Fantasy Football: Strategy For Drafting Tight Ends and Players to Target

Adam Ronis
Sports Illustrated

The plan for attacking the tight end position in fantasy football this season is clear. If you want one of the top three tight ends, it's going to cost an early pick. Going into drafts, you should know if it's a strategy to employ.

Travis Kelce tends to go in the second round, while Zach Ertz and George Kittle go from the late second to third round. If the trio comes close to last season's stats, it will be worth it. Keep in mind, they posted historic numbers, so expecting a repeat isn't realistic.

Ertz set the single-season record for receptions by a tight end, and Kittle set the record for most yards in a season at the position. Kelce had career highs with 150 targets, 103 receptions, 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kelce has three consecutive seasons of at least 1,038 yards.

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In the next tier of tight ends, O.J. Howard, Evan Engram and Hunter Henry all have breakout potential, yet there are question marks. Can Eric Ebron be as good as last season? Will Jared Cook adapt to a new team in New Orleans? Does Vance McDonald benefit with 228 vacated targets in Pittsburgh?

Does David Njoku see more targets in an ascending offense? Can Mark Andrews lead the Ravens offense in targets? Chris Herndon was an appealing target, but he's suspended for the first four games of the season.

Veterans Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed, Delanie Walker, and Jimmy Graham are falling in drafts, but have produced top seasons in recent years.

Waiting on tight ends last season resulted in a few bargains. Of course, you needed to get the right one. Last season, I wrote that Kittle was the tight end to target in the middle rounds and he was a difference-maker. Ebron and Austin Hooper were drafted in the double-digit rounds, and Cook was undrafted in many leagues, and all finished in the top ten at the position.

Here's a look at some interesting tight ends:

O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 65)

Howard was on his way to a breakout season last year before injuries cut it short. He was sixth in points per game among tight ends last season in PPR formats. DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries are gone and have left 179 targets. While Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will get a good target share, there's enough for Howard to produce top numbers at the position. There’s a good chance Howard can reach 100 targets. Howard played in 10 games last season and caught 34 of 48 passes (70.8% catch rate) for 565 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 16.6 yards per catch and 11.8 yards per target. If Howard would have played 16 games, he was on pace for 904 yards and eight touchdowns. Howard reached double-digit points in PPR formats in seven of his 10 games. He has missed eight games in his first two seasons due to right foot and ankle injuries and has yet to put up huge numbers due to low volume. He had a 7.4% target share as a rookie and 11.7% last season, and it's going way up in 2019.

Evan Engram, New York Giants (ADP: 69)

Engram is in a good spot to succeed. Odell Beckham is off to Cleveland, and Golden Tate is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances. When Beckham missed 12 games in 2017, Engram had 115 targets, catching 64 passes for 722 yards with six touchdowns in 15 games. The second season wasn't as good for Engram, who missed five games and had 45 catches for 577 yards. In the final four games of the season with Engram healthy and Beckham out, the Giants tight end averaged 5.5 receptions and 80 yards per game. The Giants lack depth at wide receiver and Engram will be targeted heavily.

Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: 72)

Henry has significant upside, although it has yet to come to fruition. Part of the reason for that is playing behind Antonio Gates in his first two seasons and a torn ACL last season. The Chargers look for the tight end in the red zone, and without depth at wide receiver, Henry has the potential for eight to 10 touchdowns. In his first two seasons, Henry had 115 targets for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns. Gates had 165 targets in that span.

Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: 95)

Ebron is overvalued. Many are taking him as the seventh or eighth tight end off the board based on last season's stats after being the TE4. He had career highs across the board catching 66 of 110 targets for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns and also added a rushing touchdown. The catch rate wasn't great at 60%, his worst mark since his rookie season when most tight ends struggle. It's easy to say the touchdowns will decline considering he scored on 12% of his targets. The biggest concern is Ebron saw less usage with Jack Doyle on the field. Doyle is slated to be ready for the start of the season following hip surgery and kidney surgery in November. When Doyle was on the field, Ebron saw 3.7 targets compared to 8.8 when Doyle was sidelined. Ebron averaged 34.4 routes per game without Doyle and 17.7 with Doyle, who played six games. With Doyle active, Ebron averaged 27.3 snaps per game compared to 45.7 without Doyle. The Colts brought in wide receiver Devin Funchess, who is similar to a tight end and can take away some red-zone looks. The team also drafted Parris Campbell, who will see a role in the offense when healthy. Of course, there's also the potential of quarterback Andrew Luck missing time.

Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: 96)

McDonald should see a big uptick in targets. Between the departure of Antonio Brown and Jesse James, plenty of targets are up for grabs and some of them will go to McDonald, who played the same amount of snaps as James (564). He had an impressive season considering he wasn't a full-time player. McDonald caught 50 of 72 targets for 610 yards and four touchdowns and had a career-high catch rate of 69.4%.

Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: 118)

Hooper didn't do much in his first two seasons before becoming fantasy relevant last year. He caught 71 of 88 targets for 660 yards and four touchdowns. He had a catch rate of 80.7% and was tied for third at the position for targets inside the 10-yard line and was second to Kelce for looks inside the 5-yard line. The Falcons often passed last season, and Hooper has a lot of competition for targets with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu and Devonta Freeman, but the coaches believe Hooper can take it to another level.

Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: 128)

When Andrews was targeted, he was excellent in his rookie season. He averaged 11 yards per target on his 50 targets and caught 34 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns. Andrews is more like a wide receiver and ran half of his routes from the slot last season and had a good rapport with quarterback Lamar Jackson. All the off-season reports have been positive with many beat writers saying Andrews has been one of the best players in training camp.

Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins (ADP: 157)

Reed has burned many with his inability to stay healthy. Last season, he played 13 games and played through toe and foot injuries before missing the final three games with a toe injury. He had double-digit points in PPR formats in more than half the games. Over the last four seasons, Reed has missed 19 games. Reed caught 54 catches for 558 yards with two touchdowns on 84 targets last season with four different quarterbacks. This is the cheapest Reed has cost in drafts in a while, and he's the best receiving option for a weak Redskins offense. If it doesn't work out, it won't ruin your team because of his low price.

Chris Herndon, New York Jets (ADP: 175)

Keep in mind Herndon is suspended for the first four games of the season and in shallow leagues, he's not worth a bench spot. In deeper formats, like the Fantasy Football World Championships, there's room to stash him late in drafts. He had 39 catches on 56 targets for 502 yards and four touchdowns and averaged nine yards per target.

Darren Waller, Oakland Raider (ADP: 182)

Waller is a deep sleeper. He is 6'6", 255 pounds and runs a 4.46 40-yard dash. The Raiders aren't loaded with depth at receiver, and Jared Cook had 101 targets in this offense last season. With a bad defense, the Raiders should be passing often while playing from behind. Waller was never given a shot in Baltimore, but he's a great athlete and projects to start for the Raiders.

All ADP courtesy of the Fantasy Football World Championships.

Easy. Fast. Fun! Enter the Mock Draft World Championship. Submit your free team, then watch it climb the standings all year long as you fight for the $2,500 prize or The Ultimate Fantasy Football Experience, a trip to Vegas to compete in the Main Event next year!

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