2016 was a season full of surprises at the tight end position. With top fantasy tight end Rob Gronkowski limited to only eight games due to injury and No. 2 tight end Jordan Reed battling his own myriad of injuries throughout the season, fantasy owners who burned early picks at the position were constantly scrambling to find a replacement. Thankfully, 2016 was a solid season for tight ends that were unheard of or undrafted in most leagues, posting numbers that helped some fantasy owners win their championships.
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Biggest Surprises at Tight End for 2016
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We all knew that Mike Evans was going to be Jameis Winston’s top target going into the 2016 season, but the jury was out on who would claim the No. 2 position. Vincent Jackson? Cecil Shorts III? Someone named Freddy Martino?
It turned out Brate, a man in his third season out of Harvard (that bastion for NFL pass catchers), was Winston’s second-best option all season long, especially in the red zone. And what an option he was! Brate had 57 receptions for 660 yards and tied for tops amongst tight ends with eight touchdowns.
Tampa Bay will undoubtedly draft or acquire another receiver, so that Evans is not triple or quadruple-teamed every play. Still, Brate will head into the 2017 campaign as a top-10 fantasy tight end on draft lists. If Winston keeps improving that could mean Brate will become an 800-yard, 10-TD guy in the very near future. That is pretty good for a player who probably went undrafted in most fantasy leagues last year.
Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens
No one could have had Pitta’s name on their cheat sheets when they prepared for their 2016 fantasy drafts. He only played in seven games between 2013 and 2015 due to two catastrophic hip injuries that sidelined him. Most of us thought we would never see Pitta on a football field again after he missed the entire 2015 season. Even when we heard he was attempting a comeback this season, he looked like a longshot because Baltimore already had Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams clogging up the depth chart at TE.
Yet Pitta stayed healthy and somehow led all tight ends this year with an astonishing 86 receptions. Fantasy owners can whine that he only amassed 729 yards because he averaged 8.5 yards per catch. They can also point to his two touchdowns as cause to complain, especially in standard leagues. But no one in the fantasy football world predicted that Pitta was going to be No. 1 at the position in receptions and become a PPR league surprise and savior. He definitively earned Comeback Player of the year among tight ends.
Hunter Henry, San Diego Chargers
Antonio Gates has been San Diego’s starting tight end longer than Prince Charles has been married to Camilla Parker Bowles. Let that sink in for a minute... Father Time has been trying to tackle Gates for years now, yet the future Hall of Famer has eluded his grasp just as often as he has eluded cornerbacks and safeties. Gates was most likely the only Chargers tight end taken during the majority of fantasy drafts before the 2016 season.
All Henry did during his rookie season was tie Brate for the league lead among tight ends with eight touchdown receptions, even though Gates was on the field enough to score seven of his own. Henry could have even scored another touchdown or two if he did not miss some time due to a concussion.
Henry was drafted by the Chargers in the second round to be Gates’ heir apparent down the road, but they sped up the clock and he became a fantasy force right away. Look for the 6’5”, 250-pounder to be one of the top 10 tight ends taken in fantasy drafts next season since the future appears extremely bright for him.
Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
Doyle sounds like the private investigator in a TV series or the owner of an Irish bar more than an NFL player. In fact, he proved to be a tight end who can make plays in the red zone with Pro Bowl QB Andrew Luck favoring him. Luckily for fantasy owners who needed tight end help during the season, he was freely available on waivers.
Doyle was useless for fantasy owners during his first three years in the NFL. He only had 35 receptions and three touchdowns over that time and was probably only on rosters in AFL South fantasy leagues where two tight ends were mandatory. Yet, he ended up with 59 receptions for 584 yards and five touchdowns this year, giving him a higher fantasy value than other Indy pass catchers like incumbent starting TE Dwayne Allen and speedy wideouts Phillip Dorsett and Donte Moncrief.
We will have to see how the off-season shakes out for the Colts at tight end considering Doyle, Allen and Erik Swoope are all currently on the roster. But Doyle has the makings of becoming a bigger-bodied, less explosive Dallas Clark type if he continues as the Colts’ best pass-catching tight end.
Check out RotoBaller's famous 2017 fantasy football draft sleepers and waiver wire pickups list, updated regularly!