2021 NFL Draft Guide: Ultimate TE Draft Guide - Could Be Elite
Published: Aug 01, 2021, 7:00 AM EDT
Alright time to get into the meat of the Ultimate Tight End Guide. In the first article we gave you the Introduction and the Elite. In this article we are going to look at the players who have elite upside based on the criteria we covered last article. Now, I’m not sure about you, but I’m the kind of guy who isn’t going to watch the sequel to a movie until I’ve seen the first one. Reading this article now without reading the first one is like reading The Chamber of Secrets before The Sorcerer’s Stone. You’ll probably be able to figure out that they’re wizards but you’re not really going to understand why or how. Eventually you’ll have to go back at some point to read that first one then you’ll turn to your cat and whisper “ahhh that makes more sense now”. But In all seriousness, if you actually did read the second Harry Potter book before reading the first one, DM me on Twitter @CoopAFiasco so I can add you to this list.
Since you’re likely a rational person that consumes media in the proper order, you’ve read the first article and you know the barriers to entry for elite tight ends. And since you have that advanced knowledge we can get right into this next section of players. All the players that are in this article are here because they have some sort of path to elite upside - not that they are nearly guaranteed to provide elite fantasy production or they would have been in the last article. With that context in mind, I will let you know whether I think you can draft them as your singular tight end (like Travis Kelce and Darren Waller) or whether you should draft them as part of the Yin-Yang TE strategy (which we outlined last week and will cover in full in the fourth article of this series). As always, we are going to give you the objective, statistical sections for each player (The Good and The Bad) and then provide our subjective but amazing opinion (The Advice). That way you can just take the first two parts and simply use the facts to make your own decisions or you can take the advice too and follow me to freedom.
Just as a quick refresher from last article since it has been a week; we are not interested in drafting back end TE1s who are likely to finish as a back end TE1. If you are in a 10-12 man league and your TE is TE9, that means you have a well below average starting TE. The difference between TE10 and TE16 was 10 points in half PPR - those guys are lying all over the ground for anyone to pick up off waivers. We only care about drafting guys who have some path to ELITE upside. These are those players.
**As with the first article, analysis for this series will be based on a 12 man, half PPR league with 1 starting TE spot. Statistics are courtesy of my own research, Fantasy Alarm, StatHead, Pro Football Focus, Player Profiler, FantasyData, Sharpe Football, NFLSavant and others where cited**
George Kittle might be the best “two way” tight end in football. He was hurt last year but he was TE1 in receiving grades and TE9 in run blocking in 2018 per PFF. In 2019 he once again graded out as TE1 in receiving but this time he was also TE1 in run blocking which made him the number 1 overall graded tight end. “Grades” of course are subjective so we don’t really care for them but it’s hard to ignore accolades like that. And a large part of that success is based on his insane athleticism, as we can see via PlayerProfiler.com
Stallion. At 6’4” 247 he should not be running a 4.52 40 yard dash. That size/speed combo is what allows Kittle to be the most dangerous big play tight end in the NFL. Since Kittle came into the league in 2017, only two tight ends have caught more than 6 total passes of 40+ yards: Travis Kelce with 8 and George Kittle with 11. But here’s the difference - not one of Kelce’s plays has been longer than 50 yards while Kittle has plays of 51, 61, 71, 82, and 85 yards on his resume. In fact, over those four years, there have only been ten TE receptions of over 70 yards and Kittle has three of them. And he missed half of last season.
Like Kelce and Waller, we don’t need to get too deep into the metrics because it’s mostly obvious why he is good. We talked about his speed - his 6.2 YAC per reception was first among tight ends with 50+ targets and so was his 2.84 yards per route run (and it’s impressive in itself that he had 63 targets in only 8 games.) He was third behind Kelce and Waller in targets per game and receptions per game. He was second only to Kelce in yards per game. He’s great, let’s move on.
Like every player there are some flaws that we must discuss. One of which is actually out of his control - the quarterback situation. Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t even in the same solar system as Patrick Mahomes and he’s not even necessarily on the same planet as Derek Carr either. Not only that but the proposition of a quarterback change mid-season absolutely brings uncertainty - at the high altitude of his ADP there is no room for uncertainty. And the idea of an already run heavy offense pivoting to a mobile rookie QB is pretty scary.
Seems unfair to hold that against Kittle right? Fantasy football isn’t fair. Here’s another one that’s unfair. Remember we mentioned Kittle’s elite blocking skills? That’s actually a negative to some degree for fantasy football. As we talked about in the first article, being asked to pass block saps your upside. Kittle himself is the only tight end in seven years to finish top five in fantasy while blocking on more than 15% of his pass snaps (15.9% in 2019). And, once again, they asked him to block on 13.4% of pass plays last year which is not ideal. Over the course of the season that would have translated to 70 or 80 pass plays he wasn’t running a route in an already run heavy offense. In 2019 he actually ran only the 18th most routes for tight ends - 338 was tied with Kyle Rudolph. In fact, Kittle’s alignment in general is sub par with him playing only 25% of his snaps at slot or wide and only 4.74% split all the way out wide. Kelce plays over 50% of his snaps at WR and 33% all the way wide while a guy like Mike Gesicki actually played 80% of his snaps at WR. With his usage Kittle absolutely needs to hit on some of those long plays or else the overall production isn’t going to be top tier.
People dog Evan Engram for having eight drops in 16 games last year but Kittle actually had eight drops in eight games. Drops really only matter if the coaches and QB lose confidence in you so that’s not supper concerning for a guy like Kittle but it’s worth mentioning as averaging drop a game is pretty brutal. What is actually concerning though is that the 49ers now have two viable pass catching wide receivers in Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. Due to injuries, they’ve actually only been on the field at the same time for three full games together when they were all fully healthy in weeks 5, 6, and 7. Kittle led with 24 targets but Deebo had 19 and Aiyuk had 16 which is more of a target threat than we’ve seen for Kittle. And those young whippersnappers are only getting more experienced. In a run first offense, even the smoothing out of targets could cap upside.
Standalone. The reality is that George Kittle probably could have been in the first article with The Elite but it was already at nearly 6,000 words and my fingers hurt. Even with the wideouts, he’s a focal point of that offense and a threat to finish as a top three tight end. Sure, it’s run heavy and he blocks a lot but he’s also mastered his ability to make it look like he’s blocking before he rips by you and gets wide open. I was just going to post a gif example but this article by Casey Sully of Weekly Spiral does an amazing job of laying it out AND it has gifs so just check that out at some point. The usage is not ideal but he’s one of the rare fits for that kind of block and shed system like Rob Gronkowski in his early Patriot days - before Julius Thomas he also managed an elite season on over 15% pass blocking so they could be unicorns in that regard.. Kittle is not quite in the very top tier this year for fantasy based on the issues we mentioned above that are largely out of his control but he is in a second tier of his own compared to the rest.
Currently, according to Fantasy Alarm’s amazing ADP tool that pulls a composite ADP from a number of expert draft platforms like NFFC and FFPC as well as more casual sites like Yahoo!, Kelce is going around pick 9, Waller around pick 23, and Kittle around 26. As I mentioned in the last article, I’m not personally likely to draft a tight end in the first two rounds based on my own fantasy sports skillset and philosophy so I’m much more likely to draft Waller or Kittle at or near their ADP and will take them if they slide to the fourth in most cases. Kittle is more valuable in half point PPR than full PPR given his profile and, if you do draft him, you don’t need to invest in another TE beyond a bye week fill in.
Ever since we practically invented Mark Andrews in the fourth article of our 2019 Ultimate Tight End Guide, he’s been a rock solid option for fantasy. He finished TE4 that season in half PPR then followed it up this season as TE5 while missing two games. His red zone prowess is one of the main factors keeping him in elite company at 17 touchdowns over the last two years ties him for first with Travis Kelce and, in terms of red zone targets over that span, Kelce has 60, Andrews has 59, and Waller has 58. For strict end zone targets, no one has more over two years than Andrews' 24. Red zone proficiency is difficult to quantify at times but there is no question they like him in the crucial part of the field.
Beyond that he had an aDot over 10 yards which is elite (10.9), he had the third most contested catches last year (14), and 57% of his snaps came at wide receiver which is more than Kelce even. In fact, he’s the prime example that alignment and usage is more important than overall snaps as, despite playing only 58.19% of the team’s snaps last year, he had an 89.2% route participation which was 5th among tight ends. That’s largely due to the fact that they have other tight ends like Nick Boyle to block so Andrews plays in all passing situations - he was only asked to pass block four times for a hyper elite pass block rate of 1.09%, the lowest of all relevant tight ends.
The Bad for Mark Andrews is almost entirely related to the team he plays on. First off, the Ravens use more substitution and personnel groupings than any other team. The Cardinals for instance had THREE wide receivers that all played 77% or more of the snaps. In 2020 the only position player that played more than 62% of the snaps for the Ravens was Marquise Brown. In 2019, only one position player played over 62% of the snaps and it was Nick Boyle.
Because of all that rotational nonsense from John Harbaugh, Andrews only ran 350 routes last year which was 19th for tight ends. I know he missed two games but Zach Ertz ran 364 routes and he missed five games. Not ideal. And that was with the old personnel where they were just mixing and matching tight ends and fullbacks (Patrick Ricard last season played more snaps than Antonio Gibson which is crazy annoying for fantasy). Now on top of Andrews, Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard, a host of running backs, and a mobile QB they have Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, and Myles Boykin. The snaps and targets could be more spread out than ever and that’s with Greg Roman calling the plays, one of the least pass happy coordinators in the league. As the tweet below illustrates, he’s never ranked better than 29th in pass attempts.
Standalone. In another world, on a different team, Andrews could be in the elite tier. But the scheme and his deployment within it holds him back a bit even if his alignment and usage is great when he does get in there. Even then, if you are the kind of fantasy gamer that likes to just draft one high end tight end and get it over with, Andrews isn’t a bad value at pick 54 so for me there are occasions where I’ll consider him - especially in the 6th round of a 12 man league.
Now, remember how I said in the first article that I hate rankings and that they actually might make you worse at drafting tight end? Here’s one important point regarding that. In most years the top tight ends in half PPR don’t finish in the same order as the top TEs in full PPR. In fact, in 2017 Gronk was the top TE in half point while Kelce was the top TE in full PPR. So we shouldn’t be drafting them the same way in both formats if it’s obvious that one guy has a preferred format. This series is assuming half point PPR leagues so, given the quality of the team and his red zone prowess, I’m taking Mark Andrews as the fourth TE off the board. In full point PPR however, I’m taking this next guy.
There is one glaring morsel of goodness for TJ Hockenson this season and it’s the one we’ve deemed to be the absolute most important for tight end success - opportunity. The Lions starting wide receivers last year were Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola. Every one of those players is gone. They replaced them with journeymen Breshard Perriman and Tyrell Williams on the outside with a 4th round slot receiver in Amon-Ra St. Brown. Hard to be worried about ARSB considering that, over the last decade, the two most successful 4th round WRs in fantasy have been Jamison Crowder and Keke Coutee. In my opinion none of those guys are particularly threatening, even then vets, so Hock has a pretty clear path to top 2 on his team in targets. In fact, he was top two last year with 101 targets and he finished as TE4 in half PPR, TE5 in full.
In terms of athleticism, based on his size and workout metrics, his best comparable player on PlayerProfiler is Travis Kelce and Kelce’s best comparable player is Rob Gronkowksi. Are those guys good? Despite only being a sophomore TE, Hockenson was also voted to the Pro Bowl and, perhaps even more impressive, he was invited to Travis Kelce and George Kittle’s new tight end summit dubbed “Tight End University” where he was named the Heavyweight Champ (whatever that means).
In terms of metrics that matter to us, Hock was top-5 in TE targets, he had a solid 18% target share, and he had a great 23% red zone target share - all numbers that are poised to go up with this new cast around him. In terms of counting stats, he was eighth in air yards, fourth in YAC, and third in overall yards. He was top ten in both red zone and end zone targets among tight ends. Considering how rarely young tight ends usually break out within the first year or two (as we discussed in full in this article) Hock is already a beast and the sky is the limit.
We just said the sky may be the limit but the sky is kind of falling in Detroit. Here is what the 2019 Miami Dolphins did when they were tanking:
- Fired their coach
- Traded their QB for picks
- Let veterans leave
- Signed minimal incoming veterans to maximize comp picks
- Carry the most dead cap in the league
- Have the least active spending of any team to still roll money forward
That’s what the Dolphins did to land Tua Tagovailoa. And it’s literally the exact same things this Lions team just did - step for step. They have built a complete and utter ghost ship complete with a skeleton crew to burn dead cap this year and move money and picks to the future. And Vegas knows it - they have the Lions as the very worst team in the NFC with five projected wins in a 17 game season. Only the Texans are worse. A lot of times people romanticize these bad teams in their heads where they think it will look like the Dallas Cowboys or Atlanta Falcons with a bad defense but good offense which is good for fantasy. In reality it usually looks more like the 2020 Jets where most drives they are simply getting their three plays over with before they punt and praying they only lose by one score and not two. The Lions have the worst opening day spread of any team as they are projected to lose to the 49ers by two scores.
Possibly more concerning than that is that Hockenson actually didn’t have particularly good metrics below the surface stats. In terms of deployment and alignment, none of his 77% snap share, 29% slot rate, 10.4% split wide rate, or 9.2% pass blocking rate are elite level. I know it’s a new coach who is a former TE coach in Dan Campbell but the new offensive coordinator is Anthony Lynn didn’t exactly deploy Hunter Henry in an elite fashion either - Henry had better usage split out at 48% but he also blocked on 13.4% of his pass plays which is Bad News Lions. According to PlayerProfiler he was 22nd in average depth of target, 19th in yards per reception, and a whopping 35th in true catch rate which attempts to remove uncatchable targets. His drop rate was 9.5% compared to Kelce and Waller who were under 2%. None of those things that I just said are acceptable for what is supposed to be an elite level tight end and that was with Matthew Stafford - not Jared Goff.
Standalone. Drafting TJ Hockenson as TE4 in PPR and TE5 in half PPR is based entirely on speculation. Speculation that he’s a focal point of the offense, speculation that he gets 100+ targets, and speculation that Jared Goff is at least serviceable. And I’m willing to go there, especially in PPR. We have seen Jared Goff go the “low hanging fruit” route before in peppering Cooper Kupp and, during the last five games of 2019, Tyler Higbee. Hockenson potentially not having an elite aDot might not be the end of the world for him if those are the passes that Goff likes to throw. And, as much of a cliche as it is, they DO have to throw the ball somewhere and Hock is far and away the best option. Where Mark Andrews has the touchdown upside in standard and half point, Hockenson at the right pick has the appeal in PPR. I’ll almost never reach on these tight ends as I’m confident I can find them later so the right spot for me based his ADP of 55 is if he is there in the late 5th or the 6th round of a 12 man league.
Kyle Pitts is a flat out freak. He ran a 4.44 at his Pro Day - some places like Player Profiler will penalize Pro Day scores vs. combine but a 4.44 would mean that only Evan Engram is essentially faster than him at tight end. And that’s with Evan Engram being 6’3”, 234 while Kyle Pitts is 6’6” 245. It’s difficult to find comparable players but, in terms of tight end athleticism, he is in the top tier with guys like Vernon Davis, Noah Fant, and Darren Waller.
He’s a rookie so we don’t have much to go off but what we do have is elite. First and foremost, he was selected fourth overall which is the highest drafted tight end in the modern era. You have to go back to Denver’s Riley Odoms (5th overall) in 1972 to find another that went top five. How many leagues did you guys have Riley Odoms in?
“Please don’t hurt us, Mr. Odoms”
In terms of college production he had a young breakout age of 19, he played in the elite SEC, he had 770 yards and 12 TDs in only 8 games, and he won the John Mackey award for the nation's top tight end. All good things.
But what’s really tantalizing here is the potential opportunity and alignment. If Julio Jones was still on the team then Pitts would honestly probably be in the Fades article given his ADP. But then Julio was traded to the Titans, opening up a path to top two target on the team. When you look at that tight end room, Kyle Pitts is easily the best pass catcher so in any two tight end sets he’s going to be getting the preferred alignment at WR or at slot. And, not only did new head coach Arthur Smith use at least two tight ends on 50% of the plays he called last year (per Sharpe Football) but the Falcons actually used Hayden Hurst for 798 snaps and Luke Stocker for 503. So they already weren’t shy about multi-TE sets. There is a possibility that the Falcons decide to use Kyle Pitts at split end or slot for a good chunk of their snaps with Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage also rotating at flanker/slot which could give him the upside of TE1 overall. We have to remember that guys like Mike Gesicki have played 80% of their snaps at WR and, in 2008 under Chan Gailey, Tony Gonzalez ran the 2nd most routes from the slot of any player in the league behind only Hines Ward. So it’s not unprecedented and Tony Gonzalez was ths top tight end in fantasy that year.
Kyle Pitts has never played in the NFL. I just mentioned Tony Gonzalez who is one of the greatest tight ends of all time - Kyle Pitts might not even last as a professional football player. There have been 24 tight ends drafted in the first round over the last 20 years and less than half of them have ever had a top five tight end season in fantasy. And some of them that even did crack the top five once, like Eric Ebron or Marcedes Lewis, we wouldn’t exactly consider “megastars”. On top of that, only two of those 24 players managed to crack the top five in their rookie years and that was Jeremy Shockey in 2002 and Evan Engram in 2017. At surface value at least, the odds are pretty stacked against a top five season this year for rookie Kyle Pitts.
Folks will also point at the pass heavy nature of the Falcons offense as a plus, finishing top five in attempts the last three years. But that was a team with Julio Jones and a different coach. Arthur Smith comes over from a playoff team that passed the ball the third LEAST of any team in the league - almost ten fewer pass attempts per game than the Falcons last year. As we talked about in the first article, far more teams support either zero or one player that get an elite level of targets than teams that support two or three. There were eight teams last year that had zero guys get 100 targets and 13 who had one so two thirds of the league essentially had either one or zero pass catchers who were difference makers. And, unlike the first five guys we talked about in this series, Kyle Pitts doesn’t really have the upside of being the top target getter in his offense like they do. The vast majority of us project that honor to Calvin Ridley meaning Pitts needs to fit within that sliver of teams that has a highly consolidated snap and target share among the top two players like the Chiefs with Kelce and Hill or the Vikings with Thielen and Jefferson. That's the bet you are making.
Yin-Yang. This is the first tight end in the series getting the “Yin-Yang” designation rather than “standalone”. But, to be honest, our real advice is to not take the risk at all. Currently Pitts is going off the board with an average ADP of 52 which is ahead of Mark Andrews and TJ Hockenson - two guys who actually have a real shot to lead their team in targets. You might say “yeah but rookie Evan Engram top five blah blah” but you have to remember that in Engram’s rookie year he wasn’t supposed to be the top target but Odell Beckham Jr. got hurt leading him to get 115 targets. As far as I know Calvin Ridley isn’t hurt so by taking Pitts at his ADP you truly need to believe that either Pitts is the top target or that he will force a highly consolidated target share as a rookie the way Justin Jefferson did.
The exception for me would be a situation where everyone else in your league is also savvy and Pitts falls to TE6 behind Andrews and Hock. In that event I’ll take him in the 6-7th round. He's unlikely to be there at that point and that's fine for me because we can generate value with this series without using high end draft capital. If I do take Pitts, I’m still going to be drafting another, “safe” tight end later as part of the Yin & Yang strategy just in case Kyle Pitts does start off playing like, well, a rookie tight end. We are passed the standalone tight ends so every tight end from here on out is recommended to be drafted using a Yin-Yang TE pairing.
Hunter Henry ***Update*** Hunter Henry has been battling a shoulder injury but is expected to play week 1
This might be the first shocker of the series to some but to those who have been following along it makes perfect sense. Hunter Henry has been a good receiving tight end and he goes to a team where he has the opportunity to potentially LEAD the team in targets. This section and the next section are about facts. What I’ve said so far is true.
The following is also true: Hunter Henry lined up at wide receiver 440 times last year which was the fourth most of any tight end. In doing so he had the fourth most targets and fifth most receptions per game vs man to man coverage while having the fifth most contested catches per game. These are all signs that he can actually line up wide with a defender on him and beat them with his route running and size. That’s probably why he was able to earn 6.2 targets per game which was the 7th most of any tight end and that was all while playing alongside target hogs like Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler.
They have an incredibly similar build and draft capital which is a good thing because Zach Ertz has been one of the most successful tight ends in fantasy football over the last decade.
The opportunity aspect of this is two fold. First, there is uncertainty about which players will be the main target getters in this offense. Last year it was undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers. This year Meyers is still there and they bring in Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Kendrick Bourne. My money is on two of the first three as that’s where the Patriots put their money but that’s yet to be determined.
On top of that, we don’t even know if there will be enough targets to support ANY fantasy assets. Like Kittle's situation, there is a high level of uncertainty between Cam Newton and Mac Jones. Meyers led last year but he led with a paltry 81 targets. He also didn’t score any touchdowns so he finished as the WR57. Looking at that offensive line, Cam Newton, and three power backs in Damien Harris, Sony Michel, and Rhamondre Stevenson, I wouldn’t be surprised if Belichick planned to run some crazy three-headed power wishbone offense he drew on a napkin as a kid while watching practices at Navy.
Or maybe they run this nightmare for fantasy football.
On top of that, Henry himself does have some negatives. First off, he’s struggled to stay healthy. He’s actually never played all 16 games in a season. Second, he’s not particularly fast. Zach Ertz thrived on targets and body control, not athleticism, so this machine needs targets to function at a high level. And Henry’s kryptonite in this offense could end up being his blocking. Despite Jonnu Smith being asked to block far more during his career, Henry's pretty much always graded out better than Jonnu Smith in blocking (even though he’s also been better at receiving) so there is a chance they ask Henry to block a decent amount. Even though it was in a different offense, he did block on 13.44% of pass plays which is no bueno.
Yin-Yang. There is a narrative floating around that, even though they got the same money per year, Jonnu Smith will get more targets because he got an extra year on his contract. And I think that’s a pretty stupid metric to hang your hat on instead of doing real analysis. We don’t know whether Bill Belichick considers flexibility in terms of playing tight end, fullback, special teams etc. in his decisions or whether the players' health or age plays a factor but I can assure you that Bill Belichick didn’t sit down and say “we are going to give Jonnu Smith more targets in 2021 so he gets the same money but an extra year”. The role in the offense and the scheme will determine that targets. And hence my prediction.
I believe that Hunter Henry will be used in a more traditional tight end role, similar to the way they used Rob Gronkowski. He will line up in-line in traditional sets but will also split out wide in the slot and at split end just as Gronk did and just as Henry has his whole career. I believe that Jonnu Smith’s role will be a “move tight end” role that will be a hybrid version of how they used Martellus Bennett and Aaron Hernandez. He’ll line up as the second tight end, as a wing, as a fullback, in the slot etc. We’ll get to Jonnu shortly but the bottom line is that I believe Hunter Henry’s role will translate to more consistent and trustworthy targets week to week and his ability to beat guys one on one will be crucial in the red area. So he’s the one I want first of the two. Our ADP pulled from expert draft sites has Henry’s ADP at a steal of 126 and Jonnu’s at 135 but sites like Underdog actually have Jonnu going ahead of Henry so you can really take advantage of his value there. That's the beauty of drafting Henry - we just illustrated how he has a path to elite upside and he's coming off the board currently at tight end 14 so he's practically free.
Evan Engram ***UPDATE*** Evan Engram currently has a calf injury and is doubtful for week 1. If you plan to still draft him (as I am) you will likely need to use the Yin & Yang TE Strategy in the fourth article and also draft a “safe” player to start the early part of the season for you.
I can already hear Reddit whining now. “Coop you told me to draft Evan Engram last year blah blah sniffle sob meow”. What these sad cats don’t realize is that pretty much everything we said last year did happen. Evan Engram led his team in targets. He was TE4 in targets, TE5 in receptions, and TE8 in yards. Did I know that Saquon Barkley was going to get hurt and Daniel Jones was going to crack under the pressure, throwing 11 TD passes with 21 turnovers? No of course not - no one projected that for Jones. You can't project a QB to do that without him getting benched (usually). That’s the risk that you take with fantasy football. We just need to put ourselves in the best position to succeed by using the correct process. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
With Evan Engram it’s all about athleticism. He’s realistically built more like some of the elite split ends we’ve seen like Demaryius Thomas or Andre Johnson. Here is his size speed compared to DT per PlayerProfiler.
Same guy. So the reality of Engram is that he shouldn’t be playing with his hand in the dirt the way Jason Garrett had him last year - he should be upright running routes the way Washington uses Logan Thomas. His size does not translate well to in-line blocking. The good news is the Giants brought in Kyle Rudolph to play that Nick Boyle role so that Evan Engram can play more of a Mark Andrews role. Like Andrews and his 58% snap share last year, Engram doesn’t even need to play all of the snaps to be successful in fantasy as long as he’s playing a majority of the PASS snaps and getting a decent target share. The bar is 90 targets as we said in the first series so he doesn't even need the same amount he got last year as long as the quality improves and he can find the red zone more than once.
Ball security. It’s the first thing anyone thinks of with Engram. He had eight drops last year and a fumble (and dropped a pitch that was credited to Daniel Jones but you could argue was equally Engram's fault). Even crazier, six passes that he was targeted on were intercepted - some directly his fault. And some of these plays were absolutely glaring like the drop at the end of the Eagles game that pretty much cost them the playoffs. These kinds of things stick with the fans, coaches, and players themselves.
On top of that, his path to targets isn’t as clear as it once was. Last year he led the team but they added Kenny Golladay and drafted Kadarius Toney in the first round. They also get Saquon Barkley back who has been a bit of a target monster himself. Engram is a primary pass catching tight end and an athletic freak but targets are the main ingredient to this recipe so, without those, he doesn’t have the elite upside.
Yin Yang. At an ADP of 131 in the 11-12th round as the TE15 off the board, Evan Engram is an absolute value as a high upside “Yang” in a Yin-Yang TE approach. I expect the base offense to be 12 personnel with Kenny Golladay, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard as primary pass catchers with Kyle Rudolph playing an inline role somewhere in between a Nick Boyle or Dallas Goedert type player. They can mix and match Rudolph, Engram, Shepard, Darius Slayton, and the rookie with Engram still getting plenty of work in a receiving capacity. Sure Engram dropped eight passes in 16 games but George Kittle dropped eight in eight games. Jimmy Graham once dropped 15 from Drew Brees in one season. Drops only matter if the team loses confidence in you and Joe Judge straight up said he loves Engram’s work ethic and has a ton of confidence in him.
If you go back to the first article and look at the recent teams who have managed three players with 100+ targets, three of the last five teams had a running back in the mix. And one of those teams was actually the Giants themselves. Kenny Golladay is a high aDot deep pass type player so I don’t predict him to be the guy soaking up ~140-150 targets (and his ADP doesn’t suggest that either as a 130+ target player with his route tree would be a top five wide receiver). I personally have Engram as the second target on the team, especially with reports that Saquon could be eased in, but even if Saquon has a decent share there’s a world where the targets between Golladay, Engram, and Saquon are spread in a way that they can all thrive. In fact, it could actually help Engram to have another elite pass catcher there because last year he was facing high end coverage (and still caught the third most passes vs. man to man behind only Waller and Kelce). The real question is whether Daniel Jones is going to be terrible again or not but, with an ADP of TE15, it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t pan out. You just drop him and move on to the next breakout candidate as the Yin-Yang strategy calls for.
By nature of the uncertainty of this newly purchased Patriots offense, Jonnu Smith also has the chance to be the top target, ahead of Hunter Henry even. Hell, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith could be the top two targets and both get over 100 targets. In 2011, under this head coach, we literally saw Rob Gronkowski finish as the TE1 and Aaron Hernandez finish as the TE3. We’ve also seen both Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz finish as top 10 tight ends in fantasy. It’s not outside the realm of possibility.
What Jonnu brings that’s different from Hunter Henry is versatility and explosiveness. Belichick himself said Smith was the best in the league with the ball in his hands. I mean, look at this creature.
In terms of explosiveness he’s broken off catches of 41, 57, 61, and 63 yards as well as a 57 yard rush. He’s also lined up at fullback and halfback in the past and has six carries for 82 yards and a touchdown. Belichick is no stranger to using fullbacks or lining up tight ends like Aaron Hernandez in the backfield in shotgun so it’s exciting to think of the unique ways he could utilize Smith. Despite running less routes than Henry and producing less overall, Jonnu had a higher yards per route run in large part because of his elite YAC per reception of 5.8 yards. Based on that, if the targets were equal, Jonnu could produce more for fantasy.
This idea that Jonnu Smith can be an elite pass catcher and elite asset in fantasy football is based entirely on speculation as we’ve never seen it. The last two years in PPR he’s finished as TE20 and TE19 - forget elite, that’s not even viable. People might fondly remember the stretch at the beginning of last year when he caught some touchdowns but you have to remember that AJ Brown missed weeks 2 and 3, Corey Davis missed week 4 and 5, and Adam Humphries played basically a couple weeks then missed the rest of the season. Jonnu didn’t “ascend” during that period as much as he was forced into relevancy. Meanwhile his teammate Anthony Firkser during that stretch managed to drop a 100 yard game - something Jonnu did not do last year. Now that he’s on a new team that is also super run heavy, is this the year that Jonnu Smith finally surpasses the elusive 450 yard receiving mark???
The problem here when you lift up the hood is that not all tight ends have the same skill set and they don’t all produce the same way. When you diagnose Jonnu’s game, it is not the kind that translates to consistent production. He was asked to block on 57.6% of his snaps and 14.4% of his pass snaps (which is actually an improvement from 2019 where he blocked on 24.1%). He lined up at WR on only a quarter of his snaps while Hunter Henry played half of his snaps out wide. Jonnu only had an aDot of 6.3 yards - of the tight ends that were even remotely fantasy relevant only Drew Sample was lower last year. And the big difference between he and Hunter Henry is how they win in the passing game which is summed up in the following Tweet.
As I mentioned briefly earlier, this part is my opinion. I’m a Patriots fan at heart so I’m rooting for Jonnu AND Henry. But I also know this team well and my concern here is that Jonnu ends up in a role like the one Martellus Bennett played for the Patriots where he’s asked to kind of be a Swiss Army Knife lining up in various roles as the second tight end, move tight end, full back etc. He’ll sneak out for screens, playaction, crosses, maybe get a carry or two, and he’ll break off big chunks at times but that type of role can also be highly inconsistent. Hard to tell when that type of thing is going to hit and in a low volume attack that can lead to some fairly rough games.
On the flip side, there is the chance that he could be featured more as a pass catcher than ever. Or even in that hybrid role, we’ve seen guys like Aaron Hernandez and Chris Cooley put up great fantasy seasons. The Patriots are notoriously tight-lipped with their plans so even if I’m a big tight end AND Patriots nerd, I don’t know for sure - I can only speculate. I think there is a place for Jonnu Smith to be drafted in fantasy given the question marks and the upside but for me that’s after Hunter Henry. Given my prediction for his role and the potential for inconsistency, the best place to draft Jonnu Smith if you want a piece of him is likely a best ball league.
Yin-Yang. After Hunter Henry and Evan Engram are gone, I'm absolutely willing to take Jonnu Smith at ADP. Bill Belichick is notoriously tight lipped about what the team plans to do so he absolutely has a shot to lead that team in targets. You have to take The Good and The Bad from this article and any other info you can find and make that decision for yourself. In this section, I'm telling you what I'm doing based on my research and my experience. At his ADP of 136 and tight end 16, he's absolutely in that range where you can draft him as part of a Yin Yang strategy, you can always just drop him if he's no good.
Next week we will get into the guys who either don't have this kind of upside or are simply being overdrafted at their ADP with The Fades. Then we'll wrap up the series with everyone's favorite: Yin & Yang Tight End. If you like this kind of analysis or you just want to know all the best tight end waiver adds every week all season, follow Coop on Twitter @CoopAFiasco and check him out on the Fantasy Alarm NFL Podcast.