Fantasy Football: 3 Tight Ends to Consider Late in Your Draft
In 2019, more than ever before, there may be a groundswell of feeling that if you don't land a top-tier tight end in the early rounds of your drafts, then you may as well pack up and go home before the season even starts. According to Fantasy Football Calculator's average draft position data for half-PPR leagues, Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz are all going off the board within the first 36 selections. By the time the 66th selection has been made, you've also lost O.J. Howard, Evan Engram and Hunter Henry. So surely you must to take one of these guys when you get the chance, right?
Sure, it would be nice to land one of those top-six tight ends. Kelce, Kittle and Ertz were awesome last season, while the other three could be headed for breakout seasons. But it is really not necessary to panic and overdraft any of these players.
There's reasons to believe that the Holy Trinity of Kelce, Kittle and Ertz will all be worse than they were last season. But even accounting for this, there are tight ends available at the very end of drafts who, while not offering the riches a Kelce or a Howard could deliver, can still be solid weekly contributors on your fantasy teams. Here are three of my favorite such tight ends.
Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons
It's a bit surprising that Austin Hooper hasn't generating much buzz after his career year in 2018. Hooper set new career highs across the board, finishing with 71 receptions for 660 yards and four touchdowns. He was the TE8 in PPR points per game, chipping in with 10.1 points per outing while enjoying a near 80% snap share for the Atlanta Falcons. He had 12 top-24 weeks in 2018, finishing as the overall TE1 in Week 6.
Hooper led all tight ends with an 80.7% catch rate, and he caught nine of his 13 red-zone targets a year ago. He was squarely in the middle of the pack, according to our metrics. In terms of Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target last season, he ranked sixth (0.60) out of the 11 tight ends who saw at least 50 targets.
He was used as mostly a downfield option, finishing 10th at the tight end position in total air yards, according to Playerprofiler.This could be set to continue in 2019, with Dirk Koetter assuming the duties of the Falcons offensive coordinator. Koetter has long been an aficionado of the deep ball.
The Falcons' wide receiver duo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley seem likely to command much of the attention of opposing defenses as well as most of the Falcons' targets. We have them ranked as WR4 and WR27, respectively. But Hooper has established a solid connection with quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan averages 8.22 adjusted yards per attempt when targeting Hooper over the last three seasons. Plus, as previously mentioned, Ryan has liked to look for Hooper in scoring areas.
Hooper's current ADP of TE12 in half-PPR leagues, at the beginning of the 11th round, represents an excellent and low-cost way of gaining exposure to what projects to be a high-scoring Falcons offense in the coming year. Our rankings have the Falcons as the seventh-best passing offense heading into the season.
Chris Herndon, New York Jets
It's very uncommon for a rookie tight end to produce in the modern NFL. It's even more uncommon for a tight end on the New York Jets to produce at all. That's why the performance of Chris Herndon last season deserves a lot of plaudits. Herndon caught 39 passes in 2018, amassing 502 yards and four touchdowns along the way.
Between Week 6 and Week 16, Herndon was the TE7 in PPR scoring thanks to five games with more than 10 PPR points. The highlight of this run was him finishing as the overall TE3 in Week 16. Herndon caught six of his seven targets for 82 yards and touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in that one.
Herndon played on less than 62% of the Jets' snaps last season, a share that saw him below 29 other players at his position. But in terms of targets per snap, he was 17th. Herndon finished inside the top 10 in yards per reception and yards per target, at 12.9 and 9.0, respectively. Herndon displayed an excellent connection with fellow rookie Sam Darnold. Darnold boasted a mark of 10.92 adjusted yards per attempt mark whenever he looked Herndon's way last season.
Herndon projects to be someone who the Jets can look to further down the field -- if his usage last season is anything to go by. Among the 19 tight ends to have seen at least 50 targets in 2018, only Mark Andrews and Rob Gronkowski averaged more air yards per target than Herndon did (5.8).
Herndon is not currently being drafted. He is serving a four-game suspension to open the season, which should be the main reason for him being left on the shelf. But given his chemistry with Darnold and the production he flashed as a rookie, Herndon is definitely a player I would be comfortable taking a late-round flyer on, with a view to stashing him until he is able to return. You could probably just about get by with a Darren Waller or Jordan Reed until then if you can sacrifice the bench spot it would cost to keep Herndon.
Ricky Seals-Jones, Arizona Cardinals
I'm not going to sugar coat this in the slightest. Ricky Seals-Jones was bad last season. I mean, really bad. Seals-Jones was one of 19 tight ends to see at least 50 targets last year. No one in that group posted a lower Reception NEP per target mark than his mark of 0.33. But the Arizona Cardinals' offense was bad across the board in 2018, so it seems unfair to pick on him.
Seals-Jones managed a disappointing 34 receptions on 70 targets for 343 yards last season. He scored just one touchdown. But he was hampered by inaccurate (to be polite) quarterback play. According to Playerprofiler, only 45 of his 70 targets (64.3%) were catchable. A whopping 36 tight ends enjoyed a higher rate of seeing passes they could actually do something with last season.
On the bright side, Seals-Jones was featured heavily when he was on the field. He played on less than 60% of the Cardinals' snaps, but his target-to-snap rate of 15% was the fifth-best at the tight end position.
The Cardinals' wide receiver corps for 2019 has not been able to produce much by way of positive buzz of late. Rookie Hakeem Butler will miss the entire season with a finger injury, while fellow first year wideout Andy Isabella remains a "work in progress," according to reports. This leaves future Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk as the leading pass catchers, despite the team's signing of Michael Crabtree.
But this is a new offense under Kliff Kingsbury, and Kirk's familiarity with an air-raid system from his college days may make him the de facto number-one option out wide for the Cards. Still, we should not forget that Seals-Jones is also familiar with the scheme, having spent his collegiate career in Kevin Sumlin's version of the air raid for Texas A&M. Seals-Jones played wide receiver for the Aggies, finishing his time there with 123 receptions for 1,442 yards. He also scored 10 touchdowns.
Now, we do need to be a little wary of RSJ, because there's been some chatter about him being on the roster bubble. He was even left off a recent 53-man roster projection. But assuming he survives cuts, he has some appeal as, at worst, a solid streamer in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, and maybe he could be more as the year progresses.
Seals-Jones is, like Herndon, going undrafted at present. But if one has high hopes for the Cardinals' offense under Kingsbury and Kyler Murray, then he is a discount way of landing a piece of this attack. He is also aided by the Cardinals' potentially awful defense and a helpful schedule. The Cardinals face the second easiest schedule for tight ends in the entire NFL, according to our projections.