Fantasy Football: Kill, Marry, Chill – Tight Ends

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Hosted by
Drew Rice

And we’re back! With training camps underway and fantasy-draft season picking up, we’re here as your trusted advisors with another round of “Kill, Marry, Chill.” For the next few weeks, we’ll be going through each position and telling you who to kill (avoid drafting), marry (target as quality options), and chill (keep on your radar as a sleeper). So, don’t get into your draft just yet, because we know what you need to do to take home that championship. Or, at the very least, avoid that last-place punishment.

These ADPs and QB rankings come courtesy of ESPN and were last updated on September 7. I’ll also be looking at these rankings from the standpoint of a 10-team league because an 8-team league is weak and one with 12+ teams is for people who do in-depth research on the Packers’ fifth-string wide receiver.

We’ve already covered quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers, so now we’re onto the tight ends. This is typically a tricky position to handle because of the lack of depth, and this year is no different. George Kittle and Travis Kelce are the elite options, Zach Ertz and Mark Andrews come after that, and then it’s anyone’s guess. Well, for my fellow late drafters, I got you covered.

Kill

Rob Gronkowski (ADP: 74.3, TE 7)

People are too caught up on the tagline of “greatest tight end of all time” to remember that Gronk hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2011. That never stopped him from dominating in fantasy in the past, but with one retirement and a zillion back surgeries on his track record, stop expecting the world from this guy. The last we saw of him in 2018, the future Hall-of-Famer nabbed just 47 catches across 13 games of action on a Patriots team where running back James White led the teams in targets. He couldn’t even crack TE1 territory that season, finishing 11th in both standard and PPR. I’m not sure why things are supposed to be better in Tampa Bay.

Gronk has been feeling the heat down in Tampa Bay. Literally. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Bucs are easily the most hyped team of this offseason, which doesn’t always bode well for the on-field product. Putting that issue aside though, why exactly is Gronk supposed to be a big-time contributor in this offense? Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are arguably both top-10 receivers in the league. They combined for 239 targets last season and I’m not sure why Tom Brady would ever want to stop throwing to them. That’ll surely put a big dent in Gronk’s target share, especially with two other more-than-capable tight ends behind him on the depth chart in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. And that’s all before mentioning how Bucs Head Coach Bruce Arians doesn’t have a long track record of getting his tight ends the ball.

I would love Gronk as a TE2, but round 8 is way too rich for my blood. He’s off my board entirely.

Honorable Mention – Evan Engram (ADP 71.5, TE 6)

Jared Cook was a real solid contender for this spot based on touchdown regression, but Engram going this high was an undeniable kill. I’m a Giants fan, so it pains me to put Engram here, it really does. Every fiber of my being wants him to live up to his potential as a wide receiver athlete with tight end size, but injuries have cost him 14 games in his first three seasons and, fantasy aside, he’s not really that effective of a receiver. In 2019, PFF graded Engram as the 31st best tight end, while Football Outsiders placed him 41st among 48 qualifying tight ends on their DYAR metric for receiving efficiency.

The peak of Engram’s short career came in his rookie year, when he finished fifth among TEs in both standard and PPR, but that mostly had to do with the borderline unfathomable number of injuries to New York’s skill-position players in 2017. This year, however, the Giants have one of the deepest skill-position groups in the league. With a whole bunch of guys worthy of a significant target share, there won’t be enough looks for Engram to live up to this draft billing, even if he stays healthy for enough of the season.

It’s the same story as Gronk. People are going to bank on the sky-high ceiling after they draft Engram, and chances are, they’re going to get burned. You’re better off waiting a bit and grabbing one of these guys…

Marry

Hayden Hurst (ADP: 121.4, TE 12)

A first-round pick back in 2018, Hurst never quite worked out in Baltimore, winding up as the Ravens’ third-string tight end by the end of last season. But the 30 catches for 349 yards in 2019 don’t speak to how efficient Hurst was when he got the opportunity. His 2.44 yards per route run were the sixth most among tight ends in 2019, while his 8.7 yards per target were seventh-best for the position. The statheads are with me on this one, too—Football Outsiders put Hurst at 10th for DYAR among tight ends last season.

At least some of that efficiency is attributable to the Ravens’ prolific offense, but if we’re on the subject of scheme fit, the Falcons are a pretty good situation to be in as a tight end. Atlanta brought in Hurst to replace Austin Hooper, who was the fourth most targeted tight end in the league and top seven for the position in fantasy over the past two seasons. There are a few mouths to feed in what should once again be a strong Falcons offense, but this organization didn’t trade a second-round pick for Hurst to make him just a check-down option for Matt Ryan.

I’m putting my money where my mouth is on this one. I have Hurst in all three of my leagues because he’s a steal in the 13th round.

Honorable Mention – Tyler Higbee (ADP: 83.8, TE 8)

Higbee ended 2019 on a high note, and I like his chances to carry that kind of play over to 2020. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

Maybe it’s just recency bias, but I’m buying Higbee’s otherworldly finish to the 2019 season. Over the last five weeks of the season, Higbee was TE 1 in both standard and PPR, tallying 43 receptions for 522 yards thanks to four consecutive 100-yard performances. The concern is that Higbee never looked particularly impressive in his first 58 career appearance (he never had a 100-yard game before this stretch), but you really think Sean McVay is going to keep the ball out of his hands after Higbee did that? I’m trusting McVay when he said that the Rams have “big plans for him.”

Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley are playing elsewhere this season, so someone is going to need to make up for the 121 targets those two saw last season. The Rams spent a few early picks in the draft on wide receiver Van Jefferson and running back Cam Akers, but I like Higbee’s chances to set some new career-highs this year. This is a high-floor high-ceiling option for your TE1. Well worth your ninth-round pick.

Chill

Jack Doyle (ADP: 161.4, TE 17)

Sure, he hasn’t set the world on fire the past two seasons, but Jack Doyle is still a good tight end! More importantly, however, I love that he’s now going to see passes from Phillip Rivers, the guy who helped make Antonio Gates a Hall-of-Famer and Hunter Henry one of the best tight ends in the game today.

The passing-catching options in Indianapolis leave a lot to be desired. The depth chart at wide receiver after T.Y. Hilton (who is starting to become an injury risk) has a couple of unproven second-round wide receivers in Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman. The Colts signed tight end Trey Burton to pair with Doyle, but he’s coming off an injury-plagued 2019 season and could miss up to three games with another ailment. Doyle very well could end up the Colts’ second-best receiver this season, so 80-100 targets are well within the realm of possibility.

The Colts might stay committed to the run-game in 2020 after drafting Johnathan Taylor to pair with Marlon Mack in the backfield, but the 471 rushing attempts last year had more to do with Jacoby Brissett being bad at throwing footballs than wanting to establish the ground game. I think the 7-9 record and 25th-place finish in total offense says Head Coach Frank Reich should change things up. Rivers, even at 39 years old, is a massive upgrade over Brissett, which will lend itself to a more pass-happy offense in 2020.

I’m not saying Doyle ends up having some breakout campaign at 30 years old, but I am pretty confident saying that he’ll outperform this draft billing and end up no worse than a high-end TE2. If you’re looking for a backup late in the draft, Doyle is a safe, solid option.

Honorable Mention – Chris Herndon (ADP: 158.0, TE 16)

Man, 2018 really feels like a lifetime ago. Let me refresh your memory though: Herndon was second in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns for the Jets as a rookie, quietly posting one of the best performances for a rookie tight end over the past decade. A lost 2019 season put a damper on his hype, but now he’s healthy coming into 2020 and prime to break out for a team without a true number-one pass-catcher.

Hey, Sam Darnold has to throw the ball to somebody. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Ryan Griffin did alright filling in for Herndon last season, finishing as TE 20 thanks to five touchdowns, but those are Herndon’s red-zone targets now. Griffin isn’t enough of a threat to stop Herndon from getting his opportunity to shine.

He’s going as a TE2, which is a tricky sell given that he might struggle after the long layoff. However, if you grabbed one of the top tight ends and feel secure at the position, this is the perfect boom-or-bust complement that you can wait to get in the last round or two. For most of you, he’s probably on the waiver wire in your league right now.

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Episode 26