Yin and Yang Tight End Strategy
I have been accused in the past of providing analysis that is a bit “inside baseball”. And I would say that’s accurate. Some people don’t care for the minutiae of statistical analysis. They want to know that a guy is going to score points in fantasy this year – they don’t want to know why they will score points or what early signs to look for that tell you they should be capable of scoring points. Some people simply seek out rankings. Which, I’ll admit, is more than your average fantasy gamer does. And those people that merely care enough to look up rankings before their draft usually do a pretty good job of making the playoffs and coming in third.
(The extra effort you need to use to earn that bronze when you waste a pick on Tyler Higbee )
This series isn’t for those people. This series is for the people who want every little advantage they can get. They relish the thought of competing in high stakes leagues against the sharpest of the sharp, using every scrap of info to outwit them. Or even just going toe to toe with their work league nemesis, Bob from Accounting, and putting him in his place. That’s just as good, if not better.
Imagine this scenario. You and Bob from Accounting both start off your draft utilizing the exact same “robust running back” strategy. You both draft your first tight end in the 11th round but, the difference is, that Bob is “punting tight end and just drafting whoever” while you are “strategically waiting on tight end because you have a specific plan in place that you are confident will help you decimate Bob from Accounting and Nancy in HR and anyone else who dares try to touch the prestigious work league trophy that has sat on your desk for three years straight now (heavy breathing)”.
(Big matchup vs. Nancy Week 1)
If you’re that second guy, the one who likes to get in there nice and deep-like with their fantasy learnings, then grab a seat because this article will teach you the best late round tight end technique there is. And if you’re the dude saying he’ll just punt tight end because it doesn’t matter, you’re kicked out of class. And you fail. And you’re expelled.
Yin and Yang Tight End Strategy
We talked about this strategy in our article advising you on which tight end strategies to employ based on format. In small to midsize weekly leagues, which most leagues are, we typically advise you to draft one starting tight end that you trust, either reaching for one of the elite guys from our first article or one of the guys we identified as the best value picks at ADP in the second article. The ideal overall strategy would be to draft one of those guys (who are considered both safe AND high upside) and then pair them with a high upside guy from later on in this article, doubling your chance at acquiring assets you can either start at the flex or wheel and deal. But that’s not always feasible considering the draft capital and roster spaces you’d need to use.
When people talk about “deep leagues” they typically mean some combination of more league members, additional weekly starting spots (like multiple flexes), and/or a lot of bench spots. In deeper leagues we sometimes advise using the Yin and Yang Tight End Strategy. It’s also viable in tight end premium leagues, best ball leagues, or leagues where you simply miss out on your targets at no fault of your own and you need to make up ground (as has happened to me this year already, thanks to that no good dirty rotten tight end whispering and sniping Howard Bender).
(Not my Mike Gesicki !)
The basics of the strategy are simple. You are waiting on tight end for one reason or another. But you still want an above average starting fantasy tight end meaning a top five or six player at the position since most teams only start one. The Yin/Yang tight end strategy is to draft one guy who has a medium floor but also medium ceiling, meaning he has a good shot at being a top 12 or so tight end but has little to no path to being a top five or six tight end based on the metrics and opportunities we have discussed ad nauseum in this series. This decent floor but low upside tight end is your Yin. You then pair that guy with a low floor but high ceiling player who could bust completely but also a viable path to a ton of targets/touchdowns if things pan out right which gives him an outside shot at top five. This is your Yang.
In the early weeks, you start your Yin tight end since he’s safe and you can’t afford to have anyone in your lineup drop a zero-spot. Meanwhile, you watch your Yang’s usage to see if he’s breaking out as you had hoped. If his usage doesn’t look promising, you drop him for a new Yang and monitor that guy. You keep switching out upside tight ends until one hits like Mark Andrews , Darren Waller , or Will Dissly (pre-injury) last season. At that point you can keep the Yin tight end for bye weeks/in reserve or drop him and just start the Yang. By now, from reading the first three articles of this series, you should know what to look for in terms of usage for elite/breakout tight ends but I’ll also be tweeting out guys to add/drop all year on Twitter @CoopAFiasco.
So let’s get to it. Like the rest of these articles, we assume a 12 team league with half point PPR and one tight end. We will be using FantasyAlarm Composite ADP and will list the guys below based on the order they are being drafted on average but that doesn’t necessarily mean we like them best so make sure to check the Advice portion for each player. We’ll start with the Yin guys.
Yin Tight Ends (Medium Floor, Medium Ceiling)
For starters, we would just like to mention that Austin Hooper and Hayden Hurst are the definition of Yin tight ends as they are guys who have decent floors but medium/low ceilings, given they are stuck behind target hogs like Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry , Julio Jones , and Calvin Ridley . That would typically fit our definition, however, the cost of their ADPs versus their likely output has landed them in our Tight Ends to Fade article last week. If Hayden Hurst was still going outside the top 12 in the TE12-16 range where he was in early spring/summer best ball leagues, he’d be in this article as a Yin. But his current ADP as the TE9 in the 9th round per Fantasy Alarm’s most up to date ADP data, you are spending wayyy too much for way too little. My experience with drafts so far suggests you may even need to go earlier than the 9th if you actually still want him for some reason. Fantasy football hype is dangerous and you need to avoid paying ceiling prices for a guy who’s likely landing spot is just outside the top 10 with an upside that is backend top 10.
If you can keep Hooper or Hurst for a price you can’t possibly turn down or if you lean on your keyboard and accidentally draft one of them, skip to the Yang section of this article and try to find yourself the real upside tight end that will actually help your fantasy team win the league. And yes, I know disparaging Hayden Hurst really rustles the jimmies of hype driven communities like Reddit or Twitter – I already dealt with that angry mob in the comment section of last week’s article and I welcome you all back again to attempt to justify why you are making bad picks.
(On to the guys you should consider drafting at their ADP instead)
Hunter Henry – Los Angeles Chargers
Right away you might say “well his situation is pretty close to Hurst and Hooper, why isn’t he a fade?”. Well, you can actually feel free to fade him if you want. But, in comparison to those two, Henry is a tight end we consider one of the safer ones in terms of likelihood they finish somewhere between TE6 and TE12. And here’s a little info on why.
Hunter Henry is a former second round pick with little competition on the team at his position (unless you think Dallas Renegades stand out Donald Parham is in line for a breakout, as some of my SFBX Group 1.02 pals foolheartedly believe). One of our key criteria from the first article is red zone prowess and he clearly has had a nose for the end zone with 5.6 touchdowns per season in his healthy-ish seasons – including scoring eight as a rookie. Over the last three years he’s averaged 10.6 PPR points per game which is good for ninth over the last few seasons and only 1.38 points behind fifth place Evan Engram (who we clearly love). Last year when he returned from the injury his reception totals were 4, 8, 6, 4, 7, 4, 6, 2, 2 ,2, 5, 5. Most tight ends are lucky to catch 2-3 passes a game so, as our Yin who is keeping the ship afloat while we look for a breakout guy, we’ll take those receptions all day. But those are mainly just surface stats with no analysis or narrative so there’s nothing there you shouldn’t already know.
On the surface, in terms of The Target Conundrum, it doesn’t look great for Henry. If you remember from the article I just linked, 156 out of 160 teams have had two or fewer guys get 100+ targets. That’s 97.5%. And looking at the stats in that article regarding tight end success, it’s clear why being top two in targets is pivotal. Keenan Allen is the defacto number one target on the team and Austin Ekeler is likely to consume a huge number once again as well. There is also the battle with Mike Williams for third. That said, the last two teams to fall on the 2.5% side of the target conundrum with three or more guys getting 100+ targets were the 2019 Panthers and 2018 Giants. In 2017 it was no one. One thing those teams had in common was that one of the three players was a runningback (Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley ). That potentially gives us some hope that maybe Austin Ekeler ’s targets out of the backfield, often coming in lieu of handoffs, might not be as big of a drain on the total targets as we might expect. WIth guys like Hooper and Hurst, they not only have capable pass catching runningbacks like Todd Gurley , Kareem Hunt , and Nick Chubb , but they also face two target hog wide receivers as well. The situation for Henry isn’t nearly as dire.
And that might not even matter for Henry because he’s also not necessarily a lock to be stuck behind those guys. When we look at the QB change, TyRod Taylor was last a full time starting QB on the Bills. In 2016 he had Sammy Watkins , Robert Woods , Marquise Goodwin , Percy Harvin, LeSean McCoy , and Reggie Bush at his disposal. Who led the team in targets that year? Charles Clay . In 2017 it was LeSean McCoy and then Charles Clay . So back to back years where TyRod Taylor made the TE a top two target despite healthy competition and now he’s the Chargers QB until they bring in the QB of the future. Which does give us some hope that Henry will be a top 12 tight end - as he has been his whole career so far when healthy.
As with Evan Engram , the “when healthy” part is a serious caveat. We don’t try to predict that currently healthy guys will get hurt but you might be one of those guys who avoids “injury prone” players entirely so we need to mention that he’s essentially gotten hurt every year including missing all of 2018. And we aren’t just talking kind of hurt – we are talking torn ACL and broken tibia hurt. Even though he’s still only 25, that type of wear and tear can really add up over time.
But even more concerning to us personally is that all of his success so far has come with Phillip Rivers. You know, the guy who connected with Antonio Gates for 89 TD passes, the most all time between a QB and TE? TyRod Taylor might show a little glimmer of hope if he targets Henry heavily but the quality of those throws is not likely to be nearly as high. Add in the fact that they just used the 6th pick of the NFL draft on Justin Herbert and there is clearly some uncertainty there in terms of what kind of balls will be coming his way and from whom.
We already discussed it and potential ways around it but the target distribution issue is clearly a big problem with Keenan Allen , Austin Ekeler , and Mike Williams . Top five tight ends are pretty exclusively either the top target on their team or the second target which means Henry could very likely be a lower volume, touchdown dependent play this year. Which means he might not even be a safe guy to start on your team.
Per Fantasy Alarm ADP data, Hunter Henry is coming off the board at tight end eight in the eighth round which is honestly a little too rich for us given the low-ish upside. In our estimation, you are better off reaching for a guy one or two rounds earlier like Evan Engram or Darren Waller with less downside and serious upside than using a pick at ADP on Henry. That said, if you miss on all your targets, he seems pretty safe to finish somewhere as a backend TE1 compared to other guys with target issues who also switched teams like Hooper or Hurst. Henry is your quintessential Yin tight end to hold while you look for an upside guy – especially if he slides from his ADP. Taking a high end Yin like Henry or this next guy is a very conservative fantasy play, if that’s how you roll.
T.J. Hockenson – Detroit Lions
TJ Hockenson was the 8th overall pick in the 2019th draft after a dominate performance at Iowa. He was one of the rare tight ends to come in and start full time as a rookie right out of the gate, playing both in-line (32 snaps week 1), out of the slot (25 snaps), and even out wide (3 snaps). And in that week one game he had six catches on nine targets for 131 yards and a touchdown. After that he had a couple down weeks, suffered a concussion week four, lost his quarterback week 8, and inevitably ended his season with shoulder and ankle issues weeks 12-13. But the tantalizing flash shown week one is what intrigues us given the investment in him.
What intrigues us even more is the narrative surrounding him in Detroit. As everyone knows, Matt Patricia came over from New England. What everyone might not know is that, despite being a defensive guy, Patricia essentially made Jim Bob Cooter switch the offense over from the Air Coryell system they were running to the modified Erhardt Perkins system the Patriots run. There is a lot more detail on it in this extensive post on the Lions subreddit by /u/Ucla_The_Mok but the gist is that Patricia said “switch the play-calling system over to the Patriots or you’re fired”. The Patriots modified Erhardt Perkins offense that Charlie Weis helped devise is famously known for a lot of things such as utilizing a two back system (sorry Kerryon Johnson and DeAndre Swift fans). But perhaps its most famous for it’s use of a brutish, two way athletic tight end to get down field. Did I mention that the Lions and Matt Patricia went out of their way to draft TJ Hockenson with the 8th overall pick?
That narrative is all fine and dandy and the upside is there but, beyond that first week, Hockenson was pretty brutal. He never really got going with a couple three and four catch games here or there before the Lions season went off the rails. The big issue, as we note for a lot of tight ends out there, is it’s not easy to pencil him in for first or second on the target totem pole. If we had to bet on it, he’s at least third behind Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones and could even be behind the likes of Danny Amendola and rookie pass catching back DeAndre Swift if he does slide into a James White like role right away. And like many guys on this list, his upside is severely limited by the potential target crunch which would make him pretty touchdown dependent.
Despite his similarities to Hunter Henry in terms of target issues, TJ Hockenson is our first true “buy” for Yin tight ends at his ADP. For starters, the target competition for Hockenson is not equal to guys like Hooper, Henry, or Hurst. Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry , Keenan Allen , Austin Ekeler , Julio Jones , Calvin Ridley – these guys are target MONSTERS. OBJ and Juice have averaged north of 140 targets a year for their entire career and each got over 130 playing TOGETHER last season. Guys like Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones on the other hand profile as high aDot field stretchers which makes them less likely to be in these massive 140-150 target ranges which should lead to more evenly distributed targets over the course of the season. Last year Matthew Stafford attempted a stupid number of deep passes (over 20 yards) with 56 only 8 games before he got hurt. That’s 25 more than Jimmy Garoppolo had in his whole 16 game season. As fun as it might be, it’s simply unrealistic to air it out like that all year so we think more targets end up underneath this season. We still don’t think Hockenson gets the much needed 100+ targets to have top five upside, but he should get a good number of high quality of targets from Matthew Stafford that lands him somewhere in that back end TE1, high end TE2 range that we expect out of a Yin.
The other difference from Henry, Hooper, and Hurst for us is that those guys are all being drafted as tight end ones in fantasy. They go in the top 10-12. If we take a guy in the top 10-12, we typically want him to have a floor of TE1 with an upside of top five which these guys all have a tough road to top five barring injury, as we laid out last week. So, if that’s the case, we think you should either pay up for one of the guys we listed in the first two articles or wait and take Hockenson once most teams have already taken a tight end as ADP currently puts him as the 15th guy off the board. Compared to the other tight ends starting with H, you should get a similar output for much cheaper in terms of a guy to start while you look for a breakout.
Jack Doyle – Indianapolis Colts
Remember that Phillip Rivers guy we talked about before? Well now he’s with the Indianapolis Colts. I imagine Jack Doyle reading the Hunter Henry portion of this article, just licking his chops in anticipation for those shot-put style quick release passes. Though Doyle was never a flashy player, he’s been quite serviceable and he even has a 108 target, 80 catch season as recently as 2017 with Andrew Luck . He’s a good enough blocker that it keeps him on the field most plays - he played at least 65-percent of snaps in every game last year with some games as high as 95-percent. He had at least two catches in 13 of 16 games and at least three in 9 of 16 making him a great candidate for this exercise where our main goal is finding a dude who won’t go out and put up a zero. If you just need someone to hold down the first while you look for a breakout, Doyle is your man. I mean, the last few years the Colts have suffered injuries to TY Hilton, Devin Funchess , Parris Campbell , Reece Fountain, Deon Cain , Eric Ebron etc. and Doyle has been there to pick up that slack.
When I said he’s “never been a flashy player” I mean that he’s probably the least flashy tight end we’d ever tell you to consider. He’s definitely your dads version of a tight end who catches the ball, goes to the ground, gets back up, gets in the huddle, and puts his nose back in the dirt. You aren’t going to get any spin moves or hurdles here. And despite only blocking on between 8-9-percent of pass plays (which is actually good), he is a blocking tight end at heart in the sense that they’ve deployed a primary pass catching tight end either in his place or on the field at the same time pretty much during his entire tenure. In the last couple years that’s been Ebron who had an average depth of target of 9.5 yards compared to 6.8 for Doyle. Most of his success has come when Ebron has been hurt Eric’s departure is a good thing but they also brought in Trey Burton so clearly they feel the need to have that pass catching specialist available. You can expect Doyle’s role to remain largely the same as, even without Ebron for part of the season, Doyle played 798 snaps and blocked on 404 of them which is just about 50-percent - not as bad as Jonnu Smith ’s 65-percent but nothing to write home about. He ran a 4.91 40 yard dash so YAC is out of the question.
(Ah yes, best comparable to the explosive Jim Dray)
Pretty simple – this dude is free at his ADP of 140 in the 13th round and, given his role in the offense and his new QB’s proclivity towards passing to the tight end, he’s not going to let the ship sink. Which is all you need out of your Yin. You want to focus on the search for a high upside guy so having a dude to plug in who isn’t going to give you one or even zero catches in half the games (like fellow blocking tight end Jonnu Smith essentially did last year). If you are doing the right thing this late and targeting high ceiling, low floor guys that are high risk with your other picks, Doyle is a guy you can start in the meantime that won’t hurt you. That goes for both season long leagues and best ball formats where you just need a floor.
Other Yin Tight Ends to Consider At ADP
Dallas Goedert – Round 11-12 ADP: Given his heavy blocking usage when both he and Zach Ertz are on the field, he’s more of an Ertz handcuff than anything as that’s when he would truly shine. Last year the three starting WRs combined to miss 36 games so he’s not going to have a better opportunity than that yet he was still only tight end 10. He can probably do that again with enough touchdowns so he’s an okay Yin but his ADP is too high. If he were going a bit later he’d be easier to recommend but you are paying for a top 12 TE with no top 5 upside barring injury, which we don’t like.
Christopher Herndon 13-14th round ADP: You might immediately exclaim “HERNDON HAS A PATH TO TOP TWO IN TARGETS WHICH YOU SAID IS GOOD”. He does based on the lack of viable, veteran pass catchers on the team. Yet, as we detailed in this article, Adam Gase has historically always used his tight ends heavily as part of the protection rather than the attack on pass plays. Mike Gesicki went from blocking on nearly one of every five pass plays under Gase to blocking on 2-percent of pass plays under Flores. Last year every tight end on the Jets blocked on 20-percent of pass plays or more, including Herndon in his limited sample size. Jamison Crowder and Le’Veon Bell will likely lead that team in targets but there is some hope if Gase changes his ways or Le’Veon shoots his way out of town. If Gase’s offense remains as it usually does, Herndon will probably get a catch or two a week, sometimes scoring a touchdown or sometimes even blowing up in the right matchups but generally not being as consistent as you’d like. But we will be watching closely to see if Gase changes his style and we’ll let you know immediately if we see anything via Twitter.
Blake Jarwin – Round 13-14 ADP: Jarwin’s upside almost certainly falls victim to the Target Conundrum on a team with Amari Cooper , Michael Gallup , CeeDee Lamb, Zeke Elliot, and Tony Pollard but that should be a high volume passing attack and Witten is gone. Also, fellow analyst @Lindellions would murder me if didn’t have something nice to say about Jarwin/Oklahoma State and she scares me.
Greg Olsen /Will Dissly - Round 15+ ADP: Based on how Seattle has historically operated with a passs catching guy like Dissley/Hollister vs. guys like George Fant , Nick Vannett , or Luke Willson , one of them will likely be leaned on more heavily in the pass game while the other will be asked to block a bit more. Our money would be on the vet getting the first crack and being the pass catching tight end in the Seahawks offense usually means a couple catches a game and a ticket to the red zone lottery (as is the case with good QBs who can find a way to sneak a touchdown to just about anyone). Considering Lockett, Metcalf, and Dorsett (and Josh Gordon if the rumors are true) all profile as field stretching high aDot type players, there could be room open underneath. That said, this is a conservative run first offense with two guys who should clearly lead in targets so the ceiling is capped no matter the deployment.
Yang Tight Ends (Low Floor, High Ceiling)
These are the fun ones that everyone wants to see because they are the potential league winners. Last year in this part of the series we gave you Mark Andrews and Darren Waller but, as the low floor part implies, there were also some guys who crashed and burned like Delanie Walker . The whole strategy is get a safe Yin in the starting spot, draft these guys late, and rotate them in and out until you hit so don’t be afraid to drop these guys early if they aren’t hitting. In fact, as I was saying on Twitter this week, I PREFER drafting guys late that I can drop right away. Much better than wasting a roster spot on some stash that is unlikely to pan out like people did last year with Christopher Herndon .
That bench spot is crazy valuable - often more valuable than the guy you draft or stash. Last year McLaurin, Chark, DeVante Parker , Darren Waller etc. were available on waivers in early weeks. Game winners. Scratch that ticket and move on.— Andrew Cooper (@CoopAFiasco) August 29, 2020
As we mentioned Hooper and Hurst as potential Yins in the last section we will mention Evan Engram and Mike Gesicki here as high end Yang options. If you aren’t sold on them, draft a safe guy along with them to be sure. But you probably shouldn’t be spending that kind of draft capital on them in the first place if you don’t feel good about them. Either way, here are the rest of the guys we think have high upside that are going either in the very back end of the TE1s or outside of the top 12.
Rob Gronkowski – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
You almost don’t need to explain the upside for Rob Gronkowski . He’s one of the best tight ends the league has seen. Not only that, but he’s pairing back up with his trusted pal Tom Brady . Let’s bring up Phillip Rivers for a seventh time. Only Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates have combined for more touchdown passes than Gronk and Brady. That’s no joke. Not only has Gronk been great but he’s been a bit of an anomaly on multiple fronts. First, he’s been an incredibly successful fantasy tight end despite blocking on between 12-percent and 16-percent of his PASS snaps in most years. That’s because he’s rumbling down the field with an average depth of target at outlier levels of over 12 yards in most years and as high as 13 yards. An average depth of target of 13 yards is where Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. live. And he was doing that all while routinely scoring 10+ touchdowns a season including 17 one year. In terms of measuring tight ends, he breaks a lot of the molds, including ours on multiple fronts.
One of the most popular pieces of information that we’ve shared, one which we use as a measuring stick for most tight end opportunity ratings, is the Target Conundrum which talks about the number of teams that have had three or more players getting 100+ targets and how closely correlated 100+ targets is to fantasy success. Well, that piece of statistical info was actually deployed as part of this Gronkowski article. Many people are going to point to the fact that Gronkowski is injury prone or that he hasn’t played football in a year or that it’s a completely new offense or that Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger. And those are all valid. But those aren’t even the biggest obstacles because we can’t truly quantify them. The scariest obstacles for me are the target hogs on that team. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin combine for arguably the biggest black hole duo out there. As we laid out in that article, they were on the Odell Beckham Jr./Jarvis Landry level that makes Austin Hooper a fade at his ADP. Gronkowski realistically does not have a path to 100+ targets with those two healthy and that makes it very difficult for him to have top five upside unless…
… he scores 10+ touchdowns. Eric Ebron with limited snaps, routes, and targets was able to finish top five in 2018 by scoring 13 touchdowns. Mark Andrews only played 457 snaps last year and ran 295 routes but received 98 targets on those and scored 10 touchdowns finishing top five. Now, Ebron was second on his team in targets and Andrews was first but, If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are firing on all cylinders, scoring touchdowns left and right, there is the possibility that Gronk does score at or near a touchdown a game pace like 2018 Eric Ebron even as the third target-getter. And if that’s the case it doesn’t matter how many targets he gets. Jared Cook was able to finish a top 7 or so tight end propelled almost entirely by his 9 touchdowns last year. So, as the 10th tight end off the board in the 10th round, I am interested to see what the new, high powered offense Brady to Gronk combo might look like. But you better have a decent floor Yin backup if he returns as a shadow of himself, is asked to block a ton (as Bruce Arians’s tight ends often do), or simply isn’t playing at his old level. As with any of these Yang guys, do not be afraid to drop them if the usage is ugly week 1.
Irv Smith- Minnesota Vikings
We often talk about how the modern tight end position is not a linear depth chart on most teams. Historically, you had your starter who played nearly every snap, a backup who hardly played, and then his backup, if it even went that far. A team like the Chiefs should look something like that with Travis Kelce as the starter and Ricky-Seals Jones as his understudy. Many teams however look at the tight end group as a “room” rather than a line and use different players to their strengths. The Ravens for instance have Nick Boyle play a ton of snaps (769) and block on most plays (only 221 routes run) while Mark Andrews doesn’t play every play (457 snaps) but is featured heavily in the pass game (295 routes run). The Vikings were a team trending towards this kind of set up with Kyle Rudolph playing 791 snaps and running 338 routes with Irv Smith playing 612 snaps and running 305. Irv was increasingly factored into the passing game with the end goal seemingly to have him as the primary pass catching tight end. And that makes a lot of sense when you look at their workout metrics and best comparable players per PlayerProfiler.com
The trend becomes even more apparent when you dig deeper. Minnesota used far and away the least 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WR) in the league at 25-percent. They used at least two tight ends on 56-percent of their plays which was second to only Phildapelphia at 56-percent. What’s more is that Irv Smith led the team in routes run from the slot with 124 which was ahead of Olabisis Johnson (109), Adam Thielen (72), and Stefon Diggs (72). You take all of this and sprinkle some other factoids on there and you get the following pros for Irv Smith
The Vikings use as a lot of two tight end sets with Irv as the primary pass catcher
He profiles similar to Eric Ebron athletically, another primary pass catcher
Stefon Diggs is gone, vacating targets
Run heavy offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is gone, likely creating targets
You add that all up and there’s a chance Irv Smith gets the second most targets on this team which is one of our main barriers to entry for high end, consistent, fantasy tight end production.
Had the Vikings not drafted another wide receiver, we’d be all over Irv Smith In fact, had they simply drafted someone like Michael Pittman or K.J. Hamler who both profile as guys who will primarily play outside, we still would be higher on him. But instead they took Justin Jefferson in the first round who’s not only one of the more NFL ready and polished route runners, he profiles as a slot receiver. That’s bad for Irv and is a big part of what creates his heavy downside that puts him in Yang territory. If the Vikings elect to use Jefferson heavily in the slot and Tajae Sharpe /Olabisi Johnson outside opposite Adam Thielen , that would mean that Irv Smith is now rotating in from the bench rather than starting which almost certainly limits his upside. If that were the case he’d go back to being a TD dependent guy with the rest of them.
And even if Irv earns that primary slot role, there’s a good chance that Dalvin Cook is actually the second target getter on the team behind Thielen which would also drastically limit Irv’s upside. Kamara’s pass catching prowess after Michael Thomaas is what limited the targets for Jared Cook last year in a much more pass friendly offense so Dalvin and that running back group taking up a lot of those short to mid range targets might be enough to relegate Irv Smith to a small target share. Heck, after Thielen it could just be a mess where no one gets more than 60-70 targets.
We think he’s worth a shot. And what it all comes down to is ADP. Let’s take two examples here.
Likely run heavy team with new head coach Kevin Stefanski
Two productive pass catching backs on the roster
Profiles as pass catching tight end with other tight end on roster
First year in offense
Likely behind Adam Thielen on the target totem pole with a path to second
Likely run heavy team with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak
One productive pass catching back on the roster
Profiles as pass catching tight end with other tight end on roster
Second year in offense
The big difference between them is that Hooper has put up a big year before and Irv hasn’t but Hooper did so as the second target in a Dirk Koetter offense - not the third target in a Kevin Stefanski offense as he’s slated to be this year. Irv Smith was one target off from being the third target in Stefanski’s offense last year - that got you 47-48 targets. All things considered, Irv Smith Jr.’s situation is now actually better than Hooper’s. The question is whether Irv has the talent or not but I’d rather take a guy who has the opportunity and might have the talent than a guy who has talent but nearly no opportunity. Especially since Irv Smith Jr. can be drafted 50 picks later than Austin Hooper .
In the 14-16th round, it’s worth taking a stab on Irv to see what his usage is like out of the gate. If he’s playing a ton, especially in the slot or split out wide, you hang onto him. If he’s not a featured part of the offense, you drop him and go for a new upside guy. Far better than sitting on Hooper all year because you spent too much capital on him to drop, just wondering whether it’s going to be a “Hooper week” or a “Jarvis week” or a “Kareem Hunt week” for those short to mid range targets.
Jimmy Graham ,TE CHI
This is one of the most polarizing picks I’ve touted this year (especially among a certain crowd of Twitter and Reddit fans who think cheese curds make for a cool hat). But just take a deep breath and read some info with an open mind, then you can flame me in the respective comment sections.
Aaron Rodgers has been in the league since 2008. You know how many tight ends of his have gotten 100+ targets? Exactly zero. That’s now true with multiple coaches and OCs. The most was Jermichael Finley with 92 and the second was Graham with 89. And it’s not for lack of good tight ends - Martellus Bennett and Jared Cook have both put up top 10 fantasy tight end performances on other teams but floundered in Green Bay.
You can’t blame it all on Rodgers as Jimmy Graham clearly didn’t play well himself and disappointed fantasy owners during his two years in Green Bay - no question. But in 2018, he played essentially the entire season with a broken thumb. In 2019, he broke his finger in August right before the season and played the whole season with one finger taped to the other Here he is catching a touchdown pass with his hand taped like that.
It’s funny how in fantasy, had he simply not played at all, we’d likely be looking at him more favorably this season. Yet, because he went out there and attempted to play through the injuries, we’ve decided that he’s done and that he stinks. And we’ll say that despite the fact that, a year prior to these two injury plagued years, he caught 10 touchdowns. Which was one of the few instances of a tight end finishing top five in fantasy with less than 100 targets (though he still received 96).
This is about the Bears but let’s, for a brief moment, think about the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals signed Kliff Kingsbury because Kingsbury ran an offense in college called the “Air Raid” that he and Mike Leach have used to devastating effect. What do you think the Cardinals front office would say if Kingsbury showed up and said “you know that Air Raid offense? I think I’m going to do something totally different.” The Cardinals front office would be pissed. They brought him there to run the Air Raid and that’s exactly what he did in his first season, running more four wide receiver sets than any team in the NFL by a wide margin last year. Because that’s what you do - you find a guy who runs an offense you like and bring him in to run the offense.
The Bears brought in Matt Nagy because of the success he had with the Kansas City Chiefs offense. That offense uses an every down running back, a primary pass catching tight end, a split end, and a speedy flanker. The other personnel rotates but that’s the primary set up. It takes time to turn personnel over quickly but he and Ryan Pace did go and get Allen Robinson to play split end, Taylor Gabriel to be the speedy flanker, and Trey Burton to be the pass catching tight end. But the most telling move was trading Jordan Howard . They traded Jordan Howard because he can’t catch. Howard himself will tell you that he’s had issues catching going back to high school. This offense runs on deception and requires a back that can both run and catch to keep the defense honest. The Bears then traded up and used their very first pick in the draft on David Montgomery in the third because he profiles as a pass catching back (they traded their first and second round picks for Khalil Mack so that was the very first player they took last year). With those moves it’s hard to argue that they aren’t building a roster to at least attempt to recreate that offensive success.
Which brings us to this year. They let Trey Burton walk and he signed for $900,000. They then turned around and gave Jimmy Graham literally 10 times that, GUARANTEED. They gave Graham 2 years, $16 million with $9 million guaranteed. AND a no trade clause. That makes him the seventh highest paid tight end in the league and guarantees that he’s on the roster for the entire season this year. If Jimmy Graham gets $9 million guaranteed this year to ride the pine then Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace are 1,000-percent getting fired. Out of a cannon. Into the sun.
(The Bears front office taking a little sabbatical)
People will bring up Cole Kmet but you have to think back to what we talked about with modern tight end depth charts. Look at that tight end room. You have Jimmy Graham who they just gave a gazillion dollars who hasn’t blocked a day in his life. You have a bunch of shoddy blocking tight ends left over after they traded Adam Shaheen . And then rookie Cole Kmet. You aren’t benching Graham with that money and he sure as hell isn’t going to be the “blocking tight end”. Plus he has a no trade clause and a crazy high contract so you can’t even pawn him off. So the reality is that Cole Kmet will likely develop in a Dallas Goedert type role while Graham is in the Ertz pass catcher role. It limits Kmet’s immediate upside but he can develop into a great two way tight end eventually, as we expect Goedert to do. Especially learning from a guy who once averaged a touchdown a game for an entire season and has four double digit TD seasons - one only a couple years ago. But, like many tight ends, Kmet will have to wait.
For Graham for 2020, the opportunity is there. The scheme is there. All that’s left is whether or not the talent is there.
No easier way to say it. Jimmy Graham might not be good anymore. And, even if he is, the Bears might not be good. It’s as simple as that.
To be fantasy relevant, Graham needs to be a top two target on this team or score 10+ touchdown. It’s universally recognized that Allen Robinson is likely the top target on the team. That leaves guys like Tarik Cohen (who had 100 last year), Anthony Miller , Ted Ginn Jr. etc. competing for second on the team in targets. Graham could win that battle or he might not. As far as 10 touchdowns goes, the team needs to be good for their tight end to realistically score 10 touchdowns. He’s no longer a burner that’s going to take slants to the house so you need to be in the red zone for a red zone target to score. Bad teams don’t make that trip often. Both sides of this coin seem like uphill battles so that’s really the bet here - that Jimmy Graham can form some sort of connection with Trubisky or Foles and command a good chunk of the targets and especially red zone targets. It’s a tough bet to hit which is why he’s going undrafted in many formats.
We are talking about a last round pick here. At pick 223 on average, Graham is going in the 19th round - if your draft even goes that far. Basically I am betting that Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace have some semblance of an idea in how to evaluate talent for their scheme. Giving Jimmy Graham $9 million guaranteed to play this season is a serious statement by them. By not drafting him, you are betting that you are better at talent evaluation than the Bears front office. Maybe you are and you should start applying for scouting jobs. For me, I’ll make any bet if you give me good enough odds. You give me tell me something is unlikely but possible and the bet is $1 to win $500, I’ll take it - it’s only a buck and the upside is worth it. Your last round pick is betting that dollar. You don’t have to pay up for Graham like you have in years past. Plus, Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace, and I aren’t the only ones saying Jimmy Graham might have some juice left in the tank. Check here.
As I mentioned at the very start of the Yang section, I also prefer to use my dollar on “scratch tickets” as opposed to “lottery tickets|. I want instant winners or losers. With lottery tickets, like handcuffs and rookies, you need to wait weeks for a win that will likely never come. With a Jimmy Graham scratch ticket, we should know week 1 whether Graham is going to be featured in the offense or not. If he is, you’ve got the primary pass catching tight end in a scheme that wants to feature a pass catching tight end. If not then you drop him for the hot new tight end pick up. No harm, no foul. Such is the way of the Yin and Yang tight end.
Other Yang Tight Ends to Consider at ADP
There will be a lot of them here since the whole idea is to rotate out the bad ones for new ones until someone hits You better believe I will be telling you who to pick up following week one if you follow me on Twitter @CoopAFiasco.
Noah Fant - 11th-12 round ADP: He was the second target on the team last year behind Courtland Sutton and didn’t do much with it but was also a rookie with a rookie QB. He will be in his second year in the offense but no they’ve added Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, and Melvin Gordon who should gobble up a good number of targets. It’s tempting to do the “Year Two Stack” with Hockenson as the safe guy and Fant as the upside guy but you have to spend a little too much draft capital on that without enough upside. What keeps us interested in Fant is his absolutely insane workout metrics, per PlayerProfiler.com. Note the comparable player as well.
Eric Ebron - 13-14th round ADP: In this offense Juju is a sure thing for snaps but he has played the slot on two thirds of his snaps both with and without Antonio Brown there. After Juju it opens up for snap competition. Diontae Johnson and James Washington are likely to battle for flanker snaps. Vance McDonald will likely be in the in-line tight end Nick Boyle /Kyle Rudolph /Jack Doyle role which means they need one more guy to have his foot tethered to the line in the form of split end or second tight end. If rookie Chase Claypool isn’t ready then Eric Ebron could see a ton of snaps both in the slot and out wide which could make him a favorite red zone target of Big Ben fairly quickly. Or it could be too crowded between them all and no one really emerges as a snap or target leader. There’s your downside.
Gerald Everett 15+ round ADP: As we discussed in last week’s article in the Higbee section, we believe Gerald Everett is a better pass catcher than Tyler Higbee . So does Sean McVay as he’s deployed them that way for years. When both are healthy, Higbee has NEVER outshined Everett and it was exactly that way until Everett got hurt even last season. So we expect that to largely remain the same with Everett being the better pass catching option in two tight end sets. That’s not the problem though. Even as the better pass catching tight end, Everett would still be third on the totem pole behind Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods (and possibly fourth behind Josh Reynolds ). That’s how bad of a fantasy pick Tyler Higbee is at his ADP. Everett should be better than Higbee in fantasy and we don’t really even want Everett outside of an upside flyer because of The Target Conundrum.
Tyler Eifert 15+ round ADP: DJ Chark is likely going to lead this team in targets. Then what? Fournette was cut. Chris Thompson hasn’t been able to survive his half workloads in recent years, let alone a full one. Shenault is a rookie. Keelan Cole is an undrafted free agent who fizzled last year. Chris Conley plays a lot of snaps doing lord knows what. Dede Westbrook is probably the biggest threat out of the slot but we are looking for tight ends who are primary pass catchers with some sort of narrative to either targets or red zone targets so Eifert could be worth a very last round pick at his insanely deep ADP. Josh Oliver was the other tight end in his way and now he’s out for the season with a broken foot.
Jordan Reed Round 20+: Yeah I know, injuries blah blah blah. But one thing people forget is that Reed just recently turned 30 in July. No one has a problem drafting a 30 year old Travis Kelce , a 31 year old Gronk, or a 33 year old Jared Cook . I mean, teams are still signing a 35 year old Greg Olsen and 38 year old Jason Witten . The other thing people forget is that, when healthy, Reed is a dynamic playmaker. If you take tight ends since he joined the league and sort by yards per game, he’s 8th - right there in between Evan Engram and Mark Andrews . And that includes all the games he left with injury or was out there as a decoy. Sure he might be missing some bones from his feet and he’s likely one concussion away from being done for good but the 49ers don’t have much behind George Kittle in terms of pass catchers and he can also be had for a last round pick so why not? Kittle owners might hate to hear me say it but, if you look at that tight end room, Kittle is now the best blocker so Reed’s only role would likely be on the pass catching side.
Jace Sternberger Round 20+: He told reporters himself that he’s going to play more slot. You saw the tight end stats earlier but Rodgers is a weirdo and he decides who is good and who is bad in that offense. Maybe he blesses Jace. We aren’t banking on it but he’s a flyer.
He’s the guy in white. The guy in the red is rookie Chase Young. That said, there is a pretty big vacancy for pass catching tight end left by Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis . It seems Loan Thomas is looking like the favorite as a pass catcher and there are target vacancies on that team with Guice gone and the season ending injury to Kelvin Harmon. He’s a former QB so he has the athleticism but that team might be so bad it doesn’t matter. Worth putting on the watch list at the very least.
Dan Arnold 1 millionth round: Dan Arnold is buried on the target totem pole completely behind DeAndre Hopkins , Christian Kirk , Larry Fitzgerald , Kenyan Drake - you name it. But there is an open spot as the fourth receiver in that four wide set so his path to relevance is basically to secure that spot in goal line sets and score a boat load of touchdowns. Which could happen but you can see my feelings on that potentially happening below. You should only own this guy in absurdly deep best ball leagues because he’s an undrafted free agent who has now caught 8 and then 12 passes in his two years but I guess he’s worth more than Nick Boyle or Jeff Heuerman . Shout out to the 1.02 SFBX group for making me include him.
Tight End Handcuffs
I know this article is already crazy long but this is the last week before drafts and the season so want to be sure there are no stones left unturned. There are guys I would consider tight end handcuff pluses like Dallas Goedert and Jordan Reed who have standalone value but these guys probably don’t unless there is an injury to the starter.
Anthony Firkser : If you read the stats on Jonnu Smith ’s usage last week, there is a chance that Firkser fully takes over that Delanie Walker pass catcher/slot role as he did towards the end of last year. There aren’t enough targets in that offense in general and Jonnu is at least a good enough athlete to get his screens and play action plays but, if Jonnu were to get hurt and MyCole Pruitt were to become the full time blocking tight end, now Firkser is looking like a pass catching dynamo in comparison. He has the most standalone value of this bunch.
Ricky Seals-Jones : Rickey Seals-Jones has never blocked and never will. He is your stereotypical “basketball player turned tight end”. And it’s obvious they brought him in as Travis Kelce insurance. If Kelce were to ever go down, I’m adding Seals-Jones immediately, without question. He’s as athletic as they come and his year to year aDot is above 10 yards so he’s likely to slot right into that Kelce role. He has the most upside in the event of an injury.
Kaden Smith: There are a number of people on Reddit and on Twitter that have matter-of-factly told me that Evan Engram is definitively getting hurt this season. But when I ask them what round they are drafting Kaden Smith in they say that they aren’t drafting Kaden Smith. Pretty strange that they have a crystal ball that tells them the future yet can’t simply look on ProFootballReference and see that Kayden Smith was the TE8 in half point PPR from week 12-17 after he took over for Engram - including a top 5 finish in fantasy championship week. Either you think Engram will get hurt or you don’t. If you don’t, you should be drafting him at his ADP everywhere. If you do, then you should be drafting Kaden Smith. If you are like me, you draft Engram and watch Kaden Smith as closely as Old Greg watches a bottle of Baileys.
Statistics for this article were provided by the author, Andrew Cooper, with help from ProFootballFocus.com, PlayerProfiler.com, ProFootballRefence.com, AirYards.com, NFLSavant.com, FantasyData.com, and SharpFootballStats.com. Follow Coop on Twitter @CoopAFiasco – like everyone at Fantasy Alarm vows to do, he answers every question and not just about tight ends.
Want more from Andrew Cooper? Check out his 2020 NFL Draft Guide article "Stats You Need to Know" as he provides interesting stats every fantasy football player should know heading into the 2020 season.
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