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Tight ends going too early in fantasy drafts: Don't chase last year's numbers

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ECR stands for “Expert Consensus Ranking,” which means the average ranks of many members of the fantasy football industry and is typically similar to ADP (which differs from site-to-site). This will be an ongoing series highlighting some big differences between ECR and my own ranks. In general, it’s usually best to regress to the market some, and knowing your league’s ADP remains equally important when drafting, but I rank the following players a lot lower than the general fantasy community.

For more ADP talk on a podcast, go here.

Players who should go higher: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs
Players going too early: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs

Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders (ECR = TE5 vs. DDD = TE14)

Waller is a great story, but I’m not banking on him repeating as finishing among the league-leaders in target share at his position (which still resulted in just three scores thanks to a lack of red-zone work). The Raiders added Jason Witten in the offseason, were the first team to draft a wide receiver with Henry Ruggs (who’s moving to the slot) and also selected Bryan Edwards (who shouldn’t be ignored). This in addition to Hunter Renfrow (who finished top-20 in yards per route run last season) and a healthier Tyrell Williams means far more competition for targets in 2020. Those targets also might be coming from a new quarterback, as the Raiders made Marcus Mariota the highest-paid backup during the offseason, and Jon Gruden (one of the NFL’s slowest play-callers) appears eager to make a switch. Waller is being drafted this year based too much off 2019.

Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ECR = TE9 vs. DDD = TE18)

He’s probably the best tight end of all time and still just 31 years old, but the last time we saw Gronkowski he was barely usable in fantasy leagues. He’s since taken a year off to do reality shows and is joining a new organization in a shortened offseason with a 43-year-old quarterback who posted the league’s worst CPOE (by a country mile) over the second half of 2019. He also now has Chris Godwin and Mike Evans as teammates, who both rank as top-10 WRs in ECR. At least we have the comfort of knowing Bruce Arians finally learned how to properly use tight ends with O.J. Howard last season, and Sports Injury Predictor projects an NFL-high 5+ games missed. I don’t feel great saying anything negative about Gronk, but it’s wild to treat him like a top-10 fantasy tight end right now.

Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns (ECR = TE12 vs. DDD = TE21)

Few players saw their fantasy situation decline more during the offseason than Hooper, who went from indoors/Matt Ryan/high target share in Atlanta to outdoors/Baker Mayfield/much lower target share in Cleveland. Hooper played well while taking advantage of his situation (most red-zone targets per game) last season, but he’s now sharing looks with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who both ranked top-11 in WOPR last year, as well as with Kareem Hunt. He’ll also be sharing touchdowns (and RZ work) with Nick Chubb while catching passes from a QB who just finished bottom-five in CPOE. The Browns frequently play in bad weather and face the Steelers and Ravens defenses 25% of the time. David Njoku is still around, and Hooper just got paid. No thanks.

Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers (ECR = TE7 vs. DDD = TE16)

Henry is part of a big TE tier from No. 8-16 for me, so I’m not quite as down on him as my ranking appears, but he’ll end up on none of my teams at his ADP, as there are many intriguing options without the same injury risk. Even if Henry stays healthy, he’ll be competing for targets with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and arguably the game’s best receiving back from one of the league’s shakiest quarterback situations. Philip Rivers appears to be in decline and threw far too many interceptions last season, but he also still capably moved the ball (Rivers’ CPOE last season was actually better than his career mark). Tyrod Taylor has helped tight ends have fantasy value before, but he's unquestionably a downgrade and most importantly, is likely to cede the job to rookie Justin Herbert after the team drafted him at No. 6. Herbert could easily be the worst starting QB in the NFL when he gets the nod, and Henry will have strong competition for those errant throws.

Evan Engram, New York Giants (ECR = TE6 vs. DDD = TE15)

Engram clearly has a ton of upside, and with tight end being sneaky deep, it’s not the worst idea to take the gamble on him staying healthy for once, but realize his injury history is extensive, and he’s coming off serious Lisfranc surgery. If Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Saquon Barkley stay healthy, he’ll also have a ton of competition for targets. Daniel Jones has fantasy upside, but it’s not because of his passing ability right now, so Engram’s setup isn’t ideal. He could make me look foolish, as few tight ends match his ceiling, but Engram has too many question marks to be treated as a borderline top-five tight end, especially with so many breakout candidates in better situations as alternatives.

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