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Should You Draft Tank Dell For Your 2023 Fantasy Football Teams?

Nathaniel Dell - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Rookies, Draft Sleepers

Nathaniel "Tank" Dell may be one of the most challenging players to assess this year for fantasy football. On the one hand, his production in his last two years at Houston is absolutely off the charts. However, his miniature stature causes a lot of pauses regarding how productive he can be in the NFL. Since Tank Dell was selected in the third round by the Houston Texans, there have been reports that fellow rookie and the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, C.J. Stroud specifically asked the Texans to draft Dell.

The Texans are rebuilding currently, but with the cornerstone draft selections of Stroud and defensive standout Will Anderson, there's optimism the rebuild is well along its way. However, with a brand new coaching staff and so many new players, especially so many rookies at premium positions, the rebuild is going to have some bumps along the way.

Rookies often tend to cause a lot of excitement. It's no different for NFL fans and fantasy football managers. Here we'll be looking at what fantasy managers should be expecting from rookie, Tank Dell and if fantasy managers should be targeting him in their fantasy football drafts this offseason. If you're looking to make a premium purchase of one of our fantasy football packages, be sure to use "BOOM" for a 10% discount.


Tank Dell Prospect Profile

Tank Dell began his collegiate season at Alabama A&M. He only played in just four games due to an injury he suffered in the season-opener. Despite the limited action, that didn't stop him from making an impact despite being a true freshman. He finished with eight targets, six receptions, 199 yards, and two touchdowns. Following his freshman season, he went to Independence Community College where he had 52 receptions, 766 yards, and eight touchdowns. He played well enough and earned a scholarship from Houston and signed on to play football there for the 2020 season.

In his first season with the Cougars, Dell performed satisfactorily. He ended with 48 targets, 29 receptions, 428 receiving yards, and three touchdowns. He finished with a 1.61-yard per route run average. Surprisingly, despite his smaller stature, he was used in the slot just 6.5% of the time, operating full-time as a prototypical outside receiver.

Going into the 2021 season, Dell functioned more as a slot receiver, running 50.4% of his routes from that position according to PFF. That change in his utilization had a drastic impact on his level of play. Over the next two seasons, there was no receiver as production as Dell was over the 2021 and 2022 seasons and it certainly put his name on the NFL radar despite being just 5'8 and 165 pounds.

He had the sixth-most targets in all of college football in 2021 with 139. He turned those 139 targets into 91 receptions (12th-most) and 1,328 receiving yards (12th-most). He found the end zone 12 times, which was the seventh-most. He was one of the most productive receivers in the country with PFF giving him an 88.8 receiving grade, the 13th-best in the country. Dell excelled across the board. He had the sheer counting stats, but he was also very efficient. He generated 6.6 yards after the catch per reception, which was the 17th-most. Dell constantly made defenders miss in the open field and found separation on almost every route. He finished with a 2.84-yard-per-route run average, which also ranked 17th among receivers with at least 90 targets.

Somehow, in his final season in college, Dell got even better. He ended with 152 targets, 108 receptions, 1,399 yards, and 17 touchdowns this past season. Those numbers ranked fourth, second, first, and first respectively across all of college football. Unfortunately, no matter what he did, there's so way to dispel some of the concerns associated with his lack of size, but to his credit, he did everything he could on the football field to display that his size was not going to hold him back at all.

During this final season at Houston, Dell lined up in the slot 67.0% of the time according to PFF, which is going to be his home in the NFL. His size will make it almost impossible for him to function as an outside receiver, but nowadays, slot receivers are full-time starters in 11-personnel sets. He once again displayed excellent efficiency, finishing with a 2.54-yard-per-route run average in his final season in college.

There's no denying the production and the talent. The question becomes how does all of that translate to the NFL where he's going to be going up against significantly more talented players than he did in the AAC conference and players that are much bigger and stronger than him, but with the speed to keep up with him. Despite his smaller stature, it's not like Dell blew anyone away with his combine performance.

While his 40-time wasn't bad by any means, at just 165 pounds it did leave a little something to be desired. The lack of elite athleticism and size will require Dell to be effective at the next level solely on his technician and route-running. Luckily for Dell, this is something that he does excel at.

Matt Harmon of Reception Perception wasn't the only one who sees the electric route-running and ability to create separation. This is what Lance Zierlein, lead NFL Draft Analyst of NFL.com had to say about Dell,

"Every second of the route is a separation opportunity for Dell, a touchdown-making machine who pairs electrifying top-end speed with twitchy short-area quickness. His routes are fast and effective on all three levels with keen ball-tracking talent deep and sideline-dotting footwork."


2023 Fantasy Football Expectations

It's borderline impossible not to be impressed with what Dell accomplished in college over the past few seasons. He was arguably the best receiver in the country. Just as impossible as it is not to be impressed with Dell's exploits, it's also borderline impossible not to be incredibly concerned about the history of receivers as small as he is.

Since 1992, there have been 52 receivers shorter than 5'10 and weighing less than 175 pounds. Remember, Dell is 5'8 and 165 pounds, so we're giving him a little leeway here. The highest full-PPR PPG average for anyone of those 52 receivers in their rookie season is 7.43. Only four of them averaged more than 5.00 PPG. I'm a big believer in the "history tends to repeat itself" saying and this makes me extremely cautious about Dell's career, especially for his redraft value in 2023. Only five of those 52 receivers had more than 45 targets in their rookie seasons. Only five had more than 25 receptions or 300 yards. Not a single one of them had five receiving touchdowns.

Looking at the history of receivers this small, it's hard to get too excited about his future prospects either. When we eliminate the rookie status on the previous search criteria, we have 244 seasons from receivers shorter than 5'10 and weighing less than 175 since 1992. 244 singular seasons. There has been one player to ever record a full-PPR PPG average higher than 10.00 and that is DeSean Jackson, who did it four times. The highest came in 2009 when he averaged 13.29 full-PPR PPG.

DeSean Jackson is the only player to have ever recorded more than 1,000 yards in a single season. He did so five times. Looking at non-Jackson players, there are just three players who have ever finished with more than 900 yards in any season of their career. There are just nine seasons where this sample of receivers scored more than five touchdowns. Jackson has five of the nine, leaving Cole Beasley, James Jett, Taylor Gabriel, and J.J. Nelson as the only other receivers to ever catch more than five touchdowns per season.

The Texans added Robert Woods and Dalton Schultz this offseason. Since 2020, Schultz has the fourth-most targets among tight ends with 282. He also ranks fourth in receptions with 198 and seventh in receiving yards with 2,000. Fantasy managers should be expecting Schultz to become a primary target for Stroud. Woods has been a very productive player, but seemed to have lost a step or two last year, his first with Tennessee and his first since tearing his ACL in 2021.

The Texans will also welcome back, former 2022 second-round pick, John Metchie III. He was diagnosed with lymphoma and missed his rookie season. He was an early declare and was a highly productive player at Alabama. Over his last two years in college, he had 212 targets, 151 receptions, 2,058 yards, and 14 touchdowns. In his final season, he had a 23.2% target share. There's also Nico Collins, who had a 19.1% target share and while he missed seven games, his per-game averages had him pacing at 112 targets, 63 receptions, and 818 yards.

While none of those four may set the world on fire, they are all quality players who are going to stay involved and be regularly used in the Houston offense. While the "there are too many mouths to feed" narrative doesn't jive with guys like Justin Jefferson and Cooper Kupp because they're going to get theirs, it becomes a real concern when there are so many quality players, but without any elite receiver. What tends to happen in these situations is almost a receiver-by-committee approach. Fantasy managers could be looking at something like that in Houston this season. In either case, it's hard to imagine Dell separating from this pack enough to become fantasy-relevant this season.

The most likely scenario is that Collins, Schultz, and Woods lead this team in receiving with either Metchie or Dell or a combination of the two of them settling in as the fourth receiving option. Fantasy managers are best avoiding Dell in redraft leagues. If you're looking to read a more in-depth article on what the Houston passing attack will look like, the likely target distribution between these players, and what to expect from Stroud, you can find that here.

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