When I wrote about tight end battles to keep an eye on, I found myself drawn to a few dark horse candidates who I think I am rooting for to win a starting job. If nothing else, these are players I believe have the skills to be useful for fantasy if they get some playing time and targets. That is no small thing.
A lot of FAAB is wasted during the season on bad players who have an opportunity but will likely do very little with it. There is a huge advantage to be gained by identifying relatively unknown guys who may just need an opportunity. These players don’t need to be drafted even in super deep leagues, but you should remember these names so that you can beat your league mates to the waiver wire should an opportunity arise.
James O'Shaughnessy, New England Patriots
Unlike Nick Boyle and Travis Wilson, who could conceivably win significant roles or even starting jobs even if the other tight ends on their respective teams stay healthy, it will almost certainly take at least one significant injury, if not two, for James O’Shaughnessy to become fantasy relevant. Fortunately for O’Shaughnessy, he sits on a New England depth chart beneath two tight ends who have been hurt a lot in their careers. Dwayne Allen has missed at least two games in four consecutive seasons, playing just 57 games in his five-year NFL career. Rob Gronkowski played eight games last season. He has missed at least one game in five consecutive seasons and missed at least five games in three of those. Considering New England’s propensity for two tight end sets, O’Shaughnessy could have a prominent role if only one tight end goes down, but he would be a borderline must-add in all leagues if both Gronk and Dwayne Allen faced significant injuries.
I’m not saying O’Shaughnessy would definitely step in and be even as good as Dwayne Allen, but the potential is there, especially considering the quarterback and the offense. O’Shaughnessy is 6-foot-4, 245 pounds and runs well, but he never got an opportunity in Kansas City behind Travis Kelce. He would definitely be worth a speculative add if he sees the field.
Nick Boyle, Baltimore Ravens
I discussed Boyle a bit two weeks ago in examining the battle to replace Dennis Pitta in Baltimore. Pitta led all tight ends in receptions in 2016, and while whoever replaces him would be a long shot to repeat that feat, there is certainly the potential for a lot of tight end targets once again.
The mere fact the Ravens have kept Boyle on their roster despite two PED suspensions in two seasons speaks to Boyle’s value, especially when you consider Baltimore’s depth at the position.
If Boyle looks like the starter in the preseason he would probably be worth picking up in deep leagues, but I think I would want to see him have a good game (with a lot of targets) before adding him in more shallow leagues. Even if Boyle is named the starter, he could potentially split time with Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams. More likely, it would take a couple of injuries for Boyle to make his way into a meaningful fantasy role.
Travis Wilson, Los Angeles Rams
Wilson is another repeat from the position battles article. The converted quarterback seems to have the physical tools to succeed at tight end, and as a former quarterback, he may have a leg up when it comes to learning head coach Sean McVay’s playbook.
Wilson’s biggest problem may be blocking, and if he cannot block, his potential to stay on the field is limited. That being said, the Rams’ tight end corps has 11 career NFL receptions, so Wilson isn’t exactly trying to unseat established veterans. If he looks good in camp and the preseason, the sky is the limit for Wilson.
Stephen Anderson, Houston Texans
C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin are fine, but they are never going to be much of a threat in the passing game. Stephen Anderson could be. Anderson caught 11 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown as an undrafted rookie, and he showed decent athleticism and hands in his limited film. Anderson doesn’t have elite size and may never be a matchup nightmare, but he would be worth a speculative add if he gets a shot at more playing time in 2017.