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Late-Round Tight Ends Who Will Outperform Their ADP

Show me a tight end, and I'll show you a rolling dice. And most probably, one with way more than six faces. Fantasy football is not new. We are not new to fantasy football either. Everybody goes by the strategy of drafting RB/WR, RB/WR, RB/WR (ad infinitum), QB, TE, rest of the bunch. There are owners who prefer to pick a QB early. There are others who bank on multiple elite WRs and get a group of average RBs in the middle rounds. And then, between all different gamblers, are the vibrant minds of those who choose to pick a tight end between the second and third rounds (or even in the first one, those crazy people!)

While top-tier tight ends tend to be surefire plays, the rest of them can be considered high-risk fliers. Nobody truly knows who is going to overperform. Each and every year, different running backs or wide receivers go and put on a show in unexpected ways, sure, but there are too many players from which we can expect a certain level of performance within preset boundaries. With tight ends, though, randomness is overboard.

That being said, here is a look at some tight ends that will undoubtedly, surely, and definitely give you an ROI better than anyone in the position. Bear with me!

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

 

Jordan Akins, Houston Texans

ADP 260, TE41

The Texans are going to have quite a bad summer in the eyes of fantasy GMs if only because of the whole Deshaun Watson shaky future and current situation. With no stud at the quarterback position and a slim receiving corps, it kind of makes sense. That doesn't mean, though, that every Texan should be faded--give me Brandin Cooks all day--with one of those potentially huge sleepers being TE Jordan Akins.

Akins is now the clear TE1 with Darren Fells out of town. Even sharing the field with the former Texan TE the past two seasons, Akins was able to finish TE25 and TE26 in those years with 89.8 and 83.7 FP in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

With Fells now out of Houston and leaving 28 targets, 312 yards, and four touchdowns on the table, everything looks good for Akins to bump up his counting stats more than a bit. Fells' 118+ FP projection comes from a 71/51/521/3 stat line. That should be the baseline with upside for more if Akins keeps developing as a player in his fourth season, which is perfectly feasible. Also, he played only 13 games last season, so it's not that he shouldn't get more chances over a full 17-game campaign if he can stay out there on the field more than he was able to in 2020.

These are all players projected (via PFF) to more FP than Akins while having a cheaper ADP: Randall Cobb and Demarcus Robinson. That's it. Those are the two. No tight end has an expected ROI above Akins' 1.42 (ADP of 260 with a projection to finish 183rd overall; ADP of TE41 projected to a TE21 finish). Even sharing the field with Cooks and Cobb, Akins is just 11 targets shy of Cobb's projection of 82 targets. A lot of Texans players will fly under the radar this summer, so pounce while still possible and make Akins one of your late-round fliers.

 

Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills

ADP 221, TE30

The Bills are so leaded that PFF projects Dawson Knox to get just the fourth-most looks among the team's pass-catchers. That's right. Buffalo added Emmanuel Sanders to make up for the departure of John Brown, and he along with Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Gabriel Davis project to 73+ targets in 2021. That compares to Knox's 62 expected targets, which are not bad at all, though. Knox is one of only eight TE1s for their franchise that has an ADP of 200+ overall. Not only that, but he's also the second-best such tight end in terms of projected PPR points in 2021, only behind Jordan Akins (read above) with 115+ FP.

Knox had a rough start to the 2020 campaign, not finishing inside the TE2 group of players in any game from Week 1 to Week 11, but he then played five consecutive matches getting into that realm with a couple of TE1 finishes (12.7 PPR-points in Week 13 and 11.6 in Week 15). The competition for targets will be fierce in Buffalo, obviously, but Knox has done enough to prove his worth as a late-round flier at the position, or at least a streamer on positive weekends.

Consider that Knox is pretty much the only viable option at the position in Buffalo and one of the clear go-to TEs with a low-enough ADP to make the cut as a mega-sleeper while projecting to 115+ FP in 2021. As with Jordan Akins, we're looking at a potential top-24 tight end in Knox, which would be good for a borderline TE2 finish in 12-team leagues and an even better mid-to-high-end TE2 in 16-team formats.

 

Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers

ADP 185, TE26

A TE1 getting off draft boards at a TE3 price? I'll take two! That's Eric Ebron for you, folks, and that also is a nonsensical thing taking place in the summer of the 2021 year of our Lord. While it is also true that Ebron has the highest ADP among the players highlighted in this column, it can't be argued that his price is way down when compared to his expected production. PFF sees Ebron as a high-end TE2 with chances at a borderline TE1 finish over the year.

You read that right. Ebron's expected TE16 finish is by far the cheapest of all tight ends projected to 128+ PPR points in 2021. Only Austin Hooper (131) projects to more FP while getting drafted outside of the top-170 picks, though his ADP is still more expensive than Ebron's.

Look at the chart above. Ebron was a solid tight end all season long, and barring three duds, he was a TE1 or TE2 in all of the other games he played (only 10 snaps in Week 15, virtually a non-played game for him). Ebron's stinkers aside (TE3 or worse), he would have averaged 12+ FPPG, and that would have ranked fourth at the very least among tight ends with 10+ games played last season. Seriously, that's bonkers but it is as true as it gets.

Ebron is not in a great position when it comes to the players he will share the field with. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool all project to break the 100-target mark. Even then, though, Ebron is projected to a more than healthy 73 targets and 50 receptions in 2021 for four touchdowns over the full season. That 73-target projection is the 14th- highest among all tight ends entering the 2021 campaign, and the combination of 540+ yards, 4+ TDs, and 50+ receptions is only projected in 11 other tight ends. The cheapest one? Ebron, more than 40 picks below Hunter Henry. Steal at his ADP, probably only rivaled by Tyler Higbee (ADP 129) in terms of potential ROI.



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