2017 Rookie Sleeper: Tight End Edition

Even in a draft that was lauded for its tight end talent, finding a sleeper is akin to putting a puzzle together without the box. It CAN be done but good luck!

For consistency sake, I decided to use the same 5th Round or later line of demarcation from my Sleeper Rookie Running Back article to establish which players qualified as “sleepers.” This yielded the following six drafted tight ends (UDFA tight ends such as Pharaoh Brown and Cole Hikutini were omitted).

Name Pos. School Rd Pick
Jake Butt TE Michigan 5 145
Jordan Leggett TE Clemson 5 150
George Kittle TE Iowa 5 154
Eric Saubert TE Drake 5 174
Bucky Hodges TE Virginia Tech 6 201
Mason Schreck TE Buffalo 7 251

Now let’s start putting that puzzle together now, shall we?

I began by looking at 3sigmaathlete.com, which uses combine or pro day measurables, to better understand how these six players stacked up athletically vs. their NFL counterparts.

Name Age HT WT pSPARQ z-score NFL% Arm 40 SS TC VJ BJ
George Kittle 23.9 6’4 247 143 1.9 97.2 33.13 4.52 n/a 7 38.5 11
Bucky Hodges 22.1 6’6 257 138.8 1.6 94.5 32.5 4.57 4.45 n/a 39 11.17
Mason Schreck 23.7 6’4 253 119 0.1 55.1 n/a 4.76 4.27 7.36 34.5 9.83
Jordan Leggett 22.6 6’5 258 117.8 0 51.8 33.5 4.71 4.33 7.12 33 9.92
Eric Saubert 23.3 6’4 253 117.1 0 49.6 33.5 4.69 4.59 7.34 35.5 10.08
Jake Butt 22.1 6’5 246 Did Not Participate


Note that the “NFL%” and “z-score” columns refer to the NFL positional averages and not to the draft positional averages. This means that a 0.0 z-score and 50.0 percentile would represent a player who rates as a league-average NFL athlete at the position. The average NFL player is pretty athletic, so this designation is not at all a poor result.

As you can see even the lowest rated tight end (Jake Butt didn’t participate as he was rehabbing a knee injury) measured as a league-average NFL athlete. This isn’t a slight by any means it just indicates that they didn’t test out as special athletically compared to their peers.

Next, I looked at the nfl.com grade that each received which provides a projection as to what each player could become in the league (any grade under 6.0 isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement towards their prospects, but hey we’re talking sleepers here).

Name nfl.com grade
Jake Butt 5.7
Bucky Hodges 5.7
George Kittle 5.5
Jordan Leggett 5.5
Eric Saubert 5.3
Mason Schreck 5.1

5.70-5.99 could become early NFL starter

5.30-5.69 backup or eventual starter

Last but certainly not least on the metrics side is their Player Profiler Dominator Rating and Breakout Age stats.

Name Dominator Breakout Age
Bucky Hodges 24.2% (73rd) 19.1 (94th)
Jake Butt 22.1% (68th) 19.2 (93rd)
Eric Saubert 31.6% (89th) 20.4 (74th)
Jordan Leggett 16.3% (42nd) 20.6 (69th)
George Kittle (70th) 21.9 (24th)
Mason Schreck 31.7% (90th) 22.8 (6th)

Tight Ends who breakout before Age 20 are considered “phenoms.”

Using the three sets of information above, the following players accrued the most top 3 finishes and will continue in my Sleeper Evaluation

  • Jake Butt (2*)
  • Bucky Hodges (2)
  • George Kittle (2)

Now let’s dive a little deeper into each player including their FantasyPros Dynasty TE Ranking.

Jake Butt (Denver Broncos) – TE28

The University of Michigan product is reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery from the right ACL injury that caused him to slide into the 5th round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Had it not been for that injury Butt likely would have been drafted on Day 2. He projects purely as an in-line tight end that should help in the intermediate passing game. He is more chain mover than field stretcher but should prove a reliable target in Denver for years to come. Butt has great hands and is a willing blocker although improvement is needed. Although he did not test at the combine, his tape reveals athletic limitations which will restrict him from being anything more than a streaming TE in Dynasty.

Bucky Hodges (Minnesota Vikings) – TE38

Temuchin “Bucky” Hodges is by no means your typical tight end. The 6-6, 250 Virginia Tech product reads more Kelvin Benjamin then Rob Gronkowski on the football field. Hodges amassed a 133-1,747-20 career stat line across three productive seasons in Blacksburg. A converted quarterback, the biggest knock on Hodges is his relative lack of experience playing the tight end position (3 seasons). Hodges still has a lot of work to do as both a route runner and blocker and is by no means a threat to Kyle Rudolph. He does have a clear path to playing time with little behind Rudolph in 2 tight end sets (he could even challenge for playing time in 3 wide and GL packages). Hodges is a work in progress TE/WR hybrid, but the physical tools and athletic profile are incredibly appealing as a dynasty stash so long as he retains that valuable TE designation.

George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers) – TE45

H-back type who lacks the desired size for in-line blocking but certainly has the technique and willingness to do it. He has good hands and flashes an ability to challenge as a pass catcher on all three levels. Kittle has the athleticism and blocking ability to become an effective move tight end if paired in the right system. ~ Lance Zierlein

I couldn’t have said it better myself so I won’t, but I will expand on it as this statement was made pre-draft. Kittle is an undersized but technical blocker with the athleticism to challenge opposing linebackers and safeties in coverage. He landed in a plum situation in San Francisco under new head coach Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers are in clear rebuilding mode and have openly attempted to ship starting TE Vance McDonald out of town to any willing takers. I believe this is more due to the obscene contract he signed last season and not a reflection of talent, but it’s a fact nonetheless. That equals opportunity, and Kittle has the requisite skills needed to make an instant impact for your Dynasty team, but he’s a 24-year-old rookie with a distinct lack of college production (I know it’s Iowa but still).

General consensus has Butt as the best of the three, but I was slightly surprised to see Hodges with a higher FantasyPros dynasty rankings than Kittle. My surprise is primarily based on the buzz that Kittle is currently receiving while no one is talking about Hodges. Dynasty Football Factory June ADP has Butt (39th), Kittle (49th) and Hodges (52nd) overall in Rookie only drafts. This is much more in line with what I expect to see and only serves to further cement my belief that Bucky Hodges is the sleeper tight end to own in the 2017 draft class.

Owning a legitimate sleeper tight end prospect is a marathon, not a sprint so be patient with Hodges while he learns the Viking Way.

Check out more of my work @DFF_Walk.


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Diehard Eagles fan, World's Okayest Dad and Dynasty / IDP Writer for the Dynasty Football Factory.

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