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Dynasty Watch: Your Tight End Sucks, Now What?

Dynasty rankings are in constant flux, and staying informed is the key to making roster decisions for your fantasy football team. The Dynasty Watch series highlights some key takeaways from each week’s games.

Through five weeks of the NFL season, offenses have scored more points than ever before. New records have been set for passer rating, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and just about every passing stat you can think of.

You know who hasn’t been in on the party though? Your tight end. Unless you own one of a few strong performers at the position, the TE slot has probably been a nightmare for you.

TE-ScoringC

 

The average PPR score for a top-24 TE is actually slightly up from 2017, however last year was one of the lowest scoring seasons in years, particularly from a passing standpoint. Despite the aerial fireworks in 2018, the average has barely budged, and the median score is lower than ever, showing that what little scoring there is has been concentrated among the top players.

This is even more evident when looking at just the top-12 TEs. Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, Eric Ebron, and Jared Cook have carried the 2018 group while TE9 Austin Hooper’s 47.2 points wouldn’t be enough to even crack the top 12 in three out of the other four seasons.

This problem is actually exacerbated in dynasty leagues, especially deep ones, where it’s much easier for a team to accumulate multiple top TEs on one roster.1 If you’re one of the many owners who needs a stiff drink every time you go to fill the TE slot in your lineup on Sunday morning, you’re not alone. Let’s look at a few strategies to attack the TE position and hopefully turn it into a position of strength.

Go Big

Let’s say you’re currently in a playoff spot; your running backs, wide receivers, and quarterbacks are killing it, but your TE hasn’t broken double-digits all season. Instead of trying to scrape by at TE, why not supercharge it with the best TE of our generation?

NE2018Offense

Rob Gronkowski hasn’t had the start to the year many expected. With Julian Edelman suspended and an underwhelming WR group left in his place, many thought that Gronkowski would smash through the first four games of the year. That hasn’t been the case, and though an ankle injury may bear some of the blame the past couple games, he’s still underwhelmed overall.

The one shocking number in the above chart from the Weekly Stat Explorer is the lone red zone target Gronkowski has accumulated so far. Wait, what? How is that even possible?

RobGronkowskiRZTargets

In his last three (mostly) healthy seasons, Gronkowski has averaged more than 1.6 red zone targets per game. In 2018 he’s averaging 0.2. This is not going to continue, and it shouldn’t be long before the targets and touchdowns start flowing once again.

A five-game blip in production probably isn’t enough to get most owners to sell low on the biggest name at his position, but there’s more going on with Gronkowski that may be keeping his dynasty price suppressed. Multiple reports have surfaced stating that the Patriots were planning on trading Gronkowski this offseason, and he very publicly hinted retirement if they went through with that plan.2 2019 will be the final year of his current contract, as well as his age-30 season.

Gronkowski owners are terrified that he may go from being a valuable asset to completely worthless in the blink of an eye. If he sustains another significant injury, would he just call it a career at the end of the season? Could all the drama that reporters claim has been simmering with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft help hasten the downfall of the dominant Brady to Gronkowski connection? These are valid questions.

With his age, retirement concerns, and recent underperformance, Gronkowski is finally in a part of his career where it may not cost a huge premium to acquire him. For contending teams, he could be the piece that puts you over the top, and could even still play for years to come if the retirement and trade threats end up not amounting to anything.

I acquired Gronkowski for the 1.06 and 2.03 during this year’s rookie draft in a TE-premium league, even after it was confirmed he’d be playing this year. That would have been unthinkable a year ago, and if his owner is out of contention in your league, he may be even cheaper now.

Buy High

In some shallow leagues, former first-round pick Eric Ebron was dropped to waivers this offseason, even in TE-premium formats. His current level of production won’t continue once Jack Doyle returns, but even with Doyle and T.Y. Hilton back on the field, Ebron should still have a large enough role to be fantasy relevant.

IND2018Offense

Ebron leads all TEs with five TDs, and is third in PPR scoring, just behind Ertz and Kelce. His 12 red-zone targets also lead the league among TEs, one ahead of Cook’s 11, and four more than any other TE behind him. Even if you assume Doyle’s presence would have cut his targets there in half, he would still be tied for sixth place with George Kittle.3

Andrew Luck is throwing the ball at a record pace, and the Colts lack talented pass-catchers. Even in a part-time role, Ebron will have opportunity for the rest of the season that will be more valuable than many TEs who play almost every snap for their respective teams. The Colts will probably slow down from their crazy pace, but will likely still be among the more pass-happy teams in the league.

IND2018OffenseB

Ebron is young, athletic, productive, and in an offense that wants to throw the ball. He landed on the ideal team to rejuvenate his dynasty value and could be useful for multiple years if he stays in Indianapolis. If his owner wants you to pay full price for what he’s done the last few games, then you can explore other options. But if his owner picked him up off waivers to fill in and feels like he’s turning a nice profit by selling him high for a future pick or developmental player, then pull the trigger and get a player who will beat the hell out of whatever garbage you’ve been streaming.

By the same token, you can also consider buying Jack Doyle now while he’s hurt. His hip injury is concerning, but he was running more routes and being targeted more than Ebron at the start of the season, and there are enough targets to go around on the Colts. He’s already out this week, but keep an eye on his status going forward.

Stream

It’s been a brutal year for streaming, but sometimes that’s your only real option. Neil Dutton has been covering what GLSP thinks about TEs on a weekly basis and recommending some players to target and avoid. Don’t be too attached to a TE at the end of your roster. Churn through marginal players based on who has the best matchup and maybe you can catch lightning in a bottle and find a starter for the rest of the year. Use the tools here at RotoViz to help you on your quest.

Sleeper of the Week

Each week I’ll use this space to highlight a player for deep dynasty leagues where every player already getting significant touches is already owned.

Did I already profile Kendrick Bourne as a SOTW last year? Yes.

So why am I doing it again? Because he’s still being largely overlooked.

Here’s what I had to say last year about Bourne:

Bourne went undrafted largely due to a poor 40 time and a small-school pedigree. He was living in the shadow of Cooper Kupp at Eastern Washington University, so even though he tallied 1,200 yards and seven TDs as a senior, his market share numbers paled in comparison to a player who broke the college record for receiving yards and just about every FCS record there was to break. The important thing to note, however, is that Bourne is over two full years younger than Kupp. That doesn’t mean that Bourne is necessarily a better player, but it does offer a plausible explanation for how he could be legitimately good without even being the best receiver on an FCS team.

KendrickBournePP

With a fairly young breakout age and an opportunity on a poor depth chart, Bourne could easily play his way into relevance this season. It’s also worth noting that – with the exception of Murphy who was just signed before the team’s Week 10 game – Bourne is easily the tallest receiver on the active roster. Standing at 6-foot-1, Bourne towers over Taylor (5 – 8), Goodwin (5 – 9), and Robinson (5 – 10)4 Being a top receiver in today’s NFL doesn’t require prototypical WR1 size, but it does help a player like Bourne fill a niche that the team is otherwise lacking in its personnel.

Injuries to Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis have once again opened up the window for Bourne to get on the field and see significant playing time. He’s been efficient so far on his 15 targets, largely thanks to his two TDs.

KendrickBourneComps

What stands out most though is just how bad Pierre Garcon has been so far this season. Though Garcon’s contract runs through 2021, every year after 2018 is a club option. It wouldn’t be surprising for San Francisco to part ways with Garcon as he heads into his age-33 season.

The 49ers have plenty of cap space and can address the WR position through free agency or through the draft in what is supposed to be a strong WR class. It would be foolish to just assume Bourne would get a significant part of Garcon’s work if he left, but he’ll have the opportunity this season to prove that he’s worthy of a role in a deep San Francisco WR corps with a lot of young talent.

  1. Well, you could do it pretty easily in redraft leagues as well, but it wouldn’t make much sense.  (back)
  2. Though the part about him being trade-bait wasn’t known at the time, the retirement threat pushed his ADP way down.  (back)
  3. 6 RZ targets  (back)
  4. And Victor Bolden (5 – 8) if we want to count him, though he’s not really a factor.  (back)

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