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Stop Drafting TEs Early - Wait for Delanie Walker or Austin Hooper


There are three tight ends who you should probably draft early: Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle. All three are very good players who have huge roles in their team's offenses, and with the positional scarcity of the tight end position, grabbing those guys early makes a lot of sense.

But the position really flattens out past those names, and drafting a tight end from the next tier of players can come back to bite you when you wind up weaker than you want to be at a more valuable position. That's why I'm a big advocate of waiting on tight end if you miss out on picking the big three.

Let's take a look at last year's data on tight end production and then look at a few names who you can get later on in your fantasy drafts.

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Last Year's Data

Let's look at the last year's tight end scoring and put that data in context. I'll be looking at PPR numbers here since most people are playing PPR leagues these days.

Four tight ends scored at least 200 PPR points: the big three plus Eric Ebron, whose numbers were boosted by 13 touchdowns. Meanwhile, another 14 tight ends scored between 100 and 200 fantasy points. 10 of those scored between 100 and 150. Seven wide receivers scored at least 300 points. 73 of them scored at least 100 points.

And that's the thing. Tight end scoring tapers off really quickly, whereas scoring at other positions just doesn't. On one hand, that might make you jump early at the very top tier of guys, which is fine as long as you only consider Kelce, Ertz, and Kittle as that top tier. After that, picking an early tight end over a player who'll score you more points (and who can play more roles on your team -- you start more backs and receivers than you do tight ends, so depth is more important) is just giving up points. The difference between TE6 Austin Hooper and TE12 Jimmy Graham last year was two PPR points per game. The difference between TE12 and TE16 Chris Herndon IV was 1.08 PPR points per game. Is that difference worth drafting a tight end who'll score 130 total points over a wide receiver in the seventh round who'll end up scoring 190 points?

I don't think so, which is why I'm an advocate of waiting on the position if you miss out on those top three guys. Sure, someone like O.J. Howard is really appealing, but he's going to end up being overdrafted when compared to what his production will be. Maybe it's fine to overdraft the potential TE4, but what about a guy like Vance McDonald, who's getting drafted in the seventh round? Is he really worth taking over Delanie Walker, who you can get in the 11th? Or over Austin Hooper, last year's PPR TE6 who you can get in the 13th?

If you ask me, nope. Let's take a look at those two names and why they're worth waiting for in the double-digit rounds.

 

Waiting For Delanie Walker

When healthy, Delanie Walker is just so consistent, so it's a major shame that an ankle injury limited him to one game last season.

Before 2018, Walker had four years in a row with at least 800 yards. He wasn't a touchdown machine, but he had between three and seven touchdowns in each of those seasons. He had never had fewer than 60 receptions since arriving in Tennessee, and he was consistently finishing as a top-10 fantasy tight end.

Now, a post-injury Walker finds himself getting drafted as the TE12. I think that's about right when you factor in the uncertainty of Walker's injury and the fact that Jonnu Smith might see some more snaps this year, but Walker still has the upside of a top-10 tight end. He's still got Marcus Mariota throwing him the football, and Mariota does like to throw to his tight end. He is also surrounded by wide receivers who don't set the world on fire. A healthy Walker likely ends up as the second option behind Corey Davis in the passing game, and that kind of volume at a pretty volatile position is almost enough reason to draft him even without factoring in his past success.

Walker is in training camp and isn't on the team's preseason PUP list. From the looks of this training camp video he should be back to his old production this year:

Walker's a big target for Mariota to throw to, and if the Titans offense improves this year, Walker's going to have more chances to make plays in the red zone. Mariota's been accurate in the red zone thus far in his career, so expect that connection to be strong.

 

Waiting For Austin Hooper

Or you could wait a little longer and draft Austin Hooper.

I'll admit that Austin Hooper has never been a name that excited me, even after he finished as the PPR TE6 last season. That was aided by injuries to a lot of other tight ends, so it's not as impressive as it seems.

But Hooper's third NFL season did see increases in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns. His catch rate's gone up in each of his seasons and he's on the field the majority of the time.

The Falcons offense and, in particular, quarterback Matt Ryan has basically topped all kinds of "who's going to have a huge season" lists, with a lot of smart people picking Matt Ryan to finish as the QB1. In order for that to happen, the Falcons passing offense will need to kick things into another gear, which should mean more production for Hooper, possible something in the 750-yard, five-touchdown range?

I would caution against Hooper in standard-scoring leagues because he didn't have a single 100-yard game last season, but in PPR, he's a much better play. He had at least three receptions in all but three games last season and had nine or more catches three times. Hooper's a good safety valve for Matt Ryan, someone that he can target over and over while reasonably expecting Hooper to bring in the vast majority of those targets.

While Hooper's overall finish this year isn't likely to be what it was last year unless we see another rash of tight end injuries, he's a solid and productive player who you can get in the 13th round. That's a good value for a guy like Hooper.

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