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2024 Fantasy Football Deep Sleepers: Tight End

Noah Fant - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Tight Ends, NFL Injury News

I know we say it every year, but this year, tight end is deep. I mean, Kyle Pitts is TE6, and George Kittle is TE7. Either one of those guys can finish as the overall TE1 this season. Then you’ve got guys like Evan Engram, Jake Ferguson, and Brock Bowers just behind them. The position goes about 10-deep this season. 

But, if you decide to “punt” the position, there are some solid options later on in your draft. These guys have flown under the radar a bit, but they should get some solid opportunities to produce this season. We’ve seen flashes from all of these guys, and each one has the athletic ability to make stuff happen.

Again, it’s not necessarily my favorite strategy. But if you miss out on a top-10 guy, don’t freak out because there are other options. Here are four of my favorite deep sleepers at the tight end position in 2024.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy football rankings for 2024 fantasy football drafts:

 

Noah Fant, Seattle Seahawks

There are so many reasons to get excited about Noah Fant in 2024. First, the Seahawks let his competition walk out the door. Colby Parkinson signed with the Rams, and Will Dissly signed with the Chargers. Seattle only added career-backup Pharaoh Brown and gave Fant a two-year, $21M contract with $11.49M guaranteed at signing. On paper, it sure looks like his role will change this season. 

Now you think about Ryan Grubb taking over as the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator. As offensive coordinator for the Washington Huskies in 2022 and 2023, Grubb’s offenses averaged 356.8 yards and 2.5 touchdowns on 41.3 passing attempts per game. Prior to Grubb’s arrival in Washington, the Huskies threw for just 225 yards and 1.3 touchdowns on 34.1 passing attempts per game in 2021. 

Grubb wants to score points by throwing the football, and he’s in the perfect NFL division to do so. In 2023, the 49ers and Rams were both top-10 in points per game. At Washington, Grubb’s teams went a combined 25-3, and they still threw the football a ton. So now, not only will he want to have a pass-heavy gameplan, but he’ll also inevitably be forced to throw to keep up with some offensive juggernauts. That’s awesome for Fant, who showed what he could do in a full-time role back in 2020 and 2021 with the Broncos. In those two seasons, he commanded an 18.3% target share on a 76% route participation rate. In comparison, Fant had just a 9.7% target share on a 57% route participation rate in the last two seasons in Seattle. 

Per PlayerProfiler, Fant’s best comp is George Kittle. Simply put, he’s an athletic freak. When identifying tight ends with upside, we should be looking for at least one of two things. The first is their athletic profile. Fant clearly checks that box.

The second is a little trickier, and that’s being a top-2 target earner on their team. Sometimes, third on the totem poll can produce fantasy relevance, but typically, top-2 is what we look for. That’s where things get a little dicey for Fant, with DK Metcalf, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Tyler Lockett all in the wide receiver room. 

Metcalf is the alpha in the room, but then there’s JSN, Lockett, and Fant. JSN has been receiving a lot of praise during camp, but he wasn’t great as a rookie. Lockett saw his efficiency drop tremendously for the first time last season. Per Jacob Gibbs, his open score dropped from 95 in 2022 to just 70 in 2023. If the Seahawks didn’t think Fant could handle a full-time role, they wouldn’t have let Parkinson and Dissly walk, and they wouldn’t have guaranteed him $11.49M. He should be on your radar if you decide not to snag a top-10 tight end in 2024.

Jonnu Smith, Miami Dolphins

Jonnu Smith’s career arc has been a roller coaster. He wasn’t a viable fantasy option until his fourth season with the Titans. That year, he caught 41 balls for 448 yards and eight touchdowns on 65 targets. Nothing to write home about, but a high-end TE2 nonetheless due to the increased route participation rate (65.4%) and 4th-most red zone targets (18) among tight ends. Then he signed a lucrative deal with the Patriots, who also brought in Hunter Henry that same offseason. That was a bit confusing, especially with Smith coming off a career year in Tennessee. 

He went from a 65.4% route participation rate to just a 31% route participation rate in two seasons with the Patriots. He didn’t command more than 45 targets in either season and was no longer a fantasy-relevant tight end. But then Arthur Smith and the Atlanta Falcons traded for Smith. With Kyle Pitts already a Falcon, nobody believed in Smith in 2023. However, he went on to set career highs in receptions (50), yards (582), and targets (70) on a career-high 69.4% route participation rate. He had just three fewer receptions and the same number of touchdowns (3) as Pitts. 

What made him so good last season, and what has made him good in small doses throughout his career, is his explosiveness after the catch. In his only season with the Falcons, Smith was 8th among tight ends in yards after the catch (YAC) with 357. Sam LaPorta had just one more YAC (358) than Jonnu last season. And now he finds himself as TE1 in Miami playing for head coach Mike McDaniel, a guy known for creating open space for his playmakers. That’s exactly where Smith thrives, in open space. Here’s what McDaniel had to say about his new TE1:

Tyreek Hill was 4th among wide receivers in YAC in 2023, while Jaylen Waddle was 12th in just 14 games. McDaniel has a knack for scheming guys open. For years, his schemes have worked wonders for George Kittle in San Francisco. While Hill and Waddle are the unquestioned top-2 target earners on the Dolphins, Smith could challenge De’Von Achane as that next guy. When you’re this deep into your draft, you might as well take an athletic freak who finds himself in a perfect situation. That’s Jonnu Smith.

Tyler Conklin, New York Jets

Remember when Brock Bowers to the Jets was a sure-fire thing to upgrade the tight end position? Well, that didn’t happen, and now Tyler Conklin finds himself squarely as TE1 for what should be a much-improved offense with Aaron Rodgers under center. 

Conklin, who has exactly 87 targets each of the last three seasons, is in the final year of his three-year, $20.3M contract with the Jets. You’ll recall his best season thus far as a pro came in his final season with the Vikings in 2021 when he put up 138.3 PPR points and finished as TE16. That season, he was 3rd on the team in targets behind Justin Jefferson (167) and Adam Thielen (95). This season, Conklin will be competing for targets with pass-catchers Garrett Wilson, Mike Williams (coming off an ACL tear), Allen Lazard, Xavier Gipson, and rookie Malachi Corley. He has a realistic shot to be the 2nd-highest target earner behind Wilson (or maybe 3rd if you include Breece Hall).

The chemistry in camp between Rodgers and Conklin shouldn’t be ignored.

Rodgers has a history of peppering guys he feels comfortable with. Sure, that’ll be Wilson first. But then there’s room for a guy like Conklin, who’s been top-6 among tight ends in true catch rate in the last two seasons (per PlayerProfiler). 

He was also utilized more as a receiver in 2023. Conklin had a 78.2% route participation rate on a 69.8% snap share last season compared to a 69.4% route participation rate on a 77.6% snap share the year prior. The hope is that his catchable target rate will be in the 80-90% range like it was in Minnesota with Kirk Cousins rather than the 65-70% range like it was with Zach Wilson and a handful of others the past two seasons. With an Underdog average draft position (ADP) of just 179.2 (TE22), he’s almost free in fantasy leagues this season.

Colby Parkinson, Los Angeles Rams

Talk about a deep sleeper because it seems as if nobody is talking about the new Los Angeles Ram, Colby Parkinson. And it doesn’t make much sense. He just signed a three-year, $22.5M contract with $10.3M guaranteed, and Tyler Higbee is coming off a torn ACL in January. There’s no guarantee Higbee will return to form or even play much at all in 2024. 

Parkinson was a 5-star recruit out of Thousand Oaks, CA, not too long ago. He was drafted by the Seahawks in 2020 and has been part of a tight end carousel since then. But now, he’ll have a real shot at earning a full-time role as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. And so far in training camp, Parkinson’s physical attributes have been on full display

He’ll be competing with Davis Allen early on for playing time. But if the contract means anything, Parkinson should have a leg up. And he could distance himself even more throughout training camp if he continues to “pop” as he’s done so far. Not too long ago (2022), it was Higbee with a massive role in this Rams’ offense. That season, he had a 20.4% target share on an 82% route participation rate. That led to career highs in targets (108) and receptions (72). 

Sean McVay historically likes to have his tight end running routes, as evidenced by Higbee’s route participation rate of over 80% each of the last three seasons. If Parkinson can take over that role, it could be wheels up for a physical specimen that hasn’t gotten the opportunities early in his NFL career.

 



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