One of the great aspects of dynasty fantasy football is how the format lends itself to debate. When ranking players, you can choose to base it on short-term vs. long-term windows, on their ability or based on their situation. Free agency is over, and the NFL Draft just around the corner and now is a great time to take stock of our top-ranked dynasty players at each position. Today we’ll finish our series with the tight end position. The links for the rest of the series can be found below.
So there’s a reason we saved the tight end position for last in the article series, ”Make the case for…” Most people think tight ends don’t matter. That’s because, outside of an elite few, no one stands out from the herd. Even in leagues that don’t give a premium to the tight end position, Travis Kelce gives you such a large advantage over at least 83% of your league mates week in and week out.
Before this year started, there were rumblings of worrisome fantasy players unsure of how much the young QB Patrick Mahomes would look to Travis Kelce. Well, we saw an increase in targets from 122 in 2017 to 150 in 2018, which averages out to 9.4 targets per game. That’s not the only statistical increase for Travis Kelce with Patrick Mahomes’ first year under center. His snap share also increased, especially out of the slot, from 16% in 2017 to 34.7% in 2018.
Getting to double-digit touchdowns is huge for any player including tight ends, and Travis Kelce hit 10 touchdowns last year. It also helps that he was first amongst all tight ends with 17 red zone receptions. At no point was Patrick Mahomes “scared” to throw it in Travis Kelce’s direction. Kelce also led all tight ends in target distance at 1,385 yards and also first in contested catch rate at 48.3%.
In closing, let’s make that a little easier to understand and also win this case for Travis Kelce. The best quarterback in the dynasty landscape, Patrick Mahomes, throws it almost 10 times a game to a tight end that came in first or second amongst tight ends in the following categories. Snap share, targets, target rate, receptions, receiving yards, air yards, yards after the catch, red zone receptions, total touchdowns, fantasy points per game, target distance, contested catch percentage, and fantasy points per route run.
I would like to see the other supposedly the number one dynasty tight ends show these kinds of numbers. No objections allowable here. See, I didn’t even have to mention that there’s a possibility Tyreek Hill is dealing with some legal issues that would allow Travis Kelce’s number to be inflated for however long Hill may miss games. It doesn’t even matter as that’s only a weekly bump for Travis Kelce if that happens.
May I present to you, exhibit A:
I’m pretty good at this making the case for stuff. Undefeated in my first four cases, maybe I should actually take the bar exam…or just go to a bar.
I’m guessing most would not think of Howard when they think of which tight end should be considered the number one dynasty tight end. I think when you look a little deeper into his situation, though, you can at least see a path to that lofty title.
Howard is a physical specimen whose closest comparable player on playerprofiler.com is Greg Olsen. Howard already showed an ability to outperform his target share during his first two seasons in the NFL. His rookie year, 2017, he ranked 33rd at the tight end position with 39 targets, yet he still averaged 7.9 fantasy points per game which ranked 17th overall at the position. His 2018 season saw him gain an uptick in targets, and he soared (sarcasm font) to being the 22nd most targeted tight end in the league. With the additional 1.8 targets per game, Howard was able to finish as the TE5 with 12.1 points per game.
His elite speed (97th percentile) and agility (97th percentile) were on full display as he was able to rack up 211 yards after the catch, 11th most at the tight end position. Another area where he excelled was in yards per reception. His 16.6 yards per reception were ninth highest in the league and most for tight ends, while his 11.1 yards per target also led the tight end position. Howard also led the tight end position in fantasy points per target and fantasy points per route run. If you don’t notice the trend, I’ll help you along. Howard was able to do more with his targets than any other tight end in the league.
While his target share has lagged behind the other elite tight ends so far in his young career, the 2019 season could be where we begin to see a significant increase in his targets. With the departure of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson, 179 targets are up for grabs from last season. Chris Godwin is expected to be the biggest beneficiary of this, but he was already targeted 95 last season, so even with an increase in his share, there will still be plenty left for Howard to absorb.
As noted here, in four of his last six seasons coaching the Arizona Cardinals new Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians led passing offenses that finished in the top 15 in pass attempts, so there may be more than just the 179 available targets of which Howard can get a share. If you take into account the tight end-like 6.7 aDOT that Humphries averaged, it’s easy to see how the Buccaneers could start finding additional underneath targets for Howard in addition to the deeper routes on which he excels. One other area Tampa Bay could decide to utilize Howard would be in the red zone. Despite his massive 6’6” frame, he’s only been targeted inside the red zone 13 times in his first two seasons, finishing as the 36th (2017) and 22nd (2018) most targeted tight end during that time.
I made the case for Evan Engram once when I wrote about OBJ’s move to Cleveland, but I will revisit some of those topics here. I’ll also be bold and point out Engram’s flaw. He’s a move tight end who won’t be on the field as much in blocking situations. But let’s look at the numbers as to why Evan Engram is the top dynasty tight end.
Spoiler alert, Odell Beckham, Jr. is no longer a New York Giant. But it’s ok, because they picked up another dynamic playmaker in the prime of his career, a guy who is explosive, agile, and put up amazing statistics year over year just like OBJ: almost 31-year-old Golden Tate. So now there are two slot receivers and a running back competing for targets in the Giants’ offense. That leaves Evan Engram to run those longer routes against linebackers. And considering Engram’s average yards per reception (11.9) is almost the same as Shepard’s (12.0), it’s conceivable that he gets those looks further down the field.
Here are Engram’s splits with and without OBJ:
His departure opens the door for Engram to be a bigger part of the offense. Everyone should remember his rookie season where he finished as the tight end five without Beckham. Some would argue that is his ceiling. However, it typically takes tight ends a few years to get acclimated to an offense. Plenty of other tight ends have trouble with the receiving aspects: play calling, routes, roles, catching, etc.
But Engram showed that he grasps these parts very well, which leaves blocking as the aforementioned hole in his game. This is his third year, and New York is going run-heavy, so they need plenty of capable bodies on the line. Instead of worrying about whether or not he can master the playbook and build chemistry with Eli Manning, he can focus on blocking assignments. He improves in that area, he gets more snaps, he receives more targets farther down the field, and he’s the TE1. Draft him as the fourth tight end, and smile to the championship for years to come.
Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce have dominated the dynasty landscape for the TE position for the last four seasons, and for good reason. Drafting Ertz in a startup draft is similar to picking someone like Julio Jones or Antonio Brown. If they were the only two relevant players at their position at all. The debate between the two of them will rage on, but the main reason you should look to Ertz is that he’s one of the most shockingly consistent players in the league, at any position. Carson Wentz has been his best friend on the field for as long as we can remember, and he’s back this season. Ertz is a year younger than Kelce, and he finished as the TE2 overall last season with multiple quarterbacks behind center.
Ertz was the fourth highest targeted player in the red zone at any position, and that’s a trend that’s been going since Pat Mahomes took his first snaps at Texas Tech. It would be a tough sell for anyone to convince you that he’s the obvious choice between the two of them because Kelce is an incredible talent. The main reason for Ertz holding the top spot is his long term consistency and the fact that he has zero competition for viable targets right now. The Chiefs have so many offensive weapons that it’s very realistic Kelce could be up and down on a week to week basis, while Ertz will remain locked in as the PPR monster in Philly. Those two players are the only possible answers to this question since both Kittle and Howard haven’t produced back to back seasons yet and it remains to be seen where they will trend fantasy wise just yet. Ertz is the guy, with Kelce right on his heels.
When selecting tight ends for this section, I felt there were three guys who would almost be “easy” to make a case for as the TE1, and Kittle is one of them. Now, it is fair to wonder if we see the same type of regression with Kittle as we did Evan Engram a year ago, which is a point I see constantly brought up over and over again. But Kittle’s breakout season was far more elite than Engrams. Engrams rookie season was dependent on a massive amount of targets in which he hauled in just 56% of the time. Kittle saw a large number of targets last season as well, but caught nearly 65% of his, making him much more efficient per target.
Kittle’s record-breaking year was dominating. Even he were to see regression closer to 100 targets, he would still be nearly a 1,000-yard receiver. Kittle saw similar production to that of Travis Kelce. Now with Jimmy Garoppolo back, and another year under his belt with Kyle Shanahan it is fair to bet he will not regress and could hold this type of production given how successful they were when throwing him the ball. Having already produced at an elite of a level and years younger than Kelce and Ertz, Kittle is a set it and forget it type of tight end for years to come.