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Impact Rookie Tight Ends (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Raju Byfield | @FantasyContext | Featured Writer
Aug 26, 2019

A future elite TE1, T.J. Hockenson will push to claim a spot among fantasy football’s top-12 producers as a rookie.

With the NFL regular season just over a week away, we will take a look at the rookie tight ends poised to make an impact in their rookie seasons. The impact a rookie at this position may make often looks much different statistically than players at quarterback, wide receiver, and running back. Many tight ends have a slower start to their rookie campaigns. As such, we will discuss players that are expected to lead their team at their respective positions. 

There are some notable names that have not made this list due to depth chart circumstances. One name most will notice is Irv Smith Jr. of the Minnesota Vikings. He is expected to make a rookie season impact but will be playing behind the newly re-signed Kyle Rudolph. The other is the talented Jace Sternberger who will be stuck behind Jimmy Graham for at least one season. 

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T.J. Hockenson (DET)
Arguably one of the most talented tight ends in the league before playing his first NFL regular-season game, the sky is truly the limit for T.J. Hockenson. He will see some snaps siphoned from Detroit Lions offseason addition Jesse James. However, Hockenson is a clear superior talent who offers more as both a receiver and a blocker. 

There has been some legitimate concern that Hock is so good as a blocker that he may be asked to stay home more often than fantasy owners may like, and sadly, it is true. However, his blocking prowess will keep him on the field more often than not, as will his upside as a receiver.

Former Eric Ebron owners may be concerned about Matthew Stafford’s history with tight ends. However, according to FFStatistics, Stafford has targeted the position as high as 29 percent of his throws (in 2012), and 27 percent in 2013. Due to league-worst talent at the position, 2018 was a horrible 12 percent. He targeted the position at a four year high of 21 percent in 2017.

A future elite TE1, Hockenson will push to claim a spot among fantasy football’s top-12 producers as a rookie. He will likely be inconsistent and have some borderline TE1 weeks, but he will have others where he looks just as good as advertised. Hockenson is arguably the most talented receiving option the Lions have on the roster. With a coach who got to see Rob Gronkowski every day in New England, we can be certain that Matt Patricia has been giving his thoughts and insights to Darrell Bevell on how to utilize such a unique talent.

Hockenson is a perfect wait on a tight end or streaming target. He is currently the 15th tight end off of the board in half-PPR redraft leagues. His upside suggests a potentially glaring ADP value, especially when one considers he can be netted in the round 14. His ADP is sure to rise after a strong game three of the preseason in which he displayed excellent chemistry with Matthew Stafford. Remember his name in the latter half of your fantasy drafts. 

Noah Fant (DEN)
Some of us may have heard that Joe Flacco loves his tight ends. It’s true. According to FFStatistics QB history tool, Flacco has targeted the position on over 20 percent of his throws in every season since his rookie campaign. Starter-in-waiting Drew Lock also showed a willingness to target his stud tight end mercilessly at Missouri and will actually raise Fant’s floor when he eventually takes over under center for the more conservative Joe Flacco

Flacco has targeted the position at the following percentages over the last four seasons: 22, 24, 26, 24. His all-time high was in 2011 when he targeted the position on 28 percent of his passes. Of course, these numbers do not indicate what we expect to see Fant get in year one but it serves to accentuate his true upside. Fant will likely have to split snaps with Jeff Heuerman, and even Jake Butt this season. It may have been a different story if he was healthy enough to do some depth chart climbing while Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt were sidelined with injuries of their own.  

Fant, much like his Iowa Hawkeye teammate T.J. Hockenson is oozing with TE1 upside. Due to weaker depth chart competition and QB history, Fant may actually be the better option in redraft leagues. Furthermore, his skill and tools as a pure receiver may actually be superior. With that said, Fant is not receiving the same respect Hockenson is. Undrafted in many 15 round, 12 man leagues, Fant is the 22nd tight end off the board in redraft. 

While he is expected to present some snap-based inconsistency to start the season, he could come on strong as soon as Week 1 against the Raiders. He may find a tougher go of things against the Bears, but due to playing a schedule that will likely lead to a negative game script, he is in line to see solid weekly volume as soon as he leads the tight end room in snaps. With a Week 15 date with the Kansas City Chiefs on the docket, Fant is the ideal TE2/bye week filler target. He is also someone who you can stream based on matchups due to his TE1 upside. 

Josh Oliver (JAC)
With only Geoff Swaim and James O’Shaughnessy to compete with on the Jacksonville Jaguars depth chart, Josh Oliver has a clear path to a sizeable role this season. He will not play an every-down role as he is more of a move tight end who has to refine his blocking technique. However, he possesses far superior upside as a receiver to anyone else the Jaguars have on the roster which should help him lead the Jaguars tight ends in both targets and receptions. 

Currently undrafted in most redraft leagues, Oliver is a great deep league final round target who could pay serious dividends. He is also someone to target in best-ball leagues that are more than 20 rounds. A smooth receiver with a large catch radius, Oliver continues to fly under the radar due to a hamstring injury suffered earlier this month. 

He has missed three preseason games and may be a little behind the eight ball in terms of developing chemistry with Nick Foles. However, there is little doubt that coach Doug Marrone will look to get his third-round pick on the field as soon as he is healthy and ready to contribute. 

Oliver is more of a bye week filler who could serve as an injury replacement for those who desire to draft their tight ends late in their drafts. With Geoff Swaim also missing time with his own injury, Oliver should be thrust into action immediately upon his return. He has mammoth upside as according to FFStatistics, Foles is someone who has targeted the tight end position on more than 25 percent of his passes since 2015 (21 percent in 2014), and as high as 35 percent last season. Remember his name at the end of your deep league drafts. 

Dawson Knox (BUF)
Thanks to impressive measurables and analytics, the former Ole Miss walk-on quietly impressed his way to becoming a third-round pick. He did not have top tier production, but that had as much to do with scheme and playing with three receivers who have found their way onto NFL rosters this summer in A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and DaMarkus Lodge

With Tyler Kroft expected to be sidelined for at least the first few games, and no other tight ends of note on the Buffalo Bills roster, Dawson Knox appears to have the clearest of paths to playing time. Free agency occurs before the draft in the NFL, and we can safely posit that Kroft does not get the same contract amount as he did if the Bills had already drafted Knox. Already a superior talent than Kroft, Knox will have the opportunity to reduce Kroft to a strict backup/rotational role.

Knox has every-down talent as he is a good blocker in both the running and passing games. However, he is much more than just a blocking tight end prospect. As mentioned above Knox was an analytics favorite and led Ole Miss with 11.5 yards per target. Clutch on third and fourth down, Knox averaged 19.6 yards per reception in those situations. For a measure of his true upside, consider this: Dawson Knox was split out wide despite playing on the team with one of the best wide receiver trios in all of college football. 

With a path to an immediate starters role and burgeoning chemistry with Josh Allen, Dawson Knox is a worthwhile dart throw at the end of deeper fantasy drafts. If you are playing in a league where someone like Knox is not relevant, shame on you. Josh Allen was on pace to target his top tight ends 66 times last season, a number that could surely see a spike this season.

Knox, who is building a rapport with Allen both on and off the field, should mix in some TE1 outings, but is more likely to be a high upside TE2 and bye week filler. He is someone dynasty league owners are very familiar with, especially those who play in tight end premium leagues. Now is the time for redraft owners to realize that Knox will be one of the rookie tight ends that make an impact in 2019. 

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Raju Byfield is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Raju, check out his profile and follow him @FantasyContext.

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