak of nature and has shown time and time again that he can contend for the #1 tight end spot. He now goes to play with the most talented QB in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers, who is the perennial favorite to lead the league in touchdown passes. Rodgers’ favorite target, Jordy Nelson, is now in Oakland, meaning there are about 10 touchdowns available for the taking, and Davante Adams is the only other consistent wide receiver currently on the roster. If Graham can become a favorite target of Rodgers, even in his older age he will be competing with Rob Gronkowski for the #1 tight end title.
Bust: According to Matthew Berry, just 17% of Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown passes in the past ten years have gone to his tight end, and the team’s last top 10 tight end was in 2011 with Jermichael Finley. Green Bay also has three running backs that will likely be healthy and available by week 3, which offers plenty of options in the red zone. Graham also only had one game of over 70 yards in 2017, and only four such games in 2016. He’s very touchdown dependent, so if Rodgers’ aversion to the tight end continues Graham will be a big disappointment.
Evan Engram, New York Giants
Boom: Engram was the lone bright spot on the 3-13 Giants last season, finishing as the #5 fantasy tight end with 64 receptions, 722 yards and 6 touchdowns despite defenses keying in almost entirely on him. Here’s a list of the Giants’ issues on offense last year: 1) Horrible offensive line; 2) Injuries to Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard; 3) No running game to keep defenses honest; 4) Uncreative play-calling from coach Ben McAdoo. All of these issues were addressed to one extent or another this 2018 offseason. The entire offense should elevate as a whole, and Engram should benefit from having less attention drawn to him. Saquon Barkley should help provide a much more effective play action attack, giving Eli Manning the opportunity to hit Engram down the middle. As the #3 weapon on the team he can consistently exploit single coverage and finish even higher than in 2017.
Bust: There are only so many footballs to go around. Engram was only 10th amongst tight ends in red zone target share despite the entire Giants receiving corps being injured. Odell will most certainly steal some of those targets, as he’s scored double digit touchdowns in his three healthy seasons in the league. Saquon Barkley may be the biggest threat to Engram’s targets, as the team may well transition to a run-first team. Barkley has the pass catching ability to eat into Engram’s targets as well, and is so good that he will likely be the first option in the red zone. While Engram can still put up the yardage tight ends are generally dependant on touchdowns, and there will be an overall decrease in the balls thrown Engram’s way.
Trey Burton, Chicago Bears
Boom: Burton showed flashes of excellence last season for the Philadelphia Eagles filling in for Zach Ertz, accumulating 248 yards and 5 touchdowns on a limited 23 receptions. He’s perhaps best known for throwing quarterback Nick Foles a touchdown in the Super Bowl on the “Philly Special”, but this season he has a chance to make a much bigger name for himself. He’s joined a young, up-and-coming Bears team that will be running a pass-first offense. Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy had amazing success with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in Kansas City for years, and will likely replicate that production with Burton. Also, tight ends thrive with young QBs, and Bears starter Mitchell Trubisky is still a pretty raw prospect. All signs point to an up season for Burton…
Bust: …except that he is relying on a young, relatively unproven QB in Trubisky. The Bears had all but no success from tight ends last season, and Trubisky did not play particularly well in general. His completion percentage was 59.4%, with a 1:1 interception ratio. He undoubtedly will get better, but his production is directly tied to Burton’s. Additionally, the Bears have three other serious weapons in receiver Allen Robinson and running backs Jordan Howard, and Tarik Cohen. They will all command a lot of touches, and Burton may be left out of the equation. Burton is definitely safer than the other guys on this list due to his ADP, but he carries a fair amount of boom or bust potential compared to those drafted close to him.