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3 Tight End Busts (Fantasy Football)

by Nate Hamilton | @DomiNateFF | Featured Writer
Aug 25, 2017

Can Jimmy Graham finish as a top-five TE?

As you read this article, keep in mind these bust candidates are ranked within the top 10 tight ends in the FantasyPros consensus ADP. By no means am I saying these tight ends will be terrible additions to your fantasy teams. I am, however, providing you with a few tight ends in the top 10 ADP consensus that may not live up to their average draft position value.

A bust isn’t necessarily a player that has very little fantasy production. The true definition of a bust is a player that doesn’t live up to the value in which you drafted them. For example, if you spend your first-round pick on Rob Gronkowski and he finishes the season as the 8th best tight end, you could easily consider him a bust. The reason for this? Your first-round pick investment did not give you the return you expected when drafting him where you did.

Below I include three tight ends from the FantasyPros ADP consensus top 10 that have a good probability of not providing the return on your draft pick investment.

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Jimmy Graham (SEA)
Several experts have said they wouldn’t be surprised if Jimmy Graham ends up as the No. 1 tight end in 2017. I just don’t see it. Graham had an unbelievable touchdown pace since becoming one of Drew Brees’ top targets in 2011. He averaged over 11 touchdowns per season from 2011-2014. These numbers are ridiculous and unsustainable in the Seattle Seahawks offense. In his two seasons with the Seahawks, Graham has a total of eight touchdowns (two in 2015 and six in 2016). I realize that Jimmy Graham only played in 11 games in 2015, but two touchdowns in 11 games is nothing to be excited about. You may even argue that it was his first season with quarterback Russell Wilson. I’ll concede and let you have that one. Let’s talk about last season. Graham played in all 16 games in his second year with his new quarterback and ended the season with just six touchdowns.

Why is there a decrease in his touchdown production? Graham just will not see the target volume he had in New Orleans. Less target volume equals fewer opportunities. Drew Brees has finished in the top three in passing attempts in nine of the last 12 seasons. No quarterback can say the same, especially Russell Wilson. While Drew Brees finished as the No. 1 quarterback in 2016 in pass attempts and second in 2015, Russell Wilson finished as the 15th and 17th quarterback in those seasons. From 2011-2014 with the Saints, Jimmy Graham had well over 100 targets per season. Graham finished last season (a full 16 games played), with 95 targets. That’s 42 targets fewer than his average target numbers with Drew Brees. The numbers that Graham put up in 2016 represents his ceiling in Seattle.

The Seattle Seahawks, although evolving the way their offense operates, are still a run-first team. This is a big downgrade for Graham in both target quantity and quality. I would be surprised if Jimmy Graham finishes as a top-five tight end in 2017. Especially with Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed healthy.

Delanie Walker (TEN)
Delanie Walker had a career season in 2015, much better than any season in targets and receptions. Walker came back down to earth last year with numbers mirroring close to his 2014 season. His 2016 numbers were still good enough for Walker to finish as the fifth best tight end. So why will he not live up to his current ADP?

In his two seasons in the NFL, Marcus Mariota ranked 25th in 2015 and 24th in 2016 in pass attempts among all quarterbacks. Walker had his career best season in Mariota’s rookie year. If you have read my articles in the past, you know my theory with rookie quarterbacks. They rely heavily on the tight end as their safety blanket target. With his rookie season out of the way, Mariota targeted Walker 31 fewer times which led to 29 fewer receptions. The regression in target volume for Walker came in a season where Mariota had 81 more passing attempts. Although Mariota increased his overall production in 2016, he did so by looking to Walker less than he did the year before.

The Tennessee Titans have a lot more fire power on their offense this year. Already a run-first team, the Titans have an emerging running back in Derrick Henry to compliment veteran DeMarco Murray. This could easily increase the number of run plays or short dump passes to the running backs as they are both capable receivers. The Titans added other targets in the 2017 NFL Draft that will look to steal more volume from Walker. Corey Davis in the first round with the fifth overall pick will have an immediate role in this offense opposite Rishard Matthews. The Titans added third rounders, wide receiver, Taywan Taylor and tight end, Jonnu Smith. If that wasn’t enough to take more target opportunities from Delanie Walker, the Titans acquired veteran wide receiver, Eric Decker. Walker’s target volume is sure to go down with all the new shiny toys that Marcus Mariota has at his disposal in 2017. I would be surprised if Delanie Walker finished in the top 10 tight ends.

Martellus Bennett (GB)
A lot of people are excited about Martellus Bennett in 2017. He is coming off his second-best season of his career and will now have Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback. Sounds like a beneficial opportunity for Bennett, right? Well, let’s take a step back and look at the success of the tight end position with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. Since 2008 Rodgers has only produced two top-10 tight ends (Jermichael Finley, 2011 -TE 5 and Richard Rodgers, 2015 – TE 9). Richard Rodgers was the TE9 in standard formats in 2015. In PPR, he fell outside of the top 10. Richard Rodgers had the fourth-most targets on the team with 85. He only had 510 receiving yards but his eight touchdowns helped him out. In 2011, Jermichael Finley was the third-best target on the team, behind Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings. That will not be the case for Bennett this season with the array of weapons Rodgers has. The 2017 season may not bode well for Bennett as clearly Aaron Rodgers doesn’t typically utilize his tight ends.

Still, the 2011 and 2015 seasons could be considered outliers for Packers tight ends in the Aaron Rodgers era. Below are the top Green Bay Packers’ tight ends since Aaron Rodgers took over in 2008 and where they ranked at the position.

Season Player Rank
2008  Donald Lee TE 21
2009  Jermichael Finley TE 13
2010  Jermichael Finley TE 37
2012  Jermichael Finley  TE 19
2013  Jermichael Finley  TE 37
2014  Andrew Quarless TE 26
2016  Jared Cook TE 36

 
Aaron Rodgers just doesn’t give much attention to the tight end position. With Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb on the roster in 2017, Martellus Bennett will likely be the fourth option for Rodgers. Bennett may have to rely on touchdowns to have much fantasy value this season. That is something I do not feel comfortable hanging my hat on for a projected top 10 tight end.


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Nate Hamilton is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Nate, check out his archive and follow him @DomiNateFF.

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