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Steering Clear – 3 Rookie Tight Ends to Avoid After the NFL Draft


There is an almost everpresent desire for immediate success in the NFL, with many pinning unrealistic hopes and expectations on players that may well succeed in the league if allowed time to develop. The recent success, relatively speaking, of rookie skill players, has only served to heighten these expectations. While positions like quarterback and tight end used to be afforded the luxury of a period to learn the ropes, now these players are expected to earn starting jobs straight out of camp, and deliver fantasy points in Week 1 and thereafter.

There are a few talented TEs entering the NFL in 2019, and several of them have chances to earn playing time immediately. I speak of the likes of T.J. Hockenson with the Lions, Noah Fant with the Broncos, and even Kahale Warring with the Texans. As a result, these players may find themselves in demand in rookie drafts earlier than they may have done in previous years. But I am not here to write songs of praise for these players. I am here to advise you of players at their positions on whom you should not be spending significant fantasy resources in your rookie/startup drafts. Only bad can come from this if you do.

Drew Sample, Cincinnati Bengals

It’s hard not to agree with Evan Silva’s opinion regarding the Bengals decision to draft Drew Sample as high as they did. TE was certainly a spot that it would not hurt them to restock, given the players previously on the roster. Tyler Eifert has played 14 games combined in the last three seasons and is working his way back after a gruesome leg injury cut short his 2018 season after just four games. C.J. Uzomah filled in for Eifert last season, setting career highs in receptions and yards. Uzomah finished the year with 43 grabs for 439 yards and three touchdowns.

But if Sample is to make any noise as a fantasy asset, he will certainly achieve this as something of an outlier. Sample caught a mere 43 balls in four seasons with Washington, with 25 of them coming in 2018. The Huskies were a running team, it is fair to say, averaging less than 29 passes a game against 40.3 rush attempts. But even with depressed volume, it is hard to get too excited about Sample’s 10.1 yards per reception. It’s not likely that if you’ve not been impressed with Sample’s college production, that his workout numbers are going to blow you away either.

As you can see, Sample is not a terrible athlete. But he’s far from a great one.

New Bengals coach Zac Taylor is from the Sean McVay tree, as many of the new NFL coaches seem to be. While it is foolish to assume that Taylor will be able to exactly duplicate the Rams offense, it should be noted that McVay’s Rams haven’t exactly featured the TE over the last two seasons.

2017-18 Total NFL Rank
Targets 173 28th
Receptions 107 28th
Rec Yds 1227 27th
Rec TDs 8 t-22nd

I’m not saying that Sample can’t enjoy a long NFL career. I’m just saying that he won’t be on any of my dynasty teams . . . unless they find a way to award fantasy points for blocking. According to the RotoViz Combine Explorer, the 16 players who closely compare to Sample have managed a grand total of one season in the NFL in which they averaged more than 10 PPR points per game.

Zach Gentry, Pittsburgh Steelers

It is impossible at this stage to truly gauge how the Pittsburgh Steelers plan to replace the production of Antonio Brown. It is hard for me to imagine that they’ll get too much out of the two players acquired using the picks the team got from Oakland for him, especially in 2019. The team used the second-round pick on Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson, before selecting Zach Gentry in the fifth.

Gentry is a converted quarterback and has only played TE for the last two years. In that time, he caught 49 passes for 817 yards, at a far from shabby 16.7 yards per grab. Not too shabby at all, in fact. However, this flashy production does little to hide the fact that, as an athlete, Gentry is far from impressive.

As you can see from the image above, Gentry falls outside of the 50th percentile in every major category. Except for his 34.1-inch arm length. At the risk of upsetting #ArmLengthTwitter, this does very little to excite me.

The landing spot, on paper, is not a terrible one. The Steelers were one of the leaders in pass attempts last season and have seen a significant number of those targets from 2018 walk this offseason. Brown is of course now on the Raiders. TE Jesse James is a member of the Lions. Even with Vance McDonald as the presumed starter, it is far from a guarantee that he plays all 16 games. He never has before.

However, JuJu Smith-Schuster remains on the team, as does second-year WR James Washington. There is a thought that the Steelers will want to dial back a tad on their pass attempts from a year ago and rely more on James Conner and perhaps Jaylen Samuels. Samuels — a former TE himself — is certainly another contender to pick up the slack in terms of receiving work. These are all young players and on their rookie deals. They are all ahead of Gentry in any possible pecking order for targets.

There have been players like Gentry who have made names for themselves in the NFL. His list of comparable players can attest to this. Lee Smith, for instance, has carved out an eight-year career in the pros. While Levine Toilolo and Scott Chandler both played in the league for six seasons. Toilolo isn’t finished yet, either. However, none of these players have ever been worth much in fantasy football. I don’t expect Gentry to buck this trend.

Kaden Smith, San Francisco 49ers

Stanford has a good recent reputation for sending TEs into the NFL. Notable alumni such as Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener and Austin Hooper have enjoyed differing levels of success since they came into the league. There would be then some justification in having high hopes for Kaden Smith then. He comes into the NFL on the back of 70 receptions over the last two seasons, bringing him 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns. Smith commanded a 23% share of the Cardinal receptions last season and produced 24% of their yards. However, his athleticism (or lack thereof) could bring a tear to a glass eye.

The only area in which he showed any signs of mastery was in his three-cone, in which he posted a 69th percentile time of 7.08. But in all other areas, the 50th percentile was airspace far beyond his reach. His closest comps, according to the RotoViz Box Score Scout, include two former Cardinal TEs. But Hooper has but a single season with 10-plus PPR points per game. Toilolo has yet to reach this threshold in his career, so there are few reasons for joy in this group.

100Kaden Smith1720.
98Richard Rodgers980.
96Crockett Gillmore990.
94Hunter Henry350.
92David Morgan II1880.
90Levine Toilolo1330.
88Austin Hooper810.
86Gavin Escobar470.
84Adam Breneman0.
82Cameron Graham0.
80David Paulson2400.

On early returns, the close comp to Hunter Henry is somewhat encouraging. But Henry has only played two seasons, and it is too early along on his own journey to hold him up as a definitive example of a successful prospect.

Aside from his athletic impediments, Smith couldn’t have landed in a worse spot with the 49ers. For you see, if the Cardinal has a talent for churning out NFL ready TEs, then so does Iowa. One of the best of their recent crop will be in the same TE room as Smith, namely George Kittle. Kittle did remarkably little last season, or the year before, to suggest that he needs his load lightened.

Add his considerable presence to the rumors that the team may be tempted to convert fellow rookie Jalen Hurd to TE, and you can see that Smith is banking on an awful lot of things to go his way just to see the playing field in the short term. Players comparable to Smith have posted a total of three seasons in which they averaged 10 or more PPR points per game. Two of them belong to Zach Miller. Smith may turn into something approaching a contributor down the line, but in 2019 rookie drafts I will not be touching him. I cannot recommend anyone to do otherwise.

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