In the final part of my series identifying which players will replicate the standout performances (both positive and negative) from the 2019 season, we have moved onto the murky world of the tight end position. With Travis Kelce and George Kittle the only locked-in top tier targets in drafts, there’s potential league-winning value available further down the draft board.
Who will be this year’s Mark Andrews (AKA the second-year breakout at the tight end position)?
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
Shock, its not Noah Fant! I’m picking Hockenson as his highlights showed what he is capable of and I’m banking on Matthew Stafford carrying on where he left off in 2019 and feed Hockenson more. He got off to flying start last season, tearing up the Cardinals’ defense for 131 yards and a debut touchdown and looked primed for a brilliant rookie season. However, Hockenson struggled to maintain fitness and find targets in the Lions’ offense, finishing the year on IR after catching just 32 balls for 367 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite all that, he still led all rookie tight ends in targets per game, and the game against the Cardinals was the highest points scored by a rookie tight end (25.1) all season. The loss of Stafford midway through the season didn’t help his progress, but his rehab is on track and in an offense with targets up for grabs as the Lions look to break out of the basement, Hockenson can be a big part of that turnaround and be a fantasy asset in year two.
Who will be this year’s Darren Waller (AKA the guy who can finish as the TE3 in fantasy?
Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
Darren Waller had such an incredible comeback season for the Raiders, I looked hard but couldn’t find anyone I honestly believed could replicate what Waller did other than Waller himself. The situation is perfect for Waller to repeat at the third best tight end in fantasy this year, as his status as the number one receiving option is unlikely to change, especially in the short term as the newly drafted rookies get up to speed. Waller saw 23% of the team targets in 2019 (3rd) and 25% of the team receptions (2nd), which translated into 1,145 yards and three touchdowns. The low touchdown return from his 90 receptions is where I think the opportunity lies as it’s likely to see some positive regression in 2020 and that can boost his points per game from the 13.8 he saw last season. Waller currently has an ADP of 5.12, going off the board as the TE5 behind Kelce, Kittle, Andrews and Zach Ertz. I’m not in love with the ADP in redraft, but in two tight end leagues or tight end premium leagues, I’ll happily invest in Waller.
Who will be this year’s Jared Cook (AKA the free agent pickup who becomes a top 10 player)?
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
I love love LOVE this landing spot for Hurst and think he easily has top 10 potential in the most pass happy offense in the NFL. Austin Hooper got paid by the Browns after deciding to cash in his chips in Atlanta and try free agency and that leaves a 97 target hole to fill, and Hurst should lap that up. Hurst played second fiddle to Mark Andrews in the Ravens’ run-first offense in 2019, but still held his own, catching 30 passes for 349 yards and two scores. He steps straight in as the Falcons’ starting tight end and will be a key part of their offense from day one as Matt Ryan. He offers incredible value at his current ADP of the TE17, going in the 13th round of fantasy drafts. If you don’t strike early for Kelce, Kittle or Andrews, hold your nerve and snatch up Hurst around Round 10 and don’t look back.