Dynasty Busts: Tight Ends (2021 Fantasy Football)
The 2020 TE landscape was apocalyptic. Travis Kelce and Darren Waller dominated the position, posting 20.9 and 17.4 points per game, respectively. George Kittle muddled through an injury-filled season to finish as TE3 on a per-game basis, but a 43 point monster performance against Philadelphia buoyed the final standing. Speaking of the Eagles, Zach Ertz took the collar as the biggest TE bust. He finished at TE4 in preseason ADP, but an ugly contract situation and continual accumulation of injuries shockingly saw him plummet to TE27.
In hindsight, Ertz’s fall from grace feels predictable. We are looking at a new generation within the position, and outside of Kelce, the candidates for an age-related tumble are bare. To select Kelce as the bust candidate, one would need to muster all the bravery of Katniss Everdeen; until we see any signs of slowing down, it is a prediction I am not willing to make. Instead, the most likely bust candidates result from crowded target situations or uncertainty not priced into their draft capital. Time for a quick stroll through some of the most likely dynasty busts TEs.
George Kittle (TE – SF)
Kittle may stand as the only candidate for an Ertz-like fall from grace. He is beginning to advance slightly in age, and injury accumulation flashed somewhat in 2020 as multiple issues caused him to miss eight games. That said, age and injuries are not the primary concern on Kittle taking a step back from fantasy dominance.
The last several drafts have reshaped the 49ers’ offense. First Deebo Samuel, followed by Brandon Aiyuk, and most recently Trey Lance. Each chip at Kittle’s fantasy upside. When Kittle dominated in 2018 while posting an 88-137-5 line, his biggest competition for targets were players like Kendrick Bourne and Dante Pettis. The present and future are very different.
Perhaps the most concerning piece of evidence is the 2019 postseason that ended as Super Bowl runners-up. Kittle was an afterthought in the offense, averaging 2.67 receptions and 23.67 yards per game. Both Samuel and Aiyuk posted some massive target numbers in 2020, clearing 12 targets between the two of them four separate times. For context, Davante Adams led the league at 10.6 targets per game. Kittle has earned ten targets twice in his last 22 career games.
Trey Lance is the second complicating factor. His athleticism opens a different element in the 49ers gameplan, read options, and the designed QB run. Given Kittle’s recovery and the 49ers’ ability to schematically limit his touches, he could morph into a luxury compared to a necessity, putting a dramatic cap on his fantasy upside. For the player currently sitting at dynasty TE2, diminished volume due to younger teammates locked into team-friendly deals does not portray well to his long-term fantasy prospects.
Mike Gesicki (TE – MIA)
Gesicki stands as an odd bust selection. He finished 2020 as TE9 on a ppg basis and sits at dynasty TE9 in current dynasty rankings. He possesses reasonable expectations that he’s previously met. How can he be a bust?
Gesicki is a study of inconsistency. Eighty-eight of his 159 PPR points (55%) occurred in just four games. While the upside relative to the position is intriguing, the downside is staggering and appeared far too often. Over the remaining 11 games, Gesicki averaged 6.45 PPR points.
The Dolphins have done nothing but stack competition for targets throughout the offseason. Will Fuller in free agency started the dominoes (reuniting him with former Texans OC George Godsey). They followed by using the sixth pick in the draft on Jaylen Waddle (reuniting him with college teammate Tua Tagovailoa). As if that was not enough, the team used their third-round pick on Boston College TE Hunter Long.
Bottom line, Gesicki rode some boom weeks to relevance on a team sorely lacking targets. After an offseason spent upgrading Tua’s targets across the board, it is fair to question Gesicki’s role in the offense.
Irv Smith Jr. (TE – MIN)
Ever since the Vikings used a second-round pick on Smith Jr. in 2019, dynasty managers have dreamed of the future. Through two seasons, Smith Jr. has shown flashes but has continually been overwhelmed by uncertainty. Part of that is the aging process at a physically demanding position. Despite two years of NFL experience, at the age of 22, he still would have fallen in the middle of the 2021 TE draft class.
Two factors raise red flags on Smith Jr. living up to his current standing as dynasty TE10: the Vikings’ pass attempts and target consolidation and Tyler Conklin’s presence on the team.
The Vikings were 27th in the league in passing attempts during the 2020 season. That’s troubling in itself, but the additional complicating factor is 49% of those targets went to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Only two teams (Carolina and Buffalo) focused more of their targets on just two players. Simply put, the Vikings start with a tiny pie and disproportionally serve it to their top two options.
The second factor is Tyler Conklin. The Vikings use some of the most balanced personnel groupings in the league, placing last in 3 WR sets (just 29% of the time) while using a fullback the third-most in the league (26% of the time). They rotated between Kyle Rudolph, Smith Jr., and Conklin in the 2020 season, splitting snaps 572-545-448 between the three. Much of Smith Jr.’s optimism is due to the departure of Rudolph. However, if Rudolph’s blocking replacement is Conklin, Smith Jr. may fall short of regular snaps, much less fantasy-relevant target share. He is another risky TE1 selection.
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