As we begin to settle into this off-season, our team here at DFF has decided to tackle a list of sleepers at each position. As you’ve probably already noticed, this isn’t just offensive sleepers exercise; this 7-part series will consist of IDP sleepers as well. We know not every league is offense-only so we’ve got you covered. In case you missed it, we’ve already looked at the wide receiver, defensive back, and running back positions, but today we’ll look at tight ends.
NAME: LANCE KENDRICKS
Kendricks had been in the shadows of Jared Cook for three years and after the departure of Cook in free agency he was able to lessen the darkness that was cast from Cooks shadow. After a promising start to his career where he amassed 70 receptions and 871 yards in two years combined, he then took a back seat after the arrival of Cook to the Rams. In the next three years, as the backup he totaled 84 receptions and 762 yards. Both a steep decline in productivity after what was expected going into year three of his career. This past year could be viewed as the floor for what Kendricks is able to do in a very putrid offense. He caught 50 balls and, on average, turned each one into a 1st down. That’s the same level of production offered during his first two years where he averaged over 12 yards per reception. The Rams did add Tyler Higbee, a 4th rounder from Western Kentucky in the 2016 draft, but I wouldn’t let that deter dynasty owners from placing Kendricks on their ‘Watch List’, as I feel as though he can assert himself as a TE2 with TE1 upside.
NAME: VANCE MCDONALD
McDonald has been on the tight end radar since entering the league in 2013 as a 2nd rounder out of Rice University. Unfortunately, his radar blip hasn’t sounded as strong and the his light had begun to fade over the last couple years. Stuck behind veteran Vernon Davis for the first three and a half years, McDonald then became the starting tight end last season. Unfortunately under, former head coach Chip Kelly, he wasn’t able to flourish, in large part due to the putrid quarterback situation in San Fran. With Kyle Shanahan as the head coach, and presumably the one calling plays, McDonald looks to be a big beneficiary as tight ends have flourished in a Shanahan offense going back to his days with Houston and Washington. The 49ers seem to think Vance is their tight end of the future as they signed him to a five-year extension, which included $16 million guaranteed. I think McDonald sees a late resurgence to his career and even at age 26 he has plenty of tread left to become a viable starting tight end on dynasty rosters.
NAME: RYAN GRIFFIN
Ryan Griffin is the most talented tight end on the Houston Texans roster. Although CJ Fiedorowicz did well in his role as Brock Osweiler’s check down in 2016, Griffin shined in his limited action in weeks 2 and 15.. Houston may not seek to add depth to the tight position in the upcoming draft as they have multiple needs at other areas of the offense. The key for whether Griffin will breakout in 2017 will be the man behind center. Neither Tom Savage or Brock Osweiler seem to be the solution for Houston at the quarterback position, so if they bring in an additional arm, Griffin could supplant Fiedorowicz as the move tight end on the team.
NAME: JESSE JAMES
James could be the beneficiary of a few different factors, which should provide him the opportunity to shine. The biggest factor being the unfortunate health concerns with Ladarius Green. Green missed a large part of 2016 due to precautionary measures over his history with concussions and even after being held out most of the season, yet again a concussion ended his season in week 15. It’s unlikely the Steelers bring him back at his $6.1 million cap hit, so look for the team to rely on James to lead them at the position. The other factor is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who has always treated his tight ends well, by spreading the ball around and utilizing them on check downs. Wide receiver Martavis Bryant may not be in the plans for the team, so they could pursue wide receiver on the 2nd day of the draft and add depth at the tight end position on the 3rd day. All would point towards Jesse James being a big beneficiary as we look to the 2017 season.
NAME: A.J. DERBY
The New England Patriots have shown an inability to draft Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers in the Bill Belichick era. They have, however, been very good at scouting and drafting tight ends. A.J. Derby was the 2015 6th round selection for the Patriots, although they already had two Pro Bowlers on the roster. Derby was the expendable asset due to the ever present Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, should he return to the team as he is an unrestricted free agent. Coming out of Iowa, Derby was compared to another possible 2017 breakout candidate in Vance McDonald. He ran a sub 4.6 forty-yard dash to go with a sub 7-second 3-cone drill. He was praised for his ability to create separation out of breaks and dynamic run after catch prowess. His greatest downfall coming into the draft was his lack of experience at the position. He was formerly a linebacker who then played quarterback before settling in as a tight end. Denver has always seemed to utilize their tight end in their offensive scheme, so keep an eye on Derby as training camp opens and the team starts to settle their depth chart.
Every new NFL season brings with it millions of predictions and projections for real life and for fantasy. 2017 will be no different. With the 2016 fantasy season over and the draft and free agency yet to come, every move will impact multiple players across all positions. This list is a work in progress, but as of today, these are a few players to keep an eye on during the off-season and might be worth grabbing when draft day rolls around.