This is the article where I tell you which tight ends to avoid at ADP. And every single year it causes a lot of grief. But believe me when I say that I’m writing it to help you, not hurt you. It would be easier for me personally to just not write it all. You think I like getting yelled at on Reddit and Twitter?
I mean, even my own boss disagreed while promoting it last year.
And those are just the ones with language I can post in an article. People don’t like when you say bad things about their most favorite-est players. But here’s the thing - this wouldn’t be an “ultimate” tight end guide if we didn’t tell you which guys to avoid. Plus I was pretty much right about all the guys I was fading last year. So Reddit is just going to have to EAT IT.
Here’s a quick recap on last year’s fades:
Jonnu Smith - caught a couple touchdowns with AJ Brown, Corey Davis, and/or Adam Humphries missing time early in the season then was completely unstartable. He had a five consecutive game stretch in the heart of the season weeks 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 with two or fewer catches. Then in week 12 the Titans scored 45 points vs the Colts while he played 75% of the snaps. Zero targets. Yeesh.
Tyler Higbee - had less than 10 PPR points in 12 of 15 games. He was TE9 in ADP and finished TE18. Useless.
Jared Cook - once again highly TD dependent and inconsistent. His 37 receptions tied for 24th among TEs. TE17.
Austin Hooper - we said he could be good if Odell or Jarvis got hurt. Odell missed half the season. He was still bad. Finished TE21.
Hayden Hurst - we said he could be good if Julio or Ridley got hurt. Julio missed half the season. He was still bad. Here is his game log in fantasy crunch time at the end of fantasy regular season/start of playoffs.
- Week 11: 0 catches
- Week 12: 4 catches, 48 yards, 0 TDs
- Week 13: 1 catch, 9 yards, 0 TDs
- Week 14: 1 catch for 7 yards, 0 TDs
Much like Jonnu Smith, if Hayden Hurst was your starting tight end, you needed another tight end. Unless you are a crazy person willing to start a guy in fantasy playoffs who had two total catches combined in three of four weeks. Those weren’t even his only games with less than ten yards either - he had two others. Nightmare.
And that’s what we are trying to do here with this article. Avoid the tight ends that keep you awake staring at the ceiling late into Sunday night. We aren’t trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. We don’t hate any of these players. We hate ADPs. We hate inconsistent fantasy assets. We hate losing.
If you hate losing too, then just do yourself a favor and avoid these following guys at ADP. Before jumping into it, if you have not read at least the introduction to this series, you should do that right now as otherwise you might not know the criteria for finding elite tight ends. If want to just skip the fades and read about the guys you should be drafting, those are in the second article and the sleepers will be in the fourth. As always, feel free to share your discontent with me on Twitter @CoopAFiasco. I’m sure Redditors will just go straight to the comments without reading the article like always, so see ya there.
As a refresher, in this series we give you the objective info first, both The Good and The Bad, so that you can make your own decisions if you want. Then I give my Advice after that which you can choose to follow or not. Everyone has to run their own damn fantasy team - I’m just trying to help you get better at this game. So try to remember that before you get the pitchforks out.
**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**
Tyler Higbee was drafted in 2016. Then Gerald Everett was promptly drafted in the second round in 2017. And since then Tyler Higbee has been designated the de facto “blocking tight end” while Gerald Everett has been the “pass catching tight end”. But Tyler Higbee HAS shown flashes of his pass catching brilliance in Everett’s absence. In 2019 he was the TE1 overall in fantasy for a five game stretch to end the season when Everett had a knee injury. Just last year Everett missed week two and Higbee scored THREE touchdowns. Now Gerald Everett follows former Rams assistant coach Shane Waldron to the Seehawks, finally freeing Higbee from those fantasy football shackles.
On top of that, Higbee gets a massive QB upgrade from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford. Stafford just supported TJ Hockenson as a top five tight end last season and the Rams offense should be far more productive than the Lions. And with Cam Akers now out they may need to throw more than previously anticipated. Could be wheels up for all Rams pass catchers, including The Higster.
Plus Higbee himself has put together some nice numbers when actually used in the passing game. His aDot of 8.4 and catch rate of 74.6% are pretty solid. He had a 40% contested catch rate and only two drops. And his 11.8 yards per reception was great - right in between 12.1 for Mark Andrews and 11.2 for Darren Waller. Those guys are pretty good.
Let’s run through some of our key metrics for top tight ends from the first article shall we?
Is he a top two target on his team?
With Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods on the team he is almost certainly not. He’s battling with the likes of DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, and the RBs for a spot in the target pecking order that has virtually next to no upside. If you don’t believe me, please see the first article I just linked and look at those meticulously laid out numbers. There’s even a chart for the lazy. But the bottom line is this: if your projections have Kupp and Woods getting more targets than Higbee but you are still drafting Higbee as your starting tight end, you are literally betting against yourself.
How often is he asked to pass block?
WAYYY too much. As we mentioned, there’s been one top five TE in seven years who’s pass blocked on more than 15% of his snaps (Kittle at 15.9% in 2019). And Kittle is a size/speed efficiency freak that leads his team in targets, not some afterthought third target. Last year Higbee blocked on 21.2% of his PASS snaps. That’s nearly a hundred pass plays he wasn’t even running a route at all. The year before it was 25.1%. Oh and just for good measure, we isolated those five games in 2019 where he put up good numbers without Gerald Everett - he still blocked on exactly 20%. In the second game last year where he scored three TDs? He played 24 pass snaps and only ran 17 routes (29.2% pass block rate). And the icing on the cake is Gerald Everett ALSO blocked on 16.8% of his pass snaps. Sean McVay has the same philosophy as Adam Gase in terms of TE blocking. And it’s bad for fantasy.
How’s his alignment?
Atrocious. People don’t realize that Higbee didn’t actually “split time” with Everett - Everett would come on for two TE sets but Higbee wasn’t coming out of the game much. Higbee played the 8th most snaps of any tight end in the league. There isn’t much room for more snaps. And here were his alignment ranks among relevant TEs.
That “relevant fantasy tight end list” is a list of guys I personally feel are even in the conversation and it’s only 68 players long. So Higbee was 60 of 68 in slot snaps. And if you think he changes to something new with Gerald Everett gone, Everett wasn’t much better at a combined 12.89% which was 48th. That’s just not how the Rams do things - they use three WR sets. Even if they wanted to put a TE in the slot, in that tight end room they have Brycen Hopkins who had 61 catches for 830 yards and 7 TDs his senior year and rookie Jacob Harris who literally played WR in college and is now converting to TE. Why in the world would they all of a sudden use Higbee that way at 28 years old when they never have?
Red zone prowess?
He had only an 11.8% red zone target share, his two contested catches don’t even register on the rankings but would be tied with MyCole Pruitt, James O’Shaughnessy, and about 30 other bums, and only one of those contested catches came in man to man coverage. He only had 10 red zone targets which was less than Drew Sample and Harrison Bryant but he miraculously caught five touchdowns on those. Yowza.
We said his average depth of target was fine. How about speed and athleticism?
(Via Player Profiler)
I simply cannot believe that people are being tricked into drafting Tyler Higbee again. AS A TOP TEN TIGHT END IN ADP. As the legendary Mugattu once said in the documentary film Zoolander, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” Last year we gave a full explanation of why that five game stretch in 2019 vs. literally the worst TE defenses in the league was the greatest fluke since 2015 Gary Barnidge. Yet people still hang their hat on that. For Higbee to be fantasy relevant, the Rams would basically need to change every single thing that we know about how they use players and who they throw to and Higbee needs to transform into a different person entirely. Here’s my only advice for people still targeting Tyler Higbee.
Robert Tonyan proved to be a pleasant surprise for fantasy gamers, coming out of left field to finish as the TE3 in half PPR behind only Travis Kelce and Darren Waller. And he did so largely with his red zone prowess, nabbing 11 touchdowns - all 11 of which came on red zone targets. As we mentioned in the first article, there is something to be said about having the trust of your QB in the red area and, considering we’ve seen Aaron Rodgers feed double digit touchdowns to guys like James Jones, he’s the exact kind of QB you want that relationship with.
Technically Tonyan was the fourth target on the team but only by four targets so he could have easily been the second target on the team after Davante Adams. In terms of metrics, no tight end that got at least 30 targets had a better catch rate than his insane 89.7%. In fact, he dropped zero passes and Rodgers had a 148.3 passer rating when targeting him. His 86.9% route participation was good as was his 11.3 yards per reception. At 6’5” 236 with a 4.63 forty yard dash he has 87th percentile speed so he profiles as someone who could break off some big plays with space. That catch rate is probably tough to maintain but if you take these numbers and apply more targets, it signifies good things to come.
You probably knew this was coming after Robert Tonyan was used as an example for pretty much every statistical outlier in the first article. In fact, he didn’t finish top 12 in pretty much any category except touchdowns and catch rate. Here are the categories in which he was not a TE1.
- Air yards
- Snap share
- Slot snaps
- WR snaps
- Route participation
- Target share
- Redzone target share
- Being good
So how did this happen? Well for starters, he scored a fifth of his points in one game vs. the Falcons. In that game the Falcons were missing their starting two safeties. Then during the game, the two guys filling in at safety both got hurt as well. So down four safeties. Plus Davante Adams was out that game. And so was Allen Lazard. So Tonyan scored three touchdowns. That one game was the difference between Tonyan being TE4 in PPR and Tonyan finishing TE14. Crazy.
In terms of targets per game on the Packers, here is how it actually stacked up.
There’s our man - the fifth target on the team. Basically what happened here is teams didn’t consider Tonyan a focal point so he snuck out every once in a while and caught a TD. Of which Aaron Rodgers threw a career high 48. Tonyan actually only had 14 red zone targets but 11 of them were converted into TDs. Meanwhile he had ONE contested catch all season - we just said earlier that James O'Shaughnessy and MyCole Pruitt had double that. Yes, legendary offensive weapon MyCole Pruitt. The vast majority of Tonyan’s catches came by sneaking out vs. zone - he had two contested catch opportunities vs. man to man coverage and caught neither. His 2020 fantasy season was the biggest mirage tight end season of all time. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled.
I actually have people tagging me on Twitter @CoopAFiasco telling me that Robert Tonyan is, like, totally BFFs with Aaron Rodgers now so he’ll just be awesome in fantasy moving forward. That’s their analysis. Forget Allen Lazard who everyone was saying that about last year. A guy who was actually second on the team in targets per game. Lazard got hurt so Rodgers must hate him now. And forget Randall Cobb, who is literally living in Aaron Rodgers’s house right now. Maybe Robert Tonyan is such good friends with Aaron Rodgers now that he’ll be the focal point of the offense over Davante Adams and Aaron Jones too?
No, the reality is that Robert Tonyan will likely, at best, once again be a super TD dependent play with zero consistency that you don’t want in fantasy. Even last year he pulled your pants right down championship week by catching one pass that wasn’t a touchdown. Me telling you not to draft Robert Tonyan at TE11 is about as easy as saying “don’t play with fireworks”. The upside is low because fireworks are lame and the downside is tremendous. Yet someone always does it.
Dallas Goedert has a lot of elite traits. First off, he’s built very similarly to Travis Kelce in terms of size/speed and Kelce is the star on the top of the Festivus Pole. Here are both their profiles from PlayerProfiler.com.
From a metrics standpoint, he improved his aDot from a paltry 6.3 yards in 2019 to a robust 9.1 in 2020 meaning he’s getting downfield more. His contested catch rate also improved in 2020, his general catch rate has always been solid, and drops are not typically an issue either. He was seventh among relevant tight ends in yards per route run which is beautiful and had a healthy yards per catch at 11.4. He had a 16.7% target share which was 12th amongst tight ends and a 20% red zone target share which is what you want to see. Beyond that Goedert has graded out in the top three tight ends in run blocking two years in a row now so he’s not coming out of the game. A lot of good things going on here.
The elephant in the tight end room has always been Zach Ertz. And before you tell me “Zach Ertz is washed” or “he stinks” or “he’s dust” or “Goedert is the tight end one now BRUH”, you need to read what I’m about to say.
This might sound crazy to anyone who doesn’t normally read or listen to my stuff and just tunes in once a year for this majestic series. But it honestly does not matter if Dallas Goedert is now better at catching passes than Zach Ertz. Yes that’s right - to a certain degree, it doesn’t matter if “Zach Ertz sucks”. Because modern NFL teams treat these position groups as a ROOM, not a linear depth chart. Here is Bill Belichick explaining exactly how that works.
In short, what the greatest coach of all time is saying here, is that coaches take the players in the room and figure out who can do what and who can’t. Then they deploy them in the fashion that is best for the team. Sure Mike Evans could FEAST out of the slot but he’s 6’5” 231 pounds so it’s best for the team for him to play split end with Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown at slot/flanker. Even if that means Evans faces tougher assignments and has less individual success. You have to look at all the players in the room and then figure out the best mix of roles for overall team success, not set things up for the success of one individual.
The problem for Goedert for fantasy purposes is he’s an AMAZING blocker. Yes, crazy again - Dallas being one of the top if not THE top run blocking tight ends in the league could be a bad thing for fantasy. Zach Ertz has never been a good blocker. So let’s say you have one TE role in the slot and one role in-line. Goedert grades out as a 78.9 pass catcher per PFF and a 79.9 run blocker. Ertz grades as a 76.1 pass catcher and a 54.3 run blocker. Which guy do you put in that in-line role that involves more blocking? Not Zach Ertz. And that’s exactly what happens in Philly. Here’s an example.
The fact of the matter is that, even with Ertz missing games, Goedert had poor alignment. He only played 26.7% of his snaps in the slot and nearly half of those snaps came in just three games while Ertz was out. He only played 8.3% of his snaps out all the way split wide which isn’t even top 30 for relevant tight ends. Chris Herndon played more snaps split out wide and Adam Gase is one of the worst coaches of all time for tight ends. Goedert was also asked to pass block on 14.5% of his snaps which is as close to that 15% death sentence as you can get.
On top of that the Eagles drafted WRs in the first round in each of the last two years so the days of having just the two tight ends as the top targets are likely numbered. And they jettisoned Carson Wentz for Jalen Hurts who is a mobile QB with questionable passing ability - never a good thing for pass catchers. In the last games Wentz started, Goedert had games of 77, 75, and 66 yards but in the last few games with Hurts he didn’t crack 50 yards once.
We were fully prepared to have Dallas Goedert in the second article this year of upside guys. And he’s not nearly as easy of a fade as Tyler Higbee or Robert Tonyan. He is not super athletic by any means but everyone was reporting that Zach Ertz was as good as traded, allowing Goedert to slide into that Ertz role with Richard Rodgers moving into Goedert’s in-line role. But Ertz didn’t get traded - he reported for training camp. So Goedert’s ADP as the TE7 off the board, which was largely earned while people thought Ertz was gone, is completely out of whack. Goedert with Ertz and Hurts is the kind of guy who has mid to backend TE1 as his upside and there are plenty of those guys out there for much cheaper. If his ADP corrects and he’s going more like TE10 or later then I’d consider changing my tune as part of a Yin-Yang TE pairing but that’s a lot of movement in under a month. And as of now you are overpaying at TE7-8. We simply want better upside in that range. With Goedert and Ertz both there, new outside WRs, and a questionable QB, why pay up for Dallas Goedert at TE7 when you could just take Hunter Henry or Jonnu Smith at TE14-15? They are in arguably the same situation at half the price.
Noah Fant is an athletic freakazoid. Seriously, we always talk about how Vernon Davis had arguably the best tight end combine ever and Fant is right there. Check it out per Player Profiler - pretty much 96-98th percentile across the board.
Fant last year crossed the threshold of elite targets with 93 and he had a decent catch rate of 66.7%. He only pass blocked on 7.2% which is solid, he participated in 87.4% of routes, he only dropped three passes all season, his 40% contested catch rate was good. And the shining jewel of any speedy tight end like Fant is YAC where he had a 6 yard YAC/REC which is top 10 of all fantasy relevant tight ends. The future is bright for this young fella.
Noah Fant has had straight up terrible alignment and deployment. Out of all the tight ends in the Pro Football Focus system, a 15.4% slot percentage for Fant ranked 55th. A 5.8% “wide” percentage ranked 94th. His average depth of target of 7.1 yards? 67th. Even in my own system when I eliminated all the tight ends I felt weren’t “fantasy relevant” or had too small of a sample size, Fant’s combined percentage of snaps at slot/wide of 14.6% was 55th among those tight ends.
And that’s how they used him with Courtland Sutton essentially missing the entire season. In the first article, we explained in full why we NEED our tight ends to be a top two target on the team as a barrier to entry for elite upside. If you didn’t read that section you need to because it’s insanely important. Being top two doesn’t guarantee that you are an elite tight end though - that’s why it’s a “barrier to entry” and not a “golden ticket”. Fant is a great example of that as, before they drafted Jerry Jeudy in the first round, he was the second target on the team in 2019 behind Courtland Sutton. He finished as TE16. Then last year he was the second target on the team behind Jerry Jeudy. He finished TE12. So why then would we all of a sudden expect him to have high end upside as the third target on the team behind both Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy? The reality of tight ends is that opportunity is often more important than talent - Fant’s opportunity to be a high end tight end might not come until one of him, Sutton, or Jeudy are gone. We just talked about how Goedert hasn’t gotten that opportunity yet and he’s 26. Delanie Walker didn’t break out until he was 30 because he was in the same tight end room as none other than Vernon Davis. Noah Fant is 23 and his window for high end upside might just not be open yet. Just another long term dyno stash like Jonnu Smith, Dallas Goedert, or Delanie Walker.
If I’m drafting a tight end at TE8, which is Fant’s ADP, I need him to have top five upside. End of story. If you think Noah Fant will finish TE7-8 and you are taking him at TE8, then you are playing this game wrong. You need to be generating positive value in these rounds. If you do think Noah Fant has top five upside, then you are betting he gets more targets than one of Courtland Sutton and/or Jerry Jeudy. And here’s why.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater - they are not providing enough high quality, highly consolidated targets to get 90-100 catchable balls to all three of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Noah Fant. We explained in the section called Top Two Target how rare it is for three guys to get that many targets on the same team. AND, in the rare instance it does happen, how rare it is for those guys to also be high end fantasy assets. Not just the third guy but any of them. So you need to ask yourself whether you think Noah Fant will get more targets than Courtland Sutton and/or Jerry Jeudy. If you think he will, then draft him. If you don’t think he will, don’t draft him. Not at that ADP. I’m not drafting him at TE8 because we already saw him as a top two target on the team and he wasn’t even a top tight end then. Hitting the window where there are enough highly consolidated and high quality targets for three fantasy relevant players is like trying to split like three arrows in one shot here, mate - just let someone else take that gamble.
Last year we had Mike Gesicki as one of our tight ends with elite upside which didn’t work out too bad as he was TE15 off the board and he finished as TE7 in both half and full point PPR. One of the main drivers of our Gesicki recommendation last year is Mike Gesicki’s athletic profile.
That name Vernon Davis that always comes up when talking about TE athleticism? Look top right in this image and that’s Gesicki’s best comparable player per PlayerProfiler.com. 4.54 speed is elite tier considering Kittle leads everyone in long plays the last four years and Kittle runs a 4.52. And Gesicki himself was able to rip off a 70 yard play last year which only seven guys have done over the last four seasons.
The other big reason we were on Gesicki is alignment and he didn’t disappoint. The reality is that Gesicki is the closest thing to a wide receiver of any tight end - he played 80.19% of his snaps at WR. The next two closest tight ends were Anthony Firkser at 73.85% and Logan Thomas at 67.49%. Under Adam Gase, Gesicki was asked to pass block on 17% of his snaps but last year with Brian Flores he blocked on only 1.69%. Adam Gase bothers me.
Beyond that he had an aDot of 11.6 which was top five among relevant tight ends and his 1,012 air yards was third. He had 17 contested catches which was second only to Darren Waller. And, despite not playing a full snap, he had an 82.6% route participation which was 8th among tight ends. We want tight ends that run real wide receiver routes and with the right deployment and target share, Mike Gesicki has absurd upside.
If you actually read last year’s article, you’d realize that recommendation was largely situational. And that situation is over. We liked it because the offensive coordinator Chan Gailey had a clear history of using a “big slot” player which included guys like Tony Gonzalez, Eric Decker, and David Nelson in the past - all guys who were top two targets on the team. For instance, Tony G in Gailey’s Chires offense ran the 2nd most routes from the slot of ANY player (behind only Hines Ward) and he was the TE1 that season in fantasy. Also, Ryan Fitzpatrick was Gailey’s QB for the Bills AND the Jets feeding the “big slot” so him being the Dolphins QB last year was a match made in heaven for Gesicki. Everything line up perfectly and he just needed to be the second target behind DeVante Parker. And he was and he outperformed his ADP by quite a bit. We are good at this.
But, like we said, that’s done. Gailey is out. Fitzmagic is out. The Dolphins have Parker coming back, they signed Will Fuller to a large contract, AND they drafted Jaylen Waddle. The target competition is now immense and the odds of Gesicki playing that much slot again are pretty bad. Given them signing Adam Shaheen and drafting Hunter Long, it seems pretty obvious that they want to go in the direction of two way tight ends rather than “big slot”. Now is the time of year where it’s all positive camp hype but, if you search Mike Gesicki on Twitter, all you get are random tweets from me, news that he is in the COVID protocol, and this tweet quoting Dolphins Sports Illustrated beat writer Alain Poupart regarding what he’s seeing.
Basically the bet you have to make for Mike Gesicki to have high end upside is that one of DeVante Parker or Will Fuller gets hurt and Jaylen Waddle is a slow starter (or an outright bust). Given Will Fuller’s history and the fact that he’s already on PUP that might not be crazy but you need a lot to break right and Gesicki isn’t exactly “free” at tight end 12 off the board. His ADP is likely being propped up by last season’s conditions that simply don’t exist this season so the results will likely also be different. Rather than play that game I’d suggest taking someone from the previous article in this series with a clearer path to elite upside (some of which are at a cheaper ADP) or waiting for the fourth and final article and playing the Yin-Yang Tight End game with us. That is the game that TRULY generates value at the tight end position every year and gives you a real edge.
If you like this type of stuff, not just on tight ends but all positions, follow Fantasy Alarm Lead NFL Analyst Andrew Cooper on Twitter @CoopAFiasco. If you disagree adamantly with the info in this article, follow Andrew Cooper on Twitter @CoopAFiasco and let him know how you feel.