4 Ideal Trade Destinations for David Njoku's Fantasy Football Value
When Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku requested the team trade him this past Friday, many people’s hopes to see him rejuvenated in new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s two-tight end offense were dashed.
The former first-round pick out of Miami (FL) appeared set to play second fiddle to newly signed Austin Hooper, in an offense that supported two tight ends last year in 800-plus snap roles. Njoku himself picked up 639 receiving yards and 4 scores on 56 receptions (88 targets) in a full season in 2018. He then suffered a concussion and broken wrist in 2019, only to wind up out of the former regime's favor to wrap up the season. Only 23, Njoku still appears to have an as-of-yet untapped upside, and he seems determined to part with the Browns in order to reach it.
So, if Cleveland accedes to his request, which teams would be the best landing spots for Njoku in fantasy football?
The teams below are ones that will use the tight end well and don’t have an entrenched starter due to either production or money invested. One metric that helps us identify good tight ends is the difference between Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) and Target NEP, which I’ll call “Isolated Reception NEP” in this piece.
NEP itself is a metric that describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s expected points total. By adding down-and-distance value to the box score production, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.
Reception NEP looks only at the value added when a player catches the ball, so subtracting Target NEP – the value of all passes targeting that player – from Reception NEP somewhat isolates individual player contributions from the team passing attack as a whole.
So, we want an offense whose tight ends generated low Isolated Reception NEP in the past, doesn’t have money already invested in the position, but still feeds a lot of targets to the tight end position. In addition, Njoku was 6th and 10th, respectively, in Average Depth of Target (aDOT) in his two full seasons, per AirYards.com, so a team that can use his vertical field-stretching athleticism is ideal.
Who fits the bill?
Many people have drawn the connection from Njoku’s camp to the Dallas Cowboys already, and not without good reason. America’s Team afforded the ninth-most targets to a tight end last year but allowed Jason Witten to walk in free agency, leaving a gaping hole at the position.
Detractors will point to the $22.6 million, four-year contract Blake Jarwin just signed, but this deal made Jarwin only the 17th-highest-paid tight end. Jarwin and veteran blocker Blake Bell ranked just 25th and 82nd in Reception NEP per target among the 85 tight ends to see at least 10 targets in 2019. Neither are huge threats to bring the Cowboys’ team Isolated Reception NEP up from eighth-lowest last year.
An athletic pass-catcher like Njoku would be a great fit for quarterback Dak Prescott, whose aDOT last year was fifth-highest among quarterbacks to attempt 200 or more passes. He might still have to split time with Jarwin, but Njoku’s average-or-better run blocking along with his versatility to play inline, flex out to the slot, or line up out wide would still likely earn him more than the 40 targets we have him projected for on the Browns.
New England Patriots
There’s a huge step down from the Cowboys to the New England Patriots in terms of landing spot, but there is still plenty of pass-catching opportunity here for a talented player like Njoku to seize. New England afforded just the third-fewest targets to tight ends last season, but that can be somewhat forgiven considering the top options were the husk of Benjamin Watson and unproven journeyman Matt LaCosse.
New England enters this season with almost 30 percent of their targets from last year vacated by free agent departures or retirements. While some of those will be claimed by 2019 injury returnees and the rookie third-round tight ends Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi, it’s also fair to assume that some of aging veteran Julian Edelman's 26-percent target share will be redistributed as well (we project him for around 20 percent this season).
Whether it’s Cam Newton or Jarrett Stidham under center, there will almost certainly be fewer pass attempts than last season. Still, even the projected loss of attempts leaves around 200 targets to distribute. Njoku’s receiving ability would provide an excellent security blanket for whichever passer the Pats dub the starter, and he could be leaned on fairly heavily.
New York Jets
The New York Jets’ tight end situation is basically a carbon copy of New England's: bottom-two Isolated Reception NEP in 2019, bottom three in targets allotted to the position, and bottom-five in current positional spending. Njoku would be a huge shot in the arm for this offense and quarterback Sam Darnold.
Chris Herndon figures to be the team’s top tight end this season, but he is hardly a lock for a premier role. Herndon saw just two targets before spending the rest of last season on the injury recovery table. Prior to that, Herndon posted a 0.71 Reception NEP per target among tight ends in 2018, which would’ve been the 20th-best rate last year. The Jets did draft wide receiver Denzel Mims in the second round and signed Breshad Perriman, but nearly 50 percent of last year’s target share is up for grabs.
Even though Darnold’s 2019 aDOT was a middling 15th among 33 qualifying passers, Njoku could still find a role in a platoon with Herndon, or even as a large receiver, if Mims isn’t yet ready to start. Beating his Browns projection of 40 targets would be well within reach on the Jets.
Green Bay Packers
People may point to the Green Bay Packers’ recent lack of use of the tight end spot as evidence that this team is a black hole for the position. Still, when the depth chart for pass-catchers is so jumbled behind Davante Adams, it’s not impossible to imagine a fantasy value for David Njoku in green-and-gold.
The Packers had the 10th-lowest team Isolated Reception NEP from tight ends in 2019 but also threw to tight ends at the 9th-highest aDOT and are still spending the 10th-least at the position this year. This is arguably the second-best landing spot for Njoku, partly because they allotted nearly 100 targets to tight ends last season. Former third-rounder Jace Sternberger doesn’t yet have a lock on the starting role, veteran Marcedes Lewis is mainly a blocker and red-zone target at this stage of his career, and the Pack already have 25 percent of last year’s target share vacated.
Neither Sternberger nor Njoku are poor blockers, and the Packers’ apparent commitment to running the ball could provide opportunities for head coach Matt LaFleur to utilize multiple tight end sets. Maybe a large step forward is out of the question for Njoku, but 55 targets could easily be scrounged up from the heap of bodies the Packers have at pass-catcher in our projections.