The tight end position is one of the most difficult when it comes to transitioning from the college game to the NFL level. Not only do tight ends need to learn complex route schemes, but they are often asked to understand blocking in both the run and passing games. Considering all the variables, it’s extremely rare to see any rookie tight end break out.
Some tight ends — such as George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz — broke out in their second seasons, but others needed even more time before they became useful fantasy assets. Austin Hooper, Darren Waller and Tyler Higbee all broke out in their third or fourth seasons.
In fantasy football drafts, the elite tight ends come with high draft capital, and there are only so many of them. If you miss out at the beginning of your draft, it’s crucial that you snag one or two of these late-round targets who have shown the upside to suggest they can make the next leap.
In this series of articles, I’m looking at the breakout potential at the tight end position, focusing on players entering their second, third and fourth seasons. I'll take a look at their current situations to see if they have a clear path to targets and then analyze what they've done in the NFL to this point to determine whether they've shown the upside to break out in 2020.
Herndon's Historic Rookie Season
The 2019 NFL season did not go according to plan for New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon, who served a four-game suspension to start the season and was injured upon his return, ultimately ending the year on injured reserve with a single reception for seven yards.
It was a disappointing turn of events for someone who had a fantastic showing as a rookie, earning PFF’s seventh-highest receiving grade (78.7) among 41 qualifying tight ends who saw at least 30 targets. He finished the 2018 season as the TE16 in fantasy football, and there appeared to be more growth to come. Going back to 2014, Herndon’s PFF receiving grade (75.7) ranked third among rookie tight ends who saw at least 40 targets.
|Highest-graded rookie tight end seasons since 2014|
|Hunter Henry (2016)||87.5|
|Mark Andrews (2018)||80.2|
|Chris Herndon (2018)||75.7|
|David Njoku (2017)||73.5|
|Clive Walford (2015)||71.5|