Here are our outlooks on the short- and long-term prospects of the top tight end prospects taken in the 2019 NFL Draft:
Lions take T.J. Hockenson in Round 1, No. 8 overall
Rare is the rookie tight end who can make a Fantasy impact right away. Rare is also the way to describe T.J. Hockenson, who was the first-round pick of the Detroit Lions in Thursday's NFL Draft at No. 8 overall.
At nearly 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, Hockenson wasn't just the best all-around tight end in the draft; he was among the best all-around skill-position prospects, period. Hockenson caught nine touchdowns over 73 grabs in 2017 and 2018, never missing a game and averaging 14.8 yards per catch. Those numbers are meant to be impressive, but if they're not, consider that he shared the field with another athletic tight end (and possible first-rounder), Noah Fant.
Hockenson will be a Day-1 starter not only because of his very good route-running, sweet feet and reliable hands, but also because he's pretty much prepared to be a tough-nosed blocker at the NFL level. It should make him a candidate for every-down work in the Lions' offense. The thought of defending against big-bodied pass-catchers like Kenny Golladay and Hockenson will make for nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.
There's an adage in Fantasy that rookie tight ends never do well enough to help. Only Rob Gronkowski, thanks his 10-touchdown rookie season, really made an immediate impact. But we're coming off a season where Austin Hooper tallied 660 yards and four touchdowns and was the No. 7 tight end in non-PPR! Guess what, people?! Tight ends aren't that great for Fantasy once you get past the first three, maybe first five. At least Hockenson will offer some potential to be better than whatever Hooper was last season.
So when you're searching through the bodies of touchdown-or-bust tight ends in the final rounds on Draft Day, you might opt for Hockenson and hope his upside reveals itself sooner than later. I think that will include Week 1 when he plays against the Cardinals.
At worst, you'll have blown a late-round pick on a modest-upside tight end, and you'll have to replace him with someone else on waivers. Who's to say you don't end up doing that with David Njoku or Jimmy Graham or Jordan Reed? Hockenson is worth the flier.
Broncos take Noah Fant in Round 1, No. 20 overall
The Broncos needed a quarterback, so they of course drafted a tight end.
Maybe they're counting on Joe Flacco to stick around for a while.
Noah Fant was the Broncos' pick at 20th overall in the NFL draft. Perhaps with visions of Travis Kelce seam-crushing the souls of the AFC West, the team wanted to cultivate their own mismatch monster.
They'll have the chance. Fant has the potential to be the next great Fantasy tight end, but it's going to take some time. He's got the size for it at 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds, and there's no questioning his speed (4.5 in the 40-yard dash). However, his route-running is a work-in-progress and he's not even close to being an effective blocker. Moreover, there were times in school where his awareness was awful as, he'd often be slow off the snap or unaware of what the play was.
So consider Fant a raw talent with glam upside and some downside that'll remind you of Jared Cook (before Cook broke out in his ninth season).
"But Joe Flacco loves his tight ends!"
Does he? In his last six seasons, his target percentage to tight ends (as in all of them) has steadily been between 20 and 23 percent. The position has amassed a max of five scores in each year. No tight end even sniffed the top-10 in non-PPR in those six years (Benjamin Watson and Dennis Pitta had some high-reception seasons to get around a top-10 PPR finish). Could this fallacy be based on Dennis Pitta's 61-669-7 season in 2012?! Let's hope your opponents think so!
Flacco's track record with tight ends doesn't mean much here anyway because Fant could be a limited participant until he's up to speed with the NFL game. How many targets will he take away on a weekly basis? Not much unless he breaks out in training camp and the preseason. If anything, his size makes him a red-zone threat, meaning he could take touchdowns away from guys like Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton and ... gulp ... Phillip Lindsay.
Fant is no better than a late-round gamble in all Fantasy redraft leagues. He does play against the Raiders in Week 1, so maybe he's on the list of stream-starting tight ends. He'll move into the middle/late picks in long-term keeper and dynasty start-ups and is probably going to slide into the top-15 picks in rookie-only drafts.
Smith passes the eye-ball test with a wide, strong body (6-foot-2, 242 pounds). He also has quality hands but leaves a little to be desired otherwise.
I thought he was a little too inconsistent in his separation and his route running, and for a dude as big as this, he's not a tackle-breaker. The good news is that he's got a year to brush up on all of these things since he'll be the understudy to Kyle Rudolph in 2019 and then replace him in 2020 when Rudolph's contract expires.
Fantasy owners are going to have to be patient, but it's for the best because I don't think he's ready to contribute in a big way so soon. He'll go undrafted in seasonal leagues and fill in as a late-round pick in long-term keeper formats.
He'll also be a top-15 pick in rookie-only drafts.
If you get points for great blocking in your Fantasy league, Drew Sample may be a 2019 sleeper. He's NFL-ready as a blocker right now, but it's unknown how much of an impact he'll have in the passing game. He only caught 25 passes for 252 yards in his senior year at Washington.
Andy Dalton has targeted tight ends heavily in the past, but Sample will be well down the depth chart when it comes to pass-catching options in Cincinnati. He can be ignored in re-draft and any rookie draft with fewer than four rounds.
Josh Oliver is a developmental player at tight end mostly because of his lack of blocking chops, but he could make an impact as a move-tight end early in his career.
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and quarterback Nick Foles both have an extensive history with using the tight end in the passing game, so Oliver will have a role if he can block well enough to stay on the field. Oliver won't have relevance in redraft but he's worth a fourth-round rookie pick, especially if you have a practice squad slot.
Fantasy managers know better than to rush into the arms of a rookie tight end, but a case can be made for Jace Sternberger to be an exception.
The quarterback-turned-tight end only had one year of genuine playing time in college, but what a year it was. The 6-foot-4, 251-pounder caught 48 passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns, absolutely mammoth numbers, with 44 percent of his receptions counting for at least 20 yards apiece! He torched defenses with his speed and height, lining up all over the field and making plays after the catch.
He's not a polished player -- his route-running technique needs help and his blocking leaves a lot to be desired, but now that he's catching passes from Aaron Rodgers, he could turn in some really eye-popping performances. I'm taking him with a late first-round pick in rookie-only drafts on the hunch he's the real deal for the Packers. I'll also snap him up with a late-round pick in long-term formats and dynasty start-ups.
The only way I'll draft Sternberger in a seasonal redraft league is if I'm willing to splurge and be patient with him as my second tight end, and it'll be with one of my last three picks. Don't even think about streaming him against the Bears in Week 1.
Before the draft, I saw Texans coach Bill O'Brien say he's pleased with the tight ends he has on his roster. Not only did he go out and draft a tight end, but he picked a project-type who doesn't figure to contribute much in 2019.
Warring is huge at 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds, and he's got solid speed to boot, but he's lacking on experience and isn't even close to a polished route-runner. But he can block, so that could help him find some playing time this year. I don't plan on targeting Warring in any of my typical Fantasy leagues and wouldn't check into him until Round 4 at the earliest in rookie-only drafts.
Dawson Knox is a big, tough tight end with great athletic ability, but his lack of experience as a receiving threat is an issue. He's 6-foot-4, 254 pounds and pretty fast (4.58 speed), but he caught 39 passes in two seasons at Ole Miss, none for touchdowns. The Bills drafted themselves a project who can't be trusted in Fantasy play other than as a late-round rookie-only draft flier.