By Justin Edwards, 4for4
Special to Yahoo Sports
No position in fantasy football has to be looked at from a “stars or scrubs” approach quite like tight end. There are basically four to five tight ends that you can choose from if you want consistent, week-in, week-out production. After that, you’ll be looking for someone to far out-kick their projections — or, break out.
Below, I’ll be pointing out some potential breakouts at the tight end position with the help of TJ Hernandez’s study on predictable year-to-year stats. Combining the stickiest stats with the best offensive atmospheres should give us an idea of who can jump up a tier or leapfrog several tight ends who are going before them in average draft position.
A Look Back at 2021
There were more breakouts last year than I remembered before I dug into this, with six tight ends jumping at least one tier at the position from where they were being drafted.
Mark Andrews feels a little bit like cheating, but at this time last year, he was going behind four other TEs, including rookie Kyle Pitts at times. Andrews would go on to easily outscore all of them and even had more half-PPR points than all but five wide receivers.
Even as the season fast approached, the fantasy community still wasn’t quite sure what sort of role Rob Gronkowski was going to have, but those who took the plunge were rewarded with 12 very worthwhile fantasy performances. The four other options either carved out usage for themselves on new teams or, in Dawson Knox’s case, he rode the wave of a quickly ascending offense.
When searching for that breakout talent at TE, these are the year-to-year stats we tend to lean on in identifying potential candidates, in the order of stickiest correlation:
Yards per game
Receptions per game
Half-PPR points per game
Targets per game
Share of Team Targeted Air Yards
Gerald Everett, Chargers
ADP (Positional Rank): 14.5 (TE26)
Before we even dig into Gerald Everett’s potential 2022, I wanted to point out those exact “stickiest” stats from Jared Cook’s 2021 season with the Chargers, and I think they’re a little better than I would have assumed.
Considering the higher level of athleticism and the lack of additional offensive weapons that the Chargers added over the offseason, I would consider those rate stats as the absolute floor for Everett’s upcoming season. That would also mean that going as fantasy’s TE18 would be buying him at that floor, with an opportunity to operate more efficiently than what we saw from the 35-year-old Jared Cook.
Everett has been slowly climbing up draft boards — he was the TE24 in Underdog drafts in March — but I think there’s some meat on the bone, and a fringe-TE1 finish is not out of the question if touchdown variance falls his way. If you want a deep dive on the subject, here is a write-up exploring the signing from back in spring.
Cole Kmet, Bears
ADP (Positional Rank): 14.2 (TE20)
With the loss of Allen Robinson and only the additions of Byron Pringle and third-rounder Velus Jones to fill in his role in the offense, it would be logical to assume that Cole Kmet may be taking on a bigger role in the offense ahead of 2022. Kmet already finished second on the team with his 93 targets, behind only Darnell Mooney in 2021. His complete lack of touchdowns (60-612-0) was due in part to bad luck — his 12 red zone targets were the second-most in the league without a touchdown — as well as teammate Jimmy Graham soaking up three scores himself.
Kmet ranked 13th in targets/gm, 16th in receptions/gm and 10th in team targeted air yards percentage, and now he should have even less competition for targets as he heads into his third professional season.
Austin Hooper, Titans
ADP (Positional Rank): 14.0 (TE21)
Coming off of a 97-target, overall TE7 finish in 2019, the two following (and only) seasons Austin Hooper had with the Cleveland Browns were less than ideal. The 780 receiving yards he mustered in those follow-up seasons were less than he earned in 2019 alone (787). He will have a chance at a reprieve as he heads to the Titans, who are missing a combined 196 targets from last year between the departures of A.J. Brown, Julio Jones and Anthony Firkser.
In the four seasons since Mike Vrabel has taken over as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans — across three different offensive coordinators and two starting quarterbacks — the team has finished 16th, 4th, 8th and 8th in tight end target share. This usage should give Hooper a decent floor, while the 24 red-zone targets that the aforementioned departures commanded in 2021 give him a road to a ceiling as there is a dearth of other options for Ryan Tannehill around the end zone.
Cameron Brate, Buccaneers
ADP (Positional Rank): 13.2 (TE15)
A re-breakout from a 31-year-old tight end feels unlikely, but if there were a position to do it, it would be playing with Tom Brady post-Rob Gronkowski. With Gronk off to retirement, it’s assumed that Brate will take over as the team’s TE1, though how comparable that will be to what Gronkowski was doing is yet to be determined. The team did go out and get Kyle Rudolph to further muddy the waters, but I would expect Brate to have first dibs as the main attraction. He already has some decent stretches with Brady, including the 2021 Super Bowl run in which he went 14-175-1 throughout the playoffs.
Justin has been playing fantasy sports since he booted up a Sandbox Fantasy Football league on his Gateway computer in middle school. After nearly two decades in the restaurant industry, he's focusing his attention on making a living inside of the sports industry.
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