Week 11 sees another host of teams on byes, leading to some key performers at the tight end spot sitting out. In their absence, you’ll need to find someone to plug into your lineups. Well, look no further.
Let’s look at some of the best choices for the week ahead. As always, we’ll be focusing on players available in at least 50% of ESPN leagues at the time of writing.
KYLE RUDOLPH (AVAILABLE IN 64.8% OF ESPN LEAGUES) vs. DENVER BRONCOS
There is nothing particularly exciting about putting Kyle Rudolph in your fantasy lineup these days. His numbers so far in 2019 pale dramatically to those he put up in his last four seasons.
He was a recommended option on these very pages not long ago, though the Vikings need to establish the run limited his opportunities that day. But Rudolph is seeing some opportunities in recent weeks. He has at least five targets in three of his last four games, with the game against Washington in Week 8 the only blip. His four catches against the Cowboys last week only brought him 14 yards, but he did score two touchdowns.
The Broncos have not been pushovers against TEs this season. After allowing Darren Waller to take seven catches for 70 yards off them in Week 1, only Jack Doyle has more than 44 yards against them. James O’Shaughnessy of the Jaguars is the only TE to score a touchdown against them this season.
But Rudolph’s always a good bet for a red-zone look, and his touchdown upside makes him a viable option this week.
O.J. HOWARD (55.4%) vs. NEW ORLEAN SAINTS
Is it … could it be … finally happening for O.J. Howard in 2019? Week 10 saw him post a season-high seven targets, which he converted into four grabs for 47 yards and a touchdown. All of this came in his first game since Week 6, too. Is it possible the brain trust of Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich realized in his absence just how much they could use him, and so decided they may as well do so? It’s possible, I suppose. It really has not been a season to remember for Howard.
Howard and the Bucs take on the Saints this week. To be honest, TEs who more closely resemble Howard have not really enjoyed that much success against the Saints in 2019. Less athletic TEs, on the other hand, have enjoyed some success, bizarrely. Charles Clay had three receptions for 88 yards against them in Week 8, while the Cowboys pair of Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin combined for seven receptions, 99 yards and a touchdown against them in Week 4.
I’m not prepared to concede that Arians is ready to fully unleash Howard upon the NFL after one game against a Cardinals defense that couldn’t cover Ozzie Newsome if he walked onto the field now. But given the Saints’ strengths at the corner spots, it would make some sense for the Bucs to attack them in the middle of the field. That’s where Howard and (hopefully not) Cameron Brate come in.
VANCE McDONALD (55.4%) vs. CLEVELAND BROWNS
The Steelers offense is something of a tough watch at present, which is a sharp contrast to how much fun it is to watch their defense. But the fact that the best way to view Mason Rudolph’s unit is through the gaps in your fingers shouldn’t put you off firing up Vance McDonald this week. McDonald’s seen his snaps increase of late. After playing on just 28 percent of the Steelers offensive plays in Week 3, McDonald has played 60 percent, 66 percent, 78 percent, 81 percent and a whopping 97 percent of the plays. He’s also drawing a fairly consistent number of targets, with at least four in three straight games including seven in each of his last two.
It seems that the Browns have been struggling to stop TEs since the dawn of time, and their recent games have shown little evidence that they will be able to do so in the near future. Four TEs have gone over 50 yards against them this season, with rookies Noah Fant and Dawson Knox taking a combined 180 yards and a touchdown off only seven receptions in their last two games. Only the Bucs, Raiders and Cardinals have allowed more TE receiving touchdowns than the Browns in 2019 (5).
There is the ever-present danger of a TE on a Thursday night drawing a blank and forcing the owner to stare at the goose egg all weekend long, or at least until Scott Hanson appears on our screens to welcome us to seven hours of commercial-free football. But while McDonald has been quite volatile as a fantasy producer this season, this is one matchup in which I think he can be trusted.
BONUS – Ross Dwelley (95%) vs. Arizona Cardinals
It would be heartbreaking for George Kittle and his owners if he were to miss the ultimate smash spot of the season, namely a matchup against the Cardinals. Ten of the 68 receptions they’ve allowed to TEs this season have gone for touchdowns.
But Kittle is still nursing his injury, and there is real doubt as to whether he’ll be able to play against the Cardinals. Owners will need to monitor the injury reports probably all the way up to kickoff.
If he is not able to play, then the 49ers’ main TE duties should fall to Ross Dwelley. Dwelley has seven receptions across his last two games, including a 4-29 outing against the Cardinals in Week 9. He’s not done too much with his chances, to be honest. But this is the Cardinals!
If Kittle is unable to play in Week 11, and you are really hurting at the TE spot, then Dwelley could offer some value. Especially if Emmanuel Sanders is also forced to miss time due to the injury he picked up on Monday Night.