Common wisdom among the fantasy football community has been to fade rookie tight ends in redraft leagues. It has typically been a position that has had little impact in year one, with only historical outliers like Rob Gronkowski in 2010 (TE12) and Evan Engram in 2017 (TE5) producing TE1 seasons. Looking at the past eight years, there have been only five top 20 TE seasons among rookies:
2010 Rob Gronkowski: TE12
2010 Aaron Hernandez: TE15
2016 Hunter Henry: TE18
2017 Evan Engram: TE5
2017 George Kittle: TE19
Per Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) of PFF, TEs produce very little in year one but frequently make a huge jump in production from year one to year two:
This chart is really cool.
I'm looking at how different positions perform for fantasy (over their career average) in the various years they've been in the league.
Players must have had at least one 1,000 scrimmage yard season to qualify. Sample is 2000-2017. pic.twitter.com/9agSrY7MSB
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) March 30, 2018
Understanding that rookie TE production is minimal, which rookie TEs have the best chance to break the mold and offer meaningful production in 2018?
Number 1: Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
An athletic marvel and byproduct of the Penn State strength and conditioning program that has produced fellow rookie athletic freaks Saquon Barkley and Troy Apke, Gesicki is a mismatch nightmare for defenders. His touchdown in the 2016 Big 10 championship game is a perfect example of his freakish athleticism and the difficulty he poses for smaller defensive backs or slower linebackers:
His year one upside is comparable to Evan Engram; He is an elite athlete that won’t be asked to block very much on a pass-heavy team with a plethora of opportunity available following the loss of Jarvis Landry and his 161 targets. He only has A.J. Derby and MarQueis Gray in his way at TE, meaning he has a crystal clear path to a starting role immediately. His elite athleticism gives him sky-high upside.
The Dolphins passing offense offers sneaky volume and upside this year, and Gesicki should undoubtedly benefit. The Dolphins were among the pass-heaviest teams last year, particularly when trailing. They have one of the easiest passing defense schedules in the league while being Vegas underdogs in 10 out of 16 games next year. This should mean plenty of passing, plenty of targets, and plenty of production against poor defenses. If Gesicki impresses early, it’s possible that he becomes the alpha receiver in a high-volume passing offense looking for a go-to option.
Note: This article on Kenny Stills discusses the Dolphins passing game upside and high volume potential in much more detail.
With early second-round draft capital, I fully expect Gesicki to receive enough volume in year one to make a fantasy impact as a rookie. Per FF Calc, he currently goes undrafted in redraft leagues. His MFL10 ADP of TE25 at an overall ADP of pick 17.10 is a solid value for his talent, athleticism, and opportunity.
Number 2: Hayden Hurst, Baltimore Ravens
Hayden Hurst is not the greatest athlete at the TE position in the NFL. Hurst is incredibly old for a rookie prospect (Age 25) after spending two seasons playing minor league baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization. Hurst, Kelvin Benjamin, and Calvin Ridley are routinely seen playing bingo together in the retirement home that they live in.
If you can get past his age and fantastically average athleticism, Hurst actually has a significant opportunity to contribute immediately this season for the Ravens and your fantasy team. A likely beneficiary of first-round draft capital, Hurst is the overwhelming favorite to walk into the Ravens starting TE role over Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, and Vince Mayle, and 4th round rookie TE Mark Andrews. While many in the draft community feel strongly that Andrews is a better player than Hurst, the Ravens’ decisions in the draft suggest that they believe otherwise (1st round capital vs. 4th round capital).
Is there much upside in being the starting TE for a far from a prolific passing offense led by Joe Flacco? Over the past two years, the Ravens have made Dennis Pitta and Ben Watson relevant by giving them a massive amount of volume despite, in Pitta’s case, horrible efficiency. Per playerprofiler.com:
2016 Dennis Pitta: TE8
121 Targets (#3 among TEs)
81 Receptions (#1 among TEs)
729 Yards (#7 among TEs)
-13.5 Production Premium (#51 among TEs)
-13.6% Target Premium (#48 among TEs)
6.0 Yards Per Target (#46 among TEs)
2017 Ben Watson: TE11
79 targets (#12 among TEs)
61 Receptions (#8 among TEs)
522 Yards (#16 among TEs)
+3.0 Production Premium (#11 among TEs)
+19.0% Target Premium (#5 among TEs)
6.6 Yards Per Target (#18 among TEs)
While Pitta’s 121 targets is a far-fetched outcome, Watson’s 79 targets is a perfectly reasonable expectation for Hurst. With this type of volume, Hurst will undoubtedly beat his ADP. Per FF Calc, he currently goes undrafted in redraft leagues. His MFL10 ADP of TE26 and an overall ADP of pick 18.09 makes Hurst a solid value.
Number 3: Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Goedert was seen by many to be the best prospect in this year’s TE class, yet he landed in the worst situation possible for year one production. He is stuck behind consensus top 3 TE Zach Ertz.
Goedert will be useless to your fantasy team unless Ertz gets injured. If Ertz does get hurt, however, Goedert offers the most upside by far of any rookie TE for every game that he starts.
Last season, Ertz missed one game due to a concussion, and another game due to a hamstring strain. The concussion was Ertz’s second of his professional career, which is always notable. While Ertz does not have the same lengthy injury history as guys like Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert, TE still has the highest injury rates among all skill positions. This exposes Ertz to a relatively high chance of missing games. In Ertz’s missed games last year, the Eagles’ backup TE Trey Burton flourished:
Trey Burton Week 9:
Trey Burton Week 14:
Considering the massive success that both Ertz and then Burton had as the primary TE for the Eagles, it is fair to assume that Goedert would be fantasy relevant in the event of an Ertz injury. Per FF Calc, he is going undrafted in redraft leagues. In MFL10s, his ADP is TE34 with an overall ADP of pick 20.09. He routinely goes undrafted, and you can certainly do worse than Goedert with the last pick in your draft.
Thanks for reading! If you want to talk some redraft, you can find me on Twitter @DFF_RyanB. You can also check out my other articles below.