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Negative Target Regression Tight Ends (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Joshua Lefkowitz | @JLefkoNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 3, 2020

The arrival of young talent does not bode well for Darren Waller to repeat his high number of targets that he saw in 2019.

Following up on my last piece in which I analyzed tight ends that were primed for positive target regression, in this article, I examine three tight ends that are poised for negative target regression for the upcoming NFL season.

Although these players hold value for their football clubs in real life, for fantasy purposes, their value appears to be on the decline due to several factors including existing crowded locker rooms and the addition of young talent. As a result, the target distribution will appear much different for these three tight ends compared to the 2019 season, a direct impact on their overall fantasy numbers.

Looking at these three players, fantasy managers will see a clearer picture of the tight end landscape for the upcoming fantasy football season.

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Darren Waller (LV)
After emerging as a Hard Knocks star during the 2019 offseason, Darren Waller broke out in his fourth NFL season, racking in 117 targets, the third most amongst tight ends. Among all TEs, Waller finished fifth in fantasy points per game and third in total points as the leading pass catcher for the Oakland Raiders. Despite these positive stats, Waller’s situation for 2020 is much different than last season. The addition of first-round WR Henry Ruggs III, third-round picks Bryan Edwards and Lynn Bowden, and the emergence of 2019 rookie WR Hunter Renfrow should eat into Waller’s target share. Waller only had three touchdowns in 2019, so despite the chances of his targets decreasing, he could be aligned for positive touchdown regression.

Currently, Waller sits as the TE5 heading into 2020 with an ADP of 57.0, meaning Waller is being drafted somewhere in the fifth round in non-super flex PPR formats. This might be a bit too high of a price tag considering the possibility of negative target regression, along with how deep the TE position is this year and the other talent that will be available in the fifth round. I do believe Waller is in the second-tier of the most talented TEs in the league, with a strong chance of finishing inside the top-five once again. However, the arrival of young talent does not bode well for Waller to repeat his high number of targets that he saw in 2019.

Jason Witten (LV)
Jason Witten signed a one-year deal with the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason, leaving the Cowboys after 16 NFL seasons in Dallas. Witten is also leaving behind 83 targets, which ranked 10th amongst TEs in 2019. The situation in Vegas is not ideal for Witten, who will be behind Waller in the depth chart, and similar to Waller, Witten will also compete with younger players for targets. Witten was a safety blanket for Dak Prescott last season, which is a comparable function he could serve with Derek Carr.

Despite being a reliable target for Prescott in 2019, Witten was unable to turn his opportunities into huge gains, recording just 8.4 yards per reception. Witten’s numbers and overall production has been on a steady decline over the last several years, and his role will be more of a touchdown-dependent, risky streaming option than a consistent fantasy starter. He is better suited on the waiver wire than wasting a draft pick on him to sit on your bench.

Greg Olsen (SEA)
Greg Olsen hit the free-agent market this offseason and signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks to pair up with one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Russell Wilson. Despite being tied to Wilson, it might be a challenge for Olsen to come near his 81 targets from 2019 and expecting him to put up the same fantasy numbers we have seen in years past is seemingly unrealistic because of the crowded TE room he landed in, along with the run-first, run-heavy nature of the Seahawks. Not only will Olsen have to fight Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf for targets, but Olsen will also be competing against Will Dissly, the TE5 in PPR from Week 1-5 last season who is expected to return from injury at some point early this season, as well as Jacob Hollister, who was the TE12 from Week 7 through the end of the season.

It will be interesting to see how Pete Carroll utilizes each tight end, but Olsen could serve as the starter until Dissly is back to full health. I do not feel comfortable with any of these players as viable starting fantasy options due to the uncertainty surrounding playing time. However, if one of the three tight ends were to miss time for any reason, then the next player in line should see a significant bump in volume, and their fantasy relevance would soar.

Conclusion

Rostering a tight end that puts up consistent fantasy numbers is a formidable foundation for building a championship roster. Even more so, finding a tight end late in the drafts, as I mentioned in my last article, could be a league-winning move that separates your team from the rest of the league. Despite this notion, I have seen great teams decimated due to the manager drafting a tight end too early, only to see the TE underperform. Be wary of the tight end position this season, as there are as many diamonds in the rough as potential busts are waiting to disappoint.

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Joshua Lefkowitz is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Joshua, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @JLefkoNFL.

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