Here’s our tight end primer for the 2016 fantasy football season.
Tight End Sleepers
Clive Walford (OAK)
With Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to occupy cornerbacks and safeties, and an improved offensive line the team hopes will break open holes for Latavius Murray, there should be plenty of room in the middle of the field (and the red zone) for the second-year player Walford. He finished his rookie campaign with 28 catches for 329 yards and three scores on just over 41% of the total offensive snaps. With many expecting him to make the tight end spot his own, his average draft position of TE20 could make him a steal.
Austin Hooper (ATL)
The Falcons have been lacking a difference maker at tight end since Tony Gonzales ended his Hall of Fame career. While rookie tight ends generally struggle in their first year in the league, Hooper has a nice path towards the starting gig in Atlanta. In Kyle Shanahan’s last five seasons as an offensive coordinator, his TE1 has seen 11% of total team targets, and with just safe and steady veteran Jacob Tamme ahead of him on the depth chart, Hooper has a better chance than usual rookies to see significant action. He is going undrafted in most leagues, and he could be worth stashing on your bench or having on your waiver wire watch list.
Cameron Brate (TB)
The first string tight end of the Bucs, Brate has won his opportunity through hard work and not being as big a pain in the posterior as his teammate Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. Brate reeled in 76% of his targets last season, finishing with 23 receptions for 288 yards and three scores. With ASJ seemingly dead set on closing the door on his time with the team, and Vincent Jackson another year older, Brate is another late rounder being left on the board in most drafts. The situation could change, given Dirk Koetter’s ability to consistently alter his offensive philosophy, but it is worth keeping in mind now proficient quarterback Jameis Winston was when targeting his tight ends back in college.
Tight End Busts
Ladarius Green (PIT)
Green is currently being drafted as the TE9 going in the eighth round of 12-team leagues. This is far too high for me. Green is supremely talented, and an athletic freak, but there is something about his fit in Pittsburgh that just doesn’t sit well with me. There is an opening for a stud pass-catching tight end with the Steelers, especially given the loss of Martavis Bryant, but Todd Haley is not apt to feed his tight ends. His main tight end in his last five seasons has seen 14% of total team targets. This is a steady feed, but it could be divvied among a few options, including second-year pro Jesse James, and I worry that it is not enough to support drafting him so high. Plus, if he were really that good, wouldn’t the San Diego Chargers, the team that drafted and developed him, have made more of an effort to keep him?
Delanie Walker (TEN)
I’m a big fan of Walker in the real world, but seeing him drafted in the sixth round, ahead of the likes of Coby Fleener and Julius Thomas, really does not sit well with me. He enjoyed a perfect storm of a season in 2015, seeing 24% of total team targets on his way to a career year in terms of receptions (94), yards (1,088) and touchdowns. But the Titans have added additional weapons to their receiving corps this offseason, are hopeful that Dorial Green-Beckham can put everything together and become a star, and are of course committed to delivering “Exotic Smashmouth” to the waiting world. All of these factors severely limit Walker’s appeal, and I see him as worthy of a much later draft pick in 2016.
Tight End Bounce Back
Dwayne Allen (IND)
Coby Fleener’s reign of terror in Indianapolis has ended, leaving Allen free to dominate the role that by all rights should have been his all along. A superior blocker to Fleener, Allen has legitimate three-down appeal. Despite garnering just 29 targets last season, on a scoring per reception basis Allen has delivered some serious numbers, scoring on 13 of his 91 career receptions. Nine of these scores came on 21 red zone targets. On average, 17 tight ends are being selected before Allen. Given the likelihood of him spending a large amount of time on the field, his scoring upside makes him a strong contender to better his career marks in targets and receptions.
Key Tight End Injuries
Tyler Eifert (CIN) – Ankle
Eifert injured his ankle playing in the Pro Bowl following the 2015 season. After attempting to rehab, it was decided that he needed surgery to fix the problem. His early-season participation is in doubt, and should be accounted for in drafts. Eifert scored 13 touchdowns on just 52 receptions last season.
Larry Donnell (NYG) – Neck
Donnell’s 2015 season was brought to a premature end after suffering a neck injury. He has been cleared to return, but he faces a battle with Will Tye for the Giants starting job at tight end. Donnell had 29 receptions for 223 yards and two scores in eight games last season, while Tye converted 42 of his 62 targets into 464 yards and two touchdowns.
Jimmy Graham (SEA) – Torn Patellar Tendon
Graham tore his patellar tendon during the Seahawks’ Week 12 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He started training camp on the PUP list. Despite leading the team in terms of targets (he finished with 48 receptions from 74 looks, with 605 yards and two touchdowns) before his injury, Graham was not the focal point of the offense the way he had been in New Orleans. The team’s run-first philosophy and the presence of Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett make a return to TE1 status unlikely, even if he fully recovers from his injury.
Dennis Pitta (BAL) – Hip
Pitta has twice dislocated his hip, first during training camp in 2013 and then again during Week 3 of the 2014 season. He has not played an NFL snap since. He has been advised to retire, but he has decided to continue playing. He joins a crowded tight end room in Baltimore, with Ben Watson, Crockett Gilmore and Maxx Williams for company. He did score seven touchdowns in the 2012 season, but given the competition for snaps and the very likely chance that he doesn’t make it through camp, there is no fantasy appeal here.