News & Analysis

Evaluating the fantasy landing spots of the top-drafted tight ends

Mar 20, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Mike Gesicki signs autographs at Penn State Football Pro Day. Mandatory Credit: Eric Firestine-USA TODAY Sports

Every February, fantasy analysts start building out a set of rankings for the incoming class of rookies and continue to adjust it up until the draft. Once the draft hits, those ranking become dangerously wrong. While original evaluations should always play a major role in rankings, landing spot becomes the biggest factor.

Not only is team landing spot important, but so too is where in the draft a player is selected. As our own Tyler Loechner showed last year, the higher a player is drafted, the more likely he is to achieve fantasy success. It makes sense in theory too — teams have more invested in these players, and thus, are more invested in seeing them succeed.

Taking these two factors into account, here is a look at the prognoses for the 2018 draft’s most notable fantasy tight ends from a dynasty-perspective:

Keep in mind, tight ends tend not to be especially productive in year one.

Notes: We already discussed running backs and wide receivers earlier this week.

Hayden Hurst (1.25) and Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens (3.86)

Did you know that this was Ozzie Newsome’s final draft as the GM of the Baltimore Ravens? Did you know that he played in the NFL for 13 seasons as a tight end? Did you know that every time he turns on the tape to watch the offensive side of the ball, the first position he looks at is the tight end position? That’s what he said during Baltimore’s Day 1 post-draft press conference.

It’s clear Newsome loves drafting tight ends. There have been 32 tight ends drafted in the first three rounds over the past five drafts, and Baltimore has taken four of those (most in the league). Despite recent top-100 picks Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore busting, Newsome was undeterred, drafting Hurst in Round 1 and Andrews in Round 3.

During Baltimore’s Day 2 post-draft press conference, Newsome shed some light on why he took two tight ends in this draft (emphasis mine), “Our two tight ends are going into the last year of their contracts… We have four tight ends (on the team) we like a lot. We like tight ends here, our offense is built that way… [Hurst] has lined up on the line of scrimmage. [Andrews] has been more in the slot. But they got similar skills.”

Of 220 qualifying tight ends last season, Hurst graded out 152nd. He graded out negatively as both a run-blocker and pass-blocker. You'd think that means he was an especially strong receiver, but I didn't find that to be the case. In three seasons, Hurst totals 100 receptions (on 157 targets) for 1,281 yards and three scores. However, his lack of efficiency on these targets was problematic. Throughout his career, South Carolina quarterbacks averaged a passer rating of just 69.0 when targeting Hurst, as opposed to 87.9 when targeting all other receivers.

Andrews, however, has been far more efficient as a receiver. Among 96 qualifying tight end seasons (min. 300 routes) since 2014, Andrews' 2017 season ranks second-best in yards per route run (2.63) and sixth-best in yards per target (10.9). Oklahoma quarterbacks averaged a 122.3 passer rating when targeting Andrews last year.

We actually had Andrews listed as a wide receiver in his first two years with Oklahoma, and I suspect Baltimore views him similarly, as the team’s primary receiving tight end, while Hurst is more of the in-line or blocking tight end.

In case you forgot, you don’t earn any fantasy points for successful blocks from a tight end. Due to each player’s role in college and their efficacy in each role, I’m far more optimistic for Andrews’ future fantasy prospects than Hurst’s. I’m willing to overlook the draft capital discrepancy (a rarity for me) and have Andrews as my No. 3 rookie tight end in dynasty leagues, with Hurst coming in at No. 5.

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins (2.42)

Gesicki is an athletic freak who dominated the 2018 NFL Combine. Per, he ranked 90th percentile or better in all of the following categories: 40-yard dash, three-cone, vertical jump, broad jump, 60-yard shuttle, 20-yard shuttle, and wingspan. He was also strong as a receiver, catching 129 career passes (on 193 targets) for 1,481 yards and 15 touchdowns. In 2017, Gesicki caught 75 percent (nine of 12) of his contested targets, which led all tight ends.

He did struggle as a blocker, however, recording a (very) negative run-blocking grade in every year of his career. Miami seemed aware of this fact, however. In their Day 2 post-draft press conference, GM Chris Grier said, “Everyone talks about him not being a great blocker. Well there's a lot of really good tight ends that are pass catchers that aren't great blockers. It's about giving effort and stuff. The one thing we really loved is the skillset offensively… Red-zone matchups. He's big and long and fast. High points the ball well… Loved the film. You see his play speed on film. The jump, on film. It's a matchup league. He's got a unique skillset.”

Not only do you not earn fantasy points for blocking, but good blockers are actually at a fantasy detriment to their less-adept peers, running fewer routes, drawing fewer targets, and seeing fewer opportunities to score fantasy points. It seems clear Miami wants Gesicki to do what he does best – run routes as a receiver. With only A.J. Derby standing in the way of immediate playing time, Gesicki is clearly my top dynasty rookie tight end.

Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles (2.49)

I don’t know what hurt more for Cowboys fans – David Akers’ brazen announcement of the pick, or the fact that division rivals traded up to select Goedert with the pick right in front of them on the day their Hall of Fame tight end retired.

The landing spot is ugly for Goedert, stuck behind Zach Ertz (110 targets in 2017), playing in the Trey Burton role (31 targets in 2017), but Goedert is still my No. 2 dynasty rookie tight end based on college pedigree (he was my No. 1 tight end heading into the draft).

Last season, Goedert led all tight ends in receiving yards (1,103) and receiving yardage market share (27.9 percent). Since 2014, there are 120 instances of a tight end running at least 250 routes in a single season. Within this sample, Goedert’s 2017 season ranks first in yards per route run (3.00). This was the only season in our sample over 2.65, one of only three over 2.50, and one of only 10 above 2.00. Since 2014, there are 92 instances of a tight end drawing at least 50 targets within a single season. Of these, Goedert’s 2017 season ranks second in yards per target (11.1) (despite a lowly 9.9 average depth of target), 10th in yards after the catch per reception, and 10th in passer rating when targeted (127.6). He also led all drafted tight ends in run block grade last season.

GM Howie Roseman seemed similarly high on him, saying in their Day 2 post-draft press conference, “He was at the top [of our list of tight end prospects]. That’s why we picked him.” When asked if he could play right away, head coach Doug Pederson responded, “We’ll begin slow. He’s a smart kid, he’s gonna learn fast. Shouldn’t take him long at all.”

Jordan Akins, Houston Texans (3.86)

Akins, like Hurst (age 24), is old for a tight end prospect (age 26). He spent four years in minor league baseball before playing four years at UCF. He did well at the Combine (ranking behind only Gesicki in weight-adjusted 40-yard dash), but wasn’t extremely productive in college. Akins saw 54 targets last year, catching 34 for 544 yards and four touchdowns.

Despite the lack of production, it's clear Houston likes him for what they think he can bring to the pass game. GM Brian Gaine said following the draft, “We like his upside as it relates to the passing game, but we also want to develop him in the run game… We think the ceiling can be pretty high if he hits on all cylinders.” He then added, “The other part that we feel confident about is the addition of Jordan Akins paired with (WR) Keke Coutee from a nickel-offense standpoint, having a pass-catch tight end, upgrading the offense in that regard and doing that with another slot wide receiver.”

Since head coach Bill O’Brien joined the Texans in 2014, Houston ranks fifth-worst in team fantasy points scored at the position and no tight end has finished top-20 in fantasy points per game in any season over this stretch. I’m not expecting much, but Akins is probably worth an early fourth-round pick in rookie drafts.

Christopher Herndon IV, New York Jets (4.107)

Herndon was one of our most elusive tight ends with the ball in his hands, leading all drafted tight ends (with at least 35 career receptions charted by PFF) in career yards after the catch per reception (8.13) and career missed tackles forced per reception (0.19).

Jets GM Mike Maccagnan had some interesting comments following the selection, “We thought [Herndon] had enough functional ability to be an effective blocker, so we kind of liked him in the sense that he's sort of dual guy… He's not a specialist in one or the other [receiving or blocking]. He's probably a little more athletic than some of the tight ends we have, and probably a better pass receiver.

The Jets haven’t seen much production from the position in recent years, but there also isn’t a lot of competition for Herndon. For immediate playing time, Herndon will be in competition with Eric Tomlinson (eight career receptions), Clive Walford (42 receptions over the last two seasons), and two sophomores with less draft capital behind them. Like Akins, but slightly less so, he’s deserving of a late-round rookie lottery pick.

Notes: All other drafted tight ends lack the desired draft capital, college pedigree, or landing spot to earn a longer write up.

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