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The New Generation of Tight Ends

In Week 1 every year, there seems to be a new wave of players that no one has heard of before, making a splash for their team and immediately becoming relevant in the world of fantasy football. Finding that next waiver pickup or sleeper a week before the rest of your league is a great feeling. You're able to say that you had the scoop before anyone else.

The start to the 2018 season is no different, as we saw plenty of big name players go down with injuries. Some are out an unspecified amount of time with expectations to return, and some are out for the year. Specifically, at the tight end position, Greg Olsen is out for at least a few weeks and maybe more, while Delanie Walker was placed on injured reserve.

If you own either of them, you probably were rushing to scrounge up someone on the waiver wire. Luckily, there is a group of young, relative unknowns that may not be starters in Week 2, but they have the potential to be at least a valuable streamer, if not more, as the season progresses. Let's take a look at four guys expected to earn a bigger role on their team’s offense.

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Generation Next

Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans

The loss of Walker is a big blow for the Titans offense, as he received over 100 targets in each of the last four seasons. However, at the age of 34 and a recent history of injuries, the Titans showed they were prepared for something like this by drafting Smith in the third round of the 2017 draft. He went on to catch 18 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.

Smith’s speed and athleticism put him above any other young tight end option. He ran a 4.62 at the NFL Combine and actually lined up at wide receiver last season. At 6’3 248 pounds, the Titans should utilize him heavily in the passing game. He could be a matchup nightmare if the opposing defense has a linebacker covering him.

Keep in mind that Marcus Mariota is injured and is questionable for Week 2, so Smith’s value drops this week if Mariota is out. If he plays, pay attention to how Smith is used. If Mariota shows a liking to the second-year man in the passing game, he could become a very serviceable second tight end in standard 12-team leagues.

Here’s a look at his next three matchups:

Week 2: Houston (#27 vs TE in 2017)
Week 3: Jacksonville (#20 vs TE in 2017)
Week 4: Philadelphia (#17 vs TE in 2017)


Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers

After Olsen went down in Week 1, owners probably weren’t surprised since it was a flare up from the injury he suffered last year. As owners are left scrambling trying to find a replacement, the rookie Thomas has a chance to make an impact, and possibly step into the starting role.

Drafted in the fourth round out of Indiana this year, Thomas only spent one year as the starter for the Hoosiers. However, in nine games he caught 25 passes for 376 yards and five touchdowns; that’s an average of 15 yards per reception. He went on to play in The Senior Bowl, followed by participating in the combine, where he ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds.

His athleticism got him drafted, and the Panthers would be foolish to not at least test the waters, but don’t expect it to happen overnight. Christian McCaffrey is sure to steal a ton of targets and there is still Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, and DJ Moore to worry about.

If you think you’ll need a streaming option at tight end soon, you should monitor Thomas’ target share this week against Atlanta who’s defense is decimated by injuries, while also paying attention to any and all news about Olsen. If the veteran misses extended time, Thomas can become a dart throw at tight end in standard leagues if your starter is on bye.

Here’s a look at his next three matchups:

Week 2: Atlanta (#14 vs TE in 2017)
Week 3: Cincinnati (#30 vs TE in 2017)
Week 4: New York Giants (#15 vs TE in 2017)


Will Dissly, Seattle Seahawks

Dissly came out of nowhere Week 1 to post three receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown. The rookie out of Washington was in this position because Ed Dickson is inactive for the first six weeks of the season, and star receiver Doug Baldwin went down with a knee injury during the game.

With that in mind, Brandon Marshall and Tyler Lockett will be the starting wide receivers for Russell Wilson. Neither are serious threats to a defense, but ultimately will draw Wilson’s attention a bit more than a rookie like Dissly. However, Seattle’s offensive line isn’t good, and Wilson relied a lot on Jimmy Graham in the past so don't be surprised if Dissly gets a few looks, even around the goal line. If your standard 12-team league has a deep bench and you have an empty spot, throw a dart on Dissly, but only start him in the direst of situations. I any other case, wait another week to monitor target share and react accordingly.

Here's a look at his next three matchups:

Week 2: Chicago (#11 vs TE in 2017)
Week 3: Dallas (#25 vs TE in 2017)
Week 4: Arizona (#7 vs TE in 2017)


Jake Butt, Denver Broncos

Here’s a guy who has a high ceiling but we have yet to see what he can do in the NFL. After tearing his ACL in his final game ever at Michigan, Butt was drafted by the Broncos in the fifth round, after originally projecting to be the first tight end off the board in 2017.

After missing his entire rookie year, he is back at full health and it’s only a matter of time before Butt is Denver’s starting tight end. At the moment, he is listed behind Jeff Heuerman on the depth chart, and it’s not because Heuerman is a better talent. Butt has the size and physicality, at 6’5 250 pounds, to become a serious threat for quarterback Case Keenum, who just last year was throwing to Kyle Rudolph, who finished with eight touchdowns and 87 targets.

In Week 1, Butt was targeted four times to Heuerman’s one, but Heuerman out-snapped Butt 60-36. The Michigan grad hauled in two of the four looks for 29 yards, but him being targeted more on fewer snaps should be all the evidence you need. Expect Keenum to continue looking Butt’s way. If he’s not already, Butt should be on your dynasty team. In redraft leagues, Butt isn’t rosterable yet, but he is one of those guys you “watch list” to make sure you don’t forget to see how he did last week.

Here’s a look at his next three matchups:

Week 2: Oakland (#16 vs TE in 2017)
Week 3: Baltimore (#29 vs TE in 2017)
Week 4: Kansas City (#12 vs TE in 2017)

If his role continues to build, grab him in every format as your second tight end.

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