8 Late-Round Tight Ends to Target (2020 Fantasy Football)
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Seemingly every season, tight ends come out of the woodwork to provide immense value based on their average draft position. Last year, Darren Waller provided just such value on his way to a strong fantasy season. This year, he’s sitting fifth at the position in our Expert Consensus Rankings.
To help you find this year’s breakout tight end, we’ve asked our writers for their favorite late-round tight end to target in upcoming fantasy football drafts. These players are currently TE12 or lower in our Expert Consensus Rankings.
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Q: Who is your favorite late-round tight end in fantasy football drafts (TE12 or lower)?
Hayden Hurst (ATL): TE12
The Atlanta Falcons traded for Hayden Hurst in exchange for a 2020 second-round draft pick following Austin Hooper‘s free agency departure to Cleveland. While the 2018 first-round pick’s production and opportunity were limited in two seasons in Baltimore, Hurst should see exponential growth in both departments. Historically, Matt Ryan‘s tight ends have provided fantasy managers with elite production. Over the past decade alone, Falcons’ tight ends have surpassed 70 receptions in six of those 10 seasons (’10, ’11, ’12, ’13, 18′ and ’19). Last year, Dirk Koetter’s offense targeted tight ends a whopping 121 times, with Hooper accounting for 97 targets over 13 games. That’s an average of 7.5 targets per game. For the sake of comparison, the universal TE1 over the past three years, Travis Kelce, averaged 8.5 targets in 2019.
Hurst’s unique skillset is undeniable, having reached a top speed of 20.5 miles per hour during last year’s 61-yard touchdown catch at Buffalo in Week 14. Inserting his receiving chops into this offense is a dream come true for fantasy. In case you need further proof that Hurst is the only acceptable answer to this question, Koetter’s offenses have been a goldmine for pass-catchers. Since 2014, Koetter’s offenses have ranked top five in both pass attempts and passing yards in four out of six seasons. Koetter and the Falcons will have the ball in the air early and often in 2020. Expect another 70 grabs for the newly anointed Falcons tight end in 2020. Hurst resides on the Mount Rushmore of 2020 Value Plays with his current TE13 price tag.
– Rob Searles (@RobBob17)
I’m very thankful that Hayden Hurst qualifies as the TE12 in our current Expert Consensus Rankings. Hurst, a 2018 first-round pick, was traded to Atlanta after falling second fiddle to last year’s late-round tight end gem, Mark Andrews. The jury’s still out as to whether Hurst’s talent matches up with his draft position, but he should have every opportunity to realize his potential in Atlanta. Nobody likes to check down to the tight end more than Matt Ryan. Just ask Austin Hooper, who should give Ryan a cut of the four-year, $44 million contract he signed with Cleveland this offseason. Hooper was one of four tight ends to rank in the top seven in targets each of the last two seasons. The other three were Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle. Hurst could join that company as Hooper’s replacement, and I’m willing to bet that he takes advantage of those extra looks.
– Matt Barbato (@RealMattBarbato)
After a disappointing start to his career in Baltimore, former first-round pick Hayden Hurst will now find himself catching passes from Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Throughout Ryan’s career, he’s played with two talented tight ends – Tony Gonzalez and Austin Hooper. During their respective times in Atlanta, they averaged 97 targets, 69 receptions, 714 yards, and 5.5 touchdowns per year. For reference, if Hurst put up that exact stat line in 2019, he would’ve finished as the TE6. It may take a couple of weeks for him and Ryan to get on the same page, but once they do, the duo could be dangerous.
– Eli Berkovits (@BookOfEli_NFL)
Jonnu Smith (TEN): TE17
As our own Bobby Sylvester points out in this tweet, Jonnu Smith has posted 2.06 fantasy points per target during his career. That is higher than George Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz, among others. Obviously, Smith doesn’t see the number of targets that those stars do, but it is still an impressive stat. If nothing else, it tells fantasy analysts that Smith is efficient and deserves more opportunities. Perhaps the Titans agree, as the organization released longtime starter Delanie Walker back in mid-March. In an offense that completely changed (for the better) after placing Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, Smith seems destined for more targets this year. This is still a run-first team, though, and the 24-year-old caught more than three passes in a game just three times in 2019. Smith isn’t a lock for stardom, but I am going to bet on efficiency meeting opportunity when it comes to my late-round tight end selection.
– Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma)
Smith is currently 17th in ADP among all tight ends and is one of my favorite late-round picks at the position. I almost wrote up Hayden Hurst, but I feel his ADP and rank will skyrocket as we get closer to the start of the season. Smtih had great chemistry with Ryan Tannehill, hauling in 50 yards or more in four of the nine games the veteran QB started. Tennessee released Delanie Walker in the offseason, catapulting Smith to the top of the TE depth chart. The 24-year-old played 72 percent of the snaps once Walker was ruled out for the year. He is expected to be the second-to-third option in the Titans’ passing attack after posting career-highs in receptions, targets, and yards per catch (8.2 YPC led all tight ends in 2019). Smith might be a tight end on a run-first offense, but at ECR 17, he is among one of the better values in upcoming fantasy drafts.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)
Blake Jarwin (DAL): TE19
While not as fun a speculative add as Hayden Hurst or Jonnu Smith, I believe Blake Jarwin has the best chance to finish as the TE12 or higher. The driving factor behind his upside is opportunity and efficiency. In 2019, the Cowboys were the league’s best offense in yards per game and ranked sixth in points per game. With the addition of head coach Mike McCarthy, the offense is expected to shift toward an emphasis on the passing game. This new West Coast approach should result in heavy target volume to the tight end position, as we had seen in Green Bay. In McCarthy’s final season, Jimmy Graham saw 91 of the 126 targets directed toward tight ends.
It is typical that tight ends in McCarthy’s offense account for 100 or more total targets. Additionally, Dak Prescott loves to target the position. Last season, Jason Witten received 83 targets to Jarwin’s 41. Now that Witten is in Las Vegas, there’s no competition at the position for those vacated targets. Assuming Jarwin receives only half of those targets, that would put him right in the top 12 at the position. In 2019, every tight end targeted 75 or more times, other than Greg Olsen, finished top 12 at the position.
In regard to Jarwin’s 2019 production, he was extremely efficient in limited opportunity. He ranked top 10 in yards per target (8.9), yards per route (2.37), and catch rate (75.6%). He was also top five in QB rating when targeted (126.6) and fantasy points per route (0.56). Most importantly, he has an elite quarterback throwing him the ball. Of the 41 targets he received, 92.7% of them were deemed catchable. The target quality measured at 6.7, putting him inside the top four in both categories. Based on the volume increase expected in Dallas’ passing game, targets available, and level of quarterback play, it is hard to see Jawin finishing outside of the top-12 tight ends.
– Brandon Torricella (@Btorricella3)
Eric Ebron (PIT): TE20
While everyone zigs and hops on the Diontae Johnson hype train in Pittsburgh this season, I’m going to zag and jump on the Eric Ebron hype train instead. The offseason signing of Ebron has gone completely under the radar after he missed a good portion of 2019 with an ankle injury. He never got it going in four years with the Lions after getting drafted 10th overall in 2014. But when Ebron stepped foot in Indianapolis in 2018, he enjoyed a career season playing with Andrew Luck for a team that utilized the tight end position in the passing game. Ebron set career highs in receptions (66), yards (750), and touchdowns (13) that season.
He now joins a Pittsburgh team that has a great quarterback who also likes to throw to the tight end. Heath Miller made a great career catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger, and Ebron will get every opportunity to show he’s still very capable at just 27 years old. He’ll battle incumbent Vance McDonald for snaps, but Ebron is the more polished route-runner and receiver of the two tight ends, which will likely earn him more snaps than his counterpart. He’ll also be a valuable red-zone asset for Roethlisberger. I could easily see him reeling in 50 catches for 600 yards and seven-eight TDs on his way to another breakout season in 2020. Ebron is currently ranked as the ECR’s TE20, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him finish as a top-12 fantasy tight end this year.
– Adam Koffler (@AdamKoffler)
Mike Gesicki (MIA): TE13
From Weeks 1-9 last season, Mike Gesicki was the TE30. From Weeks 10-17, he was the TE8. A 2018 second-round pick, Gesicki was drafted to be a receiving weapon and flashed that potential last year. Concerns about the Dolphins’ quarterback uncertainty are valid, but Gesicki meshed well with Ryan Fitzpatrick last season. Tua Tagovailoa should not be feared either, as rookie quarterbacks tend to rely on their tight ends.
Gesicki’s 2019 second-half pace of 116 targets, 60 receptions, 644 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns would have put him in line to finish as the TE6 over the full season. Preston Williams‘ return should put a dent in those numbers, but an undrafted free agent coming off a major injury is far from a sure thing. There is little in the way of receiving weapons beyond DeVante Parker, so Gesicki will have a significant opportunity to emerge. The Dolphins finished seventh with 615 pass attempts last season. Although the coaching staff appears to desire a larger commitment to the running game, the team will be forced to throw if it continues to lose. Essentially free to obtain in drafts, Gesicki enters his third NFL season possessing a salivating recipe for fantasy success.
– Mark McWhirter (@mmcw19)
Noah Fant (DEN): TE14
There’s plenty of love for Hayden Hurst in this article, but the hype train is a rollin’. I expect Hurst’s ADP to climb significantly in the coming months. That’s why I’m going with a guy who isn’t receiving as much attention and who actually had a solid rookie season. So solid, in fact, that it ranks among the top-10 rookie tight end seasons of the last decade. Fant went 40/562/3 in a season highlighted by instability at the quarterback position. Denver seems to have that fixed, as Drew Lock will begin the season as the starter after going 4-1 in five starts as a rookie. If Lock can play competently and Fant can continue to grow in his second year, his ceiling is easily in the TE1 range. I’m happy to wait on him at his current ECR of TE14.
– Zak Hanshew (@ZaktheMonster)
Chris Herndon IV (NYJ): TE22
In 2018, Herndon IV had 56 targets, 39 receptions, 502 yards, and four touchdowns. That was an amazing rookie season for a number of reasons. First, he started only 12 games and had only 47 yards receiving and no touchdowns in his first five games. Second, he was playing with a rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold. Third, the best wide receiver on that team was Robby Anderson, who had only 752 yards receiving. Herndon did not benefit from playing with an established veteran quarterback or a wide receiver that took attention away from him. He still ended up as the eighth-ranked fantasy tight end from Week 6 to Week 17 once he carved out a role in the offense.
Many experts thought he was going to break out in 2019. Unfortunately, he ended up playing only 18 snaps due to a four-game suspension to start the season followed by a hamstring injury and a rib injury. It was a lost season, but the Jets are still very high on their young tight end. Herndon IV should start alongside Darnold, who is now entering his third season. The Jets have added Denzel Mims and Breshad Perriman to help strengthen the wide receiver position, and the injuries Herndon IV had last year should not linger into the 2020 season. If he can stay healthy, Herndon has a good chance to build on that promising rookie season and be a steal either at the end of fantasy drafts or on the waiver wire.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Donald Parham (LAC): TE94
Let’s start with the metrics: Donald Parham is 6’8″ and 237 pounds. He had an elite breakout age (19.1 years old) and a 99th percentile College Dominator rating. A huge catch radius and burst score round out his stats from Player Profiler. His dominance was on full display in the (short-lived) XFL, where Parham caught 24 of 43 targets for 307 yards and four touchdowns. He finished with the third-most yards, second-most targets, and tied for the fifth-most receptions. Many will be quick to dismiss Parham’s XFL success due to the “less talented opponents” argument. While it’s fair to include that caveat, Parham had 1,319 receiving yards on 85 receptions in just nine FCS games his senior year. He is still just 22 years old and has gone through the rigors of an NFL training camp. Now he’s positioned behind Hunter Henry, who has often found himself on the trainer’s table. Parham might need a Henry setback, however, as the Los Angeles Chargers utilized 12 personnel the least in the NFL last season (eight percent of their total snaps).
– Matt Giraldi (@MGiraldi)
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