Fantasy Football Tight End Tiers: O.J. Howard, Hunter Henry can make the leap in 2019

In my view, fantasy rankings are taking a linear thought process into an inherently fluid decision-making exercise. I often find there’s a heavy amount of frivolous debate on subjects like, “Why do you have Player-X at No. 12 but Player-Y at No. 15?” I don’t think it does the reader a service to try and take the numerical order as a one-to-one comparison, nor do we learn anything of use or substance about the players or how they will score us fantasy points on a week-to-week basis in the discussion. For all the hype surrounding the event of the draft, winning weekly is still the name of the game in the vast majority of fantasy formats.

With that school of thought established, I do believe that using tiers by position helps offset some of the uselessness of rankings. It helps take some of the frivolity of arguing the difference of a few spots in the order. Most of the players in one tier have roughly the same value, whether they fall first in the set or last. It provides more actionable information for fantasy gamers to use during drafts, specifically in terms of helping us imagine the range of outcomes for players from both a season-long and weekly standpoint. We get too caught up in where we think a player will rank at the end of the season, but tiering can help remind us that the goal soon enough will be all about constructing teams that are best set to win one week at a time.

The most despised position the fantasy world over, tight end gets murky quickly once again this year. Tiering really helps bring this position to focus in 2019. While our player options dry up in a hurry, the position is clearly divided into specific sections of the draft to form an attack plan.

TE Tier 1 - Elite players who can be positional difference-makers

1) Travis Kelce

2) George Kittle

3) Zach Ertz

All three of these tight ends stand out. They’re locked into beefy target shares in their respective offenses and proven high-end talents.

Kelce led the high-flying Chiefs with 150 targets last year and is the odds on favorite to do so again in 2019. Even if the Kansas City passing game is destined for a scoring regression, his secure role keeps him as the top tight end on the board, with almost no debate. Some analysts are aggressive enough to tout him as a first-round pick. You’ll have to pay a high second-round price to get him either way.

After a record-breaking second NFL season, Kittle enters Year 3 just scratching the surface. The return of Jimmy Garoppolo should help keep his numbers afloat. While some of Kittle’s after catch data and his 10.1 yards per target might regress to standard tight end expectations, he’s due for some positive regression in the scoring column. We could see a higher touchdown total out of Kittle in 2019 after scoring just five times on 136 targets.

Ertz is coming off a career-year. He might see some work shaved off the top of his 156 targets from last year given just how stocked the Eagles offense is heading into 2019. Nevertheless, he is a stable pick as a fourth-rounder.

TE Tier 2 - Pricey “breakouts”

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 18:  Tight end O.J. Howard #80 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers carries the ball as he is defended by linebacker Tae Davis #58 of the New York Giants during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 18, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The New York Giants won 38-35.  (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
O.J. Howard is a favorite pick at tight end this fantasy football season. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

4) O.J. Howard

5) Evan Engram

6) Hunter Henry

In years past, it was common for fantasy players to scrape the late rounds of drafts for young athletic tight ends that if everything hit, could push for a top-five finish at the position. We have some of those options this year but unlike in prior seasons, you’ll have to pay for the potential with these three. You can even argue that all of them have already broken out, as each has a 500-plus yard season on their resume. We’re just thinking bigger this year. With the right ingredients, any of these three could push for numbers to challenge Tier 1.

Howard is yet another winner with Bruce Arians expected to provide a boost to the already productive Tampa passing offense. He’s already something of a marvel himself as a 6-foot-6 specimen who cleared 16 yards per catch in both of his first two seasons and has plus blocking skills. I draft him often in Round 5.

Engram could easily lead the Giants in targets this season. That might not be worth as much as it would on other offenses but it’s an appealing note at this hideous position. He may end up being their top vertical threat up the seam, as well, with slot receivers and Saquon Barkley the only other realistic quality receivers.

Losing Henry for all of last season was a bummer. He did return for a handful of snaps in the Chargers playoff loss and has been a full-go this offseason. Henry is a proven touchdown scorer, who has hauled in eight scores on his 15 career targets inside the 10-yard line. Don’t rule out that he finishes behind only Keenan Allen on the Chargers target totem pole.

TE Tier 3 - Solid TE1s

7) Jared Cook

8) Vance McDonald

9) Austin Hooper

10) Eric Ebron

McDonald and Cook are two players who have frustrated fantasy gamers in the past. However, each is coming off the best season of their respective careers and are in line for boosts in opportunities this year. They should be no worse than third on their teams in targets given turnover and lack of proven talent in their wide receiver corps.

Ebron is bound for some touchdown regression after scoring 13 times in 2018. His 110 targets are also bound to come down. With Jack Doyle back, Mo Alie-Cox emerging and an influx of talent in the wideout room, Ebron is a reach at his Round 7 ADP.

TE Tier 4 - Priority late-round darts

11) Jordan Reed

12) Mark Andrews

13) David Njoku

14) Delanie Walker

15) T.J. Hockenson

No one who has participated in fake football the last few years could possibly carry many warm fuzzies about selecting Reed. And yet, he’s coming off a season where he played 13 games (not bad considering the subject) and was easily Washington’s best pass-catcher. Heading into 2019, he’s dirt cheap and has access to the type of volume needed for a Top-12 finish.

Andrews shined last season and has dominated in training camp, according to multiple observers. However, he’s been eschewed in the name of blocking tight ends during the preseason in the Ravens’ run-heavy offense. He’s a strong bet to break out but this specific note could throw a wrench into things or at the very least make Andrews tough to predict on a weekly basis.

Njoku is talented but will have to contend with a bevy of other strong options in Cleveland’s passing game. Look for big weeks out of him but volatile volume. Trading Duke Johnson helped his cause.

Hockenson has been a fixture with the Lions first-team offense all summer, per reports. Rookie tight ends usually take time to get going but after Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, there isn’t much competition for looks through the air in Detroit.

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TE Tier 5 - Streamers but could be better if it all hits

16) Dallas Goedert

17) Greg Olsen

18) Kyle Rudolph

19) Trey Burton

20) Tyler Eifert

21) Jimmy Graham

Goedert showed he was legitimately good last year. In another offense, we’d probably like him more Andrews but in Philly, he’s a bit buried. Not only does he have Ertz ahead of him, but a wide receiver corps of Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and more also should cap his ceiling at fourth on the team in targets.

Olsen and Graham could bounce-back if they’re healthy. The Panthers and Packers offenses are both expected to take a step forward this year and that would benefit their tight ends. Of course, it’s also quite possible these two are just cooked at this point.

Burton is an interesting post-hype sleeper that you can easily argue is underrated here. He goes much higher in drafts. If the Bears have to throw more and Mitchell Trubisky is more comfortable with his tight end after a first-year trial run, Burton could push for Top-12 status. It would be nice if he hadn’t spent all preseason on the shelf.

TE Tier 6 - Path to volume with individual question marks

22) Darren Waller

23) Jack Doyle

24) Noah Fant

25) Jason Witten

Waller is 250-plus pounds and stands at 6-foot-6 as a converted wide receiver. He drew rave reviews all offseason before suffering a shoulder sprain in training camp. He’s still expected to start at tight end and play a similar move role as Jared Cook did last year during a career season. Waller is wildly unproven but stands out this year while we’re lacking athletic breakout picks in the final rounds of drafts.

Fant has played well this summer and should start right away for Denver. He’s likely a better second half of the season bet. Witten is playing football in 2019 after making our earholes suffer in the booth last year. He won’t be an every-down player but should draw more targets than any of us want in a Dallas offense that’s trying to join the 21st century.

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