Fantasy Football Tight End Fades
Published: Jul 13, 2022
Updated: Jul 21, 2022
Here we go, folks. The article everyone loves to hate. Not because it’s “bad” or because it’s “wrong”. No. They hate it because it’s right.
The fact of the matter is, in your typical 10 or 12-team league fantasy football league, if your tight end isn’t top five or six you have a below-average starting tight end. In three years of doing this series where we predict the fantasy football busts, no tight end from this article has finished higher than ninth. So, if you drafted a tight end that I said to fade, at best, your tight end was in the bottom fourth of starting tight ends in your league. Congratulations. At worst he was 2021 Robert Tonyan. It doesn’t matter if your fantasy football rankings correctly predicted that the tight end going 11th in fantasy football mock drafts would finish as tight end 11. That’s not helping anyone win their fantasy football league. This isn’t some fantasy football consensus rankings challenge here. We are playing to win. We want the money.
As has become tradition, let’s take a little peek at how folks reacted to last year’s article when it was first posted (if they didn’t go back and delete the comments like cowards).
Never change Reddit. Never change.
The goal of this article is pretty simple. As we mentioned in the second paragraph and discussed in full in the first article in this series, we are looking for guys with top five tight end in their range of outcomes. The difference between TE8 and TE11 last year was literally less than a point in PPR. Backend TE1s and TE2s are lying all over the ground and they aren’t helping you win.
So, if you are going to pay up for a tight end being drafted TE6-TE16 range, it’s because you think they have top-five upside in their range of outcomes. None of the guys we were fading in 2019 had that. None of the guys we were fading in 2020 had that. And here is how the guys we were fading in 2021 finished.
Here’s just a brief run down of how the seasons went for these guys and then we’ll move on to 2022.
Noah Fant: Jerry Jeudy got injured which was one of the conditions that we mentioned that might actually give him a shot at top-five upside. Still wasn’t close. This is not the first time he’s been a top two target on his team yet wasn’t a top-five tight end.
Robert Tonyan: Before Robert Tonyan got hurt, he was averaging 2.25 catches per game. Nightmare.
Tyler Higbee: Why are we still doing this?
Mike Gesicki: The reality of our Mike Gesicki analysis is the wide receivers were obviously supposed to be DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Jaylen Waddle. As we know now, Will Fuller missed the entire season and Parker missed almost half of it. We’ll discuss this in full a bit later on but, in the games where both Parker and Fuller were out, he was TE10 in PPR PPG. In games Parker played, he was TE18. So congratulations - if you drafted Mike Gesicki you back-doored your way via injury into having a bottom 2-4 TE in your league.
Dallas Goedert: Similar story here. Dallas Goedert was the TE17 in PPR through six weeks. Then an angel came down from the heavens mid-season and moved Zach Ertz to another bird team on the other side of the country. Even with the trade and a random 2 TD game with American’s favorite uncle, Gardner Minshew, Goedert was a backend TE1 and didn’t offer that top-five upside we crave.
2022 Tight Ends to Fade
Alright, enough reminiscing with our good friends over at Reddit. Let’s get to what you came here for - the 2022 fades. For those unaware, “fading” a player doesn’t mean we don’t like them personally. Or that we think they suck at football. Just that we don’t like them at their average draft position (ADP). If you remember correctly from the second article of this series, where we reviewed some of the guys with high-end upside, we don’t necessarily like them at ADP either. Our advice essentially was to draft Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, George Kittle, or Darren Waller only if they slide a bit past their current average draft position. The only guy from that group I’m willing to draft at or even slightly earlier than their ADP is Kyle Pitts. And that’s because I trust my ability to find upside later. If you don’t want to think too hard about it, just stop reading and use a 1st on Travis Kelce. Some of you might want to just do that anyway because there are a lot of big words and advanced concepts in here.
As always with this series, we’ll give you three sections: The Good, The Bad, and The Advice. In The Good and The Bad we will do our best to provide objective info - you might want to just use that to make your own decisions. In The Advice, we’ll talk about our opinion and what we are doing based on ADP. Given the nature of this article, you are likely going to know what The Advice in advance.
Before reading this, I highly suggest you at least read the first article in the series which is our Tight End Bible of sorts - What Makes An Elite Tight End. That article explains EXACTLY what we are looking for and what stats matter so you will better understand the conclusions we’ve drawn.
Dallas Goedert isn’t just good - he’s great. He’s one of the best two-way tight ends in the league. In fact, in 2019 he was graded by ProFootballFocus (PFF) as the #2 run-blocking tight end in the league and in 2020 he was #3. And, in 2021, he actually graded as the #2 RECEIVING tight end. I’m sure if he attempted some passes he would grade out as a top passing TE as well. The guy can do it all and he has the profile to back it up. Here is a little peak, per Player Profiler.
You might scoff at the Tyler Eifert comp but folks forget that Eifert was a great prospect before he hurt his back. He even managed a 13-TD season. And the best comparable player for Tyler Eifert on Player Profiler is none other than the Tight End King, Travis Kelce. The transitive property would suggest that makes Dallas Goedert comparable to Travis Kelce.
Beyond that, he plays a high-end snap share (12th among tight ends), had a nice target share (8th), and a high average depth of target (8th). All good things. After being freed from the evil constraints of Zach Ertz, he saw a nice uptick in snaps out wide playing almost half his pass snaps in the slot or at split end. What’s not to like?
The Tight End Bible makes it clear that there are certain sins that are insurmountable for tight end upside. And Dallas Goedert just so happens to violate the one equivalent to murder. And the worst part? It’s not even his fault as a player.
As we so eloquently laid out in that article, the VAST majority of top five tight ends in fantasy football finish as a top two target on their own team. And the few outliers, like 2020 Robert Tonyan, are often so touchdown dependent that their inconsistency hurts their viability in fantasy from week to week (like when Robert Tonyan caught one pass championship week that year that wasn’t a touchdown and ripped your sweet little heart out). Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles traded away Zach Ertz but then they promptly brought in an even bigger threat to the target totem pole in AJ Brown.
Last year, after the Ertz trade, it was Dallas Goedert battling with mediocre options to be the second target behind DeVonta Smith. Easy. Now the goalposts have moved and it’s almost certainly Dallas Goedert battling with DeVonta Smith to be the second target behind AJ Brown. Not so easy. And in most cases, the tight end is at a natural disadvantage. Especially when they are as good at blocking as Dallas Goedert is. In our minds, we think “both these players will be on the field for pretty much every play so it’s a fairly even fight”. But we forget that some tight ends are asked to stay in and block on various pass plays. And even though Goedert’s pass blocking numbers improved with Ertz leaving (blocked on 14.5% of pass plays in 2020 to 8.6% in 2021), that still means Smith is almost certain to have more opportunities. Here are how their pass snaps per game compared to their routes run per game in 2021.
So, not only was Smith in the game for more pass plays, he was running a route on a higher number of those pass plays. Even if these dudes play the same number of snaps, we can expect Smith to run more routes. So Goedert needs to be extra efficient to overcome that deficit and that’s just to be the second target, behind AJ Brown. And this is all on the offense that threw the fourth least passes of any team last season.
The advice is pretty simple honestly. If you think Dallas Goedert gets more targets this season than either AJ Brown or DeVonta Smith, you should draft him. If you think he is third in the pecking order, you should not draft him. Personally, I have him as third on the list so I’m not drafting Dallas Goedert at his current ADP of TE8. Yes if we go back far enough there have been examples of teams having two wide receivers ahead of the tight end on the target totem pole with the tight end sneaking into the top five but this is what that looks like:
If that’s the kind of season the Eagles are going to have drafting the football, it really won’t matter because whoever drafts Jalen Hurts already won your league anyway.
Pat Freiermuth is one of the dynasty fantasy football Twitter’s darlings. It certainly helps when a popular podcast turns your nickname into a fun meme. And “Muth” did overcome a lot of adversity to get “Luth” and finish just outside the TE1 range in 2021. I mean, at the start of the season he wasn’t even the starting tight end on the team. And there are a lot of reasons that we like the Freier Truck in dynasty as his best comparable player athletically is Hunter Henry, he has the draft capital we like (2nd round NFL pick), and he broke out at 19 years old which is in the 81st percentile for tight ends, per Player Profiler.
The real money for Muth last year was made in the red zone where he caught an impressive 15 of his 21 targets and scored seven touchdowns - even as a rookie. Those seven touchdowns were actually tied for fifth among all tight ends with none other than Travis Kelce himself (praise be). One of the key reasons Freiermuth was able to accomplish this was his ability vs. man-to-man coverage - a key metric for red zone success, as we discussed in the first article. According to PFF, Freirmuth’s 16 receptions vs man coverage was tied for 8th with Hunter Henry and Darren Waller. Perhaps even more impressive is that, if you take every tight end that got at least 15 targets vs. man to man, no tight end had a higher catch rate than 84.2%. The ability to line up out wide and beat man-to-man coverage is a skill that not only translates from year to year but also from team to team, as we saw with Hunter Henry changing teams last year and playing with a rookie QB.
Now, since you just read that last section on Dallas Goedert, I’m sure you started doing the math here already. As if Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool weren’t enough, the team that famously plays at Acrisure Stadium just went out and drafted George Pickens and Calvin Austin. For Freiermuth to really get those 90+ targets we desperately need, he himself needs to be ahead of one of Johnson or Claypool in the pecking order. Which is a tall task in itself. But the issues might not stop there.
I’ve seen a lot of folks tout the idea that Mitch Trubisky and/or Kenny Pickett is an upgrade over Ben Roethlisberger. And that may be true. But we have to remember how difficult the quarterback position is even when it’s not your very first year in the league or on a team. The change from Big Ben was because Big Ben decided he is done and it’s best for the long term but, over the short term, there is a very real possibility that the QB play you get this year is worse statistically than what Big Ben gave you last year, as we saw with the transition from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones. Furthermore, even if the quarterback play is better, it might not be better for Pat Freiermuth. Here are some reasons why.
- Big Ben’s “time to throw” of 2.26 seconds was by far the fastest of any starting quarterback per PFF, which jived well with the low aDot of Pat Freiermuth (his five-yard aDot was 27th among TEs which is not ideal).
- The catchable target rate for Pat Freirmuth was 86.1% meaning Big Ben was throwing him highly catchable balls. Per PlayerProfiler that is the third best of any tight end.
- Big Ben’s passer rating when targeting Pat Freiermuth was 121.6 which, per PFF, was also third only behind Dawson Knox and Dalton Schultz for tight ends that got at least 30 targets
- Pat Freiermuth only got a single target of 20+ yards, of which he did not catch.
When you take a step back and consider how this offense was operating, the Steelers throwing the fourth most passes of any team with Big Ben quickly throwing short but accurate passes to the tight end was GREAT for Pat Freiermuth, even if it wasn’t a winning formula for the team. Improving the offensive line and switching to QBs that push the ball down the field might end up being a good thing for everyone EXCEPT the tight end.
As always, we all have to draft our own fantasy teams. If you think the new QBs come in slinging and that they will target Freiermuth more than at least one of Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool, then Freiermuth is your guy. I personally am worried about his target share with those two (and George Pickens and Najee Harris) and I’m not sold that these QBs are even an upgrade over 2022 Big Ben. Maybe some time down the road they will be. So I’m simply not drafting Pat Freiermuth at tight end 11. I have no interest in taking TE11 for his TE9 upside - it’s not helping me win. If I don’t have a tight end by this point in the draft, I’m going to wait and take other options later.
In the first article in this series, we talked about some key metrics with alignment being one of them. Well, no one had better alignment than Mike Gesicki. He lined up at wide receiver for a whopping 88% of his overall snaps and 92% of his pass snaps. He played so many snaps at wide receiver that Kyle Pitts’s agent should be at Gesicki’s front door every morning BEGGING him to fight his designation as a tight end for the franchise tag.
When it comes to alignment, there are actually multiple reasons that it helps you for fantasy football. The first is that the team clearly respects your ability as a pass catcher if they put you at wide receiver. The second is also pretty obvious in that they can’t ask you to stay in and pass block when you are split out can they? The third is less obvious but it relates to personnel. When you really think about it, Mike Gesicki wasn’t the “tight end” at all. Durham Smythe was. Here are how their total snaps looked as well as how many times they actually lined up at a traditional in-line tight end position.
So in reality Smythe was actually the TE and Gesicki was a WR. And when you go with this alignment, it puts the non-threatening Smythe on the field and takes another WR off. That consolidates the targets among the remaining pass catcher which is a good thing for Mr. Gesicki. On top of all of that, Gesicki is an incredibly athletic dude. Here’s his profile per Player Profiler.
His best comparable player is Vernon Davis who had arguably the best tight end combine of all time. Gesicki last year was essentially a wide receiver running real, high aDot routes that you could start at tight end. Sounds pretty good to me. Isn’t this supposed to be the fades article?
Three things need to come together for tight end success in fantasy: talent, scheme, and opportunity. For a guy like Travis Kelce, you have all three. He’s talented, the scheme is designed to get him the ball, and he has less wide receiver competition than ever. Gesicki is talented. But this year he could be in some trouble in the other two categories.
Scheme-wise, we have a really good idea of what Mike McDaniel wants to do. And that’s partly because we saw what he did in San Francisco and partially because he just flat out told us. He’s not only going to be using multiple tight end sets but he’s also going to be using a fullback. They signed Alec Ingold for that. Here’s the problem with that situation. You have 11 guys on the field every play. Five linemen, a QB, and an RB makes seven of them. If you have Alex Ingold on the field and an in-line tight end like Durham Smythe, that basically leaves two spots open for Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Mike Gesicki, and Cedrick Wilson. So, unless you move Gesicki to more of an in-line tight end, that could make it hard for him to rack up a huge snap share. We don’t want our guys coming out of the game, even for a few snaps. This leads me to the opportunity issue.
As we’ve laid on pretty thick, we need our guy to be a top two target on the team. Last year Gesicki was exactly that but it was in large part due to injuries to Will Fuller and DeVante Parker. Will Fuller obviously missed the whole season but simply having DeVante Parker in the lineup or not had a huge impact on Gesicki. Here are his point-per-game stats with and without DeVante Parker in the lineup.
And guess what? They replaced DeVante Parker with Tyreek Hill. Remember the tweet in the Goedert section about Peyton Manning throwing 55 touchdown passes? We now somehow expect Tua Tagovailoa to support the WR9, the WR14, and a high-end TE? Why then is Tua going off the board at QB17 instead like QB2?
It’s the same question again, honestly. Do you think Gesicki gets more targets than Jaylen Waddle or Tyreek Hill? Me neither. Do you think Tua Tagovailoa is going to break out as a top-five QB and become the next megastar? Me neither. But based on where these guys are being drafted, I’m actually more likely to draft Tua at his ADP than I am Hill, Waddle, or Gesicki. And I’m not really drafting Tua. In fact, I’m not really drafting any of the Dolphins.
Irv Smith Jr.
We’ve talked extensively about why young tight ends don’t break out right away. One of the big problems for rookie tight ends entering the league is that they usually enter a tight end room where someone already has the pass-catching role. So they need to wait. Sometimes, they can end up waiting a LONG time - Delanie Walker waited SEVEN years behind Vernon Davis before finally breaking out at age 30. So I don’t want to hear Dallas Goedert Stans whining. For Irv Smith Jr., he was behind Kyle Rudolph his rookie year. The wait seemed to be over fairly quickly going into his second year but he, unfortunately, tore his meniscus in the preseason. Now, in his third year, that top tight end chair is clearly his.
And, as a prospect, Irv has a LOT of the things we like to see. He’s a second-round pick. He hails from prestigious Alabama. And he has 86th percentile speed for a tight end, per PlayerProfiler. He flashed a couple multi-TD games back in 2020. He knows how to do his eye black in a way that makes him look tough. Pretty much everything we look for in a young tight end.
We mentioned the scheme earlier and how it’s crucial to tight end success. We want guys lining up at wide receiver often and running high aDot routes. The Vikings brought Kevin O’Connell over from the Rams to run his offense that just won the Super Bowl. Wouldn’t it be weird if they brought him over and he just ran something completely different? Imagine the Cardinals brought in Kliff Kingsbury and he was just like “Know what? I’m not really feeling the Air Raid anymore”.
The offense that Kevin O’Connell is bringing to Minnesota HEAVILY featured wide receivers - according to Sharpe Football, they used at least three wide receivers on 88+% of their snaps which is pretty absurd. That kept Tyler Higbee in-line often where he played 67.7% of his snaps. In an ideal world, we would have another blocking tight end who isn’t a threat for targets on the field regularly with Irv Smith playing slot/wide receiver, like we see with Mark Andrews or Mike Gesicki. That’s actually what it looked like in Irv’s best games in 2020 with Rudolph in-line and Irv in the slot. O’Connell brought over Johnny Mundt from LA who will likely be the extra tight end but he really only comes in for jumbo sets which are generally run plays anyway. The base set is one RB, three WRs, one TE.
This creates a major problem for us because we want our guy in the discussion to lead the team in targets or at least be second. As we discussed in the Elite Tight End article, the personnel grouping the Ravens use with extra tight ends and fullbacks makes it easy for Andrews because there is only one receiver playing a full snap share. With this offensive setup, Irv Smith Jr. is likely going to be competing with KJ Osborn and Dalvin Cook for third on the target totem as Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are highly likely to be one and two. Before Thielen got hurt last year they both essentially had 25% target shares and, even after Thielen got hurt, KJ Osborn soaked up enough targets than Tyler Conklin wasn’t particularly relevant. Just not a super exciting spot to be in.
Here’s my advice on this player in a nutshell.
Irv Smith might be “safe” in terms of very likely being a TE2 with backend TE1 upside but that’s not what we want. He’s basically a handcuff in case one of Adam Thielen or Justin Jefferson gets hurt and, even then, he’s not a lock to be the second target because of KJ Osborn. He’s currently going off the board at TE13 based on our composite ADP and, if you draft him as your starting tight end, you still need to draft another tight end later who actually has top-five upside in his range of outcomes. So we’d rather just not draft him at all since there are better options in that range. Which some scholars note, is the theme of this article.
I have a saying for how to treat tight ends in dynasty leagues. And that is to “ROSTER talent but START opportunity”. Albert Okwuegbunam is a shining example of that. On paper, this dude is an amazingly physically gifted prospect. Here’s a look at his metrics, per PlayerProfiler.
A guy at 6’6” 258 running a 4.49 would be 98th percentile speed. The problem of course was that he was clearly stuck behind Noah Fant but those that decided to “roster talent” were rewarded far quicker than they could have possibly imagined this offseason when the team not only traded away Noah Fant but they got Russell Wilson in return. Talk about a huge swing.
So now we have this uber-athletic player with no one in front of him for the starting role-playing with one of the league’s premier quarterbacks. What could possibly go wrong?
There are two parts to that saying. The “roster talent” part has worked out for you so far. But now we get to the “start opportunity” portion.
There is a reason that tight ends can take a while to break out and that’s because that window of opportunity doesn’t always open right away. Let’s consider what is converging on the Broncos offense. Nathaniel Hackett comes over from Green Bay as offensive coordinator and Russell Wilson as quarterback from Seattle. Here is how the top tight end for those guys has finished in targets over the last five years.
Not great, Bob. The average finish in terms of targets amongst tight ends is 23rd. And you have to go all the way back half a decade to find someone that finished in the top 10 (it was Jimmy Graham). Kind of makes a little more sense why the Broncos were willing to trade their starting tight end.
Now, let’s think back to the alignment section of the first article. Where we talked about Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz. When you looked at that tight end room, even if Goedert had become a better pass catcher in a vacuum than Zach Ertz by that point, Goedert was clearly the better blocker. So, for two tight end sets, Goedert had to stay in-line and Ertz got to play the slot. One of the first thing’s the regime did was go out and draft Greg Dulcich in the third round. If I’m the tight end coach looking around this room thinking about two tight end sets, who am I going to ask to block? The 6’6”, 258 pound Albert Oweugbunam or the 6’4” 243 pound Greg Dulcich - a wide receiver who converted to tight end? That’s what happened last year with Albert O only playing 16.6% of his snaps at wide receiver in favor of Fant. Even worse, Fant himself only played 20% of his snaps at wide receiver, despite Jerry Jeudy missing a huge chunk of games. Just not how they did things.
So that’s where we are at really. Look at Gerald Everett last year with Russ behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Why do we think it will be any different with Albert Okwuegbunam behind Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton?
With Russell Wilson behind the helm and Albert Okwuegbunam’s athleticism, I’m sure Albert O will have a couple of big plays or touchdowns. The question ends up being - when? The problem for Russ’s tight ends has always been inconsistency and that’s the real killer in fantasy football. So, for me, I’m okay taking a stab on Albert O in Best Ball where you HAVE to draft multiple tight ends and consistency doesn’t matter. But I’m simply not projecting Albert O to get enough consistent targets competing with Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Melvin Gordon, and Javonte Williams. So I’m not drafting him in redraft leagues, even at tight end 16. If I’m talking a second tight end, I’m shooting for the highest possible upside regardless of floor. And that’s not Albert O.
Another dynasty darling and absolute workout metrics hero. Let’s check out this specimen, per Player Profiler.
Pretty much 96th to 99th percentile metrics across the board? Best comparable player George Kittle? Between him and Albert Okwuegbunam, the Broncos clearly knew what they were looking for in terms of athleticism.
Now, a big argument against Fant is that he’s been traded away and he has to play with Drew Lock once again. But there are two sides to every coin. Fant is at least familiar with the quarterback. In fact, Drew Lock went as far as to say that the Broncos misused Fant and that the Seahawks would “show off his feel for football. I mean, just last section I pretty much agreed that Fant was misused, only lining up at WR for 20% of his snaps. And just last year under those conditions with Lock, Fant was the second leading target getter on the Broncos with 90 targets - right at our threshold for elite upside.
There are also two different types of trade rumors floating around. First, there are the rumors that DK Metcalf could get traded or possibly Tyler Lockett. The other is that the team could trade for a quarterback upgrade, like Jimmy Garoppolo. Heck, Noah Fant himself just got traded away in a deal for a quarterback so a world exists where maybe someone like Tyler Lockett gets traded as part of a deal for a quarterback. He’ll be turning 30 this season.
If you have been reading this series from the very start, you already know what “the bad” is. But we’ll just lay it out quickly for you.
We continue to talk about being a top two target on the team so we won’t bore you by rehashing the explanation as to why. Not only is he not likely going to be top two with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett there, but this dude has already BEEN a top-two target on his team. Three years in a row in fact.
- 2019 - Emmanuel Sanders gets hurt so Courtland Sutton leads the team with 124 targets and Noah Fant is technically second with 66
- 2020 - Courtland Sutton tears his ACL. Jerry Jeudy leads the team in targets and Noah Fant is second with 93.
- 2021 - Jerry Jeudy missed seven games with an ankle injury. Fant finished second on the team with 90 targets.
In those seasons in PPR Fant finished as the TE16, TE9, and TE12. Now he goes to Seattle to play with the SAME QB and likely not even be a top two target on the team. Nothing has materially changed and we’ve pretty much already seen what the best case scenario is - three times.
Drafting a player that you believe will be the third target on his team is betting against yourself. But, if you absolutely insist on doing it, I’d go with a little more pass-heavy offense than this one. Seattle was literally dead last in pass attempts as a team last year and I don’t think bringing in a worse quarterback is going to make that much better. If you’ve made it this far where Fant is the next guy on the board in ADP, you should have on a little longer since there are STILL better guys available with higher upside. And we’ll get to that in the next article - the famous Yin & Yang Tight End!
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