Every year, this edition of the Yin Yang tight end fantasy football rankings report brings a proud tear to my eye. The week when we can confidently elevate a player from the Yang column up to the Standalone tight end rankings tier. Last year it was Evan Engram. And this year, it’s already happened heading into NFL Week 4 fantasy football. Yes, despite the naysayers telling us that rookie tight ends couldn’t possibly break out, one has already shown us enough to shoot up our “rest of season” fantasy football rankings. If you have him, congratulations - now you only need to worry about a tight end fill-in for Week 9. Sam LaPorta, come on down!
As you might have already surmised, these rankings are specific to a strategy called Yin Yang Tight End. The full write up from this year is here but the short and sweet of the strategy is this - we wait on tight end and then draft two. Your Yin tight end is the safest possible player, even if they have capped upside, that we start over the short term. The Yang tight end is a bench stash with the highest risk, highest reward that we hope breaks out. We continue to cycle players through that bench spot until we find a guy we can start for the playoffs. With Standalone players, we only roster one and just worry about their bye week. And, because of that, the strategy doesn’t stop with the draft - we keep it rolling each week. So, without further ado, here are the updated Yin Yang fantasy football tight end rankings heading into NFL Week 4.
2023 Fantasy Football Week 4 Tight End Yin Yang Rankings
Standalone Tight End Tier
Tier 1: The Taylor Swift Tier
In the wise words of D’Angelo from The Wire, “The king stay the king”.
Tier 2: The Next Most Reliable
This tier is generally just Mark Andrews but we are opening it up - not because we don’t trust Andrews but because another tight end has joined the club. Andrews himself has been what we expect - he’s playing a high snap share, running a huge percentage of his snaps from the slot, his target share is good. This week is essentially what his floor is when healthy. We have to be thankful for that.
T.J. Hockenson is about the safest thing there is at the tight end position. Unless Jordan Addison really breaks out down the stretch and commands targets the way Justin Jefferson does, Hock is a top option. And, even then, the use of blocking tight end Josh Oliver and fullback C.J. Hamm in this offense really helps consolidate the targets at the top so he’d still probably be a rock solid option.
Tier 3: Exciting Upside
Darren Waller, New York Giants
Let’s stop and think about what we have going on here. Darren Waller has been getting over a hamstring injury - Week one he played only 54% of the snaps but the last two he played 90% and 82%. Two of these games have been against top defenses in the league in the Cowboys and 49ers. In the games when he played 80%+ snaps, he got seven and eight targets. He leads his team in targets with eight more than the next highest player. The usage for Waller has been as advertised and it should only get better as we progress and hit some better matchups here.
Mama, we made it! LaPorta checks most of the boxes here and we’ve seen enough of him to move him up. He’s got a 21.4% target share, he runs 77.6% of the routes, he plays more than half his snaps at WR, and his yards per route run leads all fantasy-relevant tight ends at 2.24. We’d like to see him block on fewer pass plays (10.2%) and run s little higher aDot routes (6%) but we can deal with that. The one concern of course is the pending return of Jameson Williams but look around - Dallas Goedert has to deal with DeVonta Smith and AJ Brown, George Kittle has Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and Christian McCaffrey, the Jaguars have a bunch of pass catchers. Jamo is a first-round pick the Lions traded up to acquire but he’d really need to hit the ground running to hurt us here.
Engram also quietly moves up to this group. He’s not quite a top-two target on the team as Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk lead but he’s shown enough consistency that you can trust him from week to week. He’s easily towards the top of tight ends in target share (18.3%), route participation (83.8%), wide receiver route rate (73.1%), yards per route run (1.59), and YAC/REC (7.2). And he almost NEVER blocked on pass plays (0.9%). His aDot is low but that’s because he leads all tight ends in screens with six (next highest is three). We like screens.
Kittle is an exception to the rule because his speed and red zone ability make up for the target competition and the amount of time he spends blocking. At any given time he can break a big play or score which bails him out a bit. Anytime Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel get hurt that is a bonus. But he’s not necessarily a lock to stay here all year so, if you have a spot, it’s not crazy to stash someone on the bench.
Safe Plays (YIN)
Dallas Goedert is a “handcuff plus”. He has standalone value but he really has a difference-making upside only if DeVonta Smith and/or AJ Brown get hurt. It’s honestly my fault for not having him in this section right from the start, especially considering I explicitly said not to draft him at ADP in our Fades article. If you have Goedert you should still start him but I would absolutely stash a Yang option on the bench for some upside. It is still early and Sam LaPorta might not be the only breakout tight end this year…
On paper, Zach Ertz still has the target share but each week things have been deteriorating for Ertz. He went from a 91% route participation in Week One to 75% in Week Two to 64% in Week Three. The way he is trending right now and the fact that he doesn’t offer much in terms of YAC has us move him from the Yang side to the Yin side as he really is more of a “safe but boring” plug-in. He needs to be PEPPERED with targets at this stage of his career and they have pulled back on doing that.
Cole Kmet is technically tied for the team league in targets but it’s not pretty. If he ever gets back to the insane route participation he had Week One (72 of 74 snaps) or Justin Fields steps it up, maybe he will end of over on the Yang side or provide some more consistent value. That possibility is going to keep him at a decent spot in the rankings. But this team is almost a bit of a mess so he’s not nearly as trustworthy as some of the other guys.
We were hoping he’d be a top-two target on the team so he started on the Yang side. But that doesn’t seem to be the case and his ceiling from week to week is likely 4-5 targets. He has blocked on fewer pass plays and run more routes in recent weeks and, without Nick Chubb, they might need to throw more which keeps Njoku on the radar.
Jake Ferguson really doesn’t meet much of the criteria we typically go after. He’s TE32 in route participation at 54.9% - Austin Hooper and Noah Gray are higher than that. In fact, this was the first week he cracked 50%. He also blocks on over 10% of his pass plays, he only lines up at WR for 27.3% of his routes which is good for TE60, his aDot is low, his YPRR is low. But Dak Prescott really seems to be struggling to find actual wide receivers this year so maybe he will just keep dumping it down to Jake Ferguson. If this guy were running 75% of the routes and it would be a lot easier to put him into lineups but they use all the tight ends so he’s pretty TD-dependent.
Durham Smythe got banged up this week and it was a complete blowout so they just rolled with Julian Hill. But Mike McDaniel said the injury shouldn’t keep Smythe out so hang on to him where you can. No reason to rush out and add Julian Hill.
Upside Stashes (Yang)
Pharaoh Brown with the big TD this week that we can’t help but feel like should have been Henry’s. It happens. But he still got five targets which he has had in all three games so far so there is hope that Henry can continue to be a focal point of this offense. The team is still in flux in finding their identity and Henry himself is the same way for us in these rankings. As long as he has a shot at being a top-two target on the team, he is here. If he continues to be targeted regularly he could move up to the Standalone or, if he ends up being a more boring option which is realistically possible, he will move to the Yin side. If Henry is my tight end, I’m going Yang Yang with two players from this list.
Conditions were perfect this week. And he did get nine targets and a carry. But he really did not produce the way we had hoped. Which is always the story for him. Great talent, great usage - mediocre opportunity, mediocre production. He also looks like he might be nursing an injury out there. There will always be upside with a player of this caliber but the reality is that his fate lies in the hands of Desmond Ridder.
Luke Musgrave has now quietly led or tied for routes run on this team in all three games. The gamescript in Week Two was terrible with only 52 plays while the gamescript this week saw over 79 snaps. The reality for Musgrave is likely somewhere in the middle and we can deal with that. His route participation, aDot, and target share are all rock solid so it all boils down to what happens when Christian Watson returns.
We wanted Dalton Kincaid to take off as the slot wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills and just crush it. That hasn’t quite happened though he has run more routes from the slot (48) than any other player on the team. Next up are Dawson Knox (47), Stefon Diggs (42), and Deonte Harty (19) so they seem pretty committed to that game plan. It’s still early but until Kincaid gets a bigger workload it’s just tough to trust him. I am not dropping him anywhere I have him though because the upside is too great - Sam LaPorta has taken off early but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Logan Thomas took a bad hit on a touchdown catch that knocked him out of the game. But one thing was clear before that play and it’s even more clear now after watching Cole Turner this week - the Commanders want the tight end position to be a focal point. I’m stashing Thomas wherever I can and clearly, Cole Turner is a potential spot start whenever he is out. Thomas got eight targets Week One and he scored a touchdown in Week Two while getting knocked out of the game in the first half.