The 2019 NFL draft was a disappointment for three out of four offensive skill positions. Just two running backs in the first two rounds and multiple wide receivers slipped further than anyone expected. Three quarterbacks were drafted in the first round, but one of them was Daniel Jones, so does that really count?
There was one position that didn’t let us down though. Tight end came out looking strong, with solid landing spots for the two top prospects and some other strong picks on Day 2.
So who am I targeting after the draft? Well, you don’t need Mr. Fantasy Football Writer over here with all his fancy stats and analytics1 to tell you that T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are good and you should draft them. So let’s look at three other TEs that you can get later in your rookie drafts that have a chance to be dynasty contributors for years to come.
Pick 50 | Minnesota Vikings
Ok, so Irv Smith isn’t exactly under the radar. He played for Alabama and was the third TE drafted, but let’s talk about why he might actually still be undervalued. The biggest case for Smith goes like this:
Like really young.
In fact the only younger TE drafted in the past 20 years was Aaron Hernandez. And if you’re asking yourself if age really matters, just take a look at the list of TEs who finished their college careers before they turned 21.
|DRAFTED||Player Name||Final Age||Draft|
|2019||Irv Smith Jr.||20.41||50|
The hit rate for these players, especially the highly drafted ones, is ridiculously good.2 If I knew nothing else about a TE other than that an NFL team used an early pick to bring him into an NFL training camp before he was legally allowed to drink in the US, I’d want him on my fantasy team sight unseen.
But Smith isn’t just young, he was also productive.
The market share numbers don’t jump off the page compared to some of the other TEs in the class, however it’s only fair to grade him on a curve. He’s at least a full year younger than everyone in the class but Fant, and he played for the biggest football powerhouse of the past decade. Alabama has so many offensive studs cannibalizing each other’s production that it’s impossible to know how players there might have dominated at other schools.3
Smith isn’t a perfect prospect though, as his athleticism doesn’t quite stack up.
Other than possessing fairly good speed for the position, Smith is average or below average in just about every measurable. While production is much more important than athleticism for WRs, it’s harder to find successful TEs who were unathletic, and Smith’s comps in the Combine Explorer are less than inspiring.
The Vikings are a great landing spot for Smith in the long term, but can we expect a lot in his rookie year? We know that most rookie TEs don’t produce much, but young TEs have been especially slow starters. Outside of Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, no Age 21 TE has ever had more than 400 yards receiving.
How about the rumors that the Vikings will get rid of Kyle Rudolph in 2019 and hand the reins completely over to Smith?
Rudolph is in the final year of his deal and the Vikings need cap space. Also, the Vikings reportedly listened to trade offers for Rudolph before and during the draft.
While it wouldn’t come as a surprise for the Vikings to move Rudolph,4 it also doesn’t make a ton of sense for a contending team to pare its depth chart down to a 21-year-old and a group of relatively inexperienced players behind him. At a position that typically has one of the steepest learning curves in the NFL, leaving the depth chart that thin does not seem prudent.
Then again, teams often have to make sacrifices somewhere, so while it’s far from a sure thing that Rudolph will be moved, it’s still a possibility
Regardless of what happens this year though, it seems highly likely that Rudolph won’t be a Viking in 2020. Smith is in a position to have a large role very early in his career.
Pick 69 | Jacksonville Jaguars
Josh Oliver may not have been on everyone’s radar heading into the draft, but he should have been. While he’s not elite in any one category, Oliver is strong across the board. He’s in the 80th percentile for Speedscore and draft age, the 75th percentile for final year market share, and he tied for the second most bench press reps in the class.
While he’s not an athletic freak in the mold of Fant, his above-average athleticism has translated to production on the field. Oliver was second on his team in receptions during his junior season and easily led the team as a senior.
Oliver stacks up favorably to almost any TE in the class. However, one of the concerns coming into the draft was the fact that he played in the Mountain West Conference. Would the level of competition there cause him to be passed over by less accomplished players from bigger schools? The Jaguars didn’t seem to care, as they made him the fifth pick of the third round, behind only the consensus top-three TEs and the perplexing reach by the Bengals when they drafted Drew Sample.
While the Jaguars offense may not have a lot of sex appeal, it’s not a bad landing spot for a rookie TE. Oliver’s main competition on the depth chart consists of Geoff Swaim and James O’Shaughnessy who are both more known for their blocking prowess than receiving skills. And while the Jaguars have a reputation as a run-heavy offense, their new offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, actually got run out of Minnesota last year for too much passing in the eyes of head coach Mike Zimmer.5
Like most rookie TEs, it’s unlikely Oliver will be a big factor in his first year, but he’ll have an opportunity to develop a rapport with Nick Foles that could lead him to be a viable fantasy starter early in his career.
Pick 86 | Houston Texans
Guys, this is super exciting.
This year we get to add a new sport to the pantheon of “Did you know this player used to play X in college/ high school!?”
For years, basketball has dominated the narrative for the TE position. In 2018 though, we got two TEs who played minor league baseball prior to returning to football and I could not have been more enthused.
Fortunately for Hayden Hurst, baseball skills such as… *checks notes* "Standing on a pile of dirt throwing a ball" should translate to the NFL just as well as basketball skills like "High-pointing contested rebounds" and "Juking defenders with lateral agility"
— John Lapinski (@FF_SkiBall) April 27, 2018
The only thing that can stop the breakouts of Hayden Hurst and Jordan Akins this year is male pattern baldness or a midlife crisis.
The joke here is that they’re old.
But in 2019 we get Kahale Warring, a multi-sport athlete in high school who didn’t play football until his senior year. Warring’s profile graces us with the first mention of water polo that I’ve ever seen in a prospect profile, and honestly you can inject it right into my veins. I can’t wait to be watching a Texans-Titans tilt at 2:32 on a Sunday afternoon and hear how Warring used to play water polo back in high school for the 36th time.
Seriously though, water polo is a crazy sport where you use one arm to try to catch a hurtling projectile while using the other to try to stay afloat and fend off the massive dude who is trying to drown you. The skillset there actually seems like it would translate really well for a receiver in the NFL, so bring it on.
Warring’s athleticism shows up in his combine performance too, with above average marks in the most important categories. He’s not elite, but he’s basically a carbon copy of eighth overall pick Hockenson athletically.
Despite limited experience playing football, Warring’s college performance was actually fairly impressive.
Warring led his team in receptions his final year, and no San Diego State Aztec had more receiving TDs than Warring over his career. He also accomplished all this at a fairly young age for a TE, coming in the 80th percentile for age among TEs, finishing his rookie year as a 21-year-old.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Warring’s profile is similar to Oliver’s, with both having strong age-adjusted production, above average athleticism, and leading their Mountain West Conference team in receptions.
While the depth chart in front of Warring is somewhat crowded, it’s not all that intimidating. The Texans selected Jordan Akins in the third last year and Jordan Thomas in the sixth to go along with 2016 pick Ryan Griffin, who was just arrested at the NFL draft for drunkenly punching through a hotel window. They also signed Darren Fells from the Browns over the offseason and signed former Giants TE Jerrell Adams from their practice squad.
The Texans are not going to carry six TEs on the roster, so it will look significantly less crowded once the season starts. They also ran the most plays in “12” personnel in 2018 per Sharp Football Stats, so there will be ample two-TE sets for Warring to get on the field even if the Texans want to keep using some of their established players. The bottom line though is that Warring is a better prospect than any TE on the current roster, and will have the chance to earn the lion’s share of the receiving work sooner rather than later.
A talented, young TE on an offense led by Deshaun Watson is a player I want to invest in. Likely available in the third or fourth round of rookie drafts, Warring is a great target for those who miss out on the top options.
- DaveGettlemanTyping.gif (back)
- Sure, Maxx Williams was a bust, but if there’s one thing the Ravens have proven over the past several years it’s that they just can’t help themselves from drafting TEs early and often. Remember that when Hayden Hurst tries to sell you a new Honda at your local car dealership. (back)
- Which isn’t to say we should automatically give a bump to any Alabama player because of this. It’s more that we need to acknowledge that there’s uncertainty with a player’s production numbers where they could be hurt by the increased competition for touches. (back)
- The Patriots are constantly rumored as a possible trade partner. (back)
- DeFilippo is also the man who presided over one-year-wonder Gary Barnidge’s monster 2015 in Cleveland. Rudolph didn’t enjoy the same focus last year sharing a field with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, but DeFilippo clearly isn’t afraid to target his TE if he’s the best option on the field. (back)