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Navigating Late-Round Tight Ends


When should I draft a tight end? This is one of the questions in fantasy football that gets the biggest split of answers. There is the clear cut tier of Travis Kelce (who you could argue is in a tier of his own), Zach Ertz and George Kittle, but their ADPs are high. With all of those guys going in the third round or before, you may think to wait until the next group of players O.J. Howard and Evan Engram (who will likely get a boost for the start of the season with Golden Tate set to be suspended)

Then it's a case of "Do I take a mid-round tight end?", or "Do I wait and hold on to the end of my draft and stream the position?" At the start of the summer, I was definitely on the "draft a tight end early" bandwagon, but during the summer I have cooled on that and seem to be looking at the end of drafts to fill the position instead.

To aid you in that quest of navigating the position where there are question marks read on!

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Case Against The Middle Tier

Before we really explore the later round options, the first thing is to make up our mind on the middle round tight ends. Specifically Hunter Henry, Eric Ebron, Vance McDonald, and Jared Cook. Where they are being drafted means you have to consider not only if that player is a value but what you are missing out on in selecting a player in that range.

Taking a tight end in the sixth or seventh round means that you are forgoing depth at other positions that you just can't get in later rounds. The difference in selecting Henry instead of a tight end with your last pick is the difference between having a running back like Tarik Cohen, Austin Ekeler or Latavius Murray on your bench (who have flex appeal each week) and selecting a handcuff who needs an injury to the starter in order to be fantasy relevant like Alexander Mattison, Darwin Thompson or Tony Pollard.

 

Navigating The Bottom Of The Bucket

The issue, of course, becomes that the tight ends at the bottom of drafts are players that have multiple question marks against them- be that injury concern, offensive struggles, or just age. However, there are some gems in this range that have great potential to be better than a streamer. If they struggle and they aren't able to overcome the issues then you've not invested in them at all and can just play the streaming game for the season.

I have found some players that are being taken at the end of drafts that I'm targeting as much as possible. Let me explain why:

 

Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins | ADP: 13.07

Reed is currently being selected at the 13.07 as the 17th tight end, and at that point, I would be more than happy to pick him up. Reed struggles for health, but when he is on the field there is no doubt that he is heavily involved in the offense. In fact, there were only four tight ends that attracted a target share of around 20% in the games they played in. Kelce, Ertz, Kittle, and Reed. Each of the first three is being considered in the opening rounds of fantasy drafts and yet Reed is cast aside as an injury-prone headache who is nearly free in drafts.

The situation in Washington is uncertain, to say the least, the quarterback situation is murky with the options being Case Keenum (who struggled in Denver before being traded to the Redskins) or rookie Dwayne Haskins. However, the leading receiver in Washington could well be Reed, due to the lack of talented pass catchers. Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson and Trey Quinn aren't going to give defensive coordinators sleepless nights.

In my recent round of projections, I've assumed that Reed is actually going to play 14 games this season. With the lack of talent surrounding Reed, he ended with a projected stat line of;

72 receptions for 715 yards and 5 touchdowns- slotting him in the top 10 of tight ends.

Given where I can select him, that is a fantastic value.

 

Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers | ADP: 13.12

Graham is another player who can be selected late in drafts, currently being selected as the 19th tight end at the 13.12 in drafts. Green Bay struggled to operate last season on offense, with the team missing players through injury, and poor play-calling.

There is a narrative that quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn't favor tight ends, which is largely true, but equally the team have not had great options at the position. Martellus Bennett was towards the end of his career when he arrived, and while Graham is in the twilight of his career- injury limited him last season.

Graham finished with the lowest output he has had since the 2015 season. Last season he caught 55 passes for 636 yards, but only two touchdowns. Applying Graham's average touchdown rate from the past four seasons to his total for last season he would have scored three more touchdowns.

Combining the natural return to the mean for Graham with the lack of expected improvement in the offense in Green Bay, Graham has a great opportunity to bounce back this season.

This season I projected Graham to finish with a stat line of;

50 receptions for 600 yards, and 6 touchdowns.

While that puts him as a borderline TE1, there is potential for even more touchdowns for Graham if the Packers offense returns anywhere near to the mean.

 

Streaming Options

There is, of course, another option that you can take if don't want either of those aging tight ends. Instead, just start your season in streaming the position. One player that can be considered is Jacksonville Jaguars tight end, Geoff Swaim. Currently projected to be the team's starter the Jaguars open their season against the Kansas City Chiefs, who struggled against the position last year. New quarterback Nick Foles has traditionally targetted his tight end more than most, and with the other receivers on the offense not being elite- Swaim could see a lot of work in Week 1.

 

Conclusion

Selecting an early or middle-round tight end can put you at ease throughout the season, in not having to look at waiver wire adds. However, the opportunity cost in not selecting depth at running back, or wide receiver, combined with the two options (and there are others) that are available right at the back of drafts means that you are can get maximum value from your picks on draft day.

In my drafts, I'm mainly looking to pick up either of the options I outlined, or picking up Swaim and streaming the position for the whole season.

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