Honestly, I don’t have much in the way of a preamble this week. I bowed out gracefully in the SFB9. Too many injuries to overcome. I’m still kicking around in the majority of my other tilts, so this exercise is still valuable to me. Hopefully to someone out there, too.
1 George Kittle vs. ATL - The Falcons are one of the worst pass defenses in the league, allowing 7.2 NY/A (27th) and 24 passing scores (24th). It’s a bit of a funnel, too, as the Falcons have been stingier on the ground at 4.0 Y/A (8th best). That bit of run defense probably won’t matter given the strength of the 49ers ground game, but George Kittle is once again healthy and is the focal point of this passing attack. Here’s your propaganda:
2 Travis Kelce vs. DEN - The Chiefs have an implied total of 28.25 points, in what looks like a potential “come unglued” game for Drew Lock and the Broncos offense at Arrowhead Stadium. Kelce leads all tight ends with 19 red zone looks this season, but he has only two such scores so far. He added a rushing score to his resume last week, and pasted the Patriots for a 7-66-1 line on 9 targets (in a brutal matchup for tight ends). Don’t get cute and bench this stud.
3 Zach Ertz @ WAS - He’s got double-digit targets in four of his last five games, and had 16 targets in Week 2 against Atlanta. He set a tight end record with 156 targets a year ago, and now leads all tight ends in 2019 with 119 looks. The Eagles are hurting at wide receiver, which makes Ertz a locked in stud and Dallas Goedert a worthy low-end TE1.
4 Darren Waller vs. JAC - Foster Moreau (knee) is done for the year and Hunter Renfrow (ribs) was still banged up enough to miss practice on Wednesday. Waller might also score a freaking touchdown this week. The Jags have allowed 7 scores to tight ends this year, tied for the 3rd most in the NFL. If Renfrow does play, I’d drop Waller to TE6, for what it’s worth. I dig Waller’s YAC ability (417 yards, tops among TEs) when he is tied to bankable volume. If Renfrow is back, however, I can’t bank on enough volume to justify him over either of the next two guys, since they actually score touchdowns...
5 Jared Cook vs. IND - Cook was on pace for the game of his life last week until he suffered a concussion. A 2-64-2 line ranked second among all tight ends in Week 14, and we know Cook can get down the field (3rd highest aDOT among TEs). It has certainly been a boon to him that Drew Brees has returned, as he was looking like a dud through the first month of the season. Anyway, this ranking assumes Cook gets cleared, as from what I gleaned he doesn’t have a lengthy concussion history. Meaning, this isn’t an extreme Jordan Reed type of situation. The Colts are fresh off of breathing new life into Cameron Brate (4-30-1) and O.J. Howard (4-73) a week ago. That, and they allow the 10th most targets (97), 6th most receptions (70), 14th most yardage (670), and 13th most scores (5) to tight ends. May not sound like a lot of scores, but one more TD vaults them to the 7th most scores allowed. It’s a prime matchup for Cook, provided he’s up for it.
6 Hunter Henry vs. MIN - The Vikes are a weird matchup for tight ends. They’ve suffered through 123 targets to the big guys, 2nd most in the NFL (KC has 125). That volume has equated to the 4th most receptions (79) and 9th most yards (729) allowed. However, the Vikes have allowed only a single score to the position in 2019, and that’s the only factor that makes this a “red” matchup. Henry is a bit of a risk given the health of the Chargers passing game (i.e. a lack of volume) but attacking the Vikes with tight ends is a popular trend this year. That, and Henry gets the best quality of targets among his peers—his 10.8 aDOT bests everyone, with Mark Andrews (10.7) and Jared Cook (9.8) the next closest guys. He’s always a threat to bang out a couple of scores, so I think you have to keep him in this upper TE1 tier. Though if you went with the next guy, I don’t think I could argue with you...
7 Tyler Higbee @ DAL - Higbee has 19 targets over the last two weeks, and a pair of huge performances to show for it. A 7-107-1 effort against Arizona, followed by a 7-116 effort against Seattle. This is a tougher matchup, but not a bad one. The Cowboys have allowed 70 receptions (7th most), 691 yards (13th), and five scores (13th) to enemy tight ends. The ‘Boys also rank 11th in targets allowed to the position, at 95. Essentially, they are bottom third or worst against the big guys, and Higbee is on a roll at a weak position. Play the man so long as Gerald Everett (knee, day-to-day) remains out. If Everett happens to return, feel free to run away screaming.
8 Austin Hooper @ SF - Calvin Ridley is on injured reserve, and we are uninterested in the remainder of this receiving corps not named Julio Jones. That just leaves Hooper, who has the same amount of red zone looks as Jones (11) but twice as many scores (6 to 3) in the red zone. Hooper has the 6th most receptions (75) and 8th most red zone looks (11) among the big guys. He’s also 5th in YAC, at 281. Only Noah Fant (283), Kelce (344), Kittle (408), and Waller (417) have more such yardage. I feel like Hooper doesn’t get the respect he deserves, and a matchup against the Niners is a great place to prove me right. San Francisco has allowed four scores to tight ends over the last two weeks, and it could have been even worse had Jared Cook not been injured last week.
9 Jack Doyle @ NO - No more Eric Ebron and Doyle has a healthy 17 targets over the last two weeks. I’ll buy a rebound off of a poor week last week. I like his situation slightly better than the next guy...
10 Dallas Goedert @ WAS - His volume is really solid for this position. Since the Week 10 bye, Goedert has seen target counts of 6, 8, 7, and 6. His ranks among his peers (with regard to targets) during those weeks: 11th, 3rd, 9th, and 11th. He’s getting low-end TE1 opportunity, and Washington is bottom third in receptions (65) and yards (703) allowed to the big guys so far. The six passing scores allowed is worse, tied for the 7th highest mark in the league. Ertz is a better bet for a score, but Goedert is a solid bet for one in his own right, especially when compared to the tight end position as a whole. Only eight tight ends have more touchdowns than Goedert, who is tied for the 9th most at four scores.
11 Mark Andrews vs. NYJ - He’s banged up, the Ravens have eleventy billion tight ends, and the Ravens have clinched a playoff berth. This is a dicey start, for sure. And for what it’s worth, this isn’t a good tight end matchup. The Jets read just like the Ravens with regard to shutting down tight ends. Here’s the comparison:
BAL vs. TEs: 46-521-2
NYJ vs. TEs: 50-523-2
Put differently, only three teams have allowed fewer yardage to tight ends. Only six teams have allowed fewer receptions. Only one team has allowed fewer scores. You get the idea.
12 Greg Olsen or Ian Thomas vs. SEA - I actually like Thomas over Mark Andrews easily if Greg Olsen is out...but Olsen returned to a limited practice on Wednesday and has a chance to be cleared by the weekend. If Olsen plays, Thomas becomes irrelevant and I’ll trot out Olsen as my final TE1 option.
13 O.J. Howard @ DET - Mike Evans being out for the season is a benefit to O.J. Howard, who has been crushing Cameron Brate in snaps the last few weeks. Let everyone else squabble over the tertiary wide receiver options. Note: I’m assuming Jameis Winston plays. If Winston is out, feel free to run screaming in the other direction.
14 Jacob Hollister @ CAR - Tyler Lockett is allegedly healthy, but my SFB9 roster would tell you otherwise. Hollister is a primary target in the passing game for Russell Wilson, which means this ranking represents the lower range of outcomes for Hollister. If you’re using him as your TE1, you’re doing just fine.
15 Mike Gesicki @ NYG - He’s been getting enough targets to be relevant—now he just needs to capitalize on them.
16 Noah Fant @ KC - He’s splitting with Jeff Heuerman, but he’s freaking explosive, too. That, and the Chiefs allow the most targets to opposing tight ends. Fant could easily do some damage on limited looks. That said, if he’s not healthy or is ruled out, Heuerman becomes a solid TE2 choice.
17 David Njoku @ ARI - The premier matchup for tight ends, but not an infallible one, as Vance McDonald no-showed on us in this same spot. Njoku barely saw the field last week, playing only 37% of snaps. If you’re banking on him against Arizona, you better be expecting that number to trend upward. I’m not encouraged given Njoku’s limited participation in practice. I view him very similarly to Fant this week. We’ll have to pay attention to the injury news.
18 Jason Witten vs. LAR - He has a “quiet” 75 targets in 2019, or the same amount as Austin Hooper. He’s such a boring option if he doesn’t score, but I suppose there’s a decent chance of that at this juncture.
19 Jonnu Smith vs. HOU - He’s athletic, but he’s generally been an afterthought given the strong running game (Derrick Henry) and the emergence of rookie receiver A.J. Brown. But we’ve reached the bottom of the proverbial barrel, and Houston’s mercurial secondary can be generous at times. Smith is coming off of a 3-29-1 showing against the Raiders last week, so he does still play football.
20 Kyle Rudolph @ LAC - I view him much like I view Witten, and perhaps it’s recency bias but last week’s dud put a bad taste in my mouth. Add in that Adam Thielen is expected to return, and I’m pretty sour on Rudolph this week. Problem is, there’s just not that much else to consider at this position.
Aside from these guys, you could consider Hayden Hurst if Mark Andrews is ruled out for Thursday Night Football. Kaden Smith would be a worthy TE2 play if Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison missed again, though both got in limited sessions on Wednesday. If Engram plays, I’d slot him in at least ahead of Mark Andrews. He’s too good of a player and this is too bad of a position not to use him as a TE1 if he goes.
Other than that, the pickings are pretty slim. One deep name is Nick O’Leary, who is atop Buffalo’s tight end depth chart, draws the Raiders in Week 15, and is fresh off of a 4-30-1 showing against the Chargers.
As always, let me know who I missed, or who you think is too high or too low. Let’s go chase that hardware, people!