T.J. Fant Junior. Irv Hockenfant. Noah Smithenson. At this point in the offseason of fantasy football leagues, the order of which these shiny new tight ends need to be drafted is a blur. Mock draft here. Mock draft there.
The two Iowa studs (T.J. Hockenson & Noah Fant) along with the second-team all-SEC Alabama star Irv Smith Jr. have captivated all fantasy football pundits on how early they should be drafted this fall. The hype is real and well deserved. If you haven’t seen their YouTube highlights running past linebackers and running over cornerbacks, I strongly recommend watching a few clips. While you are going down the rabbit hole of drafting the next Rob Gronkowski, check out their resumes as well. They are all built similar, 6’4″- 6’5″ and 240-250 lbs. They combined for 132 receptions, 11 yards short of 2,000, and 20 touchdowns. They look, act, and perform the part the next-generation tight end in 2019.
However, please, temper expectations. There is no bigger disappointment in fantasy than perhaps the rookie tight end.
Between 2010-2018 there have been 130 tight ends drafted. Obviously, not all are fantasy football relevant. So I decided to take the average year one production of the top five tight ends in the past five NFL drafts. I must warn you; the numbers may frighten some. (Fantasy points per year average, 2018 TE rank).
2018 averages: Receptions 32.8. Yards 385. TDs 2.6. (The 87 FPTs would rank 20th in TE, slightly above Ben Watson)
2017 averages: Receptions 36.6. Yards 442. TDs 4. (104 FPTs would rank 16th, behind Chris Herndon)
2016 averages: Receptions 18.6. Yards 209. TDs 2.8. (77 FPTs would rank 26th, ahead of Vernon Davis)
2015 averages: Receptions 27.0. Yards 280. TDs 1.4. (63 FPTs would rank 33rd, ahead of Jordan Smith)
2014 averages: Receptions 22.8. Yards 232. TDs 1.6. (56 FPTs would rank 37th, ahead of Matt LaCosse)
These are averages per game — the definition of underwhelming.
Now, these stats are for the top five tight ends of each year. I understand that nobody would ever draft Troy Niklas, so instead, how about looking at the rookie production of some of the best tight ends of the past decade.
Rob Gronkowski: 42 receptions. 546 yards. 10 TDs. (156 FPTS)
Jimmy Graham: 31 receptions. 356 yards. 5 TDs. (96 FPTS)
Kyle Rudolph: 26 receptions. 249 yards. 3 TDs. (69 FPTS)
Zach Ertz: 36 receptions. 469 yards. 4 TDs. (107 FPTS)
Now to put this into perspective, Dallas Goedert finished the 2018 season with 90 FPTS. Oh, and that would put him as the 20th ranked TE in 2018. Just like in anything in life, there is always that one outlier. The rookie tight end truther will point out Evan Engram’s remarkable 2017 season where he compiled 64 catches and over 700 yards. The reason why this will never be duplicated again was due to a perfect storm of events. Injuries to Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard riddled the Giant’s receiving corp. Orleans Darkwa was the only player on the roster that resembled a running back. So, naturally, Eli Manning locked on to the only athletic body he had on the field. Engram saw 115 targets and caught 32% of Manning’s touchdown passes. Travis Kelce only caught 20% of the 50 touchdowns that MVP Pat Mahomes tossed last year.
As amazing as Gronkowski’s career has been, the transition from college to the NFL is a challenging one, even for the greatest tight end of all time.
I do not want to scare future owners of these incoming rookie tight ends away. I want everybody to pump the breaks when they compare Hockenson as the next “Gronk,” especially when it comes to fantasy production in year one. Year two is when the stat padding can occur. The following stats are the same tight ends as before, just in their second year.
Rob Gronkowski: 90 catches. 1327 yards. 17 TDs. (341 FPTs)
Jimmy Graham: 99 catches. 1310 yards. 11 TDs. (296 FPTs)
Kyle Rudolph: 53 catches. 493 yards. 9 TDs. (156 FPTs)
Zach Ertz: 58 catches. 700 yards. 3 TDs. (146 FPTs)
By no means am I projecting these tight ends to set records during their careers, but I would feel confident in saying that they could average 60 catches, 800 yards and half a dozen scores a year. Tight end projection is one of the most volatile positions in all of fantasy football. Jason Witten will be a hall of fame inductee, once he ever retires again, and never had double-digit touchdowns.
In dynasty leagues, the upside with these tight ends is through the roof; no glass ceiling here. However, in redraft leagues especially, draft with caution. Sometimes the safer bet is the veteran on his third or fourth team, rather than the YouTube highlight reel rookie