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2018 could very well be “The Year of the Tight End.” The position in fantasy football is going to be as loaded with breakout candidates in 2018 as Starbucks is with espressos and acoustic music.

While the position is top-heavy with Pro Bowl veterans like New England’s Rob Gronkowski, Carolina’s Greg Olsen and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, there is a potpourri of up-and-coming tight ends that are on the verge of stardom and are primed to be fantasy breakout performers this season.

Here are the early 2018 breakouts at tight end:

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Early Tight End Breakouts for 2018

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

The plethora of first-round busts in recent Cleveland Browns history seems endless. From Brady Quinn to Tim Couch to Brandon Weeden to Trent Richardson to Johnny Manziel to possibly Corey Coleman, the Browns have had as much success drafting skilled players in the first round as President Trump has had keeping his cabinet intact.

Njoku was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, just like I was, so you may think I have a birthplace bias when it comes to him. The fact is that the former first-rounder has all the tools and talents to be an above-average offensive weapon and a fantastic fantasy find this year. He was a high-school high jumper and can outleap defensive backs for jump balls in the end zone. He is one of the faster tight ends in the league and can break big plays ala Jimmy Graham in his prime. Njoku also blocks well enough that he does not have to be taken off the field in obvious running situations. He has the potential to be a game-changing tight end, which is why nobody was surprised he was selected in the first round last year.

Njoku will obviously take a step forward this season just because DeShone Kizer and his 11-to-22 touchdown-to-interception ratio will probably not be the quarterback throwing to him. Any other QB will be an upgrade and that will in turn help Cleveland’s top tight end see his stats rise. Njoku was able to catch 32 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns in his first season. Do not be shocked to see those numbers double in his second season.

 George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco’s fifth-round pick from last year’s draft was known more for his blocking ability than his pass-catching ability when he came out of college, and for most of his rookie season his blocking was what he did best. But a quarterback change suddenly changed Kittle’s fantasy fortunes.

A decent quarterback can sometimes turn an average pass catcher into a fantasy force. That appears to be what happened in Kittle’s case. After only catching 32 passes for 321 yards and one lone touchdown in the first dozen games of his rookie campaign, Kittle had 11 receptions for 192 yards and a score during his final three contests. The difference?  While an argument could be made that Kittle was more comfortable in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, the main reason for Kittle’s late-season success was because Jimmy Garoppolo became the starting quarterback.

Kittle may have been a late-round pick, but Garoppolo made him look like someone who should have been taken ahead of New York’s Evan Engram and Tampa Bay’s O.J. Howard in the first round of last year’s draft. While Kittle is not as physically gifted as many other players at the position, he could have a solid if not spectacular season with Jimmy G firing perfect passes into his hands for an entire season.

Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams

While quarterback Jared Goff had a breakout season in 2017 and helped wide receivers Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp, along with running back Todd Gurley, all have outstanding seasons, Everett had a hard time getting any fantasy foothold since he was the 100th option in Goff’s passing attack.

Everett only had 16 receptions for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his rookie year. The second-rounder played second fiddle to Tyler Higbee on the tight end depth chart, yet his 15.3 yards per catch was better than what the Woods-Watkins-Kupp trio posted. Everett showed flashes of brilliance in between his rookie route-running moments. These flashes and the players around him make him a fantasy breakout candidate next season.

While the Rams are re-arranging their defense due to salary cap issues, their high-powered offense should remain intact unless Watkins signs elsewhere since the Rams did not use their franchise tag on him. Look for Everett to get two-to-three times as many targets in his sophomore season as he blasts by Higbee to be the team’s top tight end, and even more if Watkins leaves for richer pastures. 55 receptions for 700 yards and six touchdowns is not out of the realm of possibility for him.

 

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