Tight Ends to Target Outside Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle (2019 Fantasy Football)
During the 2018 season, tight end was a nightmare in fantasy football. That is, unless you owned one of the few productive tight ends in the league. In that case, you were head and shoulders above a majority of your competition each week. As a result, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle are all going in the first 26 picks of PPR drafts, based on our consensus ADP. And our experts actually are higher on the Big Three than the public, with each of the three listed inside the first 22 picks, based on our PPR expert consensus rankings.
Entering 2019 fantasy football drafts, owners that want to snag one of the few expected reliable tight ends will need to spend some serious draft capital. But what about the other owners that don’t land one of the preseason studs? How should you navigate the conundrum that’s been tight end? Glad you asked. Our writers are here to help.
Which TE are you targeting the most outside the Big Three?
Vance McDonald (PIT)
For me, it’s got to be Vance McDonald as the TE10. He’s currently going at pick 98, meaning you can have a quality starting TE catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger at the beginning of the ninth round. That’s a lot of value. McDonald flashed his physicality and athletic abilities in spurts last season, and who could forget his nasty run and stiff arm against the Bucs? Without Antonio Brown and Jesse James on the roster this season, McDonald will have even more targets available to him. I also considered Noah Fant here (TE20, Overall ADP 214) who is going undrafted. He’s got a ton of upside with Joe Flacco and is flying way under the radar.
– Zak Hanshew (@ZaktheMonster)
I have been on the Vance McDonald train for a few years now — ever since his final year in San Francisco. The man is an athetlic freak that poses a significant matchup problem for opposing linebackers. With McDonald, we’ve seen flashes before. He posted five TE1 weeks in 2018 and another three weeks just outside the top 12. The departures of Antonio Brown and Jesse James create a huge opportunity for McDonald. James leaving means McDonald is no longer splitting snaps at the position, he is the primary TE. AB leaving means, along with James, that there are 207 vacated targets. JuJu Smith-Schuster can’t possibly see much more than the 166 targets he saw last season. The bulk of those 207 vacated targets are going to whoever steps up as the WR2 and WR3 and Vance McDonald. And it’s not like McDonald wasn’t already part of the offense. He saw 72 targets last year and finished as the TE14 by average PPR ppg. There is a very strong likelihood that he surpasses 100 targets this season. Currently going as the TE10, that looks an awful lot like McDonald’s floor. Unless Travis Kelce falls into my lap in the right spot in the second round, I plan to wait and set my sights on McDonald.
– Jason Katz (@jasonkatz13)
Hunter Henry (LAC)
When a player misses a year, many tend to overlook him, as is the case with Hunter Henry who is fully recovered after tearing his ACL about a year ago. What is exciting is if we go back to 2017 and look at some of his production and efficiency playing with a relatively effective Antonio Gates. Although he only played 13 games, Henry excelled in the red zone where he ranked third with 11 targets. Henry averaged 2.48 fantasy points per target, which was also third best in the league. The best news is Henry does not have anyone of consequence competing with him at the tight end position. There’s Virgil Green and even if Antonio Gates comes back, he’s a shadow of himself. Look for Henry to keep being efficient except this year he will also be more heavily targeted. Don’t be surprised if he surpasses one of last year’s top three in fantasy points in 2019.
– Marc Mathyk (@masterjune70)
Why am I targeting Hunter Henry? The answer is simple: Philip Rivers loves to utilize his tight ends in the red zone. In 175 games with Rivers, Antonio Gates was targeted an astonishing 184 times inside the 20. Henry himself saw 28 red zone targets in the first 29 games of his career. The 24-year-old has the size and athleticism to be a big-time weapon for a team that has attempted an average of 578.4 passes over the last five seasons. Gates and Tyrell Williams are no longer with the Chargers, putting Henry and Mike Williams in prime positions to produce. Getting consistent production from your tight end will give you an edge most weeks – especially if you got said tight end in the late 60s. Henry has Eric Ebron-like breakout potential and could very well be a league-winner.
– Elisha Twerski (@ElishaTwerski)
Evan Engram (NYG)
If you miss out on one of the top three tight ends, Engram may be the next best bet for high-ceiling production at TE5. Engram finished as the TE2 across the last four weeks of 2018, behind only George Kittle. Even though he only played in 11 games last year, he still ended up as the TE13. This season, Engram returns to a Giants team without Odell Beckham Jr, whose departure will open up 124 targets within their offense. Some of these targets may make their way to either newly-added Golden Tate or Sterling Shepard, but not all of them will. Both Tate and Shepard are undersized receivers who play their best ball in the slot, so the Giants will need a big-body target like Engram in the red zone. The tight end’s performance in Beckham’s late-season absence last year proves that he’s worth the investment at 62 overall. Engram saw 31 targets across four games without the star receiver, which he turned into 22 receptions for 320 yards and a touchdown. He also saw four red-zone looks across that time period, just as many as Shepard. The only knock on Engram is his high asking price at 62 overall, but his proven floor and high ceiling are worth the cost.
– Isaiah Sirois (@is_sirois)
Jimmy Graham (GB)
Ok, this is a little insane but hear me out. I wanted to go with Hunter Henry but I feel like that’s too easy of a pick. When I look at the tight end ADP, Graham looks like the guy who could rise the most. We’re talking about one of the three best tight ends of the past decade being undrafted in most leagues and nearly outside of the Top 20 at the position. To say last year was a disappointment is probably an understatement, but he still has Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, and he could see more targets and red zone opportunities with Randall Cobb out of the picture. Many people look at least year and think it was a disaster, but Graham actually finished sixth in targets and ninth in yardage at the position. The two touchdowns are what killed his numbers but there’s no way he’ll only score two TDs if he sees another 91 targets. Don’t be afraid to take this guy with one of your last picks.
– Joel Bartilotta (@Bartilottajoel)
Mark Andrews (BAL)
While it is generally a good idea to avoid rookie tight ends in redraft leagues, Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews showed up in a big way during his freshman campaign. Hauling in 34 catches for 552 yards — each franchise records for rookie tight ends — Andrews was able to produce at a level on par or better than Rob Gronkowski, Kyle Rudolph, Jimmy Graham, and Zach Ertz did in their respective rookie seasons. Despite his strong rookie year, there are a few objections to Andrews as a high-level fantasy target — most of which are centered around quarterback Lamar Jackson. While Jackson’s accuracy has been called into question throughout both his college and professional career, it’s indisputable that he was effective when targeting Andrews last season. His 124.8 QB Rating when targeting Andrews (good for second in the league among tight ends) was largely propelled by the latter’s ability to get separation. At 1.64 yards of separation per target (according to PlayerProfiler.com), Andrews ranked just behind standout George Kittle. In new offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s tight end-friendly scheme Andrews, the current TE23 (ADP 187), has tremendous upside and won’t cost much draft capital.
– Brian Rzeppa (@brianrzeppa)
Dallas Goedert (PHI)
The second-year TE in Philly may be a better best ball or deep-league target, but I love Goedert as the current TE21. That seems criminally low as the Eagles ran more 2TE personnel in the second half of 2018 than any other team in the league and Head Coach Doug Pederson has already said that trend will continue this year. With a healthy Carson Wentz and an expected increase in targets, this is a steal. Those who play in leagues with multiple flex spots should seriously consider him in the back end of drafts as a viable matchups play. If Zach Ertz were to miss time with injury, he instantly vaults into TE1 territory as a top-five option.
– Josh Dalley (@JoshDalley72)
Austin Hooper (ATL)
As a loud advocate for Team Go Get A Top-Three Tight End, this topic is particularly interesting for me. The position as a whole is such a dud that I view those top three as a vital part of your overall team construction. However, if I somehow didn’t end up with any of the heavy hitters, I would wait until the 10th round and target Austin Hooper as the TE13. Historically, opportunity is such a crapshoot for value tight ends, but Hooper is likely staring at 100-plus targets for his age-25 season after seeing his targets increase from 27, 65, and 88 after three years as a pro. With Dirk Koetter returning to Hot Lanta as the offensive coordinator, you know the ball will be in the air early and often. Don’t be the sucker chasing touchdowns in the later rounds at tight end, find the guy who will be peppered with targets in a high-flying passing offense. Look no further than Austin Hooper.
– Rob Searles (@robbob17)
Jared Cook (NO)
Cook had a big season in Oakland last year, tallying 68 receptions for 896 yards and six receiving touchdowns. He was the fifth-ranked fantasy tight end, despite playing on an offense that ranked 18th in passing yards and 24th in passing touchdowns and had no wide receiver in the second half of the season to draw coverage away from Cook. He could have had a big role in that offense again this year, but Cook made the decision to leave Oakland and sign with a team that was willing to pay more money and had a better chance of competing for a title. He landed in New Orleans, and he will team up with QB Drew Brees, the most accurate quarterback in the NFL. The Saints are loaded on offense with WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara leading the way. Cook will not be an option that is more involved in the passing game than Thomas and Kamara, but the third option in New Orleans can be good for 70 receptions, 700 yards and close to double-digit touchdowns. The good news with Cook is that his ADP is only 79, which means that a veteran tight end in a proven explosive offense could be available in the eighth round. The only downside to Cook’s game is that he is 32 years old and a below average run blocker, but that is why he is appealing at his current ADP. In the eighth round, a fantasy owner can afford to take a tight end that is not among the elite scorers. The upside of playing with Brees in this offense makes it worth taking Cook at his current ADP and hoping that his lack of run blocking will not keep him off the field too much this season.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Kyle Rudolph (MIN)
I’m on board with the majority of writers in this bunch that will all pretty much tell you how essential it is that you try and lock down one of the big three at the tight end position this season. If you miss out, however, I feel it’s really important not to get fantasy FOMO (Fear of missing out). Patience will reward those who wait, and Kyle Rudolph is someone I’m targeting in essentially every draft. It seems most people are sleeping on the entire Vikings offense in fantasy this season just a year after this squad was a favorite for Super Bowl contention, and Rudolph is no exception. He has finished as a top-eight TE in each of the last three seasons, maxing out at TE2 back in 2016. His three-year average final rank of 5.7 is third behind only Travis Kelce (1) and Zach Ertz (3.7). Despite Rudolph finishing just behind Kelce and Ertz over the last three years in final ranks, there is a sizable average PPR PPG gap between Ertz (15) and Rudolph (10.8) which is a prime example of why it’s so important to lock down one of those top guys. Rudolph’s health and consistency have been factors leading to his continued success in fantasy and at a position loaded with volatility, this is a welcome sight. A steady diet of both red zone and end zone targets has also been clutch. Rudolph is currently being taken as a TE2 with an ADP of TE14 around the 13th round of fantasy drafts. Even if he has his worst season in the last three years, he should still outproduce that draft price. There is no risk involved in grabbing Rudolph late if you want to wait at the position, or you can grab him as a safe backup if you invested an early-round pick at the position.
– John Ferguson (@FantasyFerguson)
O.J. Howard (TB)
I buy into the philosophy of grabbing a top-three tight end, but if a top-three pick is too valuable to use on a TE just pass and grab Howard in the fifth round. With the departure of DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, the Bucs have an additional 100 plus yards per game to divvy among the remaining targets. A decent portion figure to belong to the former first rounder who is developing just how Tampa had hoped. O.J. likely won’t infiltrate that elite group of TEs, but if he makes at least minor strides this season he’ll bridge the gap as a strong fourth option. Discounting the game where Howard went down early to injury, he paced for a 1,000-yard, nine-TD season. Bruce Arians is in town and will make the most of Howard’s ability to run by linebackers on vertical routes. Travis Kelce didn’t enter the upper echelon of TEs until year four, and Ertz took until year six. Howard is more physically gifted than both and is beginning to gain respect from analysts and experts as one of the better all-around players at the position. If he ever sees an increase in snap percentage over Cameron Brate, Howard has the best odds to rival Ertz, Kittle, and Kelce.
– James Esposito (@PropZillaa)