Tight End Shuffle Up: The O.J. Howard liftoff

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We’re into August and we’re stepping into the teeth of fantasy football draft season. It’s time to get to some ranks and some prices, and we’ll continue here with tight ends.

Assume a half-point PPR scoring format. Perhaps it’s not the industry standard yet, but I think we’re going there.

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Please don’t get hung up on the exact prices, anyway. What matters most here is how the players relate to one another, where the talent clusters and where the talent drops off. Players at the same price are considered even.

The vanity picks

$36 Travis Kelce

$31 George Kittle

$27 Zach Ertz

I’m not likely to draft any of the vanity tight ends, through no fault of their own. Kelce has the best floor, but he often sneaks into the first round, and I don’t like how I have to chase the game at RB and WR when I go tight end early . . . For all of Kittle’s exploits, he did only score five times and a lot of his production was YAC-based, which isn’t always sticky. I’m also not sure Jimmy Garoppolo is the franchise QB he’s made out to be, albeit Kittle did just fine with Nick Mullens . . . Ertz, a longtime favorite of mine, becomes a reluctant fade; the Eagles usage tree is Grand-Canyon wide, and Ertz could easily lose 25-35 targets from his career-best season. You have to buy all three of these players at their theoretic ceilings, and I’m always leery of doing that.

Ready to crash the party

$22 O.J. Howard

$21 Evan Engram

$19 Hunter Henry

Star 80 (Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Star 80 (Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

I don’t buy the narrative that Bruce Arians won’t throw to his tight ends; like the best coaches, Arians is a man who generally works players-to-scheme, not the other way around. Tampa’s usage tree has narrowed nicely (Humphries and Jackson gone), the running backs look terrible, and the defense might force the Bucs offense to chase the game. This team has carnival written all over it . . . Engram runs like a wideout and gets a lot of work as a hybrid, without extra blocking responsibility. That’s what we want. But Eli Manning looks next to cooked, and Daniel Jones, while possessing upside, is still an unproven, work-in-progress rookie . . . We’ve been waiting for Henry forever, like Godot and Guffman. The Chargers are another offense with a wide usage tree, but perhaps things are tighter if Melvin Gordon really feels like doing the Le’Veon Bell thing. Henry is coming off the ACL blowout, but at least it was an early 2018 injury — in the spring. He was healthy enough to be cleared for the playoff loss to New England, and early reports on Henry have been positive.

Some upside, but more floor

$14 Austin Hooper

$14 Vance McDonald

$13 David Njoku

$13 Eric Ebron

$12 Jared Cook

Hooper doesn’t have an exciting upside, but given how he’s been regularly featured as a two-point target, I think his touchdown upside is much higher than the modest totals we’ve seen thus far. And he’s a likely bet for 60-plus catches, with something around 75-80 reasonably in play . . . The Steelers might not use McDonald as an every-snap player, but that’s such an overrated theme. Heck, it chased some people off Kittle last year. So long as McDonald has a projectable path to routes and targets — and I see that he does — I will pick him proactively. He could easily be the second-best receiver in Pittsburgh . . . Njoku’s development has been a little slower than expected, albeit the previous Cleveland coaching mess had something to do with it. Now, the usage tree is crowded and Baker Mayfield looks like a spread-it-out quarterback . . . Ebron is the surest touchdown-regression candidate we’ve ever seen, and it’s not likely to be a small drop — he could easily return to the 3-6 touchdowns range. And no one really knows if Andrew Luck is in play for Week 1. There isn’t an easier fade on the board . . .

It was nice to see Cook finally click after so many stops and starts, but now he’s changing teams and he’s far behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara in the team’s passing priority. And don’t miss that the Saints passing volume has been ordinary the last two years; this is no longer the pinball Saints.

Fantasy Football Draft Kit
Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Reasonable backups, or starters if you punted

$8 Delanie Walker

$7 Trey Burton

$6 Mark Andrews

$5 Kyle Rudolph

$5 Jordan Reed

$4 *Chris Herndon

$4 Jimmy Graham

I’d want Herndon on all of my teams if his suspension was 1-2 games. Four weeks is a long wait, and remember the Jets also have an early bye — Herndon can’t help you until Week 6 . . . Reed played more than you might have realized last year, and he showed little explosion. I think some gamers are overrating what Reed can still do when on the field . . . Andrews was an efficiency darling as a rookie, and anytime a rookie TE shows even a little bit of production, we want to start hugging strangers. But the Ravens still profile to be the most run-heavy team in the league, they collect tight ends like one of those TV hoarders, and I’m still not sure how much upside Lamar Jackson has as a passer in Year 2.

Maybe worth a final-round pick

$3 Dallas Goedert

$2 Greg Olsen

$2 Geoff Swam

$2 Ian Thomas

I wish someone else had drafted Goedert, given that he’s trapped behind Ertz and also dealing with the insane crowding in Philly’s offense. The Eagles surely will use some 12 personnel to get Ertz and Goedert on the field at the same time, but Goedert has very little upside unless Ertz gets hurt . . . I don’t wish an injury on Olsen, one of my all-time favorite players, but if something happens, run to the wire and add Thomas.

Everyone else

$1 Jack Doyle

$1 Tyler Eifert

$1 Noah Fant

$1 T.J. Hockenson

$1 Darren Waller

$1 Mike Gesicki

$1 Cameron Brate

$0 Jason Witten

$0 Will Dissly

$0 Gerald Everett

$0 Hayden Hurst

$0 Jesse James

$0 Maxx Williams

$0 Tyler Higbee

$0 *Benjamin Watson

$0 Irv Smith

$0 Jordan Thomas

Hockenson is a rookie and the Lions want to deflate the ball. Situation and career arc has to trump the raw talent and draft pedigree.

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