Fantasy Football: Sleeper tight end options to start in Week 12

2RXDJ7A Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth celebrates after catching a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

Pat Freiermuth’s potential boom: The Pittsburgh Steelers‘ offense is heading in a new direction, which could mean an increased role for Freiermuth against the Bengals.

David Njoku‘s hot hand: He has averaged 13 fantasy points per game in his last five games, can that continue versus the Denver Broncos?

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

We’ve been going strong for 12 weeks now, but Week 11 was one of the more ho-hum entries for this column. Ho-hum probably doesn’t do it justice, but it was underwhelming compared to the last few weeks of production from our sleeper picks.

The quartet of Trey McBride, Dalton Schultz, Logan Thomas and our favorite Jake Ferguson averaged a paltry 8.6 fantasy points in Week 11. However, here are the names of some tight ends who scored more than 10 PPR points: Josh Oliver (14.7), Stone Smartt (12.1), and Luke Schoonmaker (10.3). Say less, right? It was a strange week for tight ends. 

We’ll keep punching in Week 12, though. You know the rules. This is for the fantasy owners who don’t have the likes of Travis Kelce, T.J. Hockenson or George Kittle. Stick around as we start in an all too familiar place.

WR:CB Matchup Chart 

Jake Ferguson, Dallas Cowboys 

Ferguson’s three-game touchdown streak came to an end on Sunday, and with it, so did three straight games of double-digit scoring. That’s the first time since Week 6 that Ferguson has scored less than 12.6 fantasy points in a contest. He’s been remarkably consistent and one of the quiet performers of the 2023 fantasy season. As long as he’s a part of this Cowboys offense, it’s hard to look past him.

Let’s play the hits with Ferguson. He’s comfortably the most targeted tight end in the red zone this season (18) and that makes him a weekly touchdown possibility unlike many tight ends, especially due to he rate the Cowboys get to the red zone. His 69.7 receiving grade is 11th-best among tight ends this season, so the second-year pro is playing well. He’s not just a product of his surroundings.

Ferguson’s constant matchup advantage makes him a perennial favorite of this column. He has a 21% matchup advantage this week as the Cowboys take on the Washington Commanders. That’s an excellent “get right” matchup for him as the Commanders' defense allows the most points per game in the NFL this season (27.7) and the second-most touchdowns to tight ends this season (five). A potential boom spot.

Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers 

Before the season, Pat Freiermuth wasn’t someone you’d consider a sleeper tight end. He was being drafted as a top-10 tight end and looked to play a significant part in the growth of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. That growth was stagnant and the Steelers offense has been one of the worst in the NFL. On top of that, Freiermuth was placed on IR after an early-season hamstring injury. 

He was activated off IR last week and made his return in the 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Freiermuth only caught one pass for seven yards and played just 53% of the available snaps, but his return is promising. What’s even more promising is the Steelers' decision to move on from Matt Canada this week. It’s never fun to root for someone to lose their job, but Canada’s vision was a plague on the Steelers' offense for the last three seasons. It’s time to move forward and open up the playbook a little. 

That might not happen immediately, but we also might see the equivalent of the coaching change boom. The Steelers offense could breathe new life against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. And it’s an excellent place to start. The Bengals season is likely over after Joe Burrow was ruled out for the rest of the season, so this is a team playing solely for pride now. They’re ripe for the taking.

Freiermuth has a slight 6% matchup advantage, per our matchup tool. That’s nominal, but the entire context surrounding the Steelers is enough to take a chance on Freiermuth this week. At worst, just do it for hope.

Michael Mayer, Las Vegas Raiders

If Freiermuth is what a tight end looks like before that coaching change boom, Mayer might be the after. The rookie tight end struggled to make a consistent impact under Josh McDaniels early in the season, but since Antonio Pierce has filled in as the interim head coach, Mayer is averaging five targets a game. It’s not much, yet, but it’s honest work.

Mayer has averaged 9.75 fantasy points per game in his last two games too, and he’s played over 80% of the Raiders snaps in the last four games. After a quiet start to the season, Mayer is becoming an every-down player for the Raiders. 

He’s got a tough matchup in Week 12 against the Kansas City Chiefs, but betting on Mayer’s growing influence is a fair bet to make. The Chiefs defense is allowing the third-fewest points to tight ends this season, but Mayer has a 12% matchup advantage over Drue Tranquill who’s allowing 0.23 fantasy points per route covered. Mayer having a big week is a tough ask, but it’s doable.

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

Njoku has been on a tear for the last five weeks, averaging 13 fantasy points per game and accruing five consecutive top-15 tight end finishes. With Deshaun Watson on the shelf for the rest of the season, there was a chance the Browns' passing game would sink into oblivion with Dorian Thompson-Robinson at the helm. But the funny thing is, although it wasn’t overly efficient, it got the job done.

It helps that Njoku was targeted 15 times against the Steelers, catching seven passes for 56 yards. He’s not going to get double-digit targets in every game – that was just the first time since Week 3 of the 2022 season he did – but Njoku is likely going to provide a valuable safety net for Thompson-Robinson as the Browns make a push for the playoffs. 

The Browns take on the Denver Broncos in Week 12, and it’s the perfect opportunity for Njoku to keep his hot streak rolling. The Broncos defense is allowing the most fantasy points to tight ends this season (16.36) and the third-most points per game to opposing teams (26.8). Njoku has a slight disadvantage in his matchup, but he’s a must-start based on all the information we have.


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