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Rookie Tight Ends in Fantasy Football - To Draft Or Not To Draft

Every year we have the same conversation. A rookie tight end is picked high in the NFL draft and fantasy football enthusiasts begin asking if he's worth taking a chance on when their redraft league drafts rolls around later this summer.

Inevitably there's someone in every league that remembers Rob Gronkowski setting the world on fire in 2010 and wants to recapture that magic in the current class. Six years later, the two rookie tight ends being discussed for redraft leagues are San Diego Chargers Tight End Hunter Henry and Atlanta Falcons Tight End Austin Hooper.

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Are Rookie Tight Ends Worth Drafting?

To begin the conversation, is Henry worth a draft pick? There are things to like about Henry. Standing at 6'5” and 250lbs, Henry's frame practically screams red zone target. Antonio Gates is an old man by NFL standards and there's a real chance he's a non-factor in the Chargers' offense this year, an offense which has always featured the tight end during Philip Rivers' career. With some health concerns surrounding some of the Chargers' other skill players, opportunity may be the biggest argument in favor of Henry's draft potential.

Unfortunately for Henry's supporters, history would suggest to us that even if the opportunity does present itself for him, he is unlikely to be able to capitalize. Even if one is correct in assuming that Gates' fantasy relevance has reached its conclusion, a controversial assumption in its own right, the simple truth is that rookie tight ends are rarely fantasy relevant in year one of their careers. While the last three years has seen an influx of young talent at the position, the rookie seasons of Tyler Eifert, Travis Kelce, Eric Ebron, Zack Ertz, and Maxx Williams were all underwhelming from a fantasy perspective. Despite their draft pedigree and opportunity, not one managed to put up a top 12 season in their rookie years.

There's a good reason for the existence of this historical trend. Multiple NFL coaches have explained in the past about the unique challenges facing new tight ends adjusting to the NFL. A tight end is as much a lineman as a receiver and the complexities of NFL blocking schemes, as well as the time required to master them, arguably delays their development in the passing game. Hours spent practicing on the offensive line are hours not spent running routes after all.

There are always going to be players whose immense talent overcomes the challenges that face rookie tight ends, players like Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez were able to put up legitimate numbers as soon as they entered the league, the problem is that history suggests that players of this mold are exceedingly rare. In a year with attractive value at tight end like Fleener in the 7th round or Ertz in the late 10th round, it just isn't worth gambling on Henry.

Regarding the rest of the tight end rookie class, there's not much worth saying. After Henry, the only other real option was Austin Hooper, a name which many casual fantasy footballers may not even know yet. While there are things to like about Hooper and his situation with the Falcons, he appears to be a long term project. Hooper is a player who might be a deep sleeper a year or two from now, but right now, his relevance to fantasy football is minimal.

There are very few hard and fast rules in fantasy football, but learning to ignore the hype surrounding rookie tight ends is certainly one of them. If you're looking at rookie receivers for this year's draft, stick with a wideout like Corey Coleman or Josh Doctson. Unless you play in dynasty, there's no name worth sticking to your board and that will likely continue to be the case with rookie tight ends in the future.


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