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Boom or Bust - Three Tight End Predictions

The tight end position has become quite the quagmire in fantasy football over the past several years. It is often a position of haves and have-nots where the top-tier tight ends perform admirably, yet the middle to low-end players at the position are often inconsistent at best. Trying to project who will perform each week can be an arduous task.

There is a ton of value in having a tight end you can set and forget each week while half of the league is scrambling for a streamer. The only issue is determining which tight ends can fit this type of role. You want to look for tight ends that play in offenses where they will be more of a focal point. There are several tight ends out there that fit this mold, and some that just appear to.

This article looks to point out a couple of tight ends that meet this criterion and will boom for you throughout the season, as well as point out a tight end that may appear to boom, yet will be a bust.

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Jared Cook (TE, NO)

Jared Cook is coming off his best season in the NFL. He caught 68 passes for 896 yards and six touchdowns. He played in all 16 games and was able to rack up four one-hundred yard games and 15 catches of 20-plus yards. In 2019, he heads to New Orleans to become the number one tight end in a very explosive offense that values the position. In 2018, Drew Brees targeted his tight ends a total of 89 times, resulting in 63 catches for 735 yards and four touchdowns. The targets equated to 18.2% of Brees' overall targets, and the completions were 17.3% of his total.

Aside from being in an offense that heavily involves the tight end, Cook's advanced metrics show that he should have continued success in 2019. In 2018, Cook averaged 1.06 air yards per snap, and also had an average depth of target (aDoT) of eight years. These ranked him in the top 15% and 30% of league tight ends, respectively. This means he is running longer routes on his snaps and targets than a large percentage of tight ends in the league. This is why he was able to haul in those 15 catches of 20 or more yards a season ago. Expect him to do the same in New Orleans and outperform his current ADP of 75. Cook has the potential to be in the discussion with guys like Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz come season's end.

Verdict: Boom

 

Vance McDonald (TE, PIT)

Vance McDonald had a breakout campaign in 2018 in which he hauled in 50 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns. Before 2018, McDonald had never had more than 391 receiving yards in a season.  Was this an anomaly or a precursor for future production? Advanced metrics give us a mixed bag.

In 2018, Mcdonald received 10.7% of the team's targets, which was in the top 22% of tight ends. He also averaged eight yards after the catch (YAC), which was good for top 10% in the league. These are very impressive and would lead you to believe the success he had is sustainable. McDonald, however, also struggled in a couple of metrics. He only hauled in 50 of his 72 targets, which was good for a 69.4% catch rate. This placed him in the top 47% of the league and would be acceptable, but his aDoT was only 4.7 yards. His aDoT ranked him in the bottom 16% of the league. This means he was not making catches on short targets, which is imperative for a tight end. Also, despite his extremely high YAC, he only managed to haul in six catches of 20-plus yards. One would expect a regression in the YAC moving forward as he gets a year older and a year slower, which will reduce his receiving yard totals.

Aside from these metrics, it was also revealed that McDonald will not be playing full games. Offensive Coordinator, Randy Fichtner was quoted as saying "He's never going the full game. That's never going to happen". He will share time with Xavier Grimble or Zach Gentry, and this will ultimately cut into his upside.

Verdict: Bust

 

Darren Waller (TE, OAK)

Who is Darren Waller? This is what a lot of people would be asking right now had Hard Knocks not featured him in their third episode this season. Waller has played a combined 16 games at the tight end position over the course of three seasons. He missed the entire 2017 season due to violating the league's substance-abuse policy, but has been clean for over two years, and is looking to make an impact for the Raiders in 2019.

While there may not be a lot of data on Waller, there is a lot of information on Derek Carr and how he incorporates tight ends into the offense. In 2018, Derek Carr targeted his tight ends 130 times out of 553 attempts, which equates to a rate of 23.5%. Specifically, he targeted his number one tight end, Jared Cook, 101 times resulting in 68 receptions for 896 yards and 6 touchdowns. The receptions and targets ranked fifth in the league among tight ends. The 68 receptions also accounted for 17.8% of Carr's 381 total completions. Carr has a history of targeting the tight end beyond 2018 as well. In 2017, Carr targeted his tight ends at a rate of 18.8%, and 19% of his total completions went to the tight end position. Waller should be the beneficiary of this target share heading into 2019 as long as he remains number one on the depth chart.

Verdict: Boom

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