1 Darren Waller @ HOU - Finally broke his scoring drought last week with two TDs in Week 7, dismantling the Green Bay defense to the tune of a 7-126-2 line on 8 targets. You can justify Kittle in this space if you like, but for my money Waller is the top tight end play until further notice given some recent quarterback injuries around the NFL. Waller has an INSANE 29.76% target share for Oakland, one that seems safe until Tyrell Williams returns—and even then, Waller should push for top honors in target share among tight ends. Williams did get in a limited practice on Wednesday, for what it’s worth. However, I’m trusting Waller implicitly from here onward. The converted wide receiver has been a beast, and his 251 yards after the catch (tops among tight ends) have buoyed his numbers when he wasn’t scoring. Now add the scores in alongside that? Amen!
2 George Kittle vs. CAR - Kittle’s 3-38 line last week can be attributed to the nasty weather conditions and to the Niners running the ball 39 times against the Redskins in a 9-0 victory. Kittle still topped the team in targets a week ago and has a 27.71% target share on the season. For reference, his 46 targets more than double the next closest Niner, as Deebo Samuel has 22. And no, I’m not worried about Emmanuel Sanders denting Kittle’s production. Samuel has not come on as expected and Dante Pettis hasn’t, either—Sanders is a negative for those guys more specifically, in my opinion. That, and Sanders’ presence as a legitimate receiver should open things up a bit more for Kittle. Even if he loses a tiny bit of volume, it’s possible this YAC-monster is more efficient moving forward.
3 Hunter Henry @ CHI - Henry’s two games back have been huge, with 8-100-2 against the Steelers and 6-97 against the Titans. The Bears allowed a score to Josh Hill last week, of all people. The Bears are also middling against tight ends despite not facing a ton of good ones. Henry is a good one, and he’s amassed 20 targets in his first two games back, the most for the Chargers over that stretch. He’s a top three option for me.
4 Austin Hooper vs Seattle - If Matt Ryan plays. No more Mohamed Sanu theoretically opens up more targets. Though it’s really Calvin Ridley who stands to earn a higher target share. Anyway, Ryan did not practice on Wednesday and may not on Thursday, but he expects to play. If so, I don’t know how you drop him below this point.
5 Evan Engram @ DET - Engram gave us a monumental dud against Arizona last week, catching only one pass for six yards. All time yikes. Getting poked in the eye by Terrell Suggs (inadvertently) probably didn’t help. Anyway, I’m back “on” Engram this week. The Lions allow the 7th most yardage (404) to tight ends thus far, despite only having played in six games. Zach Ertz (4-64), Travis Kelce (7-85), Marcedes Lewis (2-50) all had quality games against the Lions. And just last week, the Minnesota tight ends laid waste to Detroit, as the pale spectre of Kyle Rudolph went for 5-58-1 and hotshot rookie Irv Smith Jr. totaled a 5-60 line. In short, every team that actually throws to the tight end has had a quality day against the Lions (we can exclude Maxx Williams and Virgil Green). I’ll fire up Engram as an elite option once again. His 56 targets lead the Giants by a country mile, as Sterling Shepard is next closest at 33. Engram also ranks second in the NFL in YAC among tight ends after Darren Waller, despite his dud last week.
6 Travis Kelce vs. GB - Matt Moore is his quarterback (for now). Temper expectations. The Packers were shredded by Darren Waller and Derek Carr last week...perhaps Matt Moore and Travis Kelce can do a solid impression of that.
7 Zach Ertz @ BUF - Ertz on pace for 80 catches, a far cry from 2018 and from what people expected when they paid up for in drafts. However, he is still second among all tight ends with 61 targets (Kelce has 65) and tops all tight ends with 10 red zone looks. Only having one touchdown seems unlucky. The Bills have been stingy to opposing tight ends, but Ertz could win this battle in the red zone alone, where he is due for some positive regression. I can’t bump him down any further.
8 Gerald Everett vs. CIN - We can forgive Everett for the 2-9 dud against the Niners, who are stout against tight ends. Book-ending that start, however, are these stat lines: 7-136 and 4-50-1. Everett has quietly ranked 2nd, 2nd, and 1st in targets for the Rams since Week 5, so I think you should be considering benching Brandin Cooks instead. Not sold? Over that three-week stretch (Weeks 5 to 7), Everett’s 287 air yards leads all tight ends and ranks 11th in the whole of the NFL. I’m wondering if I’m too low on Everett as the TE8 this week...
9 O.J. Howard @ TEN - It’s the last week I talk myself into Howard. But I really could see it in this one. Tennessee ranks upper third in receptions and yardage allowed to tight ends, and the four scores allowed are tied for 2nd most in the NFL (only Arizona has allowed more). David Njoku (4-37-1), Eric Ebron (3-25-1), James O’Shaughnessy (2-18-1), and Lee Smith (1-8-1) have all managed scores against the Titans. Austin Hooper (9-130) and Hunter Henry (6-97) torched them for plenty of yardage. Put differently, there’s only been one week when a tight end didn’t fare well against Tennessee, and that was Noah Fant’s 2-16 line on only three targets. Howard is battling a hamstring injury (which is odd coming off of a bye week) so Cameron Brate would somersault into TE1 territory if Howard happened to miss time.
10 Jared Cook vs. ARI - Drew Brees plans to return this Sunday, meaning Cook is officially on the radar against the Cardinals...if he plays. Cook (ankle) wasn’t spotted at practice on Wednesday (at least by the beats I follow), so stay tuned.
11 Jimmy Graham @ KC - Graham had the one anomaly against Philly where he totaled 9 targets, but if you remove that game here are his counts: 5, 1, 1, 3, 5, and 4. He also hasn’t topped 65 yards receiving in any game, so you have to hang your hat on the 9 red zone looks (tied for 2nd among tight ends). If you play him, you’re hoping he scores...simple as that. The ceiling is capped here, unless you happen to catch him on a two-score day. I’m just not chasing that week in and week out.
12 T.J. Hockenson vs. NYG - Hockenson I sort of view like Graham, at least from an opportunity standpoint. I mean, this Detroit offense doled out 12 targets to Danny flipping Amendola last week, so it’s tough to get too excited. However, he is the de facto third option in this offense most of the time, and we don’t love many other options this week.
13 Vance McDonald vs. MIA - The Dolphins are middling against tight ends, ranking 16th in fantasy points allowed—despite only having played six games AND despite facing an uninspiring group of tight ends. Matt LaCosse (2-33), Jason Witten (3-54), Lance Kendricks (2-37), Jeremy Sprinkle (2-24), and Dawson Knox (2-22) aren’t overly threatening. However, Mark Andrews (8-108-1) torpedoed the Fins. McDonald gets Mason Rudolph back and the Steelers are coming off of a bye week...he makes sense as a streamer if he plays. FYI, McDonald is dealing with a shoulder injury, but he played with it in Week 6 prior to the bye week, so currently he’s expected to go.
14 Delanie Walker vs. TB - I’m honestly hoping he’s ruled out so we can get Jonnu Smith as a slightly more exciting option. I mean, at least Smith has youth on his side. Walker did not practice on Wednesday. The Bucs secondary is atrocious, and have allowed the 4th most receptions to tight ends so far (41). The Bucs have also allowed the 2nd most yardage (497) despite only playing six games. This is an epic matchup, and I’d confidently start Ryan Tannehill this week in my two-QB leagues.
15 Greg Olsen @ SF - An “obligatory” ranking if ever there was one. May move him down still more. Brutal matchup, one I expect the 49ers to crush this weekend.
16 Eric Ebron vs. DEN - He popped off last week against Houston with a 4-70-1 line. The Broncos have allowed the 10th most receptions to tight ends, at 34. They’ve also allowed the 12th fewest yards, at 326 (and only one score). However, they’ve seen the 8th most targets to tight ends so far in 2019, at 52. Apparently teams don’t like to throw at Chris Harris Jr.? Anyway, Ebron has two fewer targets than Jack Doyle on the season (26 to 28) but Ebron has more red zone looks (6 to 4) and far more air yards (256 to 115). For reference, Jack Doyle has a 4.6 aDOT, while Ebron is sitting on a hefty 10.2 aDOT. So the quality of target definitely favors Ebron here, despite the pretty even number of targets.
17 Darren Fells vs. OAK - The Raiders are a plus matchup for tight ends, ranking 13th in yards allowed to tight ends (374) despite only having played six games. Fells and Jordan Akins share time, so the floor and ceiling are capped here. But this is a plus matchup, one that Fells could fall into the end zone.
18 Noah Fant @ IND - No more Manny Sanders, AND it’s against the Colts, who funnel everything inside (a la the Titans). This is intriguing. Fant frequently sees a good bit of air yards, as evidenced by ranking 6th in air yards last week. Only these guys were ahead of him: Gerald Everett, Hunter Henry, Zach Ertz, Darren Waller, and Mark Andrews. Fant ranks 10th among tight ends with 270 air yards on the season, nestled between George Kittle (308) and Eric Ebron (256). I can talk myself into the rookie this week, especially after the departure of Manny Sanders to San Francisco.
19 Irv Smith Jr. vs. WAS - The Thursday night game seems like a good time to trust youth and athleticism, in my opinion. There’s also the idea that the rookie could get more run in this game if the Vikings have the game in hand (which seems entirely possible). Smith Jr. posted a 5-60 line on 6 targets last week, likely due in part to Adam Thielen’s hamstring injury. Also...REVENGE GAME ALERT!! Kirk Cousins gets to beat up on the team that refused to make him a franchise quarterback. You like that!
20 Chris Herndon IV @ JAC - He’s a desperate play, but this is a desperate position. He was limited in practice on Wednesday, though, so you at least need to monitor practice reports heading into the weekend.
After Herndon, you can consider Kyle Rudolph vs. WAS, Dawson Knox vs. PHI, and Ben Watson vs. CLE. I suppose Jack Doyle vs. DEN bears mentioning, too—but these are some really boring options.
Let me know who (or what) I missed! I probably missed something. Good luck out there in Week 8, ladies and gents!