The tight end position in all it’s glory has historically been the weakest position in fantasy. We’ve become accustomed to having a handful of guys that can be relied on year in and year out, while the rest of the field hovers in mediocrity. Like any position, the race to find the next breakout stud at TE is a yearly task. If you were able to clearly see the future emergence of a young Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, or Travis Kelce then you hit the jackpot in their respective rise to relevance. Having one of the top players at a position so weak, especially in dynasty, can provide a nice advantage for years.
As we’ve seen with Gronkowski, Graham, Gates, Witten, Gonzalez, and Miller, tight ends can become a QBs go-to target and confidant in the passing game. There aren’t many that possess elite RAC ability, so volume is one of the largest factors in determining success at TE. Of the top 10 at the position, all but Tyler Eifert ranked 10th or better in targets, and in his case, a league-leading TD total paved the way. Here are some tight ends I’m looking to buy in dynasty leagues within the small pool of talent.
Clive Walford, OAK – age (24) – 6’4″, 258 lbs.
It’s hard to produce quality fantasy contributors when the quarterback is an area of weakness. The Raiders have finally begun the trend upward since drafting Derek Carr. After year two into his development, will we see even more of a progression on the offensive side of the ball? If the Raiders complete the full transformation, success will have to come by 2nd year TE Clive Walford.
The Raiders employed a trio at TE in 2015 (Rivera, Walford, Smith), with each ranging from 38% of snaps to 48%. Lee Smith is used primarily as a blocker, but Mychal Rivera and Walford posted very similar stats across the board. Rivera posted TE18 numbers in 2014 on 99 targets, but paired that with the 2nd worst Y/R of TEs catching 40 or more balls at 9.2. Of TEs catching 75 balls or more since 2013, Rivera only ranks higher in Y/R than Richard Rodgers, Larry Donnell, Lance Kendricks, and Jermaine Gresham.
There’s a reason the Raiders used the 68th overall pick in last year’s draft on Walford. Some player comps show Walford similar to Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore athletically.
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Williams and Walford are essentially carbon copies. There’s a lot of people pretty excited about Maxx Williams’ future, but let’s face it. His path to a big time workload is murky in the short term, due to Baltimore’s urge to deploy a handful of TEs. I like Walford as an immediate option going forward due to the progression of Derek Carr as a QB, and Oakland’s lack of options outside of Crabtree and Cooper. One piece to note, is that Walford was a rookie TE on a team still searching for an identity. He began the first 9 games playing 33% of the snaps, but finished off the final 7 at 52.6%, while garnering nearly double the amount of targets as Mychal Rivera. Walford has the physical tools to be a solid TE, on a team that isn’t oozing with red zone options. His development may take a year or two, but I’d get on acquiring him before his price escalates partway through 2016.
Eric Ebron, DET – age (22), 6’4″, 255 lbs.
We’ve just entered a whole new world in the Motor City. Megatron is officially off the map in the Detroit Lions offense, and there’s a changing of the guard. The question is, how will Johnson’s massive offensive output be distributed? Golden Tate remains an underrated #2, but surely wasn’t ready for an undertaking such as this. The Lions opted to avoid leaving a glaring hole going into the draft, by adding former Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones.
The only real threat in the red zone from a pure size standpoint is Ebron. Golden Tate has always been an above average high-pointing WR with elite RAC ability, but he’s not a preferred target near the goal line. Marvin Jones is 6’2″ – 195 lbs., but lacks the strength and big body to be a true, consistent red zone threat. Brandon Pettigrew was a nice target early in his career, but is on the downside of his arc. That leaves Ebron.
It’s pretty remarkable that Ebron finished tied-20th in TE targets, getting only an 11% team share overall, but still managed high-end TE2 numbers. Ebron also ranked 24th in snap percentage among TEs at 56.8%. Remember that ridiculous share of targets that Calvin Johnson left behind? Marvin Jones is a nice WR to pair with Golden Tate, but is he a true #1 receiver that will command 130+ targets a year? I don’t think so. Ebron should absolutely see 100+ targets in 2016 barring injury. If you extrapolate Ebron’s 2015 average into 100 targets, he’d have finished with a 70/800/8 stat line, good for TE8 in both standard and PPR leagues. Ebron’s true potential hasn’t even been reached, considering he has 4.6 speed and good overall size, and is in an offense that traditionally ranks in the top 5 in pass attempts per game. Ebron, soon to be 23 years old, is someone I am trying to buy everywhere.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TB – age (23) – 6’5″, 262 lbs.
Another 2014 draftee, ASJ comes in as a major breakout candidate 2016 and beyond. There’s few tight ends in the league that possess the physical ability and size of Seferian-Jenkins. The first comparison and most common with ASJ is that he’s a hoopster turned NFL TE. As we’ve seen in the past with guys like Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez, it can be done successfully. ASJ’s talent and athleticism isn’t what doubters turn to. It’s the health factor.
Seferian-Jenkins has missed significant stretches of time dating back to college. Though he continues to frustrate fantasy owners everywhere, his immense upside continues to reel the crowds in. ASJ finished TE27 despite playing in only seven games in 2015 (21/338/4), and taking part in less than 20% of the total offensive snaps. Yes, I know. He didn’t put in a full campaign, but it’s hard to ignore that drawn over a whole season that’s a 48/773/9 stat line, good for TE7. Surprisingly, though both of his first two seasons were cut short, ASJ ranks 3rd in Y/R among TEs between 2014-2015 (min 40 rec) at 13.31/reception. That’s right on par with guys like Greg Olsen, Gary Barnidge, and Jordan Cameron. Now, obviously a high Y/R total doesn’t always translate to gaudy fantasy numbers, but at least it shows us he can stretch the field, similarly to some of the top guys in the league. ASJ also sports one of the best rec/TD % among TEs during that time at 14.3%.
Seferian-Jenkins’ inability to stay healthy may have soured owners enough to get him on a partial discount, which is why he’s one of my favorite tight ends to target in dynasty leagues.
Coby Fleener, NO – age (27) – 6’6″, 251 lbs.
Not exactly the flashiest name among the tight ends, Fleener now finds himself in a ridiculously good situation. New Orleans sealed the deal by inking Fleener to a five-year, $36 million dollar contract at the opening of free agency. That’s some serious coin, putting him in the top 12 highest paid TEs in the league. Leaving the crowded field of pass catchers in Indianapolis for NO, a place lacking proven size, it’s just what the doctor ordered for Fleener.
One season removed from a TE6 finish, Fleener never reached his true potential, always splitting time with counterpart Dwayne Allen. Fleener, along with every other Colts pass catcher, struggled mightily among the circus that was the Colts QB situation. Frankly, I toss 2015 aside, and focus more on his 2nd and 3rd years in the league. His TE6 finish in 2014 was produced while ranking 12th in targets and 16th in receptions. His eight TDs surely helped matters, but when looking into what could be in New Orleans, it’s important to note he’ll be teaming up with one of the best QBs of the last decade. It’s well known how Brees loves to work with tight ends, most recently resurrecting the career of 35 year old Benjamin Watson (T-TE7/2015). No slight to Watson, but if that’s what he can be do in the Saints offense, it only makes sense to roll with Fleener as a major bounceback candidate. I fully expect Fleener to be a top 10 TE in 2016, with top 5 potential.
Other TEs to check in on:
Ladarius Green, PIT – age (25) – 6’6″, 238 lbs.
Ladarius now has a new home with one of the best offenses in the league. The subtraction of WR Martavis Bryant surely gives Green a bump heading into 2016 with other unproven options trying to fill the shoes. I believe we could see Green 3rd in the pecking order behind Brown and Bell. If Green can stay healthy, he could very well be in line for much more involvement than he’s used to seeing in Antonio Gates’ shadow. I’m looking to get in touch with Green owners to gauge asking prices, but the Green/PIT overreaction may be too inflated to jump on.
Maxx Williams, BAL – age (21) – 6’4″, 250 lbs.
A 2nd round pick in last year’s draft, Williams is the future at TE for Baltimore. His price is likely at it’s lowest point with the addition of Benjamin Watson in free agency. The Ravens don’t shy away from deploying multiple tight ends, but with Watson, Williams, Gillmore, and even Dennis Pitta, the abundance of options clouds the short term outlook for XX. I’d inquire now and stash him for the future.
Dwayne Allen, IND – age (26) – 6’3″, 265 lbs.
With Coby Fleener off to New Orleans, Allen finally finds himself as the primary receiving option at the position. He has shown flashes in the past of massive upside in the red zone, scoring eight touchdowns on only 29 receptions in 2014. With a fresh contract on the books, Allen will become one of Andrew Luck’s most trusted targets in the red area. The only question, is how involved he’ll be with the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Philip Dorsett, and Donte Moncrief drawing looks. Allen’s dynasty outlook is trending upward, and with one of the bright, young stars throwing him the ball, I’m more than willing to take a look into acquiring Allen.