Bounce-Back Tight Ends (2021 Fantasy Football)
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Following the 2019 season, Jimmy Graham looked done. Playing in all 16 games with the Packers, Graham posted his lowest receptions and yards since his rookie season. After signing him in an uncharacteristic free agent move for the franchise, the Packers released him a year early. Fantasy owners faded him hard, landing at an ADP of TE34 after signing with Chicago.
In 2020, he proved there was more to come. Emerging as a red zone threat, Graham rode the 5th most passing targets inside the ten to a TE13 finish.
The tight end has traditionally been a position to allow players lengthier careers. On the other side, it has seen players struggle to maintain health, with George Kittle, Blake Jarwin, and Zach Ertz leading players who missed significant injury time. What players can we project to follow in Graham’s footsteps? Which injury can players bounce back?
On May 20th, Urban Meyer continued to shock the NFL world. In announcing the signing of his former Florida Gator QB Tim Tebow, the inclusion of the switch to TE was perhaps the biggest surprise. After nine years off, Tebow is potentially coming back, highlighting a string of players like Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews attempting to reignite careers.
In one sense, a rank of TE29 is unjustified. It would be a minor miracle for Tebow to even make the roster. But if there is any situation capable of producing such an incredible event, the combination of Tebow and Meyer creates a ripe environment.
Jacksonville has the most uncertain depth chart in the league at the tight end position. Fifth-round pick Luke Farrell, along with free agents Chris Manhertz and James O’Shaughnessy, inspires little confidence. Farrell does have a history with Meyer dating back to Ohio St. He would appear the most likely to see significant playing time.
For the sake of argument, let us go all the way down the rabbit hole. Graham’s 2020 season showed a shallow bar for a fringe TE1. Posting 3.1 – 28 -.5 per game were all Graham need to catapult up ranks. Given Meyer’s history, Tebow could play an underrated role offensively.
Dating back to his first coaching job with Bowling Green, Meyer has always emphasized the quarterback run. During his stints with Florida and Ohio St players like Tebow and J.T. Barrett routinely led the team in rushing usage. That style certainly can not translate; exposing franchise cornerstone Trevor Lawrence to an option-style rushing game at the NFL level is a recipe for disaster.
The path for utility for Tebow would feature short-yardage and goal-line rushing usage. Meyer mixing in just enough passing work to avoid an obvious tell combined with some trademark Tebow jump passes could portray a role similar to Taysom Hill in New Orleans. Potentially with just enough fantasy involvement to shock owners who dismissed the original announcement.
Jarwin is a player I have previously mentioned, but sitting at TE24 in ADP is a player I will continue to bring up. Coming off a torn ACL and lingering uncertainty about the workshare between Jarwin and Dalton Schultz has fed into his lowered ADP. His ceiling is still that of a TE1.
The Cowboys’ 39.9 pass attempts per game was the second-highest rate in the NFL, despite losing Dak Prescott for most of the season. Before Prescott’s injury, he targeted Schultz 24 times between weeks two and four. Extrapolation is a dangerous game, especially with small sample sizes. Still, that stretch spreads out to 128 on the season, outpacing the third most targeted TE, Logan Thomas, by over a target per game.
Jarwin and Prescott have an evident bond. Before the season, Prescott stated: “He’s grown into a No. 1 tight end; Blake can be an amazing player in this league.” In the leadup to Prescott’s contract extension, the two exchanged messages of support publicly via Instagram.
The reality is Jarwin is likely to go undrafted or be a late-round pick in most redraft leagues. The offense is a significant plus, Prescott has shown a past comfort level, and Jarwin has been productive in stretches.
The case for Rudolph is eerily similar to that of Graham. A longtime fantasy staple, the bottom completely fell out in 2020 as Rudolph plummeted to TE39. The Vikings moved on from their longtime TE.
The Giants signed Rudolph to a surprising deal, two years at $12 mil putting him in the top half of the NFL for yearly TE salary. After years of hoping Evan Engram arrives, the team brought in direct competition.
The case for Rudolph in a redraft format is complex. It is unlikely he ever sees enough volume to make him a weekly play. But Jason Garrett witnessed Jason Witten playing well into his late 30s as a reliable receiving presence. As Daniel Jones faces a make-or-break season, the coaching staff could decide the reliable veteran deserves playing time over Engram’s inconsistencies.
Who is your bounceback TE? Let me know on Twitter!
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