Be it work, love, or deciding to quit eyeballing that autographed Barry Sanders jersey in the display window fives seconds before a grand piano that slips its poorly-tied knots 15 floors up crashes onto the very spot of the sidewalk at the front fo the store, we all get lucky.
This is especially true with fantasy sports.
Like that grand piano heeding the inexorable laws of gravity, luck can carry a ton of weight towards a final outcome. It doesn't mean we rely on it.
It also doesn't mean we should mistake skill for luck. Many fantasy players do when it comes to the final selections and waiver-wire choices of drafts.
These players should be calculated choices based on talent, potential playing-time, and upside. It's difficult for many fantasy players to get a bead on a player's talent. Add this elusive skill to the fact that late-round picks often lack clear-cut opportunities, and it's why many fantasy players attribute successful late-round options as outcomes completely based on luck.
It's the excuse that fantasy players have to avoid cultivating a good end-game with their drafts.
Most re-draft leagues have 20 rounds. Today won't be a discussion about the strategy to take with the final five picks of your draft but a look at Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard, one player who should be a part of your end-game for your draft plan—and the multiple plans where he's an excellent fit.
This must-have player hasn't been drafted in most leagues. We'll explore why, why it's an error, and how to capitalize.
Considered one of the two most talented tight end prospects of the 2017 NFL Draft class, Howard has some of the most impressive athletic ability of any tight end in the NFL. His run blocking and pass protection were at or near starting-caliber skill as a rookie. As a receiver, Howard's career average of 15.5 yards per catch is a reflection of his skill to stretch the field before or after the catch.
If he could have played a full 16 games in 2017 and 2018, he would have delivered consecutive seasons of fantasy starter production in all formats but 8-team leagues. Last year, Howard earned similar yardage as his previous two seasons but failed to earn more than one score before succumbing once again to injury.
There's no doubt that a healthy Howard who is targeted enough in his offense is capable of fantasy TE1 production. He's a sudden accelerator after the catch, powerful enough to break tackles, and fluid enough to win targets that lack pinpoint accuracy. In Year Two, Howard showed improvement as a route runner and rebounder after studying several of the top tight ends from recent seasons.
So, why hasn't he reached his potential? Aside from some lapses of concentration at the catch-point and with route running? The answer is...Fit
Yes, fit. Bruce Arians runs offenses that aren't fantasy-friendly for tight ends. Heath Miller in 2007 and 2009 are the only two times during his 19-year career as an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator that a tight end as earned starter-caliber production for fantasy leagues. In fact, Howard's 2019 season as the 24th-ranked option in fantasy leagues is the sixth-best fantasy campaign for Arians' tight ends.
However, we won't see Arians' offense in 2020 with Tom Brady under center. Brady will be running the show, which means a lot of schematic elements we've seen in New England. With Rob Gronkowski returning to the league to work with Brady, most expect Gronkowski to earn starter production.
Few are expecting it from Howard, but it has been definitively stated in June that Tampa will use two tight ends in its base offense. Even if it wasn't this explicitly mentioned, it would have been more surprising if Brady and the Buccaneers didn't leverage its combined strengths at tight end as New England did in the past with Gronowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Both Buccaneer tight ends have the skills to play either role and they create more mismatches as flexible pieces than promising young slot option Scotty Miller. A speedy, big-play slot receiver who can win after the catch, Miller showed glimpses of his potential with big plays in Weeks 6, 10, 11, and 15 last year.
He's considered the front-runner for the third receiver job in Tampa and it's a great fit in theory because Miller's vertical skill creates matchup advantages against safeties, but he's a compelling enough speedster to do work outside and move Chris Godwin inside where he can exploit matchups in the slot.
In practice, the Buccaneers use of sets with two tight ends as its base package means that even when it spreads the field with four-receivers, Miller's title as the No.3 receiver actually places him fifth or sixth in the pecking order behind Godwin, Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and possibly Ronald Jones II or Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Much of the time, he won't even be on the field because the base package will often present run-oriented or short-passing looks to bait the defense into specific personnel and allow Brady to change the play to create mismatches.
From its two-tight-end packages, Brady will shift Gronkowski and/or Howard around the formation to create three- and four-receiver sets. Expect several packages where one of the tight ends moves to the outside, Godwin shifts into the slot, and the other tight end stays as an in-line option so Godwin gets a mismatch against a nickel back or safety.
Another example is to run from the base package and earn enough success to force the defense to use heavier personnel. Then Brady can up the tempo, and shift to three- or four-receiver sets where Howard and/or Gronkowski split outside and Godwin and Evans play inside with the aim of forcing one safety or linebacker into a massive mismatch. This is why Miller is the likely No.3 receiver on paper but not one of the top-four options in practice.
An injury to one of the wide receivers could create a big opportunity for Miller whereas, with Cameron Brate still a part of the Buccaneers roster, it would take injuries to two tight ends before the Buccaneers abandoned a heavier dosage of 12 personnel. It means the Buccaneers have greater depth to continue running its base package.
An injury to Godwin or Evans is likely the only path where Miller could deliver as the NFC South's version of Deion Branch, an option capable of 700-800 yards and 4-6 scores. Miller is a more intriguing football talent than a fantasy talent at the moment. Monitoring the health of the Buccaneers' tight ends and wide receivers in August to determine if Miller becomes a worthwhile pick or waiver-wire option.
Gronkowski and Hernandez were the Nos. 5 and 9 fantasy options at the position as Patriots rookies in 2010 and Nos. 1 and 3 in 2011. If Hernandez didn't get hurt in 2012, he was on pace for another top-5 fantasy season and would have joined Gronkowski, 2012's the No.2 option.
Let's also not forget when Martellus Bennett earned the No.7 fantasy spot among tight ends for the Patriots in 2016. Although Gronkowski missed eight games and posted goose eggs in two more, he and Bennett each had fantasy-worthy production during the same game in three of those contests and alternated starter value in three others.
New England wanted to pair Gronkowski and Bennett to reprise its earlier two-tight-end magic but injuries limited the outcome.
The value of 12 personnel as a base package hasn't declined since the Patriots used them, it's difficult to have two versatile tight ends on the same team who can do everything at the highest level and a quarterback who can make the best adjustments based on pre-snap reads. When a team like Tampa Bay has these resources, it becomes one of the most difficult base packages to defend for the reasons stated above.
This doesn't mean that Evans or Godwin's production will suffer greatly. In the fantasy mix as New England's top wide receiver during this three-year stint with Gronkowski-Hernandez was Wes Welker, who earned a top-3, top-12, and top-24 finish as a slot receiver. This should get you thinking about Godwin, who has expertise in the slot and will get moved inside when Gronkowski and/or Howard shift to the perimeter.
With Arians handing this offense to Brady in the same way the Broncos handed its scheme to Peyton Manning, the routinely undrafted Howard potentially becomes a massive bargain.
Although Howard's production among the top four most talented receiving options on the team will likely be the most variable if Gronkowski stays healthy, there's ample reason to make Howard an end-game priority for your drafts. Because Howard is a good enough blocker and not as accomplished a route runner as Gronkowski at this point in his career, most fantasy players are writing off this superb talent. They know Brady has a better rapport with Gronkowski and will lead to fewer red-zone opportunities.
Although Gronkowski dominated with 17 scores in 2011, Hernandez still earned 7 and then 5 the next year to Gronkowski's 11. Only 13 tight ends earned at least 5 touchdowns in 2019. Only 8 earned that figure in 2018 and only 12 in 2017.
Are you beginning to grasp the big picture?
If Howard and Gronkowski play to their potentials, Brady could have one of the best receiving corps of his career. Using this base set in New England, Brady had a 5,235-yard and 42-touchdown (total) season in 2011 and a 4,827-yard, 38-touchdown (total) year in 2012.
Even with the injury-riddled campaigns for Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett in 2016, Brady earned 3,554 yards and 28 scores with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola at wide receiver. With skill talent in Tampa, Brady should be closer to 5,000 yards passing than 3,500 yards.
If the upside is a 5,000-yard season that includes 1,000-yard campaigns from four options, we're not outside the scope of realism. When Brady delivered 5,235 yards and 39 passing scores in 2011, Welker earned 1,539 yards, Gronkowski had 1,327 yards, Deion Branch had 702 yards, and Hernandez had 910 yards in 14 games.
Howard would only need 550-600 yards to earn top-10 fantasy production if Brady delivers a strong touchdown total that includes Howard in the mix with at least 5 scores. If Howard earns 700-900 yards and 6-9 scores, he could be a top-five player alongside Gronkowski.
Not bad for a player who isn't even drafted during the average 20-round formats before training camp. Considering that Brate remains on the team as the third option, Brate should be a top free-agent priority with a high floor and high ceiling if Gronkowski or Howard gets hurt.
I have been cautious about Howard's projected totals until I saw confirmation of the 12 personnel package as the base offense. I also gave Brate more touchdowns than Howard, thinking that Brate's past work in the red zone with Jameis Winston would translate even better with Brady.
However, I have come around to the point of view that Brate as a red-zone option is overthinking the situation and undervaluing Howard. Fortunately few are taking Howard in drafts so simply valuing his ceiling of potential as a top-10 tight end is alright.
Potential Draft Plans
Conservative Approach: Howard should be available as your final pick in 20-round formats. If you want to make sure you get him, he's still a bargain at any point during the final five rounds. Where to select him during these final five rounds isn't as important as why you're selecting him as part of your team build.
For the conservative drafter, Howard fits ideally as Gronowski's "backup" in case of injury and as your third tight end. Personally, I don't draft more than two tight ends so I'd be fine with streaming a bye-week option and rolling with the two Buccaneers even with a conservative approach.
However, if this will lead to you writing fantasy analysts for late-night therapy sessions, get a third option.
Still, if you take three and it's a PPR format, you may even want to go for a Kelce-Kittle-Ertz option, take Gronkowski in the middle rounds, and roll with Howard in the late rounds. This should give you trade bait to dictate what you want rather than relying on free agency.
Moderate Approach: Less than 10 fantasy points separated the No.12 tight end (Jason Witten) from the No.18 option (Jack Doyle) in 2019. In 2018, 12 points separated the 12th option from the 16th option. And the 11th and 18th options in 2017 were only 12 points apart. Knowing the tight margins between a low-end TE1 and a non-starter, streaming a tight end makes the most sense. You can grab a marquee option early or Gronkowski in the middle rounds—also a bargain before training camp (his July ADP is 83 overall and TE9) and wait until late for Howard.
This is how I'd roll, knowing that Brate will be available as a preemptive selection during the season.
Aggressive Approach: In a league where tight ends are required but they don't earn points per reception? Why not wait until the 15th round to take your first tight end and make it Howard? It opens you for an extra pick at receiver or running back, which could potentially give you desirable trade bait if Howard doesn't work out.
If Howard plays as expected, you have more depth, you can stream a bye-week tight end, and you have less work to do with the waiver wire.
While tight ends may not be "masterpiece" producers in your fantasy league if you're required to start one, Howard affords you one additional pick early on to get a player who could be that work of art for your season.
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