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Rookie TEs in the Best Fantasy Positions


Rookie tight ends are notoriously hard to project because so much goes into the position. Players have to be able to show NFL-level blocking and receiving abilities if they want to see the field early.

While some succeed early, others take far longer. Last year was one of the most highly-rated tight end classes in recent draft history, yet only Evan Engram managed to stay fantasy-relevant throughout the season, mostly out of necessity.

That said, there is always the exception and some prodigious pass-catching tight ends could make a splash early on, based on landing spot. Here's a look at the top rookie tight ends, after the NFL Draft.

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Fantasy Production from a Rookie TE?

Before we tackle this year's crop of tight end talent, let's look back at how the first three tight ends picked have fared their rookie season over the past five years (in standard scoring):

 2017  O.J Howard  TE17
 2017  Evan Engram  TE5
 2017  David Njoku  TE22
 2016  Hunter Henry  TE11
 2016  Austin Hooper  TE35
 2016  Nick Vannett  TE88
 2015  Maxx Williams  TE44
 2015  Clive Walford  TE30
 2015  Tyler Kroft  TE53
 2014  Eric Ebron  TE45
 2014  Austin Seferian-Jenkins  TE43
 2014  Jace Amaro  TE29
 2013  Tyler Eifert  TE29
 2013  Zach Ertz  TE20
 2013  Gavin Escobar  TE50

(By the way, that 2013 tight end class? Travis Kelce was the fifth tight end taken and Jordan Reed was the sixth. THE DRAFT IS BASICALLY JUST A GIANT LOTTERY.)

Henry jumps into the top 10 in PPR in 2016, but still that track record isn't great. Only two of the 15 players on this list had point totals that suggested they were worth starting on a weekly basis. That's not what you want to see if you're on the clock in re-draft and all the top tight ends are off the board and you're really intrigued by one of this season's rookies.

But look at those stats again: the two best seasons came in the last two years, and the 2017 class actually had some productive rookies at the position. Njoku wasn't consistent, but he flashed his talent, and O.J. Howard may have had a chance at finishing in the top 10 if he didn't share snaps with Cameron Brate.

So, let's look at this year's rookie tight end class. Who has a chance to perform in re-draft and, maybe more importantly based on the volatility of the position, who's a good value in dynasty leagues.

(Note: I've left off two players that I like -- Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews -- because they were drafted by the same team. I'm not ready to make any predictions about the tight end situation in Baltimore except to say that two rookie tight ends on the same team feels like a bad move in the short term, but it could pay off great down the line, especially with a new quarterback in Lamar Jackson.)

 

Rookie Tight Ends to Watch in Redraft

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins needed a tight end and they got a potentially good one in Mike Gesicki, who projects to be a good pass catching tight end at the NFL level. With Jarvis Landry and his NFL-leading 112 catches leaving town as well as the departure of Julius Thomas and his 41 receptions, there's a place for Gesicki to see a good number of targets.

The Dolphins did already add Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson to fill that slot role that Landry leaves, but there's still room for Gesicki to make waves, especially down near the red zone. Gesicki has 14 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He's 6'6''. He's going to get a decent amount of chances down around the goal line to make plays for Miami and his track record at Penn State suggests he should be able to take advantage of that.

Take a look at some of Gesicki's college highlights. He's a huge mismatch down near the goal line and has good enough hands to make tough catches. He can score on the shovel pass like a young Travis Kelce. He's going to cause a lot of issues for defenses over his career. Will he be able to do all this as a rookie? Maybe not, especially if he struggles early as a blocker. But at the very least, the upside and opportunity are there in Miami.

Jordan Akins, Houston Texans

The Texans haven't had a consistent tight end since Owen Daniels left town, struggling through a series of inconsistent players at the position like C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin, and Stephen Anderson, who all took snaps at the position during the 2017 season. With Fiedorowicz entering an early retirement due to concussion issues, either Anderson or Griffin were expected to step into the starting role for this upcoming season. Houston fans can't love that possibility: Griffin's 2016 season was fine, when he grabbed 50 catches for 442 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Anderson's 2017 season showed promising as well, with 25 catches for 342 yards and a touchdown, but neither player has the kind of upside that Texans fans and fantasy players want.

Enter Jordan Akins, the Central Florida tight end who caught 32 balls for 515 yards and four touchdowns last season. He's on the older side already, but he's a potentially dynamic player at the tight end position. According to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, 43.7 percent of Akins's catches last season went for 20 yards or more. He has big play potential on an offense that showed in 2017 that it can make big plays. Deshaun Watson needed a weapon at the tight end position in order to keep the Texans offense running smoothly and to avoid regression in his second season; Akins can be a guy who gives Houston that. If he can surpass Griffin and Anderson during the preseason, he could be worth a late pick in deeper re-draft leagues.

Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys

This pick wouldn't mean much, except Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, a mainstay with the franchise, is rumored to be considering retirement (and by considering, I mean that it sounds like almost a done deal that Witten will leave the Cowboys and join the Monday Night Football broadcasting team.) The Witten news broke after the first round, so the team wasn't able to invest a first round pick in the position, and then the Eagles traded right in front of Dallas to take tight end Dallas Goedert. The Cowboys eventually took Schultz with the last pick in the fourth round.

So, what can he bring to the Cowboys? Let's start by looking at who he'll be competing with for playing time: Rico Gathers, Geoff Swain, and Blake Jarwin. YIKES. Witten's decision to retire after the bulk of free agency was over also means that Dallas can't grab any of the top tier free agents to replace Witten. What's left out on the market? Antonio Gates is declining and likely puts up in exact same situation a year from now. Julius Thomas was released by the Dolphins, but I don't see him as an answer. Schultz, despite being a late fourth rounder, will have a chance to win the starting role. Even if Rico Gathers beats him out, he'll get a chance to see the field on a Witten-less (and Dez Bryant-less) offense.

What can Schultz do? He's a good blocker and has good hands, though he isn't going t0 be the big play receiver that other tight ends from this class can be. But good blocking and reliable hands and good route running? There's a role for a player like that on the Cowboys, a team that was at its best last year while running the ball with Ezekiel Elliott. Schultz can't be expected to step in and be prime Jason Witten, but we could see something resembling late-stage Witten -- his 2016 season in which he had 673 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Dak Prescott's first season at quarterback. Schultz likely isn't worth a pick in re-draft right off the bat unless you play in an extremely deep league, but he's worth monitoring over the course of the preseason to see how his role develops. He doesn't have anyone ahead of him on the Cowboys depth chart that's unassailable right now.

 

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