History not kind to rookie tight ends
The NFL may be embracing tight ends, but history suggests the transition to the NFL is harder for them than most. Rookie tight ends may end up disappointing many Fantasy owners this season.
Perhaps no stat captures the changing philosophical landscape of the NFL more than this one: more tight ends have been drafted in the first round of the last two NFL drafts (two) than running backs (none).
As the league has become more passing oriented, the way teams value players has changed. Once a collective afterthought for all but a few teams, now nearly every team wants a big physical tight end running free in the seams and serving as red zone safety blankets. We have seen that shift alter the Fantasy landscape as well, with three tight ends going in the first three rounds of the most recent CBSSports.com mock draft, including one at No. 7 overall.
With the growing importance of the position, young prospects are going to be more highly sought after than ever for Fantasy owners. Rookie Eric Ebron went in the 9th round in that same draft, with one more rookie going off the board in the later rounds. Given the history of the tight end position, however, even these talented rookies are unlikely to provide much return on investment, which should give Fantasy owners reason to pause.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com's play index, only 26 rookie tight ends have ever topped the 500-yard mark. Only one managed to do so last season, along with one the season before. And none have reached the 900-yard mark in a season, a mark tight ends have surpassed 54 times otherwise.
Additionally, only two rookie tight end in the last 15 years have recorded more than five receiving touchdowns in a season; both debuted in a pass-happy Patriots offense during the 2010 season.
Any Fantasy owner who invested in Tyler Eifert or Zach Sudfeld a year ago doesn't need a reminder, but impact rookies at the tight end position often have trouble even seeing the field. Eifert was widely considered as NFL ready as prospects come, and still fell short of 500 yards and Fantasy relevance.
The good news is this might be an issue of delayed gratification coming only one year later. The second season seems to be where the elite tight ends take their step toward stardom, especially in recent seasons. Since 2004, five players at the position have recorded at least 900 receiving yards and six touchdowns in their second seasons. Among those five, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski all went on to become elite options at the position from their second year on.
That tight ends tend to struggle as rookies should come as little surprise, given how just how much the position demands. That shouldn't sour Fantasy owners in a Dynasty or keeper format from targeting someone like Ebron, but it should give you reason to temper expectations. At least for one season.
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