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There's been no shortage of breakouts at tight end over the past few seasons.
In 2015, it was Jordan Reed, staying healthy and scoring 248 PPR Fantasy points to be the No. 2 tight end in Fantasy. A year later, Cameron Brate scored eight touchdowns and finished sixth in non-PPR scoring. Last year, it was Evan Engram taking advantage of injuries in New York and outscoring all but four tight ends.
So, yes, there is certainty at the top with Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz, but if recent history is any indication, there will be a surprise or two among the top six this year at tight end. Here are my four favorite breakout candidates at tight end as well as a bonus DST that could take things to the next level in 2018:
In signing with the Chicago Bears, Trey Burton emerged from the shadow of Zach Ertz into one of the most promising landing spots for a tight end. The Bears offense will be run by Matt Nagy, an Andy Reid disciple. Last year, with Nagy "running" the offense. the Chiefs distributed 170 targets to tight ends. Nagy was quick to let Bears' GM Ryan Pace know his interest in Burton, and the team secured its tight end with a four-year $32-million contract.
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While Burton does have some competition at tight end from Adam Shaheen, there's not enough talent at receiver outside of Allen Robinson to make me worry about targets. My initial expectation for Burton is 57-574-5, but he has plenty of upside from there. If Mitchell Trubisky is quick to take in the Bears' new offense and Burton earns his quarterback's trust early, this could absolutely be an offense that produces a season similar to the one Ertz had in 2017.
In 2016, the Baltimore Ravens threw the ball to Dennis Pitta 121 times. Last year, they targeted Ben Watson and Nick Boyle a combined 116 times. Now those targets figure to go the way of one of their rookie tight ends. I'll bet on the one they drafted in the first round.
Hurst is a 25-year-old rookie who caught 92 passes for 1,175 yards the past two season at South Carolina. While he was derided as a prospect due to his age, the Ravens seem to see his maturity as a plus and have lauded his work this offseason. While it's conventional wisdom that rookie tight ends are a bad bet in Fantasy, Hurtst could be one to turn that on its head, if only because of opportunity. Any tight end who sees close to 100 targets will have Fantasy appeal, at least in PPR.
Kittle checks all of the boxes for a tight-end breakout. He's a monster of a man with great athleticism for his size, and he was efficient as a rookie, catching 68 percent of his targets and averaging 12 yards per reception. He also gets a full year with Jimmy Garoppolo, who was phenomenal at the end of 2017. It's all there for Kittle, but it's worth noting that there's a warning sign in those last five games of 2017.
Kittle's 19 targets in those five games were second on the team, which is great. But 19 targets in five games isn't great at all. Twelve more went to Garrett Celek, who also caught one more touchdown pass from Garoppolo than Kittle did. If Kittle gets the lion's share of the tight end targets in 2018 (and he should) his breakout is all but guaranteed, but Celek is still there and could be the only one standing in the way of a monster season.
David Njoku was in a similar situation to Kittle last year, but Seth DeValve was his foil. Njoku and DeValve combined for 65-781-5 in 2017 despite their poor quarterback situation. Now the Browns are talking about leaning on Njoku, and Tyrod Taylor is the quarterback. Taylor has leaned heavily on his tight end and running back in the past, and Njoku looks primed for a breakout. That's assuming there are any targets left after Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry and Duke Johnson finish eating.
The breakout DST
The Los Angeles Chargers are available in the last two rounds of most drafts, as most defenses should be. But this defense has as much potential as any team not based in Jacksonville. The Chargers have one of the best cornerback duos in the league with Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, and those corners don't have to cover for long due to the pass-rushing prowess of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
The key for this defense taking the next step will be how it fares against the run. If No. 1 pick Derwin James can be a plus at strong safety and the Chargers can weather the four-game suspension of Corey Liuget, this could be a top-three defense that is among the league leaders in sacks and interceptions.