There were two tight ends taken on Day 1 of the NFL Draft. There is some serious discussions going on about having some of these players as components of your fantasy teams this year. I fully ascribe to the idea that fantasy football is about reducing risks. Rookie tight ends are a risk I will not take, at least in a starting spot on a redraft team.
Even stars started slowly
First, just a little anecdotal evidence. Look at Jason Witten. We all know Jason Witten is someone you have wanted on your teams for many years. Between 2004 and 2016 he averaged 81.1 receptions, 887.8 yards and 4.8 touchdowns. His very worst season in receptions was just 64 (in 2006 and 2014). His career low in yards was still a 673 yard season (2016). You would take those as floors on your players.
However, Witten started his NFL career in 2003. It was a far cry from these later seasons. Witten managed a meager 35 receptions. He turned those catches into 347 yards and just one touchdown. That means his rookie year was a full 29 receptions worse than his worst season over the next 12 seasons. His yards were 326 yards lower than any season for the rest of his career (so far). Nearly half of his worse.
I mentioned that this was anecdotal. Just one example. A single point of reference. Still, this is not a lone point.
I could point out that Jimmy Graham has averaged 78 receptions, 987.3 yards and nine touchdowns in the last six years. It would highlight the lack of production in his rookie year. In 2010 he had just 31 receptions, 356 yards and five touchdowns. Even his "down" year after moving to Seattle did not hit this low. Sure, I could, but a better point is looking at some of the collective stats of rookie tight ends.
Plenty of samples
I did a review of some rookie tight ends over the last four years. The names I looked over included: Hunter Henry, Nick Vannett, Tyler Higbee, Austin Hooper, Clive Wolford, Maxx Williams, Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Tyler Eiffert, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and Gavin Escobar. To be fair, I did not use any of Travis Kelce's rookie stats... because he did not have any.
Among the remaining thirteen tight ends in their rookie campaigns, only Hunter Henry and Zach Ertz managed over 450 yards. Henry is the only one with more than four touchdowns (that is to say Ertz had four and no one else had more than three). The average rookie campaign among all these players was 25 catches for 257.9 yards and 2.3 touchdowns.
The takeaway is this: the change from NCAA TE to NFL TE is hard. It is a very different world and it seems to take a year of growth to begin to see value in the fantasy world. In dynasty drafts these guys are fine and blossom into what Eifert, Ertz, Ebron or Kelce are today. When putting together your redraft team, do not count on David Njoku or O.J. Howard. If you have the space, they might be valuable as a backup. There are not a lot of places where I would necessarily suggest keeping a backup TE. Rookie TEs are just not worth the risk. Still, when you look at the low numbers from players like Tyler Higbee or Austin Hooper last year, just remember that they are not in bad company either.