Target Regression Candidates: Tight Ends (Fantasy Football)
Few fantasy commodities are rarer than the heavily targeted tight end. Only six secured at least 100 looks last season, and it’s no coincidence that they all finished among the position’s top seven in standard and PPR scoring.
That list includes the elite studs (Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz) and Delanie Walker, the steadiest choice anybody can make beyond the early rounds. Beyond those impeccable names, drafters should expect two of last year’s busiest players to draw a lighter workload as more teammates beckon for attention. While an anticipated target decline isn’t always synonymous with ignoring someone at all costs, lesser volume will make them more dependent on end-zone success like most of their peers.
Evan Engram (NYG)
2017 Targets: 115, 18.9% Target Share
Rookie tight ends never matter in fantasy. That line made Engram an afterthought in 2017 drafts, as nobody envisioned the perfect confluence of events leading to a TE5 finish. A 2-14 team ranked 26th in rushing lost Odell Beckham Jr. for three-quarters of the season. Sterling Shepard missed five contests, and they jettisoned a deteriorated Brandon Marshall following five abysmal games. Amid Big Blue’s carnage, Travis Kelce was the only tight end to receive more targets than Engram’s 115.
Despite riding heavy volume to fantasy stardom, the neophyte secured just 64 (55.7 %) of those looks and coughed up a position-high 11 drops. Eli Manning will be happy to welcome back Beckham and Shepard, who saw a combined 29.3 percent of his targets in 2016. That’s not to say the quarterback will give the cold shoulder to last year’s first-round pick.
When sharing the field with Beckham and Shepard from Weeks 2-5, Engram secured 15 of 29 targets for 156 yards and a touchdown. He played in no fewer than 77 percent of New York’s snaps, matching or exceeding the same season average every time. Yet a zero-catch Week 5 highlighted an alarming floor and limited him to a TE14 output during those four games.
That’s all before considering Saquon Barkley, an all-purpose fiend who should siphon touches. The Giants have not fostered a 1,000-yard rusher since Ahmad Bradshaw in 2012, and that says more about their lack of running back talent than playing style. Only the Jaguars ran more times (527) than Minnesota (501) under Pat Shurmur last season, and just seven teams executed fewer runs than the G-Men’s 394. The No. 2 pick will ease Manning’s throwing workload and offer a fallback target with steadier hands than Engram. Don’t be shocked if Engram receives fewer than 100 targets, which means it’s foolish to pay for a full repeat at his TE5 ADP.
Cameron Brate (TB)
2017 Targets: 77, 12.7 % Target Share
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. No Tampa Bay pass catcher takes a bigger hit from Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension than Brate, who caught three of eight targets for 28 yards in three Ryan Fitzpatrick starts. He did, however, connect with the backup passer for a TD when Winston left Week 6’s game early. If Winston stays healthy after his punishment and again plays 13 games, the ban shouldn’t alter Brate’s bottom line from 2017.
The concern runs deeper. After amassing 47 targets (and four touchdowns) in his first seven games, Brate garnered 33 in the last nine bouts. Even more troubling, he left five of those matchups (three without Winston) with exactly one catch. O.J. Howard also received far more playing time in the three games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.
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The rookie had logged more snaps than Brate in all but two previous games, but the overall 64-54 percent discrepancy wasn’t enough to derail the latter’s fantasy stock. Regardless of who’s under center, Brate is in serious trouble if Tampa Bay lets last year’s No. 19 pick run more routes in his sophomore season.
Among these regression candidates, I’m most likely to draft Doyle or Ebron. Even if they damage the other’s volume distribution, they won’t necessarily cannibalize the other’s value if Andrew Luck returns. In 2016, Doyle elicited 75 targets and five touchdowns despite Dwayne Allen also attracting 52 targets and six scores. The duo respectively finished 13th and 19th at TE, which isn’t far off from Doyle’s (12) and Ebron’s (22) ADPs.
Doyle’s 108 ranked fifth among the position, and his 80 catches trailed Kelce by three for the TE lead. They were mostly dump-offs from Jacoby Brissett, as no wideout or tight end averaged fewer yards per air target than his 4.9. He also played on a remarkable 95 percent of Indianapolis’ snaps without missing a play in the final four games. That grind is sure to diminish even if the Colts implement plenty of two-TE sets; he lined up for 68 percent of their plays in 2016.
Matthew Stafford looked Ebron’s way 86 times in each of the past two seasons. The math doesn’t compute to a similar output unless Doyle or all of Indianapolis’ receivers get injured. Houston’s C.J. Fiedorowicz (89) and Ryan Griffin (74) were the closest any TE teammates got to each amassing 75 targets in the same season since 2013. The former Lion should instead expect to hover around the 60-70 range while Doyle settles for 80-90. Their overall targets will tumble, but they could each salvage their fantasy stock by enhancing their red-zone efficiency with Luck.
Tyler Kroft (CIN)
2017 Targets: 62, 12.2 % Target Share
There’s no need to spend too much time on this one. Kroft received one target in two games before Tyler Eifert went down with a season-ending back injury. Although he ended 2017 with seven touchdowns and an 86-percent snap rate, the replacement Tyler was used solely as a blocker and special teamer when both were healthy. This is a clear zero-sum game in an offense that sticks to a single tight end, so there’s only room for one Tyler. While he’s certainly an injury risk with just 24 games played over the past four seasons, Eifert will shove Kroft back to obscurity when on the field.