With training camps firing on all cylinders, the excitement for fantasy football is mounting. We’re less than three weeks from the first game of the season, and now, more than ever, is the time to do scouting and researching for your fantasy draft. Last week, KSR gave you some wide receivers who could win you your league based on their expected production and estimated draft position, and this week we’re back with another edition. Let’s talk tight ends.
To begin, let’s establish the tiers when it comes to fantasy tight ends. In a league of their own are Travis Kelce of the Chiefs and George Kittle of the 49ers. You can draft one of those guys in the second or third round and never have to worry about production from that slot in your lineup the entire season. The second tier consists of guys like Zach Ertz of the Eagles, Mark Andrews of the Ravens and Darren Waller of the Raiders. Again, those are all fine players who will be good, but in order to grab one you’ll have to use a pick in the 40-60 range.
It all comes down to which positions you value more because, by drafting a premium talent at tight end, you sacrifice a premium talent at running back or wide receiver. This article isn’t saying Kelce and Kittle can’t be league winners – that would be beyond foolish. The point is that there are other tight ends that will cost far less draft capital who could produce some impressive results, thus becoming a “league winner.” You’ll win games when the players you draft high perform well, but you’ll win championships when you get high production from the guys you draft late.
After Waller, pretty much every other tight end on the board falls into the vast third tier. There’s not much separation from player to player, but I’ve selected five tight ends to highlight from this pool who I think will outperform their average draft position.
1. Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons — 129 ADP
AP Photo/James Patterson
The Falcons traded a second round pick to the Ravens for Hurst in March after longtime tight end Austin Hooper departed in free agency. It was a significant move, seeing as Hurst is a relatively unproven former first round pick. After two seasons and 28 games in Baltimore, Hurst managed only 43 receptions and 3 touchdowns, largely due to injuries that buried him on the depth chart. Last season, in the league’s best offense, he wound up playing second fiddle to Mark Andrews, whom he was drafted three rounds before in 2018.
Now he joins an Atlanta offense loaded with playmakers like Julio Jones, Todd Gurley and Calvin Ridley. The change of scenery ought to help him emerge as a viable fantasy tight end, and here’s why: Matt Ryan loves his tight ends. Aside from the fact that Hurst enters the season as the unquestioned starter, he steps into a role vacated by former Falcons TE Austin Hooper, who caught 70+ passes in Atlanta’s offense the last two seasons. Last year, Hooper snagged six touchdown passes and was the sixth best fantasy tight end. Matt Ryan leads a pass-happy offense, which will be a complete 180 for Hurst who has spent his career in Baltimore’s ground-and-pound attack. All of Hooper’s opportunities now belong to Hurst, and even though Hurst is somewhat of an unknown, he has some serious fantasy value simply by being Matty Ice’s tight end.
It appears the two have already formed some chemistry, too. Ryan spoke to Hurst’s athleticism back in June, and even went as far as to call him one of the “fastest and most athletic tight ends” he’s played with.
Drafting someone in the 12th round who could easily have the volume to finish the season as a top-5 player at his position is a no-brainer. If the shoe fits for Hurst in Atlanta, he’s someone who could help propel you to a fantasy championship.
2. Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins — 148 ADP
Miami Herald/Al Diaz
The Dolphins lost a lot of games in 2019 and didn’t necessarily impress on offense, but an under-the-radar bright spot was second-year tight end Mike Gesicki. After a lackluster rookie season, the former second round pick broke out with 570 receiving yards and 5 scores. The biggest difference? His target share. Gesicki was thrown to 89 times, and while he only hauled in 58% of those targets, (an issue which can be attributed to a shaky Dolphin quarterback accuracy rating) that volume is what you draft for in fantasy.
On top of that, Gesicki finished third in passes run by tight ends last year and was tied for the most red zone targets (11). The Dolphins invested a lot into their team this offseason, be that draft picks or free agent signings. Ryan Fitzpatrick figures to start the season at QB, but rookie Tua Tagovailoa is waiting in the wings. Wide receiver and former Louisville Cardinal DeVante Parker emerged as a premier receiving threat last season, and Preston Williams looked like a breakout rookie receiver before tearing his ACL midway through the year.
Being a solidified red-zone threat on up-and-coming offense with no positional competition is a recipe for fantasy production, and that’s why you should be looking for Gesicki if you find yourself without a tight end in the 13th or 14th round. He could become a TE1 by the time it’s all said and done.
3. Chris Herndon, New York Jets — 162 ADP
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
It’s no secret the Jets offense was disappointing last season. And Herndon was a source of that disappointment. After serving a four game suspension and fracturing a rib after his first and only reception last season, he was a quite a non-factor in his sophomore campaign. However, we can use his rookie stats (12 games started, 39 receptions, 502 yards, 4 touchdowns) as an indicator of his potential.
What really stands out is his yards per catch. Herndon only had 39 receptions but went for 502 yards. That’s nearly 13 yards a catch, which would have been third among tight ends last season. That’s also as a rookie. Tight ends nearly always take a year or two to develop and produce meaningful stats, which wasn’t the case for Herndon. That’s a very positive sign for his fantasy potential as he enters his third season.
In an offense devoid of receiving threats (there’s slot receiver Jamison Crowder and rookie Denzel Mims), Herndon should be a top target of Sam Darnold’s. It’s not unreasonable to assume that his rookie production will multiply as he surely will see more targets. Plus, there’s all this hype on Herndon coming out of New York’s training camp.
1) TE Chris Herndon is a vital player here, and the early signs are good that chemistry between he and Sam Darnold is right where it should be with Herndon back from injury. And Herndon remains a very impressive physical specimen—which was obvious while I was out there.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 19, 2020
I’m not saying he’s a lock to break out, but Herndon will have all the potential in the world to take a step into top 10 TE territory, and that’s a player you can feel comfortable drafting in the late rounds of your draft.
4. Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans — 167 ADP
Tennessee Titans/Donald Page
The Titans shocked everyone last season by going on an incredible postseason run that saw them cruise past the No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens and give the Chiefs a run for their money in the AFC Championship. Tennessee spent some money this year to retain their core group of playmakers (QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Derrick Henry), however they had one key veteran depart: longtime tight end Delanie Walker. His departure leaves the door wide open for Smith, who has already had solid production as his backup. While Walker was injured last year, Smith had 439 yards on 35 catches that resulted in three TDs.
In 2019, Ryan Tannehill really steadied the Titans by taking care of the ball and letting the offense run through Henry, which allowed the play action pass to be a key factor in their scoring. In a small sample size, Smith proved to be a favorite target of Tannehill’s. There’s already an established connection, and the fact that Smith is in sole possession of the starting spot from the jump ought to help him see lots of targets and opportunities.
Perhaps Smith isn’t the most-sure investment, but he’s a tight end you can land in the 15th or 16th round with a ton of upside. He’s versatile (Tennessee manufactured touches for him in the form of screen passes and handoffs) and did a lot of damage on just 35 receptions last season. Imagine if that number jumps to 50 or 60 in 2020, which doesn’t seem too unrealistic. If Smith takes a step forward and outperforms his projected stats, he will be a steal.
That’ll do it for this edition of KSR’s Fantasy Football coverage. For those of you drafting this week: go get ’em. We’ll see you next Sunday with more!