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Target Increase Candidates: Tight Ends (Fantasy Football)

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
Jul 21, 2018

Trey Burton has the potential to be a huge difference maker for fantasy owners in 2018

After examining tight ends in danger of losing targets, let’s now take a brighter disposition by seeking players poised for progress. None of these tight ends finished inside the position’s top-15 last year, but that could change with added volume driving up their value.

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Trey Burton (CHI)
2017 Targets: 31, 5.5 % Target Share

By far the easiest selection, hardcore and casual drafters alike all anticipate bigger things from Burton. Stuck behind Zach Ertz, who absorbed 7.9 targets per game in 2017, Burton received 31 targets in 15 contests. That will spike exponentially after signing with the Bears.

In two games without Ertz, Burton proved ready for a featured role by controlling seven of 10 targets for 112 yards and three touchdowns. He now joins an offense helmed by Matt Nagy, who vaulted Travis Kelce to TE1 and 2 finishes in two years as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator. He averaged 93.5 targets and 868.5 yards in the previous two seasons before jumping to 120 targets and 1,081.5 yards in the next two. They also hired former Giants tight end coach Kevin M. Gilbride to serve the same role after steering rookie Evan Engram to a TE5 campaign. Courtesy of Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar, Kelce and Engram ranked first and second, respectively, in routes run per game last season.

Burton did not go to Chicago just to block. Per the Chicago Tribune’s Rich Campbell, Nagy discussed deploying his new signing as a slot receiver in the “U” tight role Kelce perfected.

“You can move around, do different things – it’s what we did with Kelce,” Nagy said. “It’s an important role. It’s a position that’s easy to create some plays for. So if you get a small nickel on him, he can use his size to body him up. If they put a bigger guy on him, we can use his speed. That’s one of the things I learned through (Chiefs coach Andy Reid), getting mismatches throughout. That’s what Trey does.”

A wide-awake sleeper with a TE9 ADP, the 26-year-old indeed isn’t falling under the radar. Considering how quickly the top-heavy position shrivels, he still represents one of the last chances to snag a significant difference maker.

George Kittle (SF)
2017 Targets: 63, 10.4 % Target Share

The case for Kittle is not as cut and dry. His end-of-season sample size with Jimmy Garoppolo has been used to argue for and against drafting the 6’4, 250-pound sophomore.

Let’s start with the bad news. Although a limited receiving threat to open the season, he still logged an 88-92 snap percentage in four of San Francisco’s opening six games. That frequency eventually led to nine and eight targets in Weeks 5 and 6, respectively. Yet he never matched those marks again, totaling just 19 looks from Garoppolo in five contests. His snap counts cratered to no higher than 56 percent and as low as 27 percent following the 49ers’ Week 11 bye.

The good news? It didn’t damage his bottom line. Kittle caught 11 of 14 targets for 194 yards and a touchdown over the final three games. Week 17’s 100-yard breakout was the only time Garoppolo didn’t target the tight end in the red zone. Primarily used as a pass catcher when on the field, he ran 24.1 routes per game, matching Tyler Kroft’s output produced with an 85.8 snap percentage.

Lower snap rates also resulted from the offense running more plays after upgrading under center. Kittle now has a full season to work with Garoppolo, who averaged 308.4 passing yards per start. Kyle Shanahan should also devise more ways to implement a raw prospect who exceeded initial expectations.

O.J. Howard (TB)
2017 Targets: 39, 6.4 % Target Share

I briefly touched upon the case for Howard when cautioning against Cameron Brate. The rookie received high snap percentages (70, 75, 72, and 71) in four games before injuring his ankle in Week 15. He averaged 16.6 yards per reception during the season and found paydirt three times over his final five games.

Tampa Bay did not invest a first-round pick on a block-first tight end, so his role could gradually expand with both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston guiding the offense. Besides, expecting more than 39 targets is hardly a high bar. Don’t anticipate a seismic breakout, but 50-60 looks could navigate the 6’6″ talent to boom-or-bust matchup territory if he continues to manufacture big plays. The ceiling is far higher, which is why I’d instead roll the dice on Howard than Brate.

Benjamin Watson (NO)
2017 Targets: 79, 13.9 % Target Share

Of the 13 tight ends to receive 75 or more targets last year, only Benjamin Watson finished outside the top 15. Volume can only do so much for someone with the second-fewest average targeted air yards (5.1) after Jack Doyle. But what if he gets even more opportunities?

Three years ago, Watson caught 74 of 109 targets for 825 yards and six touchdowns for the Saints. Don’t copy and paste those numbers when projecting his return to the Big Easy. The 37-year-old has since torn his Achilles, and New Orleans finally established a stout run game. He is, however, reuniting with a future Hall of Fame quarterback who just set the single-season record for completion percentage (72.0).

Drew Brees had attempted more than 625 passes in each of the last seven seasons before taking a back seat to Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara with just 536 in 2017. A modest increase is probable. Per Graham Barfield, no team played from behind less often than the Saints. His tight ends thus fell by the wayside in 2017, but Coby Fleener compiled 82 targets the previous season.

If his volume does not rise, Watson should at least be placed in better opportunities to succeed. Joe Flacco registered just 5.7 yards per pass attempt this season, the worst clip of any qualified passer. Even a slight uptick in high-quality looks – including some goal-line work after receiving 16 red-zone targets from Brees in 2015 – will vault the veteran to matchup consideration with sneaky top-12 PPR potential.

Target Regression Candidates: Running Backs
Target Increase Candidates: Running Backs
Target Regression Candidates: Wide Receivers
Target Increase Candidates: Wide Receivers
Target Regression Candidates: Tight Ends

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Andrew Gould is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrewgould4.

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