Fantasy Football: 3 Undrafted Tight Ends to Target, Presented By The Contender
The tight end position is all about underdogs. In traditional fantasy football leagues, at least.
When you join a 10- or 12-team league and you need to start only a single tight end in a week, you can avoid investing early draft capital in the position.
Yes, there's a case to be made for drafting Rob Gronkowski, but the mid-round tight ends don't always offer a significant edge over the late-round fliers. Plus, there's always the angle of streaming the position, by which I mean picking up a new tight end from the waiver wire and playing him.
Matchups and game script (primarily being on the home team and favored) can lead to big fantasy games from tight ends.
These three options are going undrafted in 12-team PPR leagues (via FantasyFootballCalculator). But they can help you find a fantasy championship in 2018.
Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders
Cook, now 31 years old, tested as an athletic freak at the combine. Maybe Gruden was commenting more on Cook's sprightliness at his age than simply not realizing that Cook is a more-than-capable receiving tight end. Hopefully.
Anyway. Cook is in a spot to produce for the Raiders, who are favored in 8 of their first 15 games. Playing on a favorite is a good sign for a tight end, so that's a plus for Cook, who finished as the TE12 last season in PPR leagues.
Cook did, though, average 7.32 half-PPR points as an underdog last year, compared to 5.97 as a favorite, according to Rotoviz' Game Splits App, but he averaged 5.71 targets as a favorite and 5.11 as an underdog, a healthy number in either split. That 5.71 targets per game mark would've ranked him eighth at the position last year, for context.
Cook is projected as our TE16 in 2018, just 12 fantasy points shy of the TE12. Cook will have viable games when the matchup dictates, and he won't cost you a thing in your draft.
Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills
Forget everything I just said about liking tight ends on teams that are favored. Charles Clay's Buffalo Bills are favored in just two games this year (Week 9 against the Chicago Bears and Week 14 against the New York Jets).
Last season, Clay averaged 5.69 targets per game, ninth-most among tight ends, and he's averaged at least a 20% target market share in his three seasons with Buffalo, according to AirYards.com. The volume is there, making him less touchdown-dependent than pretty much every other non-elite tight end option.
Clay drew 6 targets from inside the 10-yard line last year in just 13 games, and he posted a 16.9% target market share inside the red zone (it was 24.6% in 2016). A significant portion of the few touchdowns the Bills will score could go his way.
Clay is our TE13 on the season, even with a low touchdown projection of just 3.29.
Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers
Back to a strong offense. Vance McDonald will need to contend with a plethora of high-usage options within his offense (Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, namely). McDonald is also dealing with a foot injury and struggled with injuries in 2017, limiting him to 10 games and 24 targets. So what gives?
Well, McDonald got traded from the San Francisco 49ers to the Pittsburgh Steelers in late August last year, so he didn't have much time to acclimate to his new team -- even if he were healthy throughout the season. We can kind of overlook some of the red flags from last season.
More positively, don't forget that McDonald is going undrafted. It's hard to hate that. Vance did see a third of his 24 targets come from inside the 35 last season, including 5 red zone targets. That's some nice usage in a small regular-season sample for him.
Then there's the playoffs. In Pittsburgh's lone playoff game, a 45-42 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, McDonald garnered 16 targets, which he turned into 10 catches and 112 yards. The team also anticipates a big role for McDonald in 2018 -- again, provided that he's healthy.
Oh, and about tight ends on favorites? The Steelers are favored in 13 of 15 games from Weeks 1 through 16, and they're not bigger than a 1-point underdog in any of them. If he develops a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger early in the season, don't be afraid to buy into the athletic tight end.