Fantasy Football TE Preview: Dynasty Tight Ends to Sell - Part One
Andrew Cooper examines the dynasty tight end landscape and tells you which players are worth selling.
Trading in dynasty is tough. Trading tight ends are tough. So, getting fair value for a tight end in most dynasty formats is damn near impossible. Here is a brief list of things people say when you try to talk about trading them a tight end.
- We only start one, I’ll just find one on waivers
- There’s like two good tight ends dude
- Tight ends take too long to develop
- Tight ends who are relevant are already too old
- Gronk retired so everyone is going to retire at 30
- Yeah, I know Gronk is back now but still
- I read that article on Fantasy Alarm and I know you are just trying to sell high
(Us tight end proponents don’t want to hear it)
Because of this you are often better off holding onto tight ends, especially younger ones. If we are being honest, tight ends tight ends do take longer to develop often times. Not only do they need a primary pass catching role but they also need to become a top two target on the team, as we’ve discussed in depth in the past. And in order to play every snap like Kelce or Kittle, they need to not only earn the trust of the quarterback in the passing game, but they need to mesh with the line in the protection scheme. That is why tight end is one of the most difficult positions to learn – you are practically learning two positions. I distinctly remember the start of practice when the tight ends would whine when the coach told them they had to work with the lineman that day instead of the receivers.
(Tough cookies ya big oaf, now hit the sled)
Take Cole Kmet for example. Not only was he the first tight end off the board in the second round but he was drafted to the team he was a fan of growing up with a coach who’s most successful offense heavily featured Jimmy Graham . Perfect situation, right?
Well that team also decided to give Jimmy Graham two years $16 million with $9 million guaranteed. So, he is playing early and often for them this year at the very least. Plus, Graham is as big of a prototypical pass catcher as you can get which will likely force Kmet to skew towards a blocking role to start a la Dallas Goedert behind Zach Ertz . The situation does not seem as dire as Graham’s career is winding down but that means Kmet has at minimum a year until he’s the primary pass catcher there and he’ll need to (hopefully) transition from primary blocker to primary pass catcher. If you draft him in dynasty is not not to be your starting tight end right away unless he is simply so good that they do not mind sticking Jimmy and his $9 million-no-matter-what deal on the pine. Kmet is a great stash but he’s a stash nonetheless.
It is too easy to just tell you “hey trade Zach Ertz because he’s not getting any younger”. That is too lazy and everyone knows what you’re up to. What we are going to attempt to do here is identify guys you may have been stashing that we either believe are likely at or around their peak value or are too volatile of assets to the point you are better off just cashing out. Or just guys that may have some value but have little to no shot at fantasy relevance. Here are two guys that fit that bill and then we will follow up the second article with a couple more before giving you the dynasty buys.
Ian Thomas , Carolina Panthers
Ian Thomas would typically be the type of tight end we like. He is athletic with both burst scores and catch radius within the 85th percentile, per player profiler (they list his best comparable player as Austin Hooper , the highest paid tight end in the league). He played a whopping 68.5% of his snaps from the slot which is what made Greg Olsen so successful (Olsen ran 53.6% from the slot). Chris Manhertz on the other hand only had 1 target from the slot and blocked on a whopping 70.6% of his PASS plays (Olsen was at 9.4% and Thomas was at 8.5%). So clearly Manhertz is the blocker and Thomas is the pass catcher. A perfect set up. So, what gives?
The paragraph above is what you can tell your league-mate when you trade him Ian Thomas . Because here is the issue and it is a doozy. If you haven’t checked out the section of this article labeled The Target Distribution Conundrum then I suggest you do so now as that research is a huge part of our analysis. The short and sweet is that it is incredibly rare for three guys on the same team to get 100+ targets and nearly every top five tight end gets 100+ targets – usually quite a bit more. There are two major issues in dynasty for Ian Thomas .
Christian McCaffrey – in his first three years he is had 113, 124, and 142 targets. Those 379 targets over three years is good for 11th of ANY PLAYER over that span. It is more than guys like Robert Woods , Adam Thielen , Stefon Diggs , Tyreek Hill . CMC just signed a contract through 2025 with the earliest he could possibly be cut being in 2023.
DJ Moore – Moore had 82 targets as a rookie and just had 135 in 15 games his sophomore year. Even if you want to build in some kind of regression, can you realistically say that he will go from 135 in 15 games to under 100 in 16? DJ Moore’s contract is through 2021 but because he’s a 1st round pick, they will almost certainly pick up the 5th year option meaning he won’t be a free agent until 2023.
So, forget Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson . Barring injury, Ian Thomas as a Panther has a limited ceiling all the way until at least 2023. If you own him, you honestly should be rooting for him to leave as a free agent in 2021. At this point your league-mates probably just see Olsen leaving and a young Ian Thomas replacing him so now is the time to sell him before they see firsthand how blocked his path to fantasy greatness truly is. When they inevitably drop him, you can just pick him up two years from now when he is a free agent.
Tyler Higbee , Los Angeles Rams
We’ve provided you the stats in a previous article regarding Tyler Higbee ’s usage. Check that out if you would like but we can assure you that there is cause for concern. Even when he was “breaking out” during the last five games of the season, he was blocking on 20% of his pass plays which is on par with fantasy studs like Nick Boyle and Jeff Heuerman . That is blocking one or very five pass plays and that was while Gerald Everett was hurt – it’s typically even worse than that. Not great Bob.
The big argument for Higbee is that the Rams “shifted” into a new offense where they used two tight ends, especially against the Seahawks and Cardinals. Let’s consider that this wasn’t just because they had to work around a banged up Brandin Cooks and were facing the Cardinals and Seahawks in three out of the those five games, the worst and third worst defenses against tight ends. In that situation, they didn’t have Gerald Everett so they used Johnny Mundt who is practically a tackle. With Mundt and Higbee on the field, it is pretty obvious that Higbee is going to be catching the passes and Mundt will be blocking. But it is not so obvious who will be catching passes when it is Higbee and Everett in the two tight end set. Historically Everett has been the better pass catcher and, per Sean McVay himself, the more exciting playmaker.
And that is before we even get into the Target Conundrum caused by Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp at the top of the totem pole. For this season at least, Higbee is going to be battling with Gerald Everett for the third spot in the pecking order – a spot that decidedly removes top five tight end from your range of outcomes. I guess you could wait and hope that Everett and Cooper Kupp leave as free agents after this year so it can be Higbee behind Woods in 2021 but that is not a game we like to play.
Lucky for us, we have all of that info above. What your league-mates see is Higbee having a bunch of targets and 100-yard games at the end of the year which makes that fresh in their mind. They just see the stats – they do not realize how bad the Seahaws, Cardinals, and then the Seawhawks again were against the tight end. They forgot that the Cowboys absolutely crushed the Rams and sat in zone all game giving up the underneath which allowed Higbee to catch a bunch of screens and safety valves to set up yet another 4th and 6. They haven’t watched his highlights or looked at his miniscule average depth of target to realize that’s the kind of route runner he is. And because he did literally nothing for three years, people think he is still young because he just recently “broke out” even though he’s already 27.
Let’s pretend we can go back in time to about five months ago. It’s week 12 of the 2019 NFL season and for some strange reason you own Tyler Higbee in your dynasty league. It’s been nine games in his FOURTH season, and Higbee has 212 total yards or 23 yards a game. Gerald Everett on the other hand has 408 yards -which also isn’t great, but it’s also almost twice as many yards. If, in that moment, I told you that you could get a second or possibly even a first round rookie pick for Higbee, you would have thought I was a crazy person.
You couldn’t even get a third for him. I mean, you honestly shouldn’t even have owned him as he just finished TE65, TE35, and TE33 in his first three years. But, lucky for you, Gerald Everett got hurt then they got some decent matchups and that’s all it took for his value to somehow rise from the dead like a tight end zombie. So, what are you waiting for? Cash that lotto ticket!
Statistics for this article were provided by the author, Andrew Cooper, with help from ProFootballFocus.com, PlayerProfiler.com, ProFootballRefence.com, AirYards.com, and SharpFootballStats.com. Follow Coop on Twitter @CoopAFiasco.