Injuries are a part of fantasy football at every position but they seem to be particularly impactful among tight ends.
Of the top four tight ends being taken in drafts, two of them have struggled with injuries in recent seasons. Both Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed—despite being currently drafted as TE1 and TE4 respectively—have had seasons shortened and/or hampered by injuries. Gronk only played eight games last season and while Reed played in 12 games, he only started eight of them.
(Side note: If you’re looking for consistency out of the tight end position, look no further than Greg Olsen. The guy has been the definition of consistent having played in every single game since 2008 and finishing top-10 among tight ends in total points for the past five years.)
There’s an inherent risk in drafting any player with an injury history early in drafts because you’d rather not invest a high draft pick in a player who could find themselves out for a large part of the season. But, on the flip side, injury prone players tend to slide down drafts, meaning you could snag a high upside player later than you expect.
If there’s a tight end who perfectly embodies that risk/reward for me this year, it’s the Bengals’ Tyler Eifert.
Let’s start with the risk. Eifert has yet to play a full season in the NFL and in two of his four seasons, he played under 10 games (8 last year, only one back in 2014). He’s never recorded north of 60 catches, hasn’t even come close to 1,000 yards receiving and has only managed to catch over five touchdowns once in his career (albeit a whopping 13 in 2015). Obviously most of this has to do with him missing significant time and sharing an offense with A.J. Green.
All that being said, the potential for fantasy stardom is certainly there. Look no further than his 2015 season. Despite playing 13 games that year, Eifert led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 13 and finished TE6 in fantasy, good for the 23rd best player overall.
Physically, Eifert is built exactly how you want a tight end to be constructed—standing at a sculpted 6-foot-6, 250—and is the Bengals’ biggest offensive weapon (I mean that more literally than figuratively, but behind Green, he’s their best receiver). He can make plays anywhere on the field but does the most damage by the goalline. In each of the last two seasons, Eifert has finished as the Bengals’ second most targeted receiver in the red zone. He had 15 targets in 2015 (along with 12 catches and 11 touchdowns) and tied with Green and Tyler Boyd for nine last year, despite missing eight games. Clearly when Eifert is on the field, he’s one of Andy Dalton’s go-to-guy near the end zone.
Eifert is currently being drafted in the sixth round, the sixth tight end to come off the board. However in multiple mocks I’ve participated in, he’s fallen into the seventh and eighth rounds. He has top-4 tight end potential if he can manage to play even mostly a complete season given his role in the Bengals’ offense. If he’s sitting there in the middle of the seventh round, I’m taking him. He’s going to get red zone targets no matter what and with A.J. Green recovering from injury as well, he’ll be his most valuable to Dalton and the Bengals’ offense this year. Plus he’s in a contract year, which always hypes guys up to perform better than they have previously.
Take the risk.