Fantasy Football Tight End Report: The Late Round Sleepers
Andrew Cooper takes a look at some tight ends that you should be looking at as a late round sleeper
It’s finally here. The main event. The pièce de résistance. The last and most important article of our four-part tight end series: The Late Round Sleepers!
This is the bargain bin where we find the George Kittle s (before their ADP becomes over inflated after their breakout due to YAC levels that are impossible to sustain). We’ve already done the work, so you don’t have to. The beauty is, even if you’ve already drafted, some of these guys are almost certainly sitting there in free agency to be picked up. If that’s the case and you aren’t sure whether to drop the tight end(s) you’ve drafted for one of these guys, I’ll answer any and every tight end question you might have on Twitter @CoopAFiasco.
Since we’re deep in the game here the recap is going to be short and sweet. We looked at all the elite tight ends throughout the years, dug through the stats, threw out the unpredictable junk, and found the qualities that most often translate to elite tight ends. In the first article we did a full intro to this and covered the elite guys so that’s the most important read if you want a refresher since it tells you exactly what we’re looking for, how we measure it, and why it matters. In the second article we gave you guys who have the best chance at taking the next step to that elite tier. In the third article we told you which guys to not waste your ADP or roster spots on because they have a difficult path to being a top 3 to 5 TE. And in this puppy we are going to appease all those folks who say they “never draft a tight end”, we are showing you the ignition switch for the late round tight end rocket ship.
(Your league-mates trying to start the rocket ship)
I’m just as lazy as you when it comes to reading intro article so I’ll make you a deal - I’ll provide you guys with a basic run down here of the metrics we looked in the intro if you promise to just give it a click – even if you don’t read it (though you should). Here you good.
- Plays on over 90-percent of offensive snaps
- Pass blocks on only 5-percent to 10-percent of passing snaps
- First or second option in passing offense
- Average depth of target greater than ~7 yards
- Red zone prowess
- Speed = YAC boost
I know you probably didn’t click the link and that’s mean but it’s also fine because my main goal here is to help you kill it at tight end. Much like the last articles I am going to give you The Good, The Bad, and our Conclusion so that you can understand that we looked at these objectively as part of the process. We don’t need buy or sell recommendations like the first two articles because all these guys are buys for us at their ADP.
Before we get into it I’d like to take a brief moment to thank Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Player Profiler, The Football Guys Database, NFL Savant, AirYards.com, and last but obviously not least, FANTASY ALARM for providing a lot of the statistics that we crunched down to arrive at these conclusions. Literally impossible to do this stuff without them, especially Howard Bender at Fantasy Alarm so wanted to give a much needed “what up” to them.
Now let’s win your league.
The Good: The Andrews hype has caught fire recently and we’re hear to report that it’s for good reason. As we’ve discussed, playing almost all the snaps is arguably the biggest factor in being a truly elite right end. There are two paths for young tight ends to get there: proficient blocker who expands his passing game repertoire and prolific pass catcher who learns to be trusted blocking. Those paths, however, are not only not created equally but the prolific pass catcher does not necessarily even need to become good at blocking to be fantasy relevant, as we’ve seen firsthand with Eric Ebron and his TE4 season with only 633 snaps. It’s much easier to just be a good pass catcher and get a decent snap share than get on the field by blocking and change your playstyle to catch more balls (though we have seen that happen with guys like Martellus Bennett ).
In terms of our “prolific pass catching” metrics, Mark Andrews is a prime candidate. We told you in article two that we love Vance McDonald – well Mark Andrews had essentially the same hog rate last year (13.1-percent), a similar YAC per reception (6.5 yards) with similar speed (4.67 40 yard dash), similar red zone target share (10.3-percent) and the exact same end zone target share (14.3-percent). He even got .119 targets per snap while Vance got.121 targets per snap. And in terms of the other stats? Andrews actually had a much better average depth of target at 11.1 yards compared to 5.3 yards for Vance (caution: this is actually a little too high where it might not be sustainable but when it comes to this stat, the higher the better). He also only blocked on 1.8-percent of pass plays he was in on compared to 5.2-percent for Vance so, when he’s out there, he is out there to catch balls, bottom line.
The Bad: Metrics are amazing when it comes to tight end success, but it doesn’t matter who good your metrics are if you don’t have the two most important and simple categories: snaps and targets. Mark Andrews only played 33-percent of the snaps he was eligible for which, if repeated, would make it damn near impossible for him to be fantasy relevant. Like at all. Also, the Ravens have been reporting that they expect Lamar Jackson to pass the ball 30 times a game this year and fantasy Twitter reported back to them with a resounding “yeah right”. The truly scary part is that 30 attempts per game would be 480 pass attempts on the season which would have actually still be dead last in 2016 (Broncos had the least with 491). Throw in that Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle are still there, and they just drafted multiple wide receivers and a pass catching back, it becomes pretty clear why he’s not being taken with the Vances in most leagues.
Conclusion: If we didn’t make it clear enough, Mark Andrews has the perfect profile for our “just needs more snaps” breakout tight end. The Ravens red zone target leaders last year were John Brown (16, Bills), Mark Andrews (11), Michael Crabtree (11, Cardinals), and Willie Snead (7). So, he’s the top guy returning there with 28 RZ targets vacated. Brown and Crabtree are also vacating 194 targets so there’s that. And one of the tight ends in the rotation, Maxx Williams (375 snaps) is also gone. Every single thing we have heard out of camp so far has been positive on Andrews from his work ethic to his chemistry with Lamar Jackson . The news on his main competition, Hayden Hurst , has basically been that he put on weight, hopefully to block. At TE14 off the board he is a must have if you are completely fading tight end and I’m taking him as my second tight end in many leagues where I have one already. I don’t think I can tell you how pumped I am for Andrews so I’ll just leave you with this Tweet showing Mark Andrews dragging defenders around.
— PFF (@PFF) August 23, 2019
The Good: This one is actually going to be pretty simple for us, mostly because Delanie makes that easy by being a damn good and damn consistent fantasy player. Yes, he’s on the older side and he got hurt last year but let’s check the last five years to see where he’s finished in half point PPR.
I don’t need to tell you that that’s a better player than his current ADP suggests. And before he got hurt in that first game, his metrics indicate that it was likely going to be more of the same (though, notedly, on a small sample size). He pass blocked on only 6.2-percent of pass snaps, had a 17.5-percent hog rate (which is incredibly high, second to only Ebron), he had a 20-percent red zone target share which is very near the most elite level, and he had a low drop rate at only 3.9-percent. In the year prior, he had a red zone target share of 26.1-percent and end zone target share of 50-percent (!!!) with 13 of the teams 26 end zone targets which ranked #1 overall for tight ends on PlayerProfiler.com.
The Bad: Sometimes the bad is as obvious as we think. To put it bluntly, Delanie Walker is 35 years old and he completely snapped his ankle in half last year. He missed the 15 games and comes back after complete reconstructive surgery. What he comes back to is a team that is already an incredibly low pass attach who just added another receiving threat early in the draft in AJ Brown and has another young tight end nipping at his heels in Johnnu Smith. Derrick Henry and his super high yards after contact are probably the top red zone option for the team so the trend of TE4, TE5, TE6, has a lot of fuel to accelerate quickly out of that tight end 10 range.
The Conclusion: The big thing about Delanie is that he clearly still has the upside of that tight end 5 average that he had the three years prior to get hurt but he only costs you a TE11 ADP. People are quick to say he’s injury prone after missing to many games last year but he’s truly not. Over the last 11 seasons, he has played at least 14 games 11 times. He’s played at least 15 games 10 times. This dude plays. And he typically plays well with over 60 catches in each of the last five years. If you are going to wait at tight end, he is the perfect “safe” tight end to take and paid with a Mark Andrews or another upside tight end like we have in this article. In our opinion Delanie should be higher in ADP but you don’t need to take it from us – check out this video where Delanie tells us he’s not only ready to go but that he’s watching his critics and he’s insulted that they would rank guys who have never played a single snap (cough, TJ Hockenson) over him.
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) August 18, 2019
The Good: The next two guys we are going to talk about have some similarities – the biggest being that they are hurt so often that they’ve burned enough fantasy gamers to permanently dampen their ADP. And Jordan Reed might be the poster boy for that. But when you look at his metrics, you realize something you already know. That he’s really good at football.
For this one, lets just take a little peak behind the curtain. It’s far easier to absorb than listing things off in a paragraph.
What you are looking at are last years metrics for the three best tight ends in fantasy football and Jordan Reed . Does anything strike you about this? How about the fact that nearly every category that you want a player to be great in, he is, at the very least, good in. The pass block percentage is only yellow because it is outside of our 5-percent to 10-percent range that helps you stay on the field for 90+ percent of the snaps but he battled injury last year and they were easing him in. Those two categories could just as easily also be green. And we are all aware how depleted the Redskins pass attach is so, as the de facto top option there, his red zone and end zone target shares this year could also be green. It’s crazy to think but, if he’s truly healthy and the Redskins offense isn’t that bad he could be a guy you grab super late that actually mimics some of the best tight ends in the game.
The Bad: He’s probably going to get hurt. In general, predicting injuries is not a sustainable fantasy strategy but there is certainly something that goes into the same guys getting hurt every year. Arian Foster is proof that sometimes the injury bug can just repeatedly hit you and deprive us of that elite talent. Jordan Reed has literally NEVER played a full season. His feet are so bad he’s had bones removed. He’s had a literal mind-boggling seven(!) concussions. And he is back in the concussion protocol as we speak. And don’t forget that second caveat – the Redskins are supposed to be baaaad. Vegas currently gives them 6 to 1 odds to be the very last place team this year which is behind only the Dolphins. So as beautiful as that chart is, these two huge hurdles seem fairly insurmountable.
The Conclusion: Take a shot on Jordan Reed . Why not? This isn’t like the years that you got burned – you don’t need to pay a premium whatsoever for him. He’s tight end 19 off the board in half point PPR. He costs you nothing. We talk about how valuable bench spots are in fantasy – this is a perfect last round pick. He’s what I’m doing. Rather than clog my bench up with Chris Herndon or Kareem Hunt putting up straight zeros for 5 to 8 weeks or sitting on some handcuff with minimal standalone value like Alexander Mattison or Chase Edmunds, I’ll be taking Jordan Reed with my last pick. If he’s healthy and playing 80-percent of the snaps he should be good, and I can either actually start him or trade him. If he’s playing limited snaps, doing nothing, or gets hurt then that’s fine too – I’ll drop him for the hot waiver pick up. He’s a scratch ticket that you basically get to scratch right away unlike these other long-term lotto tickets. Go back and look at that chart with all the green and yellow. Some of the guys that we have in the 2nd article literally have ONE green metric. This guy could be a league winner.
(Reed doesn’t even cost a candy bar and, at his ADP, there’s no risk of being cut to ribbons)
The Good: Since that was pretty easy last time and got right to the point, here is Tyler Eiffert in there with Reed and those other guys.
Look at that hog rate, my boy! Such a massive stat in terms of telling us who is getting the ball when they are in the game. That’s a small sample size because he got hurt but that’s also with AJ Green in the game. Just like Reed, we’ve gotten burned by his health issues, but we are talking about a guy with a 13 TD season the last time he was healthy. Speaks for itself.
The Bad: You can honestly just re-read the Reed section here. Eifert – hurt. Bengals – bad. But in this case Tyler Boyd is there and AJ Green is likely coming back. So, the upside isn’t as high as Reed but the downside is the same which is out for the season very early or, even worse, doing well and then leaving you stranded at tight end for the playoffs.
Conclusion: Once again, these guys are free. TE23 after rookies, suspended dudes, and Jason Witten ? Gimme a break! With this one you can either bench spot him or put him on the watch list and just see what kind of snaps he gets week 1. If it’s like 75-percent of the snaps, you should add him immediately. If him, Uzomah, and Drew Sample or splitting time to the point were Eifert is getting less than 50-percent of the snaps, you can just abandon ship. It’s honestly as simple as that. You aren’t marrying these guys with your last pick. It’s like taking one of those bets where your buddy says, “bro if the Bengals win the AFC North I’ll eat every piece of glass in this bar”. There’s no reason to not take the bet – there’s no downside to it and only the rest of your league has to eat glass if he returns to form. If he doesn’t then make the pickup off waivers that wins your league while everyone else sits there and holds hands with some handcuff that probably won’t even be good if the starter goes down.
For the really deep leagues, he is an additional list of “safe” guys to pair with “upside” guys if you are waiting so long at tight end that all the wheels have completely fallen of. We are talking like, computer froze during the last 8 rounds of the draft and you got all kickers territory.
Greg Olsen , CAR– Another old reliable guy, albeit one foot out the door
Jimmy Graham , GB– Still a 6’7” red zone target with great QB
Jack Doyle , IND- Out snapped and targeted Ebron in every game they played together
T.J. Hockenson , DET– Don’t usually recommend rookies who will likely do a fair share of blocking but could be worth a stab. Check back for his usage in my snap count article week .
Gerald Everett , LAR– Has a few elite metrics on a per snap basis but likely needs an injury to one of the top 3 WRs, Tyler Higbee , or honestly, 2 of that group. With an injury to 2 of the 4 WRs there he would be an add in a lot of formats
Irv Smith, MIN– Irv profile as the type of “move” tight end that could contribute his rookie year. Had Rudolph got moved he would be a buy but the Vikings also don’t necessarily have a great third receiving option so someone to monitor.
Darren Waller , OAK– I’m not usually into Hard Knocks driven Twitter hype but the opportunity is there for someone to be second target after Antonio Brown . He’s a former wide receiver so he won’t be blocking much. Knock yourself out.