Last week was weird, as Ryan Griffin (4-66-2) finished as the top tight end. That, and Tyler Eifert was the most targeted tight end—he managed a 6-74 line on 9 targets. You can’t tell me that wasn’t the Bengals trying to showcase Eifert ahead of the trade deadline. Anyway, a lot of our elite guys scored touchdowns to offset lower yardage days, but Hunter Henry (4-47) struggled a bit at Chicago. Zach Ertz had a rough go of it against Buffalo (2-20) and Greg Olsen was a no-show against the 49ers (2-13). Gerald Everett (2-13) was a letdown against the Bengals, especially since Brandin Cooks departed with a concussion.
Let’s scope out Week 9, where we are without the Falcons (Austin Hooper), Bengals (Tyler Eifert), Rams (Gerald Everett), and Saints (Jared Cook/Josh Hill). If Cook were healthy, that’s arguably losing three TE1 options due to byes this week. Ouch.
1 George Kittle @ ARI - Kittle’s 11 red zone looks ranks second among tight ends, behind only Evan Engram and Travis Kelce (tied at 12). His 26% target share is tied for the lead among all tight ends, alongside Darren Waller. Kittle’s 8 targets ranked second among all tight ends last week, despite the presence of Emmanuel Sanders (5 targets). The Cardinals have allowed the most yards (677), touchdowns (8), and receptions (52) to opposing tight ends. Your only fear here is a colossal beat-down and the game being out of hand by the second quarter. But if that happens, I’m betting Kittle has at least one score to his credit.
2 Darren Waller vs. DET - This is a game we can “safely” project as a shootout, with a total of 50.5 points implied right now. The Raiders want to run, and the Lions can be run on (4.7 Y/A). However, the Lions should take advantage of the leaky Oakland pass defense, whose 7.3 NY/A is the 4th worst mark in the NFL. Carr and company may need to open things up a bit to keep pace, and the now healthy Tyrell Williams should draw coverage from Darius Slay (if Slay is healthy). Overall, I’m trusting Waller’s target share in this one. That, and the Lions have allowed 445 yards to enemy tight ends thus far, the 9th most in the NFL.
3 Hunter Henry vs. GB - Henry’s matchup is similar to Waller’s, in that we can expect some points to be scored between the Chargers and the visiting Packers. I imagine the Bolts will attempt to run the ball against Green Bay’s leaky front (4.8 Y/A) and keep Aaron Rodgers sidelined...but I also imagine A-Rod will have his way with the Chargers pass defense, too. The Bolts are allowing 7.3 NY/A through the air, the 6th highest mark in the NFL...this one shapes up like plenty of points will be scored. When Rivers throws, he should be looking to Henry, whose 10.7 aDOT leads all relevant NFL tight ends (Ebron is next at 9.8, Kelce and Andrews are tied at 9.6). It also helps that CB Jaire Alexander should be sticking to Keenan Allen pretty closely, leaving Henry or Mike Williams as the next best options not named Austin Ekeler. Of those three, I’ll take Henry. The Packers have allowed 445 yards to tight ends so far, the fifth highest mark in the NFL.
4 Travis Kelce vs. MIN - Patrick Mahomes is considered a longshot for this weekend, and I’m dinging Kelce accordingly. Kelce’s 4-63-1 performance last week was aided by some blown coverage, but points are points! The Vikes have allowed 459 yards to tight ends, the 6th highest mark in the NFL. Kelce and Tyreek Hill paced the Chiefs with 9 targets apiece in Matt Moore’s first start of 2019, so he’s getting solid volume. Someone could tell Moore to chill out on a whopping 8 targets to Sammy Watkins, though. The last tidbit I have here is that teams are targeting the Vikings with tight ends, as the Vikes have seen 76 targets to enemy tight ends this year, the highest mark in the NFL. The Chiefs (75), Bucs (73), and Cardinals (68) are the next closest. Anyway, Kelce’s floor and ceiling are capped with Moore at the helm, but he’s still really viable when compared to other tight ends this week.
5 Zach Ertz vs. CHI - Call me crazy, but I think the return of DeSean Jackson is a good thing for Ertz, who should now command less attention from opposing defenses. Miles Sanders also expects to play, and there’s an outside chance we see Darren Sproles back in action, too. Ertz’s 601 air yards is second only to Kelce (625) among tight ends, and his 10 red zone looks ranks fourth, as only Kittle (11), Engram (12), and Kelce (12) have seen more targets in the red area. Ertz only has one score to show for his opportunity so far, so he’s due for some positive regression (much like Waller was until recently). I like him a hair better than Engram or Andrews this week, and I think he’s neck-and-neck with Kelce.
6 Evan Engram vs. DAL - Engram torched the Cowboys in Week 1, totaling a 11-116-1 line on 14 targets. Of course, Eli Manning was his quarterback back then, and the Cowboys didn’t have Michael Bennett yet. Anyway, Engram rebounded after bombing in his matchup against Arizona, posting a 4-40-1 line against the Lions last week. Engram ranks third in YAC with 234 yards, trailing only Waller (258) and Hooper (253). He’s sitting on a 22% target share. The Cowboys have only allowed six passing scores all season, but three of those have been to tight ends. Engram’s 12 red zone looks ranks sixth in the NFL and first among tight ends (Kelce has 12). He’s still a guy you have to play despite the up-and-down season.
7 Greg Olsen vs. TEN - I know, I know. He was a dud last week (2-13). But I warned you guys, as he was my TE15 last week and verbatim I said “I expect the Niners to crush.” Anyway, Olsen goes from one extreme to the next, as the Titans have allowed 413 yards to enemy tight ends, compared to only 147 allowed by the Niners. Tennessee’s four scores allowed is tied for the fourth most in the league, while the Niners have allowed only a single score to the big guys. Olsen only has a 16% target share, but he’s produced in good matchups (i.e. the Tampa Bay and Arizona games). His 9.1 aDOT places him in elite territory among tight ends, closer to guys like Travis Kelce (9.6), Mark Andrews (9.6), and Hunter Henry (10.7). So there’s still some life left in those legs. I like this ranking even more given the uncertainty surrounding Curtis Samuel, who isn’t practicing due to a shoulder injury.
8 Mark Andrews vs. NE - This is a brutal matchup, there’s just no getting around that fact. The Patriots have allowed only 225 yards to tight ends, an average of 28 yards per game. The Pats have allowed a single score to a tight end—last week’s debacle of a play where Dont’a Hightower was left in coverage on former hoopster Demetrius Harris. The Pats have allowed only TWO passing scores all season, and they’ve also allowed the fewest receptions (17) to enemy tight ends. That an average of 2.1 catches per week, so an average of about 2-28 to tight ends is the line that has been set so far. I hope Lamar Jackson has some magic in that arm and in those feet. All that said, tight end is a barren wasteland bereft of talent, and Andrews is too good for me to drop him down further. His 25% target share on the season trails only Darren Waller and George Kittle, and his 9.6 aDOT is right on par with Travis Kelce. He had a rough week last week (three drops) but there’s just not a lot left at this position.
9 T.J. Hockenson @ OAK - Hockenson hasn’t been a focal point for the Lions, but there’s not a lot to go on this week at tight end, and this matchup is prime. The Raiders have allowed a 34-443-6 line to enemy safety blankets, and it’s conceivable we could see more of Hockenson (and the passing game in general) given that it’s much easier to pass on Oakland (7.8 NY/A) than it is to run (only 3.7 Y/A). Put differently, from an efficiency standpoint, the Raiders are a top five run defense and a bottom five pass defense—and they just traded away cornerback Gareon Conley. In a perfect world, we’d have no tight ends on byes and Hockenson would be around the TE12 or TE13—but life isn’t fair so we are already in “streaming” territory.
10 Cameron Brate @ SEA - Going with the same theme as Hockenson. This game in Seattle is projected as one of the highest scoring ones of the week, and it looks like a spot where the Bucs will need to throw to keep pace. Brate was a disappointment last week (3-32) but he did have six targets, which tied Chris Godwin for second-most on the team. Brate is nursing a rib injury, but I’d expect him to suit up in this one and have a decent chance to score. As usual, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are the target-hogs, but if O.J. Howard is still shelved and Brate suits up, he’s a viable option on the turf in Seattle.
11 Vance McDonald vs. IND - Again, we are already streaming given the dearth of options this week (and the absence of worthy options in general at this position). The Colts have allowed a 42-415-3 line to opposing tight ends, meaning they are bottom third or worse in receptions/yardage/scores allowed to the big guys. The Steelers have been rocked by injuries to their running backs in the last week, and the Colts try to funnel everything towards the middle of the field anyway—which means JuJu Smith-Schuster, McDonald, and Jaylen Samuels should be the top three candidates in the passing game.
12 Chris Herndon IV @ MIA - If he plays in this matchup, I’m playing him after having stashed him for the entire season. The Jets aren’t implied for a high point total, but a matchup against the Dolphins is the medicine you need to get your offense back on track. The risk here is that Miami doesn’t put up a fight and the Jets get to ease Herndon in, if at all.
At this juncture, Noah Fant is my 13th tight end, and I think that means I need to rapid-fire to finish this thing out. It’s an ugly week for tight ends, and I’d encourage anyone to take whatever shot they want after the top 7 or 8 options are gone. Fant is one such dart. The Broncos are starting Brandon Allen, but we know first-time QBs can sometimes give a bump to tight ends, and Fant saw 8 targets last week—second only to Courtland Sutton’s 10 for Denver.
Other than Fant, you can consider Jonnu Smith (if Delanie Walker is out), but that’s a tough draw against the Carolina pass defense—and it makes sense for the Titans to run Derrick Henry into the ground in that matchup, as Carolina is more vulnerable that way. You could hunt for a score with guys like Jason Witten, Eric Ebron, Darren Fells, Jimmy Graham, and Dallas Goedert...but those guys are scoring-dependent TE2s in my book. Jack Doyle makes for a boring TE2 play in PPR formats. And outside of these guys or any of the others mentioned, I’m having a hard time finding anything else to speak of with regard to the safety blankets in Week 9.
As usual, let me know if you think I missed someone, or who I was too high or low on. Shouts to Zach Ertz at $4,700 on DraftKings—I’ll definitely pencil him into plenty of lineups if DeSean Jackson is healthy and on the field.