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 is your regular season guide through the shifting dynasty landscape. Young tight ends are often slow to develop, but this year’s historic class is already off to a hot start. Read on to find out which TEs you should be targeting.
Tight end is one of the hardest positions to figure out in dynasty. Only a handful of TEs are consistent every-week producers, and the injury rate is comparable to that of running backs – they’re banged up all the time. Worst of all, young TEs typically take years to develop. Unlike RBs – and to a degree wide receivers – where you can find rookie hits, TEs often languish on rosters for years before finally becoming startable.
The 2017 class might flip the script. There are as many top rookies this year as in the last three classes combined. If you’re going to hold a young TE on your dynasty roster, you want it to be a guy with the upside to turn into one of those handful of every-week guys, and the talent for it to happen sooner rather than later. Let’s start with a look at what they’ve done so far:
Rostering a Cardinals TE is not for the faint of heart, so I’ll forgive you if you know nothing about Troy Niklas. The second-rounder from 2014 has been constantly injured throughout his career, but he’s the next man up behind Jermaine Gresham.
The Cardinals barely throw to their TEs, so there isn’t much upside to be found here, but Niklas will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2017 season. Niklas is not a guy who should be rostered anywhere, but should be on TE watch lists in deeper leagues.
As predicted, Austin Hooper became the Falcons top TE this season after the departure of Jacob Tamme. Unfortunately, the Falcons continue to largely ignore the TE position in the passing game, with only 2 targets per game going Hooper’s way. It’s important to remember that the Falcons only targeted TEs a total of 83 times last year, and 19 of those went to Levine Toilolo who is still on the roster. Even if Hooper absorbs all of Tamme’s vacated targets, he’d still only end up with around 60 targets on the year. That’s ahead of his current pace, but still not startable in most formats.
The talent is there with Hooper, but the volume currently isn’t. I’d usually be buying a guy like Hooper on the premise that he’ll work his way into opportunity, but the Falcons situation seems like one of the more stable ones in the league, and it’s hard to see it changing drastically anytime soon. He makes for a solid long-term hold, but I’d probably be selling in shallower leagues where you only have to start one TE. His situation will prevent him from ever becoming an every-week fantasy starter.
I’ve already wasted enough digital ink on Maxx Williams, but he’s currently the long-term guy to own here. He’s also currently injured…. again. The Ravens might have a voodoo curse on their tight ends. Probably aught to lay off Jobu’s rum.
In case anyone was wondering, Ed Dickson is not a thing. Doubly so in dynasty.
Adam Shaheen may have scored a TD, but it came on his only target of the year so far. Shaheen is not a guy to expect much from, even if the oft-injured Zach Miller goes down. There’s a good chance Miller isn’t on the team in 2018 though, and with another year of experience the Bears may look to work Shaheen in more.
Though his advanced age keeps him from being one of the top-rated rookie TEs, his late transition to football explains away some of that. I’m not as confident projecting Shaheen for success as some of the more polished TEs in the class, but he does have the upside of a consistent starter on a fantasy roster, and his slow start might scare off owners hoping for a bigger early role. He can be safely ignored in shallower leagues, but is a good speculative stash in deep or TE-premium leagues.
Athletic, young, and productive, David Njoku was my favorite TE prospect in the 2017 class. With TDs in consecutive weeks, it’s going to be hard to buy Njoku now if you don’t already own him. But as I predicted in the offseason, he’s still playing behind Seth DeValve.
While I’d like to tell you that a buying window for Njoku might open if DeValve continues to get the most targets, I doubt that’s the case in most leagues. However I also don’t think his price will explode any time soon, barring an injury to DeValve. I’d gladly buy Njoku at his original cost of a mid-to-late first-round pick or equivalent value if his owner is willing to move him.
Rico Gathers is on IR and not eligible to return until Week 9. There was a lot of hype around Gathers in the preseason, but Jason Witten has that Antonio Gates feel about him where he might block young guys well into his late thirties. Gathers shouldn’t be rostered other than in very deep leagues.
The best Broncos dynasty TE has yet to play a snap for the team. Jake Butt started the season on the PUP list and won’t be eligible to return until after Week 6. Butt fell in the draft due to an ACL tear in his final college contest but was widely regarded as a top prospect prior to his injury. Butt may not have game-breaking speed,2 but he has the chance to develop into a reliable target.
Denver TEs only accumulated 82 total targets last year, but are on pace for 101 so far this year despite the team averaging two fewer pass attempts per game. It’s entirely possible this is just noise and the TE target market share will return to previous levels, but with a new coaching staff and only two reliable WRs, there is room for a TE to eventually emerge.
As a rookie coming off a major injury, you shouldn’t expect anything from Butt this year even once he does return, but he’s one of the cheaper stashes for 2018 right now. The buying window should be open all year for Butt, and in many leagues he could end up on waivers during bye-week roster crunches.
C.J. Fiedorowicz grades out as the 12th best TE of the past five draft classes in the TE success model. Ryan Griffin fails the “rule of 15” test. Griffin will be startable for as long as Fiedorowicz is out, but I’d be looking to buy low on Fiedorowicz now while he’s injured. I don’t expect Fiedorowicz to ever be a huge playmaking TE, but he quietly had one of the most valuable workloads last year. Fiedorowicz was ninth in the league among TEs for expected points but was fifth from Week 4 on.
The concussions that have Fiedorowicz on IR do need to be considered when discussing his long-term outlook, but that will also likely already be factored into his current price. Since most Fiedorowicz owners probably grabbed him for next to nothing off of waivers last year, he’s a guy that should actually be inexpensive to acquire.3
Erik Swoope was a hot item in the preseason, but a knee injury has him sidelined until Week 9 at the earliest. With bye weeks on the horizon, there isn’t room for him on most rosters, but keep an eye on the news around Week 7 to see if he might actually return when eligible.
Los Angeles Chargers
Look, Antonio Gates has to retire sometime. He finally achieved the TE record for TDs and though Hunter Henry’s usage is down, Gates is being targeted less frequently as well. Henry was definitely too expensive in redraft coming into this year, but his dynasty breakout could start any day. He’s still one of the best TE prospects of the last five years, and I’m absolutely trying to acquire him. If his owner in your league is struggling this year, find a way to try to pry Henry away.
Los Angeles Rams
Before the start of the season, the Rams didn’t sound like a good destination for any pass catcher. Sean McVay has dispelled that notion. Though the Rams aren’t likely to continue putting up 40-point weeks, the offense seems competent at the very least. Tyler Higbee falls well below the 15 percent threshold for success while Gerald Everett is right at 50 percent. Higbee may currently be the lead dog, but the idea that Everett could be McVay’s west-coast version of Jordan Reed isn’t far-fetched.
Everett is currently dealing with a minor leg injury, but he’s the TE to own on the Rams.
New York Giants
Evan Engram is far and away the rookie leader in snaps, targets, and receiving opportunity. Of course the Giants still can’t block anyone, but if they continue to utilize fast passes to get the ball out of Eli Manning’s hands quickly, then Engram will continue to be a PPR machine. Here’s how Engram’s opportunity through the first three weeks compares to other rookie TEs since the year 2000
Yeah, that’s pretty good. Engram is already startable in most leagues, and I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon. He may never develop into a good blocker, but the Giants don’t seem to care.4 There’s not really any actionable advice here other than to note that there’s no reason to believe this won’t continue.
New York Jets
His past issues are well chronicled, but Austin Seferian-Jenkins needs to be owned. In his first game with the Jets, ASJ played 76 percent of the snaps and was targeted six times. He’s a former top prospect, and he’s going to be heavily involved in his offense. There’s always a chance he won’t continue his supposedly clean living and get suspended again, but his current price takes that risk into account.
Jermaine Kearse was left for dead but is now producing with the Jets. If a marginal talent like Kearse can do it, there’s no reason to think Seferian-Jenkins couldn’t as well.
Jesse James is dead. Unless he’s not. Are the Steelers just working Vance McDonald in slowly? Is his latest nagging injury that kept him out Week 2 going to linger? We’re pondering imponderables here and there’s no definitive answer. The one thing we can be pretty sure about is that James is a quintessential possession TE who is reliable but not going to create much after the catch, whereas McDonald has the big-play potential to put up large yardage totals.
In shallower leagues, McDonald is the only one with the potential to be a guy you’d want to start every week. James is a guy who will constantly be hovering on the border of rosters for as long as he can maintain his snap share.
With a shoulder injury limiting James in practice this week, it’s possible McDonald will take a step forward in the Steelers offense. The presence of both TEs caps their individual values, and makes them both borderline players. I still lean McDonald since James is never likely to enter TE1 territory, and I continue to hold or add him5 where possible.
San Francisco Forty-Niners
Another player who comes in with less than 15 percent success odds in the TE success model is George Kittle. This does not bode well for his long-term odds of success, but the Niners immediately made him their starting TE with over 90 percent of snaps in the first two weeks before injuries limited him in Week 3. It’s hard to ignore that kind of opportunity for a rookie, but it might be telling that he hasn’t done much of anything with it yet.
I’m sticking with the model here and letting others take the plunge with Kittle.
Tampa Bay Buccanneers
O.J. Howard was expected to start slow with Cameron Brate still a major part of the offense. Though he has outsnapped Brate through two weeks, Brate has still garnered the lion’s share of opportunity.
I’ve always preferred Njoku to Howard, but Howard is still an excellent prospect and it’s hard to imagine him not eventually being a key cog in the ascendant Tampa Bay offense. Brate is a free agent in 2018, and it’s possible the Bucs let him walk with Howard ready to take over. My only real problem with Howard is that he’s likely the most expensive of all these prospects to acquire, and I’d much rather have the next guy on the list at a cheaper cost.
Much like Howard, Jonnu Smith is on an ascendant offense with a good young QB who likes to target his TE. Unlike Howard, Smith is still available on many waiver wires. With guys like Antonio Gates and Jason Witten hanging around for what feels like years on end, it’s fair to question whether Delanie Walker will move on anytime soon, but he’s already dealing with a hamstring injury this year.
Smith is athletic and broke out at an extremely young age, albeit against lesser competition.
The most promising thing for Smith is that the Titans are getting him on the field and getting him the ball despite Walker’s presence. Smith’s snap share has increased each week, and any injury to Walker would immediately make him the starter. It might not be until 2018 or 2019 that Walker departs and clears the way for Smith, but he is one of the players that has a good chance to become an every-week starter, and he’s still basically free.
Sleeper of the Week
I called attention to Austin Ekeler after he made the Chargers roster, but with Melvin Gordon’s knee suddenly becoming a cause for concern, it’s worth taking a look at him again in deeper leagues.
Ekeler is the interesting name to know in dynasty. A player who led all of Division II in rushing last year, Ekeler was able to translate a strong preseason into a roster spot. Ekeler lacks the size of a typical NFL workhorse but possesses strong athleticism including a 128-inch broad jump, 40.5 inch vertical, and above average speed and agility. The RB Prospect Lab will naturally overrate Ekeler a bit because it doesn’t know he put up his stats against inferior competition, but he still compares well to other small-school players who are getting far more buzz, such as Tarik Cohen.6
NAME TM AGE YEAR WT FORTY CONE ATTS YPG TDS RECS SCORE VERT BROAD Austin Ekeler Western Colorado 21.6 2016 195 4.43 6.85 23.2 149.5 1.8 1.8 61 40.5 128 Tarik Cohen North Carolina A&T 21.4 2016 179 4.42 7.22 17.7 132.3 1.6 3 39 31.5 118
Branden Oliver should still be viewed as the primary handcuff for Gordon due to his experience, but Ekeler is a cheap target in deeper leagues where Oliver is already owned. In shallower leagues, Oliver will cost a significant portion of your FAAB budget if Gordon goes down with an injury, but grabbing Ekeler on the cheap might be the smarter play. Oliver was an unimpressive UDFA himself and didn’t do much to distinguish himself during his first two seasons with the Chargers, before missing all of 2016 with a torn Achilles.
Ok, so Ekeler probably isn’t Tarik Cohen. Oliver is still the player to target right now as the primary backup, but chances are he was already owned in deeper leagues, whereas Ekeler might still be available.
Bonus: I’ve seen Curtis Samuel hit the wire in some spots. I try to highlight some deeper guys here, but please make sure Samuel is owned if people are silly enough to drop him already. Sure, Cam Newton looks hurt, but Samuel can create his own yards and injuries have created opportunity in the Panthers WR corps.
There weren’t many changes based on what we saw in Week 3. Tarik Cohen’s continued to impress in a game where Jordan Howard was heavily used, so he jumps a couple spots. Meanwhile, Zay Jones’ continued struggles drop him down a bit.
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My personal rankings are finally up over at the RotoViz rankings page. I’ll try to highlight some risers and fallers here, but since this is the first week I’ll just hit on a few players I have ranked a bit differently than consensus.
Brandin Cooks – My rank: 12 Composite: 8
Cooks is young, talented, and in a great situation. I fear if he ever finds himself playing without a first-ballot-hall-of-fame quarterback, he may not be able to maintain that production. I still like Cooks, I just like the guys ahead of him a bit more.
Leonard Fournette – My rank: 8 Composite: 12
I’d rather own Fournette than Jordan Howard in dynasty right now. He’s an all-around better prospect than Howard was and he’ll be utilized heavily. To be fair, some rankings may not have been updated since Tarik Cohen’s emergence, but I still would have Fournette ranked ahead of Howard even before that.
Jonnu Smith – My Rank: 16 Composite: 23
My love for Jonnu should be apparent by now. Roster space often makes him harder to own than some of the startable guys below him, but I’m very bullish on his long-term prospects.
Deshone Kizer – My rank: 17 Composite: 21
Like most rookie QBs, Kizer has had his ups and downs. Cleveland just keeps adding talent though, and Kizer has a decent shot to succeed. One concern is that if he doesn’t progress enough, Cleveland might target a top QB in next year’s class. I’ll still take my chances.
- An astonishing 98 percent of players with less than a 15 percent chance of success in Phil Watkins’ model have failed to start 64 career games. (back)
- Though we don’t have a forty time to say for sure. (back)
- As opposed to players another team drafted. It’s harder to convince most owners to move a player that they invested significant capital in. (back)
- In fact, they don’t seem particularly interested in blocking at all. (back)
- cheaply (back)
- Cohen did play in Division I, but at an FCS school. (back)