The fantasy football tight end position is one of the most barren voids to try to fill. Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle are set to be stars, but every other tight end comes with serious question marks. Due to the lack of depth at the position, complementary tight ends like Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, and Eric Ebron are currently projected to go as early as the sixth round.
These players should have solid seasons, but drafting a tight end this early means passing on a starting-caliber wide receiver or running back. Depending on your league format, it might be smart to try to grab a late-round tight end and hope for a bounce-back season. Several of yesterday’s star tight ends are getting overlooked, and the following players have varying odds to outplay their average draft position.
2019 Fantasy Football Tight End Bounce Back Candidates
Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker is currently projected to go off the board late in the 11th round of half-PPR drafts. Walker only caught four passes for 52 yards in 2018, as he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week One. Now entering his age-35 season, many believe that Walker is at the unofficial end of his career.
However, Walker could easily return to form in 2019. Walker recently said he doesn’t know if he’ll be ready for training camp, but he should be ready for the regular season. The last we saw Walker, he was arguably the most important piece of the Titans’ offense. Walker’s had 100 or more targets every year since 2014 (excluding his injury-shortened 2018) and should remain a key part of the offense. The Titans didn’t add another tight end of note in the off-season, so the organization seems to believe Walker will pick up where he left off.
Walker has a well-documented history with Marcus Mariota, but Mariota is prone to injury. However, backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill is more than capable of filling in if Mariota gets hurt. Tannehill’s arm isn’t what it used to be, but that actually plays to Walker’s strengths. Assuming he doesn’t suffer another setback, you should be able to start Walker and feel comfortable about it.
Bounce Back Probability: 85%
Nobody expected Jimmy Graham to play up to his 2013 form in 2018, but the former third-round pick was still a disappointment. During his first year with Aaron Rodgers, the tight end recorded 55 receptions for 636 yards and two touchdowns while finishing as the TE14 in half-PPR scoring. This lines up similarly with his 2017 numbers when he recorded 57 receptions for 520 yards. However, the big difference was touchdowns. Back in 2017, Graham recorded 10 touchdowns compared to just two in 2018. Because of the added scores, Graham ended 2017 as the TE4.
Touchdowns are an inherently unpredictable stat, so predicting Graham’s fantasy success is a dangerous gamble. Graham is entering his second year with Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers legend should be even better in 2019. Rodgers battled a knee injury in 2018 and clearly wasn’t himself for the duration of the season. At his best, Rodgers is the best red zone quarterback in the game and could easily keep Graham fantasy relevant.
However, history shows that Rodgers prefers to target his wide receivers near the endzone. Since Rodgers took over as the starter, Jermichael Finley and Richard Rodgers are the only tight ends to score more than five touchdowns.
Graham is currently going off the board with the second pick in the 14th round. He’s essentially free and he theoretically has the potential to be a starting-caliber tight end. However, make sure you grab somebody before Graham, as he probably won’t be a significant fantasy contributor in 2019.
Bounce Back Probability: 20%
There was a time where Jordan Reed was a must-start whenever he was healthy. From 2015 to 2017, Reed recorded 180 receptions for 1,849 yards and 19 touchdowns. When extrapolated to a 16-game sample, Reed averaged 90 receptions for 924 yards and 10 touchdowns. He struggled to stay on the field, but he was one of the best fantasy tight ends when he was healthy enough to play.
Unfortunately for Reed, Kirk Cousins left and Washington’s rotating quarterback carousel couldn’t sustain his production. Reed appeared in 13 games and recorded just 54 receptions for 558 yards and two touchdowns. This underwhelming season made him the TE16 in half-PPR scoring and he’s now going off the board with the fifth pick in the 14th round.
Alex Smith is gone, so Reed will be catching passes from either Case Keenum or Dwayne Haskins. Keenum didn’t have a dependable tight end with the Broncos in 2018, but he did with the Vikings in 2017. During Keenum’s lone season in Minnesota, tight end Kyle Rudolph recorded 57 receptions for 532 yards and four touchdowns, good enough to finish as the TE7. 2017 Rudolph and 2019 Reed are similar players, so Reed should have similar numbers if Keenum wins the job.
Should Haskins win the job, Reed should still be a major part of the offense. Washington doesn’t have many dependable wide receivers, so head coach Jay Gruden will probably try to get the ball in the hands of his best playmaker. Tight ends also run “safer” and easier routes than wide receivers, which usually correlates to more targets from a rookie quarterback. Reed will always be an injury risk, but he should outplay his draft selection when he’s on the field. You shouldn’t plan on starting him in Week One, but you could do a lot worse for your backup tight end.
Bounce Back Probability: 50%
Jack Doyle is the forgotten man in Indianapolis. Normally one of the more reliable tight ends in fantasy, Doyle battled through injuries in 2018. Thanks to kidney and hip issues, Doyle appeared in just six games last year. In his absence, Eric Ebron recorded 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns, finishing as the TE4. Judging by average draft position, most fantasy owners appear to believe that Ebron will continue to serve as the top tight end. However, there are plenty of reasons to believe Doyle is capable of returning to form in 2019.
Doyle should be ready for Week One, and all indications show that the Colts still believe Doyle is the best tight end on the roster. He appeared in six games in 2018, and Indianapolis consistently used him when he was available. Doyle was the TE10 on a per-game basis last year despite playing through a variety of injuries. Additionally, Doyle played in over 70% of the snaps in five of his six games last season, and never fewer than 50%.
Nobody in the NFL is completely safe from injuries, but Doyle has stayed healthy throughout the majority of his career. He played in 78 of a possible 80 games prior to 2018 and should return to being one of the better fantasy tight ends in 2019. He’s not going to finish in the top three, but he’s an absolute steal at his current average draft position.
Bounce Back Probability: 90%
Last but certainly not least is Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph has been a solid fantasy option over his career but struggled to develop a rapport with Kirk Cousins. He had a good season on paper, finishing the year as the TE8 with 64 receptions for 634 yards and four touchdowns. However, most of that production came from a nine-catch, 122-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Detroit Lions. For the grand majority of the season, Rudolph was a letdown.
Rudolph had 11 games in which he failed to eclipse five receptions, 50 receiving yards, or record a touchdown. He burned you most weeks, and this disappointing season dropped him into the 14th round of fantasy football drafts.
Quite frankly, it’s hard to see him getting better in 2019. The Vikings have an excellent wide receiver duo in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and they will be the focal points of the offense. Additionally, Mike Zimmer wants to run the ball, which obviously means less targets for everyone. Add in the fact that Minnesota selected Irv Smith Jr in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft and you’ve got a recipe for fantasy disaster. You can stream Rudolph, but he’s not worth anything more than a late-round draft pick.
Bounce Back Probability: 20%
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