Get These Tight Ends Late In Your Drafts

·7 min read

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For some fantasy football obsessive somewhere, their dying words will be, “Tight end is deep this year.”

Maybe they'll have the phrase scrawled on their gravestone. Maybe a family member will eulogize the departed fantasy head by commending their eternal faith that someday -- one year -- the tight end position would indeed be deep in fantasy football.

It's not deep, however. It never is. Tight end is extraordinarily top-heavy year in and year out. Tight end may look deep -- there might be a few guys going in the middle rounds who sure seem like they have a shot to outperform the early-round tight ends -- but this is merely an illusion in the desert of your fevered mind. You'd do well to ignore it. Move on to your next incorrect thought.

This season, like every season, the two most viable approaches to tight end are to go all in on the elites -- Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, Kyle Pitts -- or kick the proverbial can down the proverbial road and take a tight end in the later rounds (I'll now contradict everything I've written and say Dallas Goedert in the eighth or ninth round of 12-team leagues strikes me as your last shot at top-end production).

If you simply can't stomach using massive draft capital at tight end or don't get a chance to land one of the few tight ends who produce like a top-12 wide receiver, consider the following late-round dart throws. We seek the following in a tight end flier: A player who should run plenty of pass routes, who has demonstrated some ability to command targets, and who has been at least somewhat efficient as a pass catcher.

Albert Okwuegbunam (DEN)
ADP: 13.04 (TE18)

Albert O truthers wept with joy on Tuesday upon getting a last-minute reprieve from the governor's office, in the form of rookie TE Greg Dulcich being placed on injured reserve with a severe hamstring injury. Albert O drafters' families returned. It was a joyous scene.

Following a preseason in which Okwuegbunam played against third and fourth-string defenders in the second half of Denver's preseason games, it looks like the big man is in line to run a full complement of routes in Russell Wilson's offense -- for now, at least.

Okwuegbunam, who has reportedly struggled to pick up the new Denver offense, was indeed an efficient catcher of the football in his limited 2021 opportunities (40 targets in 14 games, or 2.86 targets per game). His 2021 production was about ten fantasy points over expected, and his yards per route run ranked seventh among tight ends with at least 150 routes. Okwuegbunam last year had the ninth highest targets per route run among tight ends, seeing a target on a solid 24 percent of his routes.

If Okwuegbunam's 2022 usage is anything like his usage over the past two seasons, it won't include much pass blocking. That's good. That's what we want. In a Broncos offense that's widely believed to be based on checkdowns and downfield shots, Albert O (and the team's running backs) could gobble up a big chunk of the former. He could be fun for fantasy purposes until Dulcich and his luxurious curls are back in October.

David Njoku (CLE)
ADP: 12.04 (TE16)

Any questions about Njoku's role in Cleveland's offense were answered with his preseason usage. Njoku, who in May signed a four-year, $56.8 million contract extension, played 92.9 percent of the snaps with the Browns first-team offense in three preseason games. Most encouragingly, he was featured in the slot and occasionally outside -- a departure from his previous usage in Cleveland's offense.

The hope for those drafting Njoku and his rippling eight-pack late in their redraft leagues is that he's more involved in Kevin Stefanski's passing attack. Last year, Njoku had a ho-hum 19 percent target per route run rate, barely inside the top 20 among tight ends with at least 250 pass routes. Don't let that obscure Njoku's efficiency on those rare targets: He was ninth among tight ends with a 1.66 yards per route run in 2021. Only 12 tight ends had a higher fantasy points over expected last season.

Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland's starter for the next few months (maybe more), hasn't been hesitant to check down to tight ends over his six NFL seasons. In stints with the Patriots, Colts, and Dolphins, Brissett targeted tight ends on 22.4 percent of his throws. In 2019, when he was forced into Indy's starting role after Andrew Luck's shocking retirement, Brissett targeted Colts tight ends on an eye-popping 26.2 percent of his attempts.

Seeking a sixth-year breakout tight end isn't exactly the best process. It might be the worst process. But Njoku's routes (and hopefully targets) should see a marked uptick in 2022. If they don't -- if he's still somehow used as he was last season -- you can cut bait and stream tight end. No biggie.

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Gerald Everett (LAC)
ADP: 15.03 (TE21)

Justin Herbert -- despite having one of the NFL's worst tight end groups in 2021 -- targeted the position on nearly 21 percent of his attempts. Jared Cook, who is eligible for Social Security, saw 78 targets from Herbert last year despite his hideous 1.25 yards per route run.

Gerald Everett probably represents a major upgrade for the Chargers' tight end situation in 2022. While he's no one's idea of a target dominator, Everett's receiving profile says he should be able to do (far) more with his targets than the aged Cook did last season.

Trapped in a heinous Seattle offense last year, Everett posted the 15th-highest tight end yards per route run, with a cringeworthy average depth of target (5.3). Russell Wilson posted his second-highest adjusted yards per attempt (8.06) in 2021 when targeting Everett, who had the eighth-highest fantasy points over expected among tight ends. There's reason to believe Everett can do a lot with a little.

In 11 career games with at least seven targets, Everett has averaged 8.42 catches for 82 yards.

Everett represents the cheapest way to get it in on the hyper-aggressive and productive Chargers passing offense and he won't be the focal point for any opposing defense with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams drawing the attention of every secondary. Rostering the route-running, pass-catching tight end in an offense that ranked fourth in pass rate over expected in 2021 and had the fourth most pass attempts inside the ten yard line probably won't suck.

Tyler Conklin (NYJ)

The mainstream media won't tell you Conklin has been a favorite target for every Jets quarterback in training camp. That is where we at NBC Sports step in and tell you that Conklin -- aka Conk Daddy -- has indeed commanded targets from Joe Flacco, Mike White, and the injured Zach Wilson.

The Athletic's Zach Rosenblatt said in mid-August that Conklin, a free agent signing this offseason, appeared "athletic and sure-handed and is good enough as a blocker that the Jets will have a hard time taking him off the field." Jets head coach Robert Saleh said Conklin was "awesome" in the early days of training camp, dominating underneath targets in New York's offense.

Conklin's receiving profile in Minnesota's offense last year left quite a bit to be desired. Probably that didn't knock you off your seat. Conklin in 2021 drew a target on a meager 20 percent of his routes -- in line with guys like Dalton Schultz and Hunter Henry. His yards per route run was 30th among tight ends who ran at least 150 routes (and 16th among tight ends with at least 300 routes). Conk Father was just barely over his expected fantasy points; there's no indication he can be a highly efficient producer in the NFL.

That Conklin ran the tenth most tight end pass routes in 2021 might mean teams see him, at the very least, as a viable underneath option and a feasible third target in the passing game. His 2021 usage and his role in the Jets offense are more than enough to make Conklin a late-round pick in 12-and-14-team formats.