The tight end position is a very tumultuous position, as there are mixed opinions on tight end draft strategy. You have a very segregated, yet uneven, tier system within the standard rankings. Rob Gronkowski is in a tier of his own with 169 projected standard points (see Ben Howell’s coverage here: To Gronk or not to Gronk?). The next closest tight ends are Greg Olsen with 134 standard projected points, and Jordan Reed with 126. After that, there is a whopping nine tight ends projected to score between 114 and 100 standard points this year. It’s not that projections are everything, but they’re a piece of the puzzle. This article will highlight some of the later round TEs that can surpass their average draft positions. ADP data was found using www.fantasypros.com
Zach Ertz (ADP – TE#10, Overall #96)
There’s a lot of excitement surrounding Zach Ertz this year. In 2015, under the leadership pf Chip Kelly, Ertz produced a stat line of 75 receptions for 853 yards and 2TDs. While the lack of touchdowns is concerning, there have been a few changes in Philadelphia since the 2015 system which may increase his touchdown totals
Doug Pederson is now the coach for the Eagles. He traditionally runs a system that favors the tight end position. Sam Bradford is back as the presumed starting quarterback. One of his strengths has always been short, accurate throws, which plays into Ertz’s game quite well. Furthermore, Ertz is projected to be the second read on many plays, as Jordan Matthews is his primary competition for targets. Ertz finished the 2015 season strong, amassing 450 yards on 37 receptions over the final 4 games.
Zach Ertz has as much upside as anyone could hope for, and if the aforementioned scenarios come to fruition, he could easily surpass his draft position.
Julius Thomas (ADP – TE#11, Overall #97)
Julius Thomas clearly possesses TE1 level talent. The issue is that he rarely stays on the field, as he’s suffered various injuries over the past few seasons. His peak was during the 2014 season, where he played 14 games for the Denver Broncos catching 12 TDs from Peyton Manning.
Thomas was set to have a strong 2015 season with the Jaguars, but ultimately missed the first month of the season after breaking his hand in the second preseason game. However, despite missing four games, he managed to secure 46 receptions for 455 yards and 5 TDs.
Standing at 6’5” 260 lbs., Thomas is a natural red zone target for Blake Bortles. Thomas should have no problem replacing Allen Hurns as the second preferred red zone aerial target, as Allen Hurns is best suited in the deep threat role. While Allen Robinson should get the majority of red zone targets, Thomas will get his fair share of touchdown opportunities this year. Draft Thomas with a strong backup plan in case of another injury, but reap the rewards while he’s healthy.
Dwayne Allen (ADP – TE#18, Overall #123)
With fellow tight end Coby Fleener joining the New Orleans Saints, Dwayne Allen is the starting TE for the Indianapolis colts. When the Colts had both tight ends, Fleener and Allen were in a dreaded “tight-end by committee”, with neither being able to become a primary focus in the offense. However, now the Colts are expected to run plenty of three wide receiver/one TE sets, as they are primarily an aerial attack team.
Dwayne Allen represents a big body for Andrew Luck in the red zone, as the other Colts WR are not particularly large in stature. While relying on touchdown opportunities is unreliable, we know that the Colts’ will accumulate fantasy points as long as a healthy Andrew Luck is leading the team. Expect Allen to emerge as a legitimate TE1 with plenty of upside, especially should an injury occur to any of the starting three wide receivers in Indianapolis. Typically drafted as the 18th tight end off the board, Allen has a great opportunity to return some high touchdown value.
Eric Ebron (ADP – TE#17, Overall #136)
It’s been a very odd training camp for Eric Ebron. On August 6th, Ebron reportedly suffered a torn Achilles tendon, and had to be carted off the field. Early projections were that he was going to miss the entire 2016 season. Days later, Ebron appears to have avoided any serious injury, and has been seen attending practice without a walking boot, cast, or any mobility aids. While his health should be monitored going forward into drafts, it appears that he has a minor ankle injury that should be healed by the start of the season.
With the departure of Calvin Johnson and his 149 targets from 2015, the Detroit Lions have been figuring out their new wide receiver corps, adding both Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin this offseason. However, Ebron stands to benefit greatly from Johnson’s retirement, despite the wide receiver signings. A physically gifted athlete, the weakness in Ebron’s game has always been his lack of concentration and propensity to drop easy catches.
Entering his third year, Ebron had an outstanding training camp, and the opportunity is clearly present. Just like Dwayne Allen, the Detroit wide receiver group is a smaller group, which may lead to Ebron becoming a favorite red zone target for Matthew Stafford. If he can avoid the injury bug and keep his concentration, Ebron can make the leap in his third year in the league, and show everyone why the Lions spent a first round pick on him in 2014.
Vance McDonald (ADP – TE#29, Overall #192)
This is a deep sleeper. Entering his third year in the league, Vance McDonald showed some great rapport with Blaine Gabbert towards the end of the 2015 season. With Gabbert starting in week 9, McDonald compiled a total of 23 catches/281 yards/3 TDs in 7 games. While those aren’t jaw dropping stats, the key is that McDonald has increased opportunity in San Francisco.
Chip Kelly utilizes his tight end position frequently as an offensive weapon (see: Zach Ertz 2015 season). Furthermore, the other TEs on the roster with him are Garrett Celek and Bruce Miller, who are both expected to be utilized with blocking roles. An able blocker who ran a 4.69 second 40-yard dash at the 2013 combine, McDonald also possesses soft hands who seemed to have a developing rapport with Gabbert. The San Francisco quarterback competition is far from decided, but Gabbert appears to be the early favorite and is having a strong training camp. If Gabbert wins the competition, look to McDonald to have a viable TE2 season.