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Nigel Eccles, Co-Founder, FanDuel
It's hard to believe that we're less than two weeks away from the start of the NFL regular season. For many fans, they're just now starting to pay attention. But for fantasy owners, for FOOTBALLGUYS, we're already many months into our preparation. As one of the contributors to the site's projections, I have had the entire league modeled and projected since late April. A LOT of things happen between then and the beginning of September. I, along with the other staff, tweak our projections and expectations in real-time. But it occurs to me that very little is ever said about the way our opinions change. This article, and others like it, will highlight qualitatively the assumptions that went into my initial projections that have since changed considerably. Enjoy.
On Second Thought...
Dennis Pitta’s (BAL) injury leaves a jumbled mess
Dennis Pitta led all NFL tight ends in receptions last year, but the star-crossed receiver got hurt again and is his career is probably over. The Ravens will now use a collection of injury-addled veterans like Ben Watson and Maxx Williams and unproven but enticing young players like Nick Boyle and Vince Mayle. None have redraft value, but that could change once we understand the respective snap counts.
Tyler Eifert (CIN) is healthy, we think
Eifert talked down his recovery earlier this year but was an active participant throughout most of the preseason. Just when things looked great, the Bengals held Eifert out of the third preseason game. Presuming his holdout was precautionary (as the coaches contended), Eifert is worth a Top 10 selection.
Jake Butt (DEN) won’t be a factor this year
Jake Butt reminds me a lot of Jason Witten, and I believe he’ll be a difference-making two-way tight end for years to come in Denver. Unfortunately, Butt is coming off a torn ACL, and the team appears ready to red-shirt him while veterans Virgil Green and A.J. Derby handle the position.
Eric Ebron (DET) is being over drafted
I was set to give Ebron another shot at redemption instead of perennially falling short of preseason hype. However, Ebron spent most of the summer in the trainer’s room and re-established why he’s not worth drafting as a fantasy starter. He’s unreliable, and even when he’s on the field he may be fifth in the pecking order behind Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, and 3rd down back Theo Riddick.
Martellus Bennett (GB) has elite upside
I initially discounted Bennett’s fantasy upside because the Packers generally don’t produce relevant fantasy tight ends. However, Bennett’s career touchdown rate is significantly higher (in multiple stops) than Jared Cook’s, and even in limited snaps, Bennett could push for TE1 value.
Mychal Rivera (JAX) is not a fantasy sleeper
Mychal Rivera flashed with the Raiders but never had a snap count high enough to generate fantasy relevance. When he signed with Jacksonville, I expected Rivera could surprise with enough targets to create TE2 value; and be worth starting in bye weeks. A quiet offseason has soured me on that outlook.
Travis Kelce (KC) is neck and neck with Rob Gronkowski for top honors
Kelce was assured a large target share entering the preseason, but when Jeremy Maclin was released things got even better. Barring injury Kelce should be the most targeted tight end in football and needs only minor positive touchdown regression to vault past Gronkowski for #1 honors.
Hunter Henry (SD) is a Top 10 tight end but has a limited ceiling
Henry has the talent to be the best fantasy tight end in the NFL, but the situation precludes it. Top fantasy tight ends almost always benefit from a disproportionate target share, and the Chargers have too many other options. Aside from a deep, wide receiver corps, Antonio Gates will continue to play meaningful snaps, particularly in the red zone.
Julius Thomas (MIA) isn’t worth drafting in the majority of leagues
Thomas had back-to-back 10+ touchdown seasons playing for Adam Gase in Denver, and everyone – myself included – got giddy at the thought of reuniting Thomas and Gase in Miami. The potential remains, but Thomas’ injury history and the depth at receiver leave Thomas as a waiver wire option.
Dwayne Allen (NE) has redraft value
Martellus Bennett was the #7 fantasy tight end last year and Aaron Hernandez was a Top 10 option years ago, so there is a precedent for the Patriots #2 tight end having fantasy value. I was skeptical of Allen’s value because it looked like New England was going to transition to more 3-WR and 4-WR sets with the acquisition of Brandin Cooks. Julian Edelman’s injury changes the outlook back to more 2-TE sets, which means Allen can sustain relevance in deeper leagues even with a healthy Rob Gronkowski.
Evan Engram (NYG) may be the rare rookie tight end with redraft value
Even the best tight ends in league history struggled as rookies, so I discounted Engram in my initial projections. However, Engram has been a highlight machine throughout training camp, and you can’t go a single day with beat writers raving about Engram’s maturity. The coaches have praised his pass blocking, which is the key to getting on the field for the majority of snaps. Engram isn’t likely to be a Top 10 fantasy commodity, but he’s got a better shot at breaking out in Year One than the other vaunted rookie tight ends.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (NYJ) has fantasy value by default
The Jets are a train wreck, but someone has to catch the 450-500 targets that will be thrown by the collection of moribund passers. Sefarian-Jenkins has the size and aggressive “my ball” mentality to serve as the top option, particularly in short yardage and goal line situations. The enigmatic tight end was the best offensive player in training camp and should step into a significant role after serving his two-game suspension.
Zach Ertz (PHI) will vault into elite status
Ertz has been a Top-10 tight end for several years, but he is likely to move into the elite tier this year barring injury. He’s been the Eagles best offensive player throughout the summer, and it hasn’t been close. With Jordan Matthews in Buffalo and Alshon Jeffery oft-injured, Ertz will be among the league’s most targeted tight ends. Expect a Top 5 season; it’s his baseline outlook.
Vance McDonald (SF) saved his job, not that we should care
McDonald was no lock to make the 53-man roster a few months ago as the new coaches prioritized a youth movement. To McDonald’s credit, he embraced the challenge and the public calls for his job, and not only saved his roster spot but kept his starting role. He’s not a fantasy commodity, but he will help the 49ers rushing attack.
Jimmy Graham (SEA) can push for the #1 fantasy spot again
Graham’s return from an Achilles tear is the new benchmark for recovery. Most worried he would never fully recover, but last year he worked his way back to health and managed a low-end TE1 season in the process. This year, he’s 100% healthy and displaying the explosiveness that made him better than most NFL wide receivers. Graham can establish himself alongside Doug Baldwin as Russell Wilson’s favorite target, particularly in the red zone.
Cameron Brate (TB) remains relevant in deeper leagues
When the Buccaneers drafted O.J. Howard many – myself included – thought Brate’s days in Tampa Bay were numbered. We were wrong. Howard isn’t ready to contribute, and Brate was the team’s most consistent pass catcher in the summer.
Delanie Walker (TEN) is a high-risk proposition as a TE1
Walker has three straight Top 10 fantasy seasons but is being over drafted because few appreciate how much his situation has changed. His success has been born from an unusually high target share thanks to a shallow receiving corps. With Eric Decker and Corey Davis joining the ranks, Walker is now just one cog in a multi-spoke wheel. He’ll still be among Marcus Mariota’s favorite targets, but it’s unclear whether he’ll see a workload capable of retaining high-end TE1 value.
Jordan Reed (WAS) has a busted toe, and we shouldn’t be surprised
Reed spent most of the preseason on the PUP list and returned to practice right before the team’s third preseason game. While healthy for now, a special orthotic shoe and talk of a broken foot cloud an already risky outlook. It’s impossible to rank Reed as a Top 5 tight end in spite of his unquestioned talent.