The Tortoise and the Hare: Tight Ends
Hello everyone! I’m back with the final installment of The Tortoise and the Hare, coming at you this time with extensive analysis at the TE position. This article will include info about slow start TE’s and whether or not they will pick it up (tortoises) as well as TEs who have started of the year hot and whether or not they will continue to do so. Enjoy the read!
Gary Barnidge -
33 receptions on 48 targets for 403 yards and 0 TDs
“The Barndog”, as my friends and I like to call him, is 5th overall among TEs in targets but that has not translated to success on the stat sheet as made evident by his production so far. He may sit at 11th overall in fantasy points for TEs in PPR (15th in standard) but this is misleading as he hasn’t topped 12.7 points since his best game this year (13.6 points in Week 3) against the Dolphins. If you were looking for a streaming TE off of the waiver wire, Barnidge would be just fine but he was drafted on average 7th overall among TEs after his world-beater season in 2015 where he finished 2nd overall behind only Rob Gronkowski. In Week 8, Barnidge almost got his first score this season on what would turn out to be his FIRST red zone target of the year but he was unable to get his feet inbounds and on the next play Andrew Hawkins scored, representing a microcosm of Gary’s season. Inconsistent quarterback play and a number of new options in the offense have proved troublesome for Gary.
Will He Pick It Up?
No. I do not think that Barnidge will regain the production that would bring him to the elite level he was at last year. With more options in the passing game this year including an emerging Terrelle Pryor, rookie Corey Coleman and with the advent of Isiah Crowell, Barnidge has seen his TD opportunities crater to the point where he hasn’t gotten to pay dirt yet this year despite having 9 such scores last year. In 2015, Barnidge had 125 targets at season’s end - this year he is on pace for just 96, a huge regression that is an excellent way of explaining why his production is so down. Barnidge benefited from being McCown’s favorite target last year so having him under center improves his outlook but that isn’t a guarantee to stay that way by any means. Per Cleveland’s beat writers, Cody Kessler is going to get the start over McCown when healthy and he is currently practicing in full. Barnidge has an opportunity to prove me wrong this week when the Browns will host the red-hot Dallas Cowboys, who have allowed the 6th most fantasy points to opposing TEs and just lost key starters in Morris Claiborne and Barry Church. The Barndog will have to contest with studly FS Byron Jones, who is a large part of why the Dallas defense has outplayed its talent level. Still, if Barnidge doesn’t get in the end zone in this game, I don’t know when he will.
Julius Thomas -
19 receptions on 35 targets for 224 yards and 3 TDs
The always-hobbled Thomas would have been in the Hare column through the first two weeks where he combined for 9 catches for 135 yards and a TD. In the 5 Weeks since, Thomas has totaled just 10 catches for 89 yards and added 2 more scores (did not play Week 4 and had a bye Week 5). While the TDs are reassuring to some, to me they are a sign that if you are starting Teal Julius and he does not score, you are looking at an almost certain dud, especially in standard scoring. Since his 71 yards in Week 2, Thomas has not topped 28 yards. He is the epitome of a TD-dependent TE1 but is the best of that particular bunch IMO. He only has 4 red zone targets this year but has turned those into 2 TDs and his 3rd TD came from 22 yards out, essentially making that a red zone TD as well. Still, all of this has led to Julius being the 21st overall at his position in PPR, below the likes of Vernon Davis and CJ Fiedorowicz, which is not pleasing in my book.
Will He Pick It Up?
Yes. But only as a top 12 TE by seasons’ end due to his scoring ability. I don’t think he has the ability to crack the top 7. His numbers have been limited by injury and a bye week so things are not as bad as they seem. With Allen Robinson struggling mightily this year, Julius Thomas is the best red zone target that the Jaguars have IMO. He’s converted 3 of his 5 red zone targets (one was from the 22-yard line as mentioned above), so if Bortles and the Jaguars choose to continue to feed JT in the red zone, I could see him becoming viable at a suddenly shallow position as the playoffs near. His low volume of targets, catches, and yards make him very susceptible to duds and that will likely be the case this weekend when the Jaguars take on the Kansas City Chiefs who rank in the top 5 when it comes to allowing fantasy points to opposing TEs and shut down Jack Doyle last week for just 2 catches and 36 yards. I would be cautious to start him in this spot but if he can produce here, it bodes very well for his season as a whole.
Antonio Gates -
21 receptions on 39 targets for 152 yards and 3 TDs
From a fantasy standpoint, Antonio Gates is lucky that Phillip Rivers continues to look for him in the red zone, otherwise the veteran would have been on the waiver wire weeks ago. Through 8 games, Gates has not caught more than 5 balls in a game and has also failed to top 38 yards in any game so far. These numbers are certain to be the reason why despite being tied for the most TDs by a tight end in 2016 (3), Gates ranks as the 25th TE overall in fantasy (PPR). Even more damning, Gates’ yards-per-target is a paltry 3.9 YPT which is good for DEAD LAST among qualifiers. In addition, his yards-per-reception also ranks last among TEs with 20+ receptions on the year. To put it simply, aside from his scoring ability, Gates has been downright dreadful.
Will He Pick It Up?
No. Gates is clearly nearing the end of his career and is being buoyed by circumstance including the loss of passing-game play makers like Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead along with Rivers’ undying loyalty to get his man the ball. In addition, we are seeing Hunter Henry, albeit not consistently, syphoning targets and snaps away from the first ballot HOFer, further lowering his ability to get the catches and yardage that any fantasy owner should expect from their starting TE. I mentioned it before but I will again, Gates hasn’t reached 39 receiving yards in a game yet. To me, that means a trip to the waiver wire. Let someone else waste a bench spot on him. This week, Gates & Co. get the Tennessee Titans who have been generous to opposing fantasy tight ends, ranking 25th in the league in allowing points to that position. I wouldn’t be shocked if he caught another TD but I would be surprised if he had more than 30 yards. I’m looking elsewhere and so should you.
Travis Kelce -
34 receptions on 45 targets for 377 yards and 3 TDs
Travis Kelce most likely doesn’t belong on this list because he has been solid overall and currently ranks 5th among TEs in PPR and 8th overall in standard scoring. I’m putting him on the Tortoise list because, aside from last week’s breakout stat line of 7 catches for 101 yards and 1 TD, Kelce had been largely mediocre. Before Week 8, Kelce had only toped 70 yards once and hadn’t caught more than 6 balls in a single game. He made this part of the list mostly because in dream match ups against the Raiders’ secondary and the Saints’ secondary in Weeks 8 & 9 respectively, he totaled only 5 catches for 56 yards with no scores. He made up for these shortcomings with a huge Week 9 against an equally bad Colts’ secondary. He is seeing a decent amount of targets with 45 on the season, only 10 less than KC’s WR1 Jeremy Maclin. If you have Kelce, you are probably content but there is certainly a yearning for more.
Will He Pick It Up?
Yes. He has the skill and volume to put up a top 7 season. He has already “picked it up” with last week’s performance but owners should be prepared to sustain at least a couple weeks like the above mentioned Weeks 8 & 9 where Kelce does little to nothing in a perpetual run-first, low pass volume offensive attack. This week Kelce gets the Jacksonville Defense who have been sturdy against opposing TEs, ranking 7th best in the league in that category. The Jaguars also haven’t allowed a TE to score a touchdown since Week 2 and this creates an imposing match up on paper. It should be noted that Nick Foles targeted Kelce the most in his relief of Alex Smith. Yesterday it was announced that Nick Foles will be starting this week and I feel better about Kelce as a safety valve for Foles, especially in PPR. If Spencer Ware is out, this is even more so.
40 receptions on 55 targets for 393 yards and 3 TDs
Zach Miller has quietly become one of the most consistent TEs in the NFL. Through 8 games, Miller is tied with his NFC North counterpart Kyle Rudolph for 4th for most targets at the position with 54 balls thrown his way. Not only has Miller been a magnet to the ball this year but he has parlayed those many opportunities into legitimate fantasy production as he ranks 3rd overall among the position in PPR leagues and ranks 6th overall in standard. After struggling through the first two games of the season with combined totals of 7 catches for 47 scoreless yards, Miller benefited from the insertion of Brian Hoyer into the Bears’ lineup where he became a favorite target. Many had doubts over whether his production would continue in Week 8 with Cutler back at the helm but those concerns were put to bed as he led the team in catches and receiving that night with 7 catches for 88 yards on a season high 10 targets. Miller looks to be a trusted target no matter who is throwing him the ball.
Will He Continue His Production?
Yes and you should grab him while you can. Miller and the Bears are on a bye this week and he is still somehow available in almost 40% of ESPN leagues even though he is the #3 overall TE as mentioned above. I’d snag him if you need a TE or a solid flex play going forward. It should also be noted that Miller has three JUICY matchups in the playoffs with a tilt against the Detroit Lions in Week 14 who are the worst in the NFL when it comes to allowing fantasy points to opposing TEs. After that he gets the Packers (20th) in Week 15 and then the Redskins (22nd) in Week 16. A forward thinking owner would scoop him up for these match ups alone. After the bye this week, Zach will take on a Tampa Bay defense that allowed a combined 6 catches for 67 yards and a TD to the Raiders’ lackluster TE duo of Walford and Rivera in Week 8. Somehow, Miller is still flying under the cumulative fantasy radar.
Martellus Bennett -
31 receptions on 40 targets for 402 yards and 4 TDs
After a solid start that was sparked by the absence of Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett has predictably cooled off as the aforementioned best fantasy TE of all time has come back into the picture. In his first 4 games (the games where Gronk was either entirely out of the lineup or severely hobbled), the 9-year veteran compiled 247 yards on 15 catches with 1 TD. In the following 4 weeks, he totaled just 155 yards on 16 catches but did have 3 scores as well. However, a game-by-game look reveals a much more troubling picture as Bennett caught all 3 of those TDs in a Week 5 drubbing of the woeful Cleveland Browns. Since that game he hasn’t posted more than 9.8 fantasy points in PPR and busted horribly in Week 7 with 1 catch for 5 yards. Bennett has also seen his snap count dwindle significantly in each game since Gronk’s true return going from 79% of snaps in Week 5 to 53% by Week 8 with declines in each week in between. Furthermore, in Weeks 5-8 (Brady starts), Bennett ranks just 4th on the team in targets behind Julian Edelman (35), Gronk (27), and James White (25). Diminishing work is not something you want to see for a guy who counts on making the most out of his few touches to be effective in fantasy.
Will He Continue His Production?
No. While I do think Bennett will inevitably have a couple more good games this season with Tom Brady throwing him the ball, I do not think that he will finish as a top 12 TE. Bennett’s season totals are largely buoyed by the previously mentioned 3 TD game in Week 5 and he is just not seeing the ball enough to keep pace with his peers. There is little doubt that Martellus is a skilled pass catcher but the Patriots appear to favor their other weapons while also utilizing Bennett’s run-blocking skills as the Patriots kept him on the line to block in over half of his total snaps in Week 7 and 8. One must also consider the imminent return of dynamic passing back, Dion Lewis, which will push Bennett and his opportunities even further down the totem pole should Lewis regain last year’s form. For me there are just too many negatives and a scarce amount of positives to look at that make me unable to trust the “Black Unicorn” going forward. Strip away the name and the team he plays for and you have a truly TD dependent fringe TE2 on your hands.
Jack Doyle -
31 receptions on 36 targets for 318 yards and 4 TDs
Jack Doyle has been this year’s Cinderella story at the TE position with a fairly productive season thus far despite play time concerns and being relatively unknown heading into the season. Doyle started off hot in his first game this year with a stat line of 3 catches for 35 yards and 2 TDs and left every fantasy owner unwilling to believe that this upstart would upstage Dwayne Allen. However, since that game his case has only become stronger. While Allen fell due to injury, Doyle surged in Weeks 6 & 7 where he combined for 13 catches for 131 yards and 2 TDs in that two game span. However, he predictably fell back to earth last week against a Chiefs’ defense that has been entirely stingy to the TE position, with just 2 catches for 36 yards. This isn’t the only dud that Doyle has posted, as he failed to reach 8 points in PPR in half of his games this season and failed to score 3 points in two of those games. However, he still is the #7 overall TE in PPR and the 8th overall in standard. That’s a solid ranking but the fact remains that Doyle ranks 19th in targets among those at his position, showing that he had made the most out of a sorely lacking amount of opportunities. Doyle makes for a simultaneously appealing yet disconcerting option to put in your starting lineup on a week-to- week basis.
Will He Continue His Production?
No. I think the overall view of Doyle is inflated by the fact that he literally came out of nowhere so any production that he gets is a “surprise” in a sense. As mentioned above he has put up some damagingly ineffective performances and those appear to be more likely going forward with not only the return of his counterpart, Dwayne Allen (resumed practicing this week) but also the advent of preseason darling Donte Moncrief which will lighten his already light target total. Moncrief is a demanding red zone presence like Doyle except he is far more skilled and creates more separation. In his two full games this year, Moncrief has had a combined 10 catches for 105 yards and 2 TDs and is busting at the seams with more upside. His ascension is at Doyle’s peril IMO and I expect Doyle to put up far more duds over the course of the rest of this season than breakouts that he gave us in select weeks. However, I did doubt that he would ever be relevant in Week 1 and he proved me wrong there. The likely outcome is that he finishes outside the top 15 at the position which makes him waiver wire fodder by season’s end.
Kyle Rudolph -
31 receptions on 54 targets for 322 yards and 3 TDS
Rudolph is having an almost identical season to the above mentioned Jack Doyle but in Rudolph’s case, it was expected (and Doyle has played 1 more game). Rudolph ranks 9th among TEs in both PPR and standard, settling in at the top of that second tier of fantasy TEs with 81.2 fantasy points on the season (PPR). Through 7 games played, Rudolph has been the epitome of consistency, scoring less than 8.1 points just once (PPR) and has had at least 55 yards OR a TD in 5 of 7. The trouble is that Rudolph hasn’t scored since Week 3 and that has limited his upside but I expect for him to start hitting pay dirt again once the Vikings realize that their best bet is to remain pass-oriented with how bad their offensive line is. The most targeted pass catcher on his team, Rudolph is tied with the above mentioned Zach Miller for targets with 54, showing that he is consistently getting opportunities to produce. He may remain somewhat TD dependent but I think his hopeful increase in volume should make up for that.
Will He Continue His Production?
Yes. After last week’s debacle against the Bears, it is clear that the Vikings are going to need to throw more going forward to find the success that they did in their first 5 games. It is however somewhat disconcerting that TE Guru, Norv Turner, resigned from his OC post this week. This should have some effect on the TE’s production but how exactly remains to be seen. Rudolph is still the Vikings’ most consistent pass catcher and that counts for a lot in an offense that has been stripped of its best weapon in AP. This week, Rudolph gets the Lions who rank DEAD LAST when it comes to allowing fantasy points to opposing TEs. I fully expect a Rudolph TD against this secondary that has allowed 19 passing touchdowns this year (tied for most in the NFL with the Browns). Rudolph is a great trade target IMO as the deadline approaches as his trade value is at a season-long low with his 3 for 35 game on MNF. I’m buying and I think you should too.
Coby Fleener -
I want nothing to do with this guy. He’s been a boom-or-bust option in an offense that has 3 more talented options in Cooks, Snead and Thomas. Aside from his 23.9 points in Week 3 and 25.6 points in Week 6 (PPR), Fleener has failed to top 8 points in every other game. He’s nothing more than a desperation play to me.
CJ Fiedorowicz -
The third year man out of Iowa has come on strong as of late and his involvement grows every week. In his last 5 games in PPR scoring, CJ has scored double digits in 4 of those and has scored at least 14.8 points in 3 of those games with a 20.5 point week in Week 6. During that same span, CJ has hit pay dirt 3 times as well. I love the value of this upstart and he is worth a look as a TE1 going forward, which will be cemented with one or two more successful outings.
Hunter Henry -
After scoring double digit points in PPR during Weeks 3 through 6, Henry has crashed and burned in the last two weeks by failing to reach 4 points total in either. His concussion may have something to do with that but it is my opinion that Rivers is still not ready to let Gates go, even if that ends up hurting his play in the long run. Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams are both banged up for this Sunday and I think this bodes well for Henry’s prospects this weekend. Look for a bounce back game but his ROS outlook is murky at best
Jimmy Graham -
Returning from a Patellar tendon tear, Graham has been surprisingly solid so far with 3 games of 6 catches and at least 89 yards through 7 games played and has also added a TD. However, Russell Wilson’s and, by extension, the entire Seahawks offense’s poor play has limited Graham’s upside. He remains a high-upside, low-floor, risky play on a week-to-week basis until the Seattle offense can regain its form.
Eric Ebron -
Aside from a two game injury absence, Ebron has been a solid PPR tight end with at least 8.2 points in every game he has played so far this year. He led the team in yards and targets last week against the Houston secondary (79 yards and 10 targets). He has only caught 1 TD so far this year so if he can start to get in the end zone more often, the upside is there for him to finish top 10 from here on out.
Thanks for reading everyone! Be sure to check out the other parts of the Tortoise and Hare series at the links below. Good luck this weekend and keep an eye out for my article next week that will cover the best playoff matchups to target to put yourself in position to go home with a trophy!
Tortoise and the Hare Running Backs
and Wide Receivers