Very Deep Sleeper: Matt LaCosse (2019 Fantasy Football)

Jul 16, 2019

Why isn’t anyone paying attention to Gronk’s replacement?

R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate, Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse, in Season 4 of his Very Deep Sleeper series for FantasyPros.

This piece is part of our article program that features quality content from experts exclusively at FantasyPros. For more insight from R.C. head to Fantasy Football Metrics.

You are probably in agreement with all the experts, who don’t believe Matt LaCosse is going to be the Patriots’ starting tight end in Week 1 of 2019, and frankly, don’t seem to care whether that happens. LaCosse is currently sporting an ADP of 50+ among all fantasy tight ends, as of this writing. The illustrious Geoff Swaim is tracking ahead of LaCosse on FantasyPros’ latest TE rankings…as is Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who, unlike LaCosse, isn’t even on the Patriots’ roster anymore.

Why no fantasy-love for Matt LaCosse?

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Maybe, we’re all just tired of fool’s gold, non-Gronk Patriot tight end fantasy options. Anyone remember when Zach Sudfeld flew from UDFA rookie to fringe TE1 ADP in the 2013 preseason? Or when Martellus Bennett was supposed to be a TE1 hopeful working along with Gronk in 2016… or the same with Dwayne Allen in 2017? Everyone was looking for the ‘Gronk gets hurt and now this guy is a TE1 in his place’ option. But in the end, ever since Aaron Hernandez left, whether Gronk was playing or Gronk was out…no Patriots ‘other’ tight end has ever really stepped in and become true fantasy gold.

Now, today, finally, Gronk is gone! Shouldn’t we all fistfight over his successor…since we’ve been looking for them for lo these many years?

Wait…you think it’s Ben Watson?

…or a tight end to-be-determined?

Anyone but Matt LaCosse, right?

Let’s walk through the history of LaCosse’s journey to New England and see if we can make a case for LaCosse as the New England tight end who matters for fantasy in 2019. I think you’ll find parts of his journey eye-opening.

LaCosse was former star high school quarterback who went to Illinois as a tight end…a nearly 6’6″ prospect who could move well (4.64 40-time at his Pro Day). LaCosse didn’t play much his first two college seasons, then began to break out a little in his junior year (2013). In 2014, his senior year, he caught 3 TD passes in the first 7 games of their season…but then LaCosse got hurt and missed the rest of the campaign. He was unlucky, because in those 7 games he worked with a terrible QB, who would get benched soon after and replaced by a future fringe NFL prospect (Wes Lunt). With Lunt, LaCosse’s numbers may have ‘popped’ more; gotten him more NFL attention. Instead, LaCosse was a decent receiving option for a college team that wasn’t very good throwing the ball – thus he flew under everyone’s radar.

He went undrafted in 2015 and was signed by the Giants. NYG cut him in the preseason when he hurt his hamstring. The Jets grabbed him after that, and then cut him shortly after…and then the Giants re-signed him to the practice squad. He eventually was activated to the 53-man roster that rookie season and played Week 16-17 — catching 3 passes in a game in Week 16.

He was in the mix as a surprise candidate to start for the Giants in 2016, having a great training camp, but then a knee injury in the preseason cost him – he went on I.R. for the season.

In 2017, 1st-round draft pick Evan Engram arrived and LaCosse fought his way to the 53-man roster as a 4th tight end for the G-Men, but was released midseason and then signed back again by the Giants to their practice squad.

The Giants stuck by LaCosse for years, through multiple coaches and coordinators. However, in December 2017, the Broncos poached LaCosse from the Giants practice squad to squat on him as a ‘futures’ prospect.

LaCosse made the Broncos’ opening day roster in 2018. He played sparingly but then the Broncos started losing tight ends left and right and LaCosse was forced into the starting lineup Week 11 last season. In Week 12, he caught 3 passes and scored his first NFL TD. His last two games of 2018 – 4.5 catches and 38.0 yards per game.

I was impressed watching LaCosse in his forced-starter role, while re-watching/scouting the previous week’s games in-season and when I watched Denver games during the final few weeks, I’d make note of LaCosse moving better than I remembered (or was even aware of) and noting how well he was playing as a receiver in general. I pitched him to my subscribers late in the 2018 season as a sleeper tight end fantasy option to use in a pinch and I thought he’d rollover to the next season to be a Dynasty sleeper candidate for the Broncos’ 2019 starting tight end job.

And then this story took a turn that I did not expect…

I figured the Broncos would try sign/keep LaCosse well ahead of his free agency. However, they had him as a restricted free agent option but declined to tender him. That was odd enough, but when free agency opened up – the Patriots pounced with a solid contract offer.

With Gronk retired the Patriots didn’t land/really pursue any bigger-name tight ends in free agency or trade in March 2019, instead they signed LaCosse and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With no Gronk and no exciting names on the tight end depth chart, you figured the Pats would draft a tight end in April 2019. Nope. Were they really going into the 2019 season with ASJ and LaCosse?

They were not.

The Patriots had enough of Seferian-Jenkins – cutting him right after the post-Draft training camps started. It left Matt LaCosse and Jacob Hollister as the top guys on the tight end depth chart. Soon after, stories of how much the Pats ‘liked’ Hollister began to surface. Excellent reporting…because then Belichick shocked everyone by trading Hollister to Seattle for almost nothing.

What were the Pats left with at tight end? Matt LaCosse and Stephen Anderson.

Well, New England then signed Benjamin Watson…the 38.5+ year old tight end coming out of retirement and suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season. We have Watson and LaCosse as the current top tight ends on the depth chart, which means LaCosse will get a ton of work in the preseason and he will start in Week 1 (and 2-4).

I know you still don’t believe that LaCosse will start Week 1. You’re thinking that Belichick will cause some magical tight end to fall out of the sky for the Patriots, because…well, because Belichick. I get it. But, who? What tight end is he going to get/find?

Will it be a released veteran tight end like Vernon Davis or Delanie Walker? Could it be a possible released-for-cost tight end Jordan Reed (if that were to happen…he makes $9.7M this year or can be released for $3.6M hit)? Doubtful that it’s a low-level rookie or some other young tight end because they wouldn’t pop up available until the 53-man cuts right before the season – not enough time to unseat LaCosse for Week 1.

If Washington retains both Reed and Davis, and Tennessee keeps Walker (likely)…the Patriots have no choice but to start LaCosse Week 1…and Weeks 2-3-4. How much is the season starting tight end on the Patriots worth for fantasy? At least, a TE2 valuation…not a #50+ overall tight end option.

But what if LaCosse uses all the experience he’ll get in the preseason and through the first 4 weeks of 2019 to establish himself as the receiving threat tight end for New England…what is that worth? Do you think aged ben Watson returns Week 5 and plays 90% of the snaps and is ‘the guy’ going forward? What if, given a fortunate boost to start the year, LaCosse becomes the starting tight end by attrition (Watson plays limited snaps until later in the season/he’s there for the playoff run) most/all of 2019?

I could name a lot of young backup, 3rd-4th-string tight ends on NFL rosters I like better than LaCosse, as a talent, but none of them are sitting in the driver’s seat to start Week 1 for the best team in football with the great Tom Brady still running the show. I imagine a (near) 6’6″ target will come in handy in the red zone some this season for Brady minus Gronk?

Today, LaCosse is a fantasy bargain – he’s not being seriously considered for anything fantasy-wise.  But by mid-to-late August he could fly into the top 15-20 ADP tight ends in redraft and he’ll potentially be a Week 1 TE1 ranking for many experts.

Low cost, potential flash value in a few weeks – value to use or trade on the hype that non-Gronk New England tight ends seem to garner every preseason. LaCosse could go from Very Deep Sleeper to very in-demand in just a few short weeks. The cost to see it play out is virtually nothing today.

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