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Target Regression Candidates - Tight End

Fantasy Football Rule No. 271: A pass-catcher cannot catch passes unless he is targeted.

The “target” was not a stat I remember fantasy football players worrying about in the 1990s or early 2000s, though. It was not a stat on a tight end’s line when you checked his numbers in the box score or on the back of his football card. But the target has become part of the fantasy football lexicon in recent years; we all know that the tight ends whose target totals are higher have more opportunities to catch passes, make plays, rack up yards and score touchdowns.

Fantasy players have to be aware of the tight ends who might not be aimed at as much this season as they were last season. So which tight ends are target regression candidates heading into the NFL’s 2019 campaign? Here is a look at the list:

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Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts

2018 Stats: 66 receptions, 750 yards, 13 TD, 110 targets

Ebron was a major disappointment during his first four years in the NFL when he was a member of the Detroit Lions. Fantasy players and Lions fans expected much more than 10 touchdowns out of him over that span. Then he pairs up with Andrew Luck and Ebron finds the end zone as often as the police find drunk drivers on New Year's Eve.  He topped all tight ends in touchdowns as he was virtually unstoppable in the red zone.

The problem: During the first month-plus of last season, Ebron was not on the field as often as incumbent starting tight end Jack Doyle was. Doyle missed the bulk of the season due to major injuries, but he should be all systems go for Week 1. So Ebron will have a harder time duplicating his 110 targets and 13 touchdowns than Carrot Top would have making people laugh without any props. With Ebron splitting time and targets with Doyle, who has been a valuable get in PPR leagues when he is healthy, a regression to 85 targets and 7-8 touchdowns is likely, especially when T.Y. Hilton is still the No. 1 WR and Devin Funchess was signed to be the No. 2 WR.


Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints

2018 Stats:  68 receptions, 896 yards, 6 TD, 101 targets

Like a fine Pinot Noir, Cook has gotten better with age. He was a middle-of-the-road fantasy TE during stints in Tennessee, St. Louis and Green Bay, but he easily had the best year of his NFL career in 2018 with the Oakland Raiders. Cook was the one and only option in Oakland’s passing attack once Amari Cooper was traded to the Dallas Cowboys, and he was force-fed David Carr passes throughout the second half of the season. Cook finished with new career-highs in every major fantasy category and broke the 100-target plateau for the first time in his pro life.

The problem: What problem, right? Now Cook is the starting tight end for a New Orleans juggernaut that is always among the league leaders in points and yardage, and he has future Hall of Famer Drew Brees throwing pinpoint passes to him. Brees and Jimmy Graham were one of the best QB-TE combos over the past decade when the latter was with the Saints, so Brees has shown that he will throw to his tight end if he has a good or great one. So what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is New Orleans just gave top target Michael Thomas a gazillion dollars. Thomas eats up 10 targets per game. Ultra-talented tailback Alvin Kamara has broken the 100-target barrier in each of his first two seasons, so you know he is getting his touches. Cook will be the third option in the Saints passing game, but there is no way he will have another triple-digit target total like he did in 2018, especially with No. 2 WR Ted Ginn returning after an injury-plagued season and young receivers Tre-Quan Smith and Keith Kirkwood likely to improve.


Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

2018 Stats: 64 receptions, 634 yards, 4 TD, 82 targets

Fantasy owners did not even know if Rudolph was going to return to Minnesota as there were so many rumors about him being traded or released this offseason that you would have thought TMZ would have covered his situation. Yet Rudolph ended up signing a four-year contract extension for multimillions that ensures he will be sticking around for a while. So, heading into the upcoming season the steady, solid Rudolph will probably ranked as a top-10 tight end by many fantasy experts.

The problem: Minnesota selected Irv Smith Jr. in the second round of this past April’s NFL draft. While Smith might not suddenly become O.J. Howard overnight, the fact is that he is a much bigger threat to Rudolph’s target total than Tyler Conklin was last year or David Morgan was the year before. Considering wideouts Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs get most of quarterback Kirk Cousins attention these days anyway, do not be surprised if Rudolph’s target number is in the 70-75 range in 2019 now that Smith Jr. will slice into it. Long gone are the days when Sam Bradford would throw only to Rudolph when he piled up an ungodly 132 targets back in 2016. He figures to be a high-end TE2 more than a weekly fantasy starter.

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