Now that we've discussed breakout candidates at both running back and wide receiver, it's time to take a gander at the tight end position. Anyone who has played fantasy over the last three seasons will tell you how inconsistent tight ends are. Basically, if you don't end up with a stud, you're playing the touchdown game every week. The guy who scores is the guy you want, and as you all know, that's impossible to predict.
Much like the last two pieces, the names listed are subject to change since it is still mid-February. That said, I'm mostly confident in this list because the three names mentioned are now unlikely to see any significant change over the spring. Nevertheless, it's important to remember this isn't set in stone. If it were, I would have let someone else write it.
Early Breakout Candidates: TE
Ladarius Green, Pittsburgh Steelers
Another year, another pre-season list for Ladarius Green. Whether it's as a sleeper or a breakout, Ladarius Green tends to always find himself aboard the hype. I understand that at some point we have to bail on a player who can't stay healthy but the truth of the matter is that he's a freak of an athlete whenever he's on the field. We saw flashes of playmaking ability when Green finally made his mid-season debut for the Steelers. It didn't last long but that doesn't mean he can't repeat it.
Literally the only thing Green has standing in his way is his health. If he can string together even 12 games out of 16, he'll be a fantasy stud. There's no question in my mind about that. He's too talented and is in too potent of an offense to falter. Some may claim the "too many mouths to feed" rhetoric but that's a bit of a crutch argument, especially for the Steelers. Last season, Pittsburgh's pass-catchers rotated on a frequent basis. Only Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell stayed involved the entire year. Everyone else came and went. That leaves a big opening for Ladarius Green to fill and he certainly has the talent to do it. He averaged seven targets a game when healthy anyway so it's not like the team didn't already like looking his way.
If you're worried about the team cutting him, that's already been squashed as the Steelers are expected to ride it out with Green. It's hard to rely on his box score given the small sample size but there are some nice games among the four he played in at full strength. He tore up the Giants for 110 yards and a score on six catches. He went two-for-67 against the Colts and had 72 yards before suffering a season-ending injury against the Bengals in December. Expect Ladarius Green to put up strong numbers provided he can keep his ailments in order.
Zach Miller, Chicago Bears
Our second tight end on the list is Zach Miller, a player who many were happy to scoop up prior to his injury in 2016. Miraculously, the Bears keep ending up with solid offensive weapons despite letting several of them walk. You'd never know it by the standings but the Bears actually do have nice pieces in place. Zach Miller certainly qualifies, at least for fantasy purposes.
Miller's fantasy value was absolutely padded in PPR formats due to high reception totals. Even playing just 10 games, he managed to have at least four receptions in six of them. I'm no math wizard but I believe that is more than half. Point is, Miller was a consistent part of a Bears offense that will be more competitive than you think in 2017. I'm tempted to throw in the "a new quarterback will look to his tight end" schtick but that's only true for certain QBs. It's not a universal certainty but it's definitely possible.
Zach Miller is going to be a forgotten asset come draft day, so keep your eye on him as the offseason progresses. He'll be the perfect player for the "wait on tight end" strategy. The likes of C.J. Fiedorowicz and Cameron Brate are going to be drafted ahead of Miller but there really won't be any difference between them. In fact, I'd prefer Miller over the other two. Hot take.
Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons
All I am going to say about the Super Bowl is that I will not be mentioning Atlanta blowing the biggest lead in SB history by passing in the second half with a two-touchdown lead. Now, about Austin Hooper.
Hooper's 2016 stat line doesn't stand out at all. He finished the year with just 271 yards and three scores on 19 receptions. At first glance, it's easy to dismiss him as just another warm body. But that's why we do the analysis, to go beyond a simple once-over.
Here are some quick hits as to why I'm ignoring the box score in relation to Austin Hooper. Anybody who's anybody now knows how unstoppable the Falcons offense is. Matt Ryan rightfully won the league MVP award, so Hooper already has that in his favor. Julio Jones is going to garner a ton defensive attention. Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel are no slouches, they'll get covered too. You can't just stack the box against Atlanta despite them having two explosive backs. Someone needs to catch the ball over the middle right?
It's all easy analysis but that doesn't make it untrue. Austin Hooper has as good of a chance to score a TD as any other starting tight end. So if that is already true, I'll take my chances on someone who can actually be useful in a strong offense.
All of that positivity aside, Hooper isn't the type of player you snag late with the hopes of starting him week one. He's the kind of tight end you pair with an often-injured Rob Gronkowski. Or, even more strategically, someone you snag when you're looking to give yourself two shots at a starting TE. Not every "breakout" needs to be drafted as an automatic starter anyway.