4 Tight End Sleepers (Fantasy Football)
The term sleeper can cause some heated debate. What is a sleeper? Is it a player who has yet to perform at their best? That sounds more like a breakout candidate to me. My opinion is that a sleeper is someone who isn’t being drafted as a fantasy starter. For the purpose of clearly defining a sleeper for this article, they are any tight end with an ADP above 125. That eliminates the top 13 tight ends in ADP from consideration, and that means even if some of the following players are creating a buzz, it hasn’t inflated their average draft status to starter territory.
Julius Thomas (MIA): ADP – 177, ECR – TE19
Thomas is currently a little banged up with a back injury, and that warrants watching. There are no indications it is serious and threatens his readiness for the regular season. Thomas is reunited with Adam Gase, and he flourished in Denver’s offense with Gase serving as the offensive coordinator. That doesn’t tell the whole story, however, as catching passes from Peyton Manning helped a ton as well. Regardless, playing for Gase should be viewed as a plus. All the way back in early June, some hype was generated around Thomas as a result of Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen saying, “he can be and has been a 10-touchdown guy.” I’m not pegging him as a double-digit touchdown scorer, but he does have a nose for the end zone with 33 touchdown grabs in 41 games played since 2013.
He also should benefit from Jay Cutler taking over starting duties at quarterback for Ryan Tannehill, who is out for the season. Cutler uses his tight ends, even mediocre ones. In 2007 and 2008 combined, Tony Sheffler and Daniel Graham teamed up for 209 targets, 145 receptions, 1,829 yards receiving, and 14 touchdowns, according to Pro-Football Reference. Among tight ends in 2009-2010, Greg Olsen ranked 10th in targets (178), 12th in receptions (101), 18th in receiving yards (1,016), and tied for third in touchdown grabs (13) with Cutler playing in 31 of 32 games. Finally, among tight ends from 2013-2015, Martellus Bennett ranked sixth in targets (302), fifth in receptions (208), seventh in receiving yards (2,114), and tied for 11th in touchdown receptions (14) with Cutler playing in 41 games.
Austin Hooper (ATL): ADP – 182, ECR – TE17
Hooper’s a little cheaper than Thomas, but the experts have him ranked higher. I’m in agreement with the experts, and I’m enamored with Hooper’s upside. I don’t have anything to add to the other two times I’ve gushed about Hooper which can be found here and here. He’s my favorite tight end featured in this piece.
Dwayne Allen (NE): ADP – 199, ECR – TE27
Allen is the first tight end in this piece who I don’t think will be a TE1. Having said that, he has enormous upside if Rob Gronkowski misses time. Missing time is nothing new for Gronk, and to put that in perspective, BetOnline posted an over/under total of 10.5 games for Gronk this year, according to SBRForum. Even if Gronk stays healthy or mostly healthy this year, Allen can have stream value as a touchdown prayer and value in best-ball formats, too. After struggling in the spring, Allen has picked things up. He’s also reportedly received a ton of red-zone attention in training camp, according to a tweet from Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. Brett Whitefield of Pro Football Focus (PFF) discussed Allen’s ability as a pass catcher and red-zone target. New England’s offense is loaded, and that’s going to create volatility for all of the pieces of that juggernaut unit. Allen’s role as a red-zone threat makes him a nifty bye week fill-in or stream option when Gronk’s healthy, and he’s a must-own player if Gronk misses time.
Jared Cook (OAK): ADP – 210, ECR – TE22
I’ve been burned by Cook on plenty of previous occasions, and if you’ve been playing fantasy football for more than a couple of years, it’s possible you’ve been burned, too. The 30-year-old tight end is fast and has flashed big-play ability. Those things haven’t resulted in eye-popping numbers, though. His single-season highs are 99 targets (2014), 52 receptions (2014), 759 yards receiving (2011), and five touchdown receptions (2013). Last year was supposed to be his coming out party playing with Aaron Rodgers, but he was banged up and played in only 10 games in the regular season. Cook went off in the postseason, though, reeling in 18 of 32 targets for 229 yards receiving and a pair of scores. Cook’s regular-season work ranked poorly at Football Outsiders (FO). According to FO, he ranked 32nd out of 46 qualified tight ends in DYAR (-15) and 33rd in DVOA (-11.5%). PFF was more impressed with his work. According to Mike Guerrelli of PFF, Cook ranked as the 11th best tight end in 2016 in overall grade, he ranked well in yards per route run (YPRR) overall among tight ends, and he was downright elite in YPRR from the slot. Cook’s home-run ability plays perfectly in best-ball formats, but news of Cook getting plenty of attention from Derek Carr in camp has me intrigued in standard leagues, too. At his cost, gamers have little to lose rolling the dice on Cook again.