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Finding Tight End Breakouts for Fantasy Football – Cracking the Code for Week 3

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One of the hardest things to do in fantasy football, especially in the early part of the season, is determining what data is real and what isn’t. Small samples can create buying windows and sinkholes – all you have to do is bet correctly. Simple, right?

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. That’s especially true when it comes to the tight end position in fantasy football. It’s one of the flukiest positions there is, one where a single 20-yard catch that just so happens to end with the recipient in the end zone can be enough to be a top-10 option for that week. With that much randomness, how can anyone begin to make the right start/sit decisions? How do you know who to cut and who to put a waiver claim on?

Touchdowns are mostly unpredictable. Certainly, we can track their red zone utilization as the season moves along, but even then, there’s no guarantee. We can, however, track other utilization metrics that have been proven to be more predictable. It’s why last week I was urging you not to overreact to Taysom Hill or O.J. Howard’s Week 1 performance. They combined for 2.6 half-PPR points in Week 2 by the way. See, sometimes it works. Those were gimmes, but still. Let’s see what we can do for Week 3.

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Officially Waving the Red Flag

Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills 

Okay, so we’re not conceding on Dawson Knox yet. We’re not quitting. We’re not dropping him. We’re not doing any of that, but we are worried. And if you’re not worried, you should be.

Tight ends have different job responsibilities than receivers. This isn't any kind of big news flash, but it's important to recognize for fantasy football. Any time a team has a passing play, whatever receivers are on the field are almost always running a route. They're very, very rarely ever asked to stay in and block. That's not true for tight ends. Again, we're not breaking ground here. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but every passing play that a tight end is asked to stay in and block is one less opportunity they have to get the ball. This is crucial because very few tight ends earn targets like receivers do, so they need all the chances they can get. So why am I telling you all of this information?

Well, because Dawson Knox officially has a blocking problem. Last year, Knox's route participation was at 79.9%. That number is down to 61.3% this year. Buffalo has been one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the NFL the past few years, but that's a significant decrease. What does that 18.6% difference look like in application? Well, if the Bills pass it 35 times per game, 18.6% equals 7–8 routes per game. By season's end, that's 128 fewer routes run.

It comes as no surprise then that Knox is averaging a lower target share and fewer targets per game. Last year, he had a 12.0% target share and averaged 4.7 targets per game. In 2022, those numbers have dropped to a 9.9% target share and 3.5 targets per game. These decreased numbers are being directly influenced by the decline in his routes run.

If you were thinking maybe the blowout victory in Week 2 is negatively affecting his numbers, the tweet above shows that's not really the case. Even prior to Josh Allen's exit in their game vs Tennessee, Knox had run a route on just 60% of the pass attempts. Folks, this is a problem. On some level, two weeks is a small sample size, but if he does find the end zone in Week 3, it may be a good idea to try to sell him.

Knox was already a touchdown regression candidate entering the 2022 season and with his decreased route participation number, fantasy managers should be very concerned moving forward.

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

David Njoku might have been "the" tight end sleeper this year. So much so that even calling him a sleeper seems unfair because most fantasy analysts identified the upside of his situation for the 2022 season. Just two weeks in and those hopes already seemed dashed. The dream isn't dead and after Week 1, it looked like it was on its final breath, but there were some signs of life in Week 2.

After having a route run percentage of 72.2% in Week 1, Njoku increased that number to 81.2% in Week 2. He also increased his target share from 3.3% to 18.3%. Normally, we'd be calling that a big win, and on some level, it was. Without this increased utilization, Njoku could be dropped, but he might have bought himself another week. Still, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned.

For starters, he's being outplayed by his teammate, Harrison Bryant. That would be bad within itself, but Bryant is outplaying Njoku on far fewer snaps and routes. If that's not a red flag, I'm not quite sure what is. Even though Njoku had more targets than Bryant in Week 2, Bryant still finished with more yards and the same number of receptions.

Bryant's advanced metrics are also much more appealing. Njoku's average depth of target sits at a lowly 4.2 yards, which doesn't present much upside without decent volume, which he's clearly not getting. Bryant's average depth of target, on the other hand, is 10.8 yards. That number presents more upside. While some will point out that Njoku almost had a touchdown in Week 2, Bryant recorded an end zone target of his own.

Bryant's yard per route run average on the year is currently at 1.97 and Njoku's is at just 0.75. While Njoku's route participation is exactly what fantasy managers are looking for right now, there are concerns that Bryant is doing more with less. For the past few years, head coach Kevin Stefanski has used a tight end committee approach and if Njoku doesn't start outplaying Bryant, he might find himself in another committee before long.

 

Buy Low Opportunity

Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

Before we get too far here, I understand if there's some level of concern for Kyle Pitts, but it is drastically different than Dawson Knox's. Knox failed to generate a usable target share last year and there were concerns already that his limited number of targets would naturally result in fewer touchdowns. So far, that's been true and when you combine those concerns with his decrease in route participation, he could very well find himself on the waiver wire soon. Pitts's concerns aren't nearly that bad, but for the price fantasy managers had to pay to acquire him, there are still reasons why you, or more important the fantasy manager who rosters him might be worried.

Even though the Falcons selected Drake London with their first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, fantasy managers were still expecting Pitts to be the alpha. After all, London is just a rookie, and Pitts was entering his sophomore season. Through two games, that narrative couldn't be further from the truth.

London has 19 targets through two weeks and Pitts is stuck at 10. In fact, London actually has more receptions (13) than Pitts has targets. Pitts averaged 6.4 targets per game in 2021 and that number is down to 5 this season. That 1.4 difference would equal 24 targets at the end of the season. At his 6.4 target per game average from last season, a decrease of 24 would represent almost four games worth of volume. Needless to say, that's a lot.

On the bright side, his utilization looks similar to last season. His average depth of target is at 11.8 yards this year, which is a very healthy number for a tight end. In 2021, that number sat at 10.8 yards. His 80.8% route participation rate was also elite in 2021. That number has remained very similar this year and is currently at 81.4% through two weeks. Those two numbers indicate Pitts could very well be a good buy-low candidate if his fantasy manager is panicking.

The tweet above also paints a picture of a buy-low opportunity. In Week 2, Pitts was used more similarly to how he was in 2021. That's great, but the Falcons still need to make a more conscious effort to get Pitts the ball. His utilization numbers look like someone who is primed for a breakout game. The squeaky wheel narrative is already starting entering Week 3, so your time to pounce is going to be limited.

His route run percentage rate and his average depth of target all indicate a tight end we should be targeting. While the targets haven't been there yet, it's unlikely Pitts's 17.0% and London's 34.5% target shares hold all season. The more likely outcome is a regression to the mean, for both of them. That means an increase in target share for Pitts and a decrease for London. If you can buy Pitts right now, I highly recommend you do so. If you got him on your roster, just keep sending him out there.

 

Waiver Wire Buys

Evan Engram, Jacksonville Jaguars

While everyone was oohing and aahing over Albert Okwuegbunam and David Njoku, Evan Engram was the dude I wanted on all of my rosters. With the revamped offensive weapons in Jacksonville, Engram had a great opportunity to become the No. 2 target earner for Trevor Lawrence. On top of that, we cannot forget about how much the new head coach, Doug Pederson, had utilized his tight ends in Philadelphia.

Through two weeks, fantasy managers are seeing some of that appeal on the field. In Week 2, Engram posted the second highest target share among all tight ends at 26.7% and finished with seven receptions. While the yardage hasn't been there and he has yet to earn his first red zone target, Engram looks like a quality PPR asset on the young season.

The former Giant had a 77.8% route run rate in Week 1, but that increased to 86.7% in Week 2. His average depth of target isn't exactly where we'd like it, which makes him more of a PPR tight end than standard. Still, at tight end, fantasy managers should be chasing opportunity, and right now, Engram is getting a whole lot of it.

His route participation rate and his target share are both excellent indicators of future success. He's currently 11th in targets among tight ends. While he's not likely going to be a top-6 tight end this year because the touchdowns don't look like they'll be there for him, he can be someone that should get you quality points and rarely leave you with a goose egg because of his target volume. Don't be surprised if Engram turns in a top-10 finish in any full-PPR league.

Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals

When the 2022 season started, I largely wrote Hayden Hurst off because he wasn't the No. 2 target in Cincinnati. He wasn't even the No. 3, that's Tyler Boyd. There's even an argument he isn't the No. 4 target between him and Joe Mixon and the other running backs. However, through two weeks we can't ignore his utilization rates.

The tweet above just displays how positive the signs have been regarding Hurst. In Week 2, he had an 84.8% route participation rate, which was higher than it was in Week 1. He also had a 19.4% target share in Week 2. Both of these numbers were better than his Week 1 numbers and that's important because in Week 1 Tee Higgins left the contest early.

He was active in Week 2, which in theory, should've increased the target competition Hurst had to contend with, but he continued to put up excellent utilization rates. He had seven targets this past week after having six in week 1. While he has just 70 yards on the season despite 10 receptions, a lot of that is due to his low 5.5 average depth of target. That's unlikely to change, so he'll need to maintain his target share.

There are questions as to if that's something fantasy managers should be betting on. The Bengals' new offensive line has gotten off to a terrible start and that's likely forced Joe Burrow into shorter and easier throws. As the offensive line starts to gel and give him a bit more time in the pocket, we'll likely start to see Burrow push the ball downfield more, which is likely to decrease Hurst's targets. However, fantasy managers should soak up the volume for as long as it sticks.

Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams

Tyler Higbee has been building fantasy managers up only to break them down for years. 2022 will likely not be any different, but we do need to appreciate his insane utilization through two weeks.

The tweet above pretty much says it all. He needs to be on your roster if he's currently on the waiver wire. His target share, route participation numbers, and overall targets all scream top-three usage. Now, Higbee is not going to finish as a top-three tight end, but the workload and the utilization metrics are off the charts.

Allen Robinson II has struggled to assert himself into the Rams' offense and his lack of production has opened the door for Higbee to take on a bigger role. Not only that, but Van Jefferson is still out with a knee injury. He's finished with 10 targets in back-to-back weeks, but has just 110 yards to show it. His average depth of target of just 4.8 yards leaves a lot to be desired. However, unlike Evan Engram, Higbee has some real touchdown upside in Los Angeles's offense.

 

Keep Your Eyes on These Guys

Juwan Johnson, New Orleans Saints

Juwan Johnson is hitting all the numbers fantasy managers should be looking for. He has a 16.4% target share, which is just behind Dallas Goedert's 16.7% and Kyle Pitts's 17.2%. Not only that, but his 12 targets are the 13th highest among tight ends. He's running 55.6% of his routes from the slot position and rarely finds himself blocking. He has been running a route on 75.6% of the Saints' dropbacks.

It's not just the fact that he's getting targets, the targets he's getting are valuable ones. His average depth of target is 10.1 yards and he's averaging one end zone target per game. Johnson is a former wide receiver in college and the Saints are deploying him like one, which is music to any fantasy managers' ears.

Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

Irv Smith Jr. didn't play much in Week 1 and he was still eased back into action this past week, but the signs were positive.

Adam Thielen isn't getting any younger and if Father Time has finally caught up to him, the No. 2 role in this offense might be more open than previously expected. Fantasy managers should be expecting his role to grow as the season moves along and if you're looking for an upside play at tight, Smith could be the guy you're looking.

 



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High-Upside Bench Stashes: Weekend Waiver Wire for Week 3 Includes Jared Goff, Nelson Agholor, Sterling Shepard, Rachaad White

If you are 0-2 so far to start the fantasy season, don't panic. It's a long season. While having a solid draft is important for the success of your season, I would argue that being smart with your FAAB and waiver pickups, as well as starting the right players each week is just as important... Read More


Tom Brady - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Fantasy Football Week 3 Busts? Players Who May Disappoint: Tom Brady, Chase Edmonds, AJ Dillon, Terry McLaurin, DJ Moore

Welcome to Week 3 RotoBallers! The season is starting to ramp up, and it is crucial to start getting some wins under your belt to make the playoffs and win a fantasy championship. For those who have started 0-2, it is very important to set an optimal lineup this week as an 0-3 hole is... Read More


Garrett Wilson - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups - icon rotoballer

Wide Receiver Matchups to Target in Week 3: Curtis Samuel, Mack Hollins, Garrett Wilson

Last week was a big week for the Wide Receiver Matchups series, as there were quite a few hits. Greg Dortch had four receptions, 55 yards, and one touchdown against the Raiders. Christian Kirk had six receptions, 78 yards, and two touchdowns against the Colts. Amon-Ra St. Brown had a massive game against the Commanders... Read More


Joe Burrow - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News - icon rotoballer

NFL Survivor Pool Picks (Week 3) - Targets and Avoids

Comeback Sunday. The Jets, Dolphins, and Cardinals pulling off improbable wins. Other games going down to the wire. Through two weeks, 12 games have been decided by three or fewer, a record. As for survivor, both Ohio teams, the Browns and Bengals, knocked out about 20 percent of the entrants. About 75 percent of entrants... Read More


Dallas Cowboys Defense, Trevon Diggs - Fantasy Football Rankings, IDP Targets, Draft Sleepers

Week 3 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2022 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

We're into Week 3 of the NFL season, and we're starting to see some defensive units stand out among the pack. However, it's still too early to fully give ourselves over to the data we're collecting for some of these teams. Are the Jaguars really this good? Are the Colts really this bad? Only time... Read More


Chris Olave - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Week 3 FLEX Rankings for Fantasy Football: Chris Olave, Adam Thielen, Jarvis Landry, Jeff Wilson Jr., Michael Carter, Chase Edmonds

Trying to figure out your FLEX plays for this week's fantasy football lineups? Not to worry, we're here to help with our team's updated Week 3 fantasy football FLEX rankings, as of September 24th. Our goal is to help you set those winning lineups, so let's see where key FLEX options like Chris Olave, Adam... Read More


Ravens Defense - Fantasy Football DST Rankings, Draft Sleepers, IDP Targets

Week 3 Team Defense Rankings for Fantasy Football: Cowboys DST, Bengals DST, Ravens DST, Broncos DST, Chiefs DST, Packers DST

Every position and every point counts when setting optimal fantasy football lineups, especially team defenses. And as always we are here to guide your winning ways with our updated Week 3 fantasy football defense (D/ST) rankings, as of September 24th. Our goal is to help you set those winning lineups, so let's see where key... Read More


Justin Herbert - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Week 3 Quarterback Rankings for Fantasy Football: Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, Tua Tagovailoa, Jared Goff, Aaron Rodgers

Howdy RotoBallers, and welcome to Week 3 of the NFL and fantasy football season. In the article below you'll see our team's updated Week 3 fantasy football quarterback rankings, as of September 24th. Our goal is to help you set those winning lineups, so let's see where key quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, Tua... Read More


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A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who are overvalued while finding gems buried down the ADP leaderboard. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. The perfect steal can give you a magnificent advantage. Today, let's talk about some players whose ADPs makes little sense given their projections--for the good... Read More


2022-23 Fantasy Basketball - Early ADP Analysis: Forwards (Part 2)

A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who are overvalued while finding gems buried down the ADP leaderboard. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. The perfect steal can give you a magnificent advantage. Today, let's talk about some players whose ADPs makes little sense given their projections--for the good... Read More


2022-23 Fantasy Basketball - Early ADP Analysis: Forwards (Part 1)

A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who are overvalued while finding gems buried down the ADP leaderboard. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. The perfect steal can give you a magnificent advantage. Today, let's talk about some players whose ADPs makes little sense given their projections--for the good... Read More


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A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who are overvalued while finding gems buried down the ADP leaderboard. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. The perfect steal can give you a magnificent advantage. Today, let's talk about some players whose ADPs makes little sense given their projections--for the good... Read More


2022-23 Fantasy Basketball - Early ADP Analysis: Guards (Part 2)

A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who are overvalued while finding gems buried down the ADP leaderboard. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. The perfect steal can give you a magnificent advantage. Today, let's talk about some players whose ADPs makes little sense given their projections--for the good... Read More


2022-23 Fantasy Basketball - Early ADP Analysis: Guards (Part 1)

A key part of doing a fantasy draft is avoiding players who are overvalued while finding gems buried down the ADP leaderboard. The wrong pick can completely tank your season. The perfect steal can give you a magnificent advantage. Today, let's talk about some players whose ADPs makes little sense given their projections--for the good... Read More


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Draft Room 101: Keys to Building a Contending Roster

Ask anybody that plays a fantasy sport what the best part of the season really is, and most of them will say it's the draft itself. Almost all of us know why too. Not unlike when you were a kid and got to be a captain for dodgeball on the playground, picking your own team... Read More


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Enough Already: Third-year Players To Give Up On In Fantasy Basketball

Not every player can set the world on fire as a rookie. Or as a second-year player. Sometimes, young players take time to develop. But other times, those struggles in years one and two can be signs that those players are on their way to washing out of the NBA. Below are five third-year NBA... Read More


2022-23 Fantasy Basketball Forgotten Players Worth Tracking (Part 3)

This is the thirdpart of the ongoing series about "forgotten" NBA players I decided to write this preseason to bring some names back to the fantasy basketball forefront. I wanted to bring some players whose names have already (or could soon) entered the "forgotten" realm in the NBA, so that's why I'm highlighting them in... Read More


NBA Draft: Second-Round Rooks to Watch Early

It's funny that every year at the NBA Draft, once the end of the guaranteed money and live appearances arrives at the end of the first round, everybody tunes out and refers to the 60th pick as "Mr. Irrelevant." That's not very accurate though, is it? Speaking historically, the title of "Mr. Irrelevant" could just... Read More


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This is the second part of the ongoing series about "forgotten" NBA players I decided to write this preseason to bring some names back to the fantasy basketball forefront. Whether it is because of injuries, because of a perceived lack of talent, or because of any other reason you can think of, some professional athletes... Read More


2022-23 Fantasy Basketball Forgotten Players Worth Tracking (Part 1)

Whether it is because of injuries, because of a perceived lack of talent, or because of any other reason you can think of, some professional athletes find themselves on the outside looking in at some point in their careers. They get forgotten, they become part of their sport's past, and they have to make a... Read More