Bounce-Back Candidates: Tight End (Fantasy Football)
Geoff Lambert looks at fantasy football rookie sleepers.
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When I was asked by my editor to do a “Bounce Back” article on tight ends, my immediate thought was, “I don’t even know if I can find a tight end that could have a bounce-back season.” After some deep digging, I eventually came up with three names that all have a few things in common:
- Their down season in 2017 was due to injury, not on-the-field play
- All three have Top 5 TE potential
- Two seasons ago, all three were Top 7 TEs in fantasy points per game (PPR), so they have upside if they can stay healthy
Greg Olsen (CAR)
Olsen is the easiest bounce-back option at tight end because unlike the other two guys on this list, he hasn’t had any history of injuries. In fact, not since his rookie season in 2007 had he even missed a game until last year. That is the definition of durable and despite his relatively old age at 33, he could easily finish as a Top 10 tight end. The addition of rookie WR D.J. Moore and the emergence of RB Christian McCaffery as a pass-catching threat may cut into Olsen’s overall targets, but he will still be the red zone option of choice for Cam Newton.
With Newton as his QB, Olsen became the first tight end to ever have three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2014-to-2016, and in his last full season in 2016 he finished second in targets and yards among tight ends. By all accounts, Olsen is completely recovered from the foot injury he suffered early last season, and while it wasn’t season-ending, he never looked quite right when he came back. If he is indeed fully healthy and Newton can recapture some of the magic from his 2015 MVP season, Olsen could easily be a Top 5 tight end again in 2018.
Jordan Reed (WAS)
Reed has been the poster boy for injury-prone TEs over his career. His 2015 season, when he led all TEs in fantasy points per game, gave fantasy owners a glimpse at what he was capable of when healthy, and it was that glimpse that inflated his 2017 ADP despite an injury-riddled 2016. That 2015 season now stands as the exception, not the rule, as Reed continued his inability to stay on the field last year, playing only six games, catching 27 passes for 211 yards and two TDs.
Coming into the 2018 season, Reed is once again a huge injury risk, but this time owners know it and his ADP reflects that, as he is being drafted in the 10th round or later in early mock drafts. Assuming Reed can stay relatively healthy, and that’s a big assumption, he should be in for a monster year with his new QB Alex Smith. Few QBs have had as much success producing TE1s then has Alex Smith. In San Francisco, he and Vernon Davis made history when they hooked up for 13 TDs in 2009, which was — at the time — a record amount of TDs for a tight end. And, of course, Smith was the QB that turned Travis Kelce into a household name in fantasy during his days in Kansas City.
The Redskins would be smart to limit the snaps for Reed in 2018, which at face value would lower his fantasy prospects, but if he can be more efficient with Smith at QB and more importantly stay healthy, fewer snaps won’t keep him from being a Top 10 tight end and an excellent value in the 10th or 11th round.
Tyler Eifert (CIN)
Back in 2015, Eifert caught 13 TD passes on only 74 total targets and the fantasy world went crazy. The following season, most fantasy owners were ecstatic to get Eifert after his breakout season and they were rewarded with… eight games, 29 receptions for 394 yards. Here is the interesting part about that injury-shortened season when compared to 2015. Every analyst agreed that his touchdown rate in 2015 was unsustainable, however, in that shortened 2016 season, he still managed five TDs. That equates to just under one TD for every six catches, not quite the TD for every four catches in 2015, but still a ridiculous rate. To put that in perspective, the leader in TD receptions last season was DeAndre Hopkins with 13 TDs on 96 receptions, or, one TD for every 7.3 catches.
It is that TD catch rate that puts Eifert on the map as a bounce back tight end for 2018. The Bengals still have last year’s starting tight end, Tyler Kroft, who was a serviceable TE in fantasy with 42 catches and seven TDs, and while many think that may hurt Eifert’s value, I think it does just the opposite. The Bengals can limit Eifert to red zone and clear-cut passing situations, and while he may not have a ton of volume, he should catch more than his fair share of TDs.
This may not be a viable strategy as your TE1, but he isn’t being drafted as a TE1, in fact, depending on your league size, he isn’t being drafted at all. In other words, he carries almost no risk but the upside could be huge if he finds a way to stay on the field, even in a limited capacity.