2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: The state of the tight end position
The top of the tight end position is as strong as it's ever been. Can anyone join them in the elite tier and pull this position up along with them?
Are we on the verge of a new golden age of the tight end position? The top of the position has rarely been in better shape, with Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle coming off historic seasons, and a slew of young, athletic options playing in more wide-open, tight-end friendly offenses seems on the verge of making the leap to stardom.
However, while Kelce, Ertz and Kittle all scored like No. 1 WR, the rest of the position was still pretty slim; Eric Ebron would have been a top-15 option at wide receiver in 2018, but nobody else would have cracked the top 20, and the No. 12 tight end, Jimmy Graham, scored less than the No. 55 wide receiver, Antonio Callaway. We're still a ways away from the position being anything like a strength for Fantasy players.
Plus, we've been promised a new era of productive tight ends before, and it usually ends in disappointment. The truth of the matter is, tight end is a tough position to make an impact in, especially for young players. You've essentially got to learn two positions at once, as you're working in tandem with the offensive line on some plays, and then developing your route tree as a receiver other times. So, even though we had two tight ends taken in the first round this season in T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant — plus seven in the first three rounds — it'll be hard for them to make a difference. As Adam Aizer pointed out in the tight ends preview episode of Fantasy Football Today earlier this week, Evan Engram is the only tight end to finish in the top 10 in Fantasy scoring as a rookie over the last four seasons.
So, Fantasy players are left with the option of either taking one of those big three in the first two rounds, or reaching for the Hunter Henry-O.J. Howard-Evan Engram tier and hoping their breakouts happen. Otherwise, you might be lost at the position. It's an easy position to figure out if you know you want an elite option to set you apart or if you know you are fine with waiting and streaming; otherwise, you've got a lot of tough decisions to make.
That's why we're previewing the tight end position today, with our team of experts answering some of the toughest questions about the position, plus providing their sleepers, breakouts, and busts for the position. Here's who will be answering those questions:
- Jamey Eisenberg, CBS Fantasy Senior Writer
- Dave Richard, CBS Fantasy Senior Writer
- Heath Cummings, CBS Fantasy Senior Writer
- Adam Aizer, Fantasy Football Today host
- Ben Gretch, CBS Fantasy Editor
- Chris Towers, CBS Fantasy Senior Editor
1) How many TE do you feel confident in as your No. 1?
- Jamey Eisenberg: There are six clear-cut No. 1 tight ends with Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, George Kittle, Evan Engram, O.J. Howard and Hunter Henry. After that, it's questionable, including Jared Cook. But those other six should be selected in the first five rounds of most leagues, and you'll be happy to have one of them on your roster.
- Dave Richard: If I'm drafting a tight end with the idea he'll be my full-season, no-doubt starter, there's seven — including Jared Cook. As for streamers to begin the year, there are six of those tight ends.
- Heath Cummings: Seven that I feel confident in for the full season. I'll throw Jordan Reed and Delanie Walker in for as long as they stay upright.
- Adam Aizer: There are more than 12 TEs I am comfortable with, but there are only five or six that make me feel like I have a competitive advantage at the position. I'm on the fence with Hunter Henry as my sixth guy. I'm OK settling for Jordan Reed or Delanie Walker late.
- Ben Gretch: Six, but I also think it's fine to not get one of them. There are other guys I'm OK with.
- Chris Towers: I feel confident there will be six tight ends who will produce enough that you'll never be looking for another option as long as they are healthy (or aren't on a bye), and it's the six Jamey listed. You can squint and see another one or two breaking into that club by season's end, but those are the only six I'm confident will have the role in their offense needed to succeed.
2) How important is it for you to get Kelce, Ertz, or Kittle?
- Jamey: It's important, but you don't need to reach for one of those three guys. Kelce shouldn't be drafted until the middle of Round 2 in any format, and Ertz and Kittle should be selected in Round 3. Remember, as great as they were last year, they posted historical numbers. Regression is likely coming, especially for Ertz and Kittle.
- Dave: It used to be my everything. But we're now seeing a nice little swelling of late-round tight ends with some potential (Mark Andrews, Jordan Reed, Delanie Walker, T.J. Hockenson), so I feel better about what my lineup will look like if I miss out on any of the top-six tight ends. It also comes down to draft position: I'm not passing up Kelce late in Round 1 -- the position scarcity creates such an edge for whichever Fantasy team he's on -- and I wouldn't pass up Kittle or Ertz in late Round 2/early Round 3 for the same reasons. I also wouldn't ignore Engram in late Round 4. So I suppose if I'm picking in the middle of a draft, it's not as important to get Kittle or Ertz as it was maybe two weeks ago.
- Heath: Important enough to use a second-round pick on Kelce or an early third on Ertz or Kittle.
- Adam: It's fairly important, particularly in a shallower league that might have some RB depth later in the draft. But I don't see how O.J. Howard doesn't have a great season, so I'm actually more likely to target Howard in drafts.
- Ben: I'm concerned about Ertz and Kittle matching their target shares in more crowded receiving corps. I'm less concerned about Kelce, but I still want my top tier of wide receivers before him in the back part of the first round. So, not very. I think their ADPs are fair but haven't been prioritizing them.
- Chris: Pretty important, given that you could get twice as many points from any of those three as a few teams will get from the tight end position all year. There's just no other edge like that in the game. I've probably taken one of the three in 75% of the drafts I've done so far.
3) Who is your favorite of the non-elite tight ends?
- Jamey: I like Vance McDonald and Mark Andrews. McDonald should see a bigger role with Antonio Brown and Jesse James gone. And Andrews should be the featured option in the passing game for the Ravens.
- Dave: I have Jared Cook ranked seventh, so that would be it. He'll be an every-down player in a Saints offense that wants to utilize the tight end more. I like what I've heard and read out of New Orleans about how he's meshing with Drew Brees, and we've seen what he can do when he gets a bunch of targets. I don't mind him as a starter, especially considering his schedule to begin the year.
- Heath: It's still Evan Engram. I project he'll secure 20-30 more targets than Hunter Henry and O.J. Howard.
- Adam: Definitely Howard. He entered the NFL Draft as one of the most hyped TE prospect in years. When he has been targeted, he has produced. Tampa Bay did basically nothing to replace DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, so it's time for Howard to truly break out.
- Ben: If we're talking outside the big three, it's O.J. Howard. I'm just very confident in his long-term ability, and hoping we get the target bump this year. If we're talking outside the top six, it's Vance McDonald or Jordan Reed. McDonald is similar to Howard in that he's been very efficient and could see a target bump; Reed has the potential to post big target numbers.
- Chris: It's gotta be Engram. Like Howard, he has an elite athletic profile, and I'm more confident he'll get 120-plus targets. Howard will likely be better on a per-target basis, but Engram had a historically-great rookie season, and was on pace for nearly 850 yards in 2018, with 9.0 yards per target. 1,000 yards as the No. 1 receiver for the Giants isn't out of the question at all.
4) Which player currently being selected outside of the top 10 at TE has the best chance to make the leap to the elite tier?
- Jamey: See above on Andrews. He's already a top 10 tight end for me. I expect him to make a significant leap in his production in his sophomore campaign.
- Dave: I'll say Mark Andrews, but he's not the only tight end I feel that way about. Andrews has chemistry with Lamar Jackson, is an athletic tight end who can run good routes and he's a big dude. We can say the exact same things about T.J. Hockenson, but his inexperience makes him less likely to be an elite Fantasy tight end in 2019. But in 2020, he will be.
- Heath: It's definitely Jordan Reed, who has been an elite tight end in the past. All reports from camp have been very positive.
- Adam: It would require an injury, but Dallas Goedert could be a star. He was targeted five or more times in three games last season and he scored in all three games. Goedert is the reason why handcuffing Zach Ertz is not a terrible idea.
- Ben: Reed in PPR. He's always been a target hog, and is healthier than he's been for several seasons. He's also been the TE1 on a per-game basis before in PPR formats, twice. In non-PPR I might go Andrews or Chris Herndon on a points-per-game basis after he returns from his suspension.
- Chris: I'm going to go with Reed. Like Ben and Heath said, this is apparently the healthiest he has been in training camp in years, and by all accounts he has been the best receiver in camp for Washington. He won't be nearly as efficient as some of the top-six options, but it's not hard to envision an eight-target-per-game role for as long as he stays healthy.
5) Who is the top 10 TE you aren't touching this season?
- Jamey: Eric Ebron. He was awesome last year, but he's going to fall off -- potentially in a big way -- with Jack Doyle healthy and the additions of Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell. I'm avoiding Ebron unless he falls to Round 10 or later, which never happens.
- Dave: David Njoku is going to disappoint a lot of people. Heck, he's already disappointing his coach, who said he needs to get better at things like running routes and blocking. No way he's going to be a Fantasy dynamo sharing targets with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
- Heath: I'm just not drafting Eric Ebron. His splits with Jack Doyle terrify me and the addition of Devin Funchess doesn't help.
- Adam: I recently drafted Eric Ebron 85th overall and I didn't feel great about it. At his current CBS ADP (60th overall), Ebron is currently one of the worst values in drafts. In six games with Jack Doyle, Ebron actually had fewer catches and yards than Doyle but was boosted by an unsustainable TD rate.
- Ben: Jared Cook. I just don't love the scenery change to a team that's been more run-heavy of late for a guy coming off a career year after several years of disappointment.
- Chris: I'm with everyone on Ebron, but in the interest of avoiding redundancy, I'll go with David Njoku. He had just 88 targets last season and the Browns added Odell Beckham this offseason, as you might have heard. He could have an outlier touchdown season and be good, but that's not something you bet on, not when there are other options with a bigger share of their offense available later.
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