It’s time to start doing research for your fantasy football draft(s). And why wouldn’t you? This is one of the most fun parts of the season! Doing the appropriate research allows you to unearth value where nobody else is looking, provides pivoting options should your draft strategy need to change and supplies resources for discovering the ever-fleeting “sleeper” pick. So have fun with it! This could be the difference between hoisting your league’s trophy (you have a trophy, right?) or having to clean the winner’s bathroom floor with a toothbrush (you have a penalty for finishing last, right?).
As a refresher, the purpose of these articles is to find value relative to ADP, or average draft position. The goal of drafting in each round should be selecting the player that provides the most value at that draft position, not simply the player who will score the most points. This concept helps explain why owners are opting to draft quarterbacks later and later; the gap in point scoring is smaller for quarterbacks than it is at other skill positions. Often, these will not be sexy picks or players you are super excited about drafting. And that’s probably why they’re valuable. There is typically something at play, whether a common misconception, recency bias or something of the like, that causes a player’s draft slot to fall unfairly low. With that in mind, here are some tight ends I believe are being drafted too low based on July ADP.
Tight end value picks based on current ADP
*Note: All ADP data is from Fantasy Football Calculator and is based on 12-team PPR leagues unless otherwise noted.
Kyle Rudolph (PPR ADP: 96, TE9; Standard ADP: 104, TE10)
Simply put, Rudolph is my favorite tight end target in fantasy football this year. As I alluded to above, absolutely nothing is sexy about drafting Kyle Rudolph to be your starting tight end. This likely has to do with Rudolph’s years of fantasy football irrelevance as a sometimes-injured blocking specialist in a low-volume passing offense that focused exclusively on putting Adrian Peterson in positions to succeed. Now, however, things are different in Minnesota. Without Teddy Bridgewater or AP last season, the Vikings focused on a short, quick-throw passing attack aimed at hiding its league-worst offensive line. This was especially the case over the team’s last nine games when Pat Shurmur was promoted to offensive coordinator following Norv Turner’s surprising in-season retirement. Over those last nine games, Bradford increased his completion percentage by an average of eight percent, his yards per game by 65 and his passer rating by 1.7.
Most importantly, Rudolph’s per-game averages jumped in receptions (4.4 to 5.8) and yards (46 to 57.5), and Shurmur is still coordinating a similar-looking offense. The only appreciable differences are a slightly improved offense line (which should mean loss blocking needed from Rudolph) and an upgrade at running back in the form of rookie sensation Dalvin Cook. While Cook and free agent addition Latavius Murray undoubtedly attract more defensive focus than last season’s backfield combo of Jerick McKinnon and the plodding Matt Asiata, it should open up softer coverages for Rudolph to exploit. He is essentially playing in a slightly improved offensive situation with only rookie-flop Laquon Treadwell and recent DUI-offender Michael Floyd challenging him for targets. Even that’s not exactly true, as both are perimeter receivers who function in different areas of the field, and neither have a smidge of on-field experience with Bradford.
That said, what if I told you Rudolph led all tight ends in targets last year, averaging a healthy 8.3 per game, which is a full target more than Travis Kelce received. And then what if I told you Rudolph finished as the PPR TE2 last year and yet he’s being drafted as the ninth tight end off the board. How does this make sense? My guess is it’s due to an unsexy name and years of fantasy irrelevance. Interestingly, in his last three healthy seasons (2012, 2015, 2016) Rudolph has finished as the TE12 or better every single time. Rudolph presents the ideal tight end combination: a safe target/yards floor with touchdown upside and no lead dog receiver to battle with. He’s a good blocker as well, which means he won’t lose snaps on running downs like some of his competition will. And he can be had at the end of the eighth round in PPR leagues! While everyone fawns over injury-risk options like Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert, I’ll happily fill out my lineup and wait to scoop up Rudolph as my starter in the eighth round. I’d advise you do the same.
Jack Doyle (PPR ADP: 125, TE12; Standard ADP: 137, TE13)
In his first season as a part-time starter in Indianapolis, Doyle managed career highs in targets (75), receptions (59), yards (584) and touchdowns (five) despite battling with former Colt Dwayne Allen for tight end snaps and targets. Though just an average athlete, Doyle wins with great hands, crisp routes and by using his body to box out defenders, all of which helped him lead tight ends in catch rate last season (78.7 percent). The Colts new front office shipped out Dwayne Allen (and a sixth round pick) for a fourth rounder and subsequently signed Doyle to a 3-year, $18.9 million extension, putting faith in him as a legitimate every-down starter.
As a good blocker, it’s likely Doyle will play high snap counts every game. The target tree is very skinny in Indy with no pass-catching back and several below average receivers behind TY Hilton and Donte Moncrief, the latter of which has struggled to stay healthy. His biggest worry is the other tight end and athletic specimen Erik Swoope, a converted basketball player who is still learning the position and only received 22 targets last season. Swoope’s presence is possibly driving down Doyle’s price, which is odd considering the Colts led the league in two-tight end sets last year (31 percent) and Doyle is the clear front runner of the two.
Most importantly, Doyle finished as the TE13 in both standard and PPR leagues last year. This means he is being drafted at his floor, which should be music to your ears. He is essentially being drafted as if last season was his best possible finish when clearly his situation has markedly improved since then. In fact, Doyle’s fantasy situation is ripe for plucking in a high-scoring, pass-first offense with an elite quarterback, average running game and a mediocre defense. I understand waiting until the 11th round to draft your starting tight end isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s actually a very prudent way to fill out a roster. Did you know Tom Brady has targeted his tight ends only four more times than Andrew Luck has over the last four combined seasons? Feel free to draft Hunter Henry or OJ Howard first. I’ll be more than satisfied taking Doyle in the 11th as a potential top-seven tight end.
Eric Ebron (PPR ADP: 136, TE13; Standard ADP: 150, TE14)
I realize drafting Eric Ebron to be your starting tight end is about as appealing as seeing any new Adam Sandler movie in theaters, but bear with me. Let’s review Ebron’s career. He just turned 24 in April, which is extremely young for a tight end with three years of professional experience. Probably a reach at the 10th overall pick considering tight end requires the biggest leap from college to the pros, Ebron has lived with the burden of high expectations at a tough position and subsequently been labeled a “bust” to the unobservant. What has gone under the radar, however, is his improvement in targets, receptions, yards per catch and catch rate every season as a pro. In other words, he’s an elite athlete who is still getting much better at playing tight end.
Last year, Ebron finished as the PPR TE14 (and TE11 in 2015) despite only playing in 13 games, finishing eighth among tight ends with 6.5 targets per game. He also finished eighth among tight ends in receptions per game (4.7) and overall receiving yards (711), again, in only 13 games. So what gives? Ebron only scored one measly touchdown last season (and had another called back on a penalty, which I only remember as a Stafford fantasy owner last year), which seems fluky after scoring five touchdowns on 15 fewer targets in 2015. Already a prime positive touchdown regression candidate heading into this season, Ebron’s status is enhanced by the departure of slot receiver Anquan Boldin, who led the team in red zone targets (22) and touchdowns (eight). Again, this is a situation where an unsexy fantasy name is being drafted at his floor despite playing with an above average quarterback and having a clear path towards top-10 tight end numbers. I’d draft in the 12th round.
Austin Hooper (PPR ADP: 174, TE21; Standard ADP: 173, TE19)
Based on ADP Austin Hooper is more of a late-round flyer, which is a different set of articles to come. But his potential value at his sea level-low ADP is too juicy to pass up. If you don’t know Hooper, that’s ok. He’s a 6-foot-4, 248-pound athletic tight end drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the third round out of Stanford, which has recently produced tight ends such as Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener. He was Jacob Tamme’s backup last season but flashed impressive potential, exemplified by his excellent 70.4 percent catch rate and 14.3-yards per catch average. Hooper caught three passes for 32 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, no easy feat for a rookie. The Falcons felt confident enough in Hooper to install him as the 2017 starter and let the veteran Tamme walk.
There is no clear-cut target vacuum in Atlanta after Julio Jones, who is sure to attract the majority of the defense’s attention. With Mohammed Sanu more of a slot/gadget-type player and Taylor Gabriel nothing more than a perimeter speedster, it’s pretty feasible Hooper becomes the second-most targeted player in an elite offense. It doesn’t hurt that he’s tied to 2016 MVP Matt Ryan and plays in a dome. Per Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, Pro Football Focus ranked Hooper seventh in pass blocking and 12th in run blocking among 65 qualified tight ends which means he already has an every-down skillset. With such a low ADP there is virtually no risk to drafting Hooper. If you draft an injury-prone tight end early, it might be wise to draft some insurance late in the form of Hooper.
You will never regret drafting Greg Olsen (TE4) to be your tight end. Cam Newton was an obvious negative touchdown regression candidate after his absurd 35 touchdown, 7.1 percent touchdown rate in his 2015 MVP campaign. However, 2016 was probably an overcorrection as Cam only managed 19 passing touchdowns and a career-low 3.7 percent touchdown rate, far below his career averages. Olsen has averaged 5.6 touchdowns per season as a starter to go along with a 9.0 percent touchdown rate, yet those numbers were a paltry 3 touchdowns on 3.8 percent last year. Olsen is now a prime positive regression touchdown candidate and hasn’t missed a single game in six seasons, providing a steady floor/ceiling combo without the injury risk of Gronk and Reed. A top-seven fantasy tight end in five straight years, Olsen consistently returns value at his palatable mid-round draft cost.
Jimmy Graham (TE5) should benefit from another season of experience with Russell Wilson. He was spectacular in Seattle last year, averaging career highs in yards per catch (14.2) and catch rate (68.4 percent) despite coming off patellar tendon surgery and playing with an injured quarterback who had a bottom-five offense line. If Seattle’s offense returns to its normal Wilson-era efficiency, Graham could be looking at a top-three tight end finish. Martellus Bennett (TE8) feels pretty fairly priced as the eighth tight end off the board going around the seven/eight turn. There’s some risk baked into that ADP with a potentially low target floor in a crowded offense, but he has easy double-digit touchdown upside if Rodgers frequently looks his way in the red zone. You can replace pretty much everything I said about Bennett and insert Julius Thomas (TE15) and Ryan Tannehill and get similar results. Thomas is essentially a poor man’s Bennett at his ADP, albeit with a longer injury history and in a run-first, slow pace offense without an elite quarterback.
Coby Fleener (TE16) was reportedly confused by the Saints extensive playbook last season and it showed on the field. With a year under his belt in Sean Payton’s system and Brandin Cooks out the door, the opportunity is there to be a top-twelve tight end. Fleener was the sixth tight end off the board only one year ago, and it appears his ADP has overcorrected after burning so many owners. Fleener was the PPR TE16 last year and is therefore being drafted at his floor, but it’s reasonable to think we haven’t even glimpsed his ceiling in a Drew Brees-led offense that consistently ranks top-five in pass attempts each season. Based on career touchdown rates, Fleener is also a prime positive regression touchdown candidate. It doesn’t make much sense Cameron Brate (TE19) is going as the 19th tight end off the board after finishing as last year’s PPR TE7. Brate and quarterback Jameis Winston had a clear connection last year, especially in the red zone considering Brate tied for first among tight ends with eight touchdowns. Rookie tight ends take a notoriously long time to adjust to the nuances required of the tight end position in the NFL, so it’s silly his rookie counterpart is being drafted two rounds ahead of him.
Think I’m wrong? Feel free to tweet your disagreements to @eweiner_bball.
Statistics courtesy of rotoworld.com, pro-football-reference.com, scout.com and footballguys.com.