Finally, no more bye weeks. We have everyone at our disposal, except for those who are hurt. Delanie Walker is now on injured reserve, while Austin Hooper has been working off to the side in practice but probably won’t play this week. David Njoku still hasn’t been decided upon for Week 13, and Evan Engram is still a question mark. I wouldn’t bank on any of these guys this week, and I don’t think any of them will play, anyway.
1 Travis Kelce vs. OAK - Mahomes torched Oakland in Week 2, without Tyreek Hill and before the Raiders traded away Gareon Conley. There’s no telling what the Chiefs will do to the Raiders this week. And per their usual, the Raiders have not been good against opposing tight ends in 2019...so far they’ve allowed a whopping 8 scores to the position. Only Arizona (12) is worse.
2 Zach Ertz @ MIA - Ertz set a record with 156 targets in 2018, and his 100 targets thus far in 2019 leads all tight ends. The Dolphins should be the tonic the Eagles’ offense needs to get right, at least for one week. Oh, and Jordan Howard, Alshon Jeffery, and Nelson Agholor are all banged up. Ertz saw a whopping 14 targets last week, and I don’t see another way the Eagles are going to pass the ball via the air, aside from Ertz and Goedert. On volume alone, Ertz is an elite play this week. *Note: Ertz missed practice on Wednesday due to a hamstring injury. Stay tuned.*
3 Hunter Henry @ DEN - The Broncos have allowed 59-590-3 to opposing tight ends, compared to a 43-467-2 line by the Ravens. Put differently, Denver has allowed the 12th most yardage (BAL the 8th lowest). Denver has allowed the 9th most receptions (BAL the 10th fewest). The Chargers and the Niners are both projected for 20.50 points this weekend as road teams. Given all of this, I’ll take Hunter “air yards” Henry a hair ahead of Kittle in what has been a better matchup in 2019. Henry ranks fifth in air yards on the season. Only Kelce, Ertz, Andrews, and Olsen have more. Henry’s 10.7 aDOT is the best of any tight end that you care about. Unless you’re into Benjamin Watson (10.7) or Ricky Seals-Jones (10.9). I didn’t think so. Say what you want about Rivers, but he’s not some third string UDFA, and Henry is getting high quality targets down the field.
4 George Kittle @ BAL - As stated above, I like Henry’s matchup better. And there’s no arguing with Kelce’s matchup or Ertz’s volume. All of a sudden we’ve got a beast ranked all the way down at TE4...but we’ve gotta draw the proverbial line somehow. Kittle did not practice on Wednesday, but this reads like the Niners managing their prized possession—it was stated that he did not re-aggravate the broken bone in his ankle. After last week’s dominant 6-129-1 performance, I’d roll him out with confidence.
5 Darren Waller @ KC - Derek Carr was dreadful last week against the Jets. I expect Oakland to run the ball as much as possible in this spot and attempt to keep the Chiefs off the field. Still, the loss of Hunter Renfrow could open up a few more looks for Waller. But given Carr’s history of poor performances in Arrowhead Stadium and coach Andy Reid’s dominance coming off of a bye week, smart money would say this isn’t a ceiling play Waller is more of a “floor” pick, but he does have the ability to rack up yards after the catch (and the Chiefs have allowed the most receptions to tight ends this year).
6 Jared Cook @ ATL - Cook has 20 targets over his last three games (10, 2, 8). He’s parlayed those looks into 6-74, 2-33-1, and 6-99-1. Given the difficulty of Andrews’ matchup, I think it’s silly not to take a shot on Drew Brees’ tight end here. Cook’s 10-target game was against these same Falcons three weeks ago.
7 Greg Olsen vs. WAS - In recent weeks, Washington’s defense has given up solid games to opposing tight ends. Ryan Griffin (5-109-1) and Daniel Brown (1-20-1) both scored for the Jets two weeks ago, while Logan Thomas (1-24-1) scored for Detroit last week. Three scores over the last two weeks is encouraging, as are Olsen’s recent target totals over the last month: 6, 10, 5, and 7. As mentioned previously, Olsen quietly ranks fourth among all NFL tight ends with 621 air yards. Only Kelce, Ertz, and Andrews have had more opportunity through the air. Pretty stellar company.
8 Mark Andrews vs. SF - It’s beyond a rough matchup...it’s a brutal one. The Niners have allowed the fewest yards (246) and third fewest receptions (37) to opposing tight ends, as well as only two scores. That’s basically a 3-22 line per week to enemy tight ends. This unstoppable force of a defense will be meeting an immovable object, though. Andrews’ 713 air yards this year trails only Kelce (839) and Ertz (832). Also, his 23.0% target share trails only Kittle (26.0%) and Ertz (25.0%). His 14 red zone looks rank fourth in the NFL among tight ends. I’ve dinged him a bit to the No. 8 spot, but it would take a man crazier than me to go any lower.
9 Jack Doyle vs TEN - Eric Ebron is on injured reserve with an ankle injury, leaving Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox as the top two options at tight end for Indianapolis. Marlon Mack is out, too (hello again, Jonathan Williams). T.Y. Hilton is banged up and only managed 25 snaps last week. The Titans may get Parris Campbell back, but the sure-handed Doyle sure does make sense this week in a big-time divisional game. Honestly, I could see a scenario where I push Doyle all the way up to the No. 7 spot, right behind Cook. That’s splitting hairs a bit, but the point is he’s a strong start this week.
10 Dallas Goedert @ MIA - His 8 targets were second only to Ertz’s 14 looks for Philly last week. Given the injuries in the Eagles receiving corps, he’s a safe bet for solid volume again this week. That makes him a low-end TE1 by default, people.
11 Jacob Hollister vs MIN - The Vikes are a “bend don’t break” sort of defense against the tight end. Opposing teams target tight ends against this defense more than any other in the NFL. As a result, the Vikings have allowed the 4th most receptions to enemy tight ends (69). A nice total. The Vikings have also allowed the 7th most yardage to opposing tight ends (638). Only allowing one measly score so far means the Vikings show up as a “red” matchup for tight ends on most sites...but should they be? Minnesota has allowed 19 scores through the air so far, the 9th most in the NFL. Compare that to the league-best three scores allowed on the ground, and to me it seems like allowing 19 scores through the air but only one to an opposing tight end is a bit on the lucky side. There’s definitely a chance here.
12 Ryan Griffin @ CIN - Vance McDonald wet the bed in this matchup last week, but going back to the well with Griffin makes sense. Griffin is coming off of a monster week two weeks ago (5-109-1) and managed to salvage his day with a score last week (3-13-1) as the Jets routed the Raiders. The issue is the horrid Bengals run defense, and that Sam Darnold may not need to fling the rock all around the yard in order for the Jets to roll. And even if he did fling it, Griffin is battling with Le’Veon Bell, Jamison Crowder, Robby Anderson, and the corpse of Demaryius Thomas for targets. You’re hoping for a score here, but at least the matchup is quality.
13 Gerald Everett vs. ARI - This is obviously the premier tight end matchup, but Cooper Kupp saw 10 targets last week, while Robert Woods had 9. Brandin Cooks had 4 looks, too, and is getting healthier by the week. It’s fair to wonder how much is left for Everett to handle, and whether or not he is ready for it after suffering a hyperextended knee last week. The real story here might be Tyler Higbee, in the event that Everett is out or limited again. Higbee dominated the snaps at tight end after Everett was injured a week ago. Stay tuned. Also, Jared Goff isn’t doing us any favors with his skill players. So despite the epic matchup, I’m nervous about Everett this week.
14 Kyle Rudolph vs. SEA - Adam Thielen is back at practice, so that’s a negative for Rudolph’s outlook. But he’s also on a flipping roll lately, with five scores over the last five weeks. The Seahawks have allowed five scores to tight ends, 7th most in the league.
15 Noah Fant vs. LAC - This is a volume play, as Fant has seen solid target counts since Week 8 (8, 4, BYE, 10, 5). This coincides with the trade of Emmanuel Sanders to San Francisco. The Chargers have given up the 12th fewest point to opposing tight ends, but a cursory view of the box score will tell you that the better ones have shown up: Fells (5-49-1), Jonnu Smith (3-64), Waller (3-40), and Kelce (7-92-1).
After Fant I’ll take a shot on Jonnu Smith at Indy in a good matchup. Then I’d consider Vance McDonald (maybe the QB switch will bring new life) and Mike Gesicki (tough matchup). Farther down and you’re debating young guys like Irv Smith Jr. (@ SEA) and Dawson Knox (@ DAL) versus the boring “might get you a score” veteran types like Darren Fells, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, or Tyler Eifert.
Lastly, TJ Hockenson is questionable with his shoulder injury, and was locked into a three-way timeshare with Jesse James and Logan Thomas last week, as a result. That, and his second string QB (Jeff Driskel) is not available. So now it’s rookie UDFA David Blough under center. I’m out on Hockenson this week, and I’m actually thankful to be playing Rudolph ahead of him—something I never thought I’d say.
I hope you have at least one tight end to be thankful for today! Good luck out there, ladies and gents!