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Fantasy Football Tight End Preparation For Week 2

Welcome back to the most depressing article series you’ll read all year. That’s because it’s here where we’ll be focusing on the fantasy football tight end position. Week 1 could not have been any uglier without Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and a limited Darren Waller. The tight end landscape was brutal.

Just two tight ends finished with more than 50 yards. Just two tight ends finished with more than 10 half-PPR points. Donald Parham Jr., Blake Bell, and Harrison Bryant are all currently top-six fantasy tight ends. It’s only been one week, but this just amplifies how weak this position is across the board.

That is why this article will focus on some of the more advanced statistics to hopefully help you identify breakout tight ends before it’s too late. We’ll also be identifying those, who despite the pretty box score (probably fell into the end zone), we should still be avoiding. It won’t be pretty and it won’t be fun, but it must be done. Fantasy championships require all hands on deck, even those that belong to tight ends.

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Reviewing Last Week's Tight Ends

With receivers, it’s pretty simple, right? We look at target share and the number of targets and that’s it, case closed. And for the most part, that works. With tight ends though, we want to take it one step further because most tight ends aren’t very good at earning targets. In fact, most aren’t. What we want to chase in fantasy football is opportunities. Opportunities come in the form of routes run. We need our tight ends on the field running routes as often as possible because, as previously mentioned, most aren’t good at earning targets.

Below you will find a table displaying the snap share, route participation, total routes run, target share, total number of targets, and red zone targets for each (semi) relevant fantasy tight end from Week 1. If you do not see a specific player’s name it’s because they weren’t fantasy relevant before this week and they’re not now either. All of these stats are courtesy of PFF, which is a fantastic data site with exceptional resources and information to better understand what the limited box score numbers do not.

Player Snap Share Route Participation Routes Run Target Share Targets Red Zone Targets
Sam LaPorta 82.8% 72.2% 26 17.2% 5 0
Kyle Pitts 60.7% 90.9% 20 16.6% 3 0
Hayden Hurst 53.2% 64.2% 27 24.1% 7 2
Dalton Schultz 80.5% 90.7% 49 9.3% 4 1
Irv Smith Jr. 53.5% 70.5% 24 17.2% 5 0
David Njoku 75.6% 74.2% 26 11.5% 3 1
Evan Engram 72.8% 88.5% 31 16.6% 5 0
Kylen Granson 61.1% 72.3% 34 16.2% 6 1
Juwan Johnson 76.9% 84.2% 32 15.6% 5 0
Chigoziem Okonkwo 82.5% 75.0% 30 6.4% 2 0
Zach Ertz 77.4% 91.4% 32 30.0% 9 2
Logan Thomas 81.6% 76.1% 32 24.1% 7 0
George Kittle 69.1% 76.4% 26 23.0% 6 1
Pat Freiermuth* 50.7% 50.0% 26 8.8% 4 3
Cade Otton 97.0% 76.3% 29 10.0% 3 1
T.J. Hockenson 75.0% 76.5% 36 18.6% 8 1
Luke Musgrave 75.0% 76.6% 23 14.8% 4 0
Cole Kmet 97.2% 93.8% 46 20.5% 7 2
Durham Smythe 100.0% 80.4% 33 18.4% 7 1
Gerald Everett 67.5% 59.5% 25 9.6% 3 0
Dallas Goedert 92.4% 94.7% 36 3.4% 1 0
Hunter Henry 78.7% 72.4% 42 11.7% 6 1
Tyler Higbee 91.3% 84.6% 33 8.1% 3 1
Darren Waller* 54.2% 52.2% 23 19.2% 5 0
Jake Ferguson 71.9% 54.1% 13 27.2% 6 5
Tyler Conklin 79.6% 73.0% 19 5.8% 1 0
Dawson Knox 84.0% 78.0% 39 10.2% 4 0
Dalton Kincaid 79.7% 76.0% 38 10.2% 4 0

Waller and Freiermuth both have asterisks next to their names because both players were limited in their games due to injuries. Waller came in with a hamstring injury and Freiermuth suffered a chest injury during the contest. Both injuries are having a negative effect on their numbers.

There are a couple of other notes that we should make right off the bat before we start combing through these numbers. The Patriots, Panthers, and Texans ran a ton of plays, and subsequently, threw the ball a ton. New England had 54 pass attempts, Houston had 44, and Carolina had 38. These totals are most likely one-week flukes. None of these teams want to pass the ball that much and we shouldn’t expect it to continue, so take all those numbers with a grain of salt. This is the downside of working with a sample size of one.

The other thing to keep in mind is that we had a lot of sloppy and rainy games. Specifically, the Cowboys-Giants and the Bengals-Browns games. These elements likely played a role in the lower passing totals and poor efficiency in both of those contests, specifically.


The Tight End Pretenders

Kylen Granson, Indianapolis Colts

As you can see from the table above, his numbers actually look pretty good across the board with 72% route participation, 34 routes run, 16% target share, and six total targets. One of them was even a red zone target. However, it’s important to note that Drew Ogletree was operating as the team’s No. 1 tight end prior to leaving the game in the second quarter with a concussion. It’s unknown if he’ll be able to return in Week 2 or if Granson did enough to carve out a bigger role, but either way, this is a tight end group that should be avoided.

Anthony Richardson looked better than I expected, but he’s still limited as a passer and the offense is likely going to be a run-heavy unit. Not only that, but the touchdown opportunity is lacking. While Granson could look like a breakout or a player to target, he’s fool’s gold and should be avoided.

Jake Ferguson, Dallas Cowboys

I’m not completely writing him off because six targets and a 27% target share are very impressive. However, some of that could have been due to the weather and Dak Prescott being unwilling to push the ball down the field in those conditions. Peyton Hendershot ran 11 routes to Ferguson’s 13, making this very much a 50/50 timeshare for receiving duties. Yes, Ferguson played a lot more snaps, but a lot of them came on running plays where Ferguson is the more trusted blocker.

Ferguson is someone to keep an eye on if he can continue earning targets as he did in Week 1. However, a 27% target share for a tight end screams a one-week fluke. When you consider the elements, that number starts to make more sense. At the end of the day, there’s just virtually no way Ferguson can be a fantasy-relevant tight end if he’s running a route on just half of Prescott’s dropbacks. Ideally, that number is above 70%, but it’d be great if it was around 75%. Ferguson’s was at 54%.


The Tight End Rookies

Sam LaPorta, Detroit Lions
Luke Musgrave, Green Bay Packers
Dalton Kincaid, Buffalo Bills

All three of these rookie tight ends are must-adds and have very strong arguments to be valued as weekly starters. All three of their utilization numbers across the board were fantastic and it was only their first game in the NFL, but if they’re already getting the opportunity, the production is sure to follow for all three players.

LaPorta had an 83% snap share, 72% route participation, 26 total routes, 17% target share, and five total targets. When you combine those numbers with the strength of the Detroit passing attack and the touchdown opportunity that the offense will afford, LaPorta could have a breakout rookie season. While there were training wheels for Jahmyr Gibbs, there was no such thing for LaPorta.

The same holds true for Musgrave. Like LaPorta, Musgrave was a huge part of the offense from day one. He had a 75% snap share, 76% route participation, 23 routes, 15% target share, and four targets. He was one of only two tight ends to finish with 50 yards and had he played a deep ball better from Jordan Love, he would’ve had a walk-in touchdown but ended up falling over while making the grab.

Kincaid was the one rookie that fantasy managers were highest on and he didn’t disappoint. The Bills operated from 12-personnel around 75% of the time with Kincaid and Knox both on the field. However, Kincaid operated almost exclusively as their slot receiver in this formation. He ended up on the field for 80% of the snaps and 76% route participation. He ran 38 total routes, which resulted in just a 10% target share with four targets. The Buffalo offense is very pass-heavy so he’ll be able to get by with a lesser target share because of the overall volume.

All three of these tight ends have the role and opportunity to finish as top-12 options at the position. Most of that will be decided on where the touchdowns fall, but all should be added in 10 and 12-team leagues because of their upside. All three of these tight ends entered the 2023 NFL Draft as exceptional athletes, scoring over 9.00 on the RAS (Relative Athletic Score).


Week 1 Tight End Busts to be Worried About

Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
Dalton Schultz, Houston Texans
Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Chargers

There have been legitimate questions about whether any of these players are good. Many fantasy analysts have compared Schultz to Austin Hooper. Hooper had one big season with the Falcons when Matt Ryan went haywire and the Falcons threw the ball a ton, signed a big contract with the Browns, and immediately flopped. Schultz, minus the big contract, very well could be following the same storyline.

Schultz was liked heading into the fantasy season because Houston has a poor group of pass-catching running backs and some significant question marks at receiver. In theory, this meant Schultz would make for a dependable underneath target for rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. That did not happen in Week 1 and while we don’t want to overreact to one game, it was awfully concerning. Nico Collins had 11 targets and Robert Woods had 10. Schultz was only able to muster four on a day where Stroud threw the ball 44 times. If Schultz is the distant third option between Collins and Woods, which it appears he is, he’s in big trouble and could find his way onto the waiver wire very quickly.

Higbee is in a similar situation to Schultz. Many thought volume would be on his side entering the season. After all, behind Cooper Kupp, it was thought that the Rams had no dependable receivers. Neither running back has been a good pass-catcher either. When Kupp went down, the Higbee hype got louder. Then in Week 1, Higbee got outplayed by Tutu Atwell (eight targets) and rookie receiver Puka Nacua (15 targets). Despite Stafford dropping back to pass 38 times, Highee only had three targets. What in the world happens when Kupp returns?

Seattle was one of the most fantasy-friendly tight end matchups last season and Higbee absolutely flopped. He’s not an exciting player after the catch. He absolutely needs volume to be relevant and with Atwell, Van Jefferson, and Nacua all having operated ahead of him this past weekend, plus the eventual return of Kupp, Higbee’s days on your fantasy rosters may be coming to an end much sooner than expected.

New Chargers’ offensive coordinator Kellen Moore came over from Dallas, where he made Schultz very fantasy-relevant. The hope was with Justin Herbert, a pass-heavy offense, and Moore’s tight end-friendly offense, Everett would be a solid tight end again this season. Well, Week 1 stopped that notion dead in its tracks.

Everett should not be on fantasy rosters right now. He had just a 60% route participation rate and just a 10% target share with three total targets. Parham played a much larger role than expected, even catching a red zone target for a touchdown. This looks like it’s going to be a tight end committee of sorts, which is an absolute deal-breaker considering how many other pass-catchers the Chargers already employ. Everett has no chance of being good while running just 60% of the routes and fighting for targets with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler.


Tight End Veterans to Get Excited About

Hayden Hurst, Carolina Panthers
Hunter Henry, New England Patriots
Logan Thomas, Washington Commanders

Hurst finished the week as the TE2 with 12.6 half-PPR points. He ended up securing five of his seven targets and scoring a touchdown. His 24% target share is something fantasy managers should be excited about. Especially considering the overall strength of the pass-catchers at running back and receiver are weak in Carolina. If Hurst earns the trust of rookie QB Bryce Young and becomes his security blanket and preferred short-yardage option, he could become a quality volume play.

There are some red flags, however. He played just 53% of the snaps and ran a route on just 64% of the team’s dropbacks. Some of this could be explained by Carolina’s high number of plays (77). We won’t know the reasoning until we get a bigger sample. Right now, it’s fair to be cautiously optimistic about Hurst’s fantasy prospects, but you don’t need to be rushing to the waiver wire to add him. Fantasy managers should definitely be prioritizing the three rookies previously mentioned first and foremost.

The only tight end who scored more points than Hurst was Hunter Henry. While many got excited about Mike Gesicki in new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s Patriot offense, it was Henry who had an excellent training camp and it was Henry who operated as the clear No. 1 tight end this past weekend. Henry played on 79% of the snaps, ran a route on 72% of the dropbacks, and finished with six targets.

There is a red flag with Henry, as well. The Patriots threw the ball 55 times. That’s not going to happen again. While the addition of O’Brien likely meant more passing volume, this is far outside realistic expectations on a regular basis. Despite 55 pass attempts, Henry’s six targets equal a lowly 12% target share. Similarly to Hurst, however, it can be difficult to decipher what is what when you know you’re looking at an outlier.

The Patriots won’t pass the ball as much as they did in Week 1, but Henry was still the clear No. 1 tight end. New England has a weak group of receivers and Henry has proven to be a capable safety blanket and red-zone weapon. He scored nine touchdowns in 2021 with Mac Jones when the New England offense was not being run by a defensive coordinator. He found the end zone already in Week 1. In standard leagues, he makes for a worthwhile add. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him finish with eight touchdowns again this season.

Logan Thomas was largely written off as being done. He’s struggled with injuries in recent seasons and at his age, that’ll always be a concern. However, with new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy taking over, Washington will likely pass the ball at a higher rate than they’ve previously done. Certainly, we know how much the Chiefs used their tight ends (having Kelce makes it easier), but Thomas was heavily used in Week 1.

He finished with an 82% snap share and a 76% route participation rate. He ran a total of 32 routes and finished with a 24% target share and seven total targets. All of those numbers, across the board, are very encouraging. Thomas is definitely someone to keep an eye on moving forward.


Don’t Panic… Yet

Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
Chigoziem Okonkwo, Tennessee Titans

That wasn’t exactly what fantasy managers were expecting when they bought into the hype of Okonkwo and the post-hype of Pitts, but you shouldn’t panic just yet. There were silver linings of hope for both players. That likely won’t appease those who drafted Pitts who saw more of the same this past weekend, but it’s all we got.

Last year, for whatever reason, head coach Arthur Smith didn’t fully unleash Pitts. His route participation ended up at 73% last year. That’s not terrible, but for a player of Pitts’ ilk, it was much too low. Week 1 saw Pitts run a route on 91% of the team’s dropbacks. That is huge! That is a monster ray of hope. Fantasy managers will need to hang onto that too because the overall passing volume issue reared its big, ugly head in a major way. The Falcons passed the ball just 18 times. The team finished with more rushing yards than passing yards and running backs Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier had nine targets. 50% of Desmond Ridders’ passes went to running backs. If the Falcons don’t open up the playbook a little bit, the volume will again hold Pitts back, but his route participation was encouraging. Atlanta won’t be able to throw the ball just 18 times in most games.

Chig’s utilization was similar to Pitts’. There were some concerns about what his playing time could look like because he’s a smaller tight end and not really a great blocker. When you have Derrick Henry and you run as much as Tennessee does, that could negatively impact your playing time. Fortunately, it didn’t. He played in 83% of the snaps and ran a route on 75% of the dropbacks, which is encouraging utilization. Tannehill threw the ball 34 times, another encouraging sign, but unfortunately, only two of them found their way to Okonkwo. However, one of them would have likely been a long touchdown reception had Tannehill not overthrown him.

Tannehill struggled mightily in Week 1, but he’s been a really solid and dependable quarterback since becoming the team’s starter. The Saints have a terrific defense, so fantasy managers should expect the offense to be better moving forward. Chig’s playing time and route participation rates are solid. If there’s one concern, it’s DeAndre Hopkins. He absolutely dominated the team’s target share and air yard share. With Tennessee’s expected lower passing volume, if Hopkins is going to be that big of alpha, it’ll be tough for Okonkwo to make a fantasy dent, especially competing with former first-rounder, Treylon Burks.

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