Week 16 Fantasy Football Tight End Plays: Could Irv Smith Jr. be a league-winner in a tough matchup?

C.D. Carter
·4 min read

With a healthy dash of context, it could be helpful — actionable, even — to know how a defense is being attacked.

Are enemy offenses peppering the middle of the field against a certain defense, leading to a glut of tight end opportunity? Are wide receivers having their way against a defense, commanding a massive target share? Are running backs seeing plenty of dump off opportunities against a particular defense?

These are questions I’ve addressed in this space during the regular season — with tight ends on the menu today — examining which positions are seeing the most opportunity against a certain defense in an exercise that might serve as the tiebreaker in your weekly agonizing start-sit decisions.

[Week 16 Fantasy Rankings: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | FLEX | DST | Kickers]

With every passing week, our understanding of how offenses are going after defenses should improve. Context will be key, as a bunch of targets to Travis Kelce doesn’t mean Tyler Eifert is going to see the same kind of opportunity against the same defense. If only it were that easy.

These numbers are compiled weekly by my lovely Living The Stream co-host, JJ Zachariason.

Irv Smith (MIN) at Saints

Smith's matchup is — dare I say — hideous on paper. Lean closer to the paper, narrow your eyes a bit, and check this out: only the Bears allow a higher target share to tight ends than the Saints, Smith's Week 16 opponent. Tight ends have seen 24.45 percent of targets against New Orleans this season while the Saints' secondary largely shuts down opposing wideouts. We're chasing target volume in this space, and we might just find it with Smith against the Saints.

After returning from a nagging groin injury in Week 14 and seeing a reduced workload (in an otherwise fantastic fantasy performance against Tampa), Smith returned to his normal snap share and route running numbers in Week 15 against the Bears. He ran 35 pass routes against Chicago, the fifth most among tight ends last week. It didn't lead to a whole lot — three catches for 38 yards on four targets — but Smith's usage was encouraging. Sometimes that's all we have with waiver wire tight ends.

The Vikings heading into this game as a heavy underdog and the Saints profiling as a pass-funnel offense give Smith some sneaky upside. Smith, available in 80 percent of leagues, is championship week's premier streaming tight end.

Jordan Akins (HOU) at Bengals

Good tight end streaming process includes honing in on tight ends on teams with big implied totals. That's precisely what draws us to Akins in Week 16, as the Texans have a 27.5 point implied total.

Akins is hardly a target hog in Houston's pass-heavy offense, but he does have a 13 percent target share through 14 games, the highest among Houston tight ends. He's seen an opportunity bump with the departure of Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, and Randall Cobb from the Texans Offense, drawing six targets in each of the past two games. His route running is good enough for our purposes. Akins ran 25 routes in Week 14 and 29 routes in Week 15. We'll take it.

The Bengals, meanwhile, allow a 23.19 percent target share to tight ends, the fifth highest in the NFL. Tight ends are averaging 7.24 targets per game against Cincy. A frustrating streaming option for much of 2020, Akins checks a lot of key boxes in Week 16.

Tyler Eifert (JAC) vs. Bears

I refuse to go a single week without writing about how generous the Bears have been to enemy tight ends.

No defense allows a larger target share to tight ends than the Bears. Nearly 25 percent of targets against Chicago this season have gone to tight ends. That works out to 8.28 tight end targets per game. That, as we say in the industry, is significant.

Tyler Eifert's usage isn't nearly as spotty as I thought it would be. Just last week against Baltimore, Eifert ran 22 pass routes — 12 more than fellow Jags tight end James O'Shaughnessy — while drawing four targets and catching three for 51 yards. And from Week 9 to Week 13, Eifert saw at least five targets in four of five games. It's not much, but it's something.

Eifert should be considered a spot starter in deeper fantasy leagues in the best possible Week 16 matchup. Only Buffalo has given up more tight end catches than the Bears in 2020. Jacksonville should once again (as always) face a truckload of negative game script this week, forcing Gardner Minshew (or whoever starts at QB) to the air early and often. That could work out just fine for a tertiary option like Eifert.

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