By: Alexander Amir
Tight end has easily been the most frustrating position for me since I began playing fantasy football. There is such an inequity between the top and lower tiers, not just in amount of points scored but the consistency with which it’s done. The difficulty this year, however, is that there are even fewer surefire tight ends than usual. I’m going to break down the tight end class by different tiers and figure out who is worth putting your season on, taking a flier on, or ignoring entirely.
Travis Kelce, KC
George Kittle, SF
Zach Ertz, PHI
These are the only three TEs you should spend an early pick on. Kelce particularly has an incredibly high ceiling this season given the loss of Tyreek Hill. He will be Mahomes’ #1 target in all areas of the field. Ertz and Kittle are in similar situations, playing with QBs that love to target tight ends, and with a receiving corps that makes them the #1 or #2 option on their respective teams.Only 7 running backs and 7 wide receivers scored more points than Travis Kelce last year, which means he outplayed his 3rd round ADP. Ertz also lived up to his ADP and Kittle was an absolute steal in the late rounds.
In general, I personally hesitate to take a tight end in the first three rounds because 1) I often feel like there is too much good running back value, and 2) I trust my ability to find sleeper tight ends in later rounds. However, getting one of these three guys while being able to build up a solid surrounding roster will give you a gigantic boost every week, because all three are capable of putting up wide receiver numbers. I think the end of the second round is fair value for Kelce, and mid third for Kittle. I am a bit lower on Ertz because the Eagles offense has more weapons, but I would take him at the end of the third. Finally, if you take one of these three players, I would go heavy on the running backs right after because the quality of the position gets bad quickly.
Eric Ebron, IND
Evan Engram, NYG
Vance McDonald, PIT
O.J. Howard, TB
These guys have an ADP in the 7th round or higher, and I think that’s just too high for guys that will put up decent stats, but will force you to miss out on much better talent if you take them where they’re being drafted. Guys like Jarvis Landry, James White, or Alshon Jeffery, would service your team far more than these. These are some reasons why I think these guys won’t live up to their values:
Jack Doyle is coming back to the Indy lineup, which means Ebron’s targets will drastically decrease.
Evan Engram has struggled with injuries, and despite Odell Beckham Jr.’s departure I don’t think his target count will increase. It’s Saquon Barkley’s offense and Eli Manning is still starting for the foreseeable future.
Vance McDonald only had two double digit games last year, and while Antonio Brown and Jesse James are no longer on the Steelers, the team’s tight ends are generally not too fantasy relevant. I just don’t like him at his current draft position, but if you can get him a couple rounds later I would pull the trigger.
O.J. Howard played really well while healthy last year, but he has two issues. First, he has had major injury problems. Second, tight ends under new Bucs head coach Bruce Arians rank 31st in fantasy points in his career. There’s lots of competition on the offense and I’m not sure how much opportunity Howard gets.
I wouldn’t draft any of these guys at their current ADP under normal circumstances, but things happen. You might be seeking a wide receiver but you don’t like any available, so you take one of these tight ends instead. It’s always important to be flexible. As a general rule, for players who I think are overvalued, I push their ADP down about 1.5-2 rounds to even it out.
David Njoku, CLE
Chris Herndon IV, NYJ
Jack Doyle, IND
Delanie Walker, TEN
This category embodies why the tight end position is so frustrating. It’s so hard to see why any late round tight ends could put up big numbers. I have Doyle and Walker up here because they have a strong fantasy history, and even coming off injuries I trust them to outplay their draft positions. Doyle does have Ebron for competition, but he actually out-snapped Ebron 196-112 when he came back from injury last season. He’s also somehow currently being drafted in the 14th round. Njoku was the #9 tight end last season and is being drafted at #10, yet his offense has improved and Baker Mayfield has another year of experience. I don’t think the extra competition will hurt him; if anything it will free him up from the defense.
Chris Herndon is one of my favorite sleepers in fantasy this year. He had some really good weeks last year on an absolutely pitiful Jets offense. QB Sam Darnold improved a lot in the second half of the season and now he has Le’Veon Bell to keep the defense honest. I have very high hopes for the 2nd-year tight end in 2019.
The whole point of a sleeper is that they are expected to outplay their ADP, so DO NOT reach for one of these guys. That defeats the purpose of their sleeper status. These are the guys that will likely be available within a round of where you want to draft them, so be smart with your selections. Finding a late round tight end can really separate your team from the rest of the pack and give you a bonus every week. My preferred strategy would be to fill the tight end position with that type of guy.