As of late the Tight End position has been kind of a throw away position. Unless you have one of the top tight ends in the league, the only reason you’d expect to get over 5 points will be because they caught a 3-yard TD. Especially after last season when the disparity between the top tight ends and the rest was most notable. This has been a trend as the fantasy output of tight ends as a whole has gone down.
After peaking in 2013, over the last few seasons output from tight ends has decreased and hit a low point during the 2017 season and didn’t do much better in 2018.
Not only has the total amount gone down, but the amount of tight ends in the top tier has decreased as well. With only 5 tight ends scoring over 100 fantasy points last season compared to 11 in 2012 and 10 tight ends in 2013 and 2014. This does not give a promising outlook on the future production tight ends in fantasy football and may suggest that not having one of the very few game-breaking tight ends will cause you to be at a great disadvantage to someone that has a Kelce or a Kittle.
Especially with the retirement of Gronk and continued aging of formerly, unstoppable tight ends like Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham, it continues to put a strain on talent at the position. However, I believe that this upcoming season might actually buck the trend, despite it being one of the worst seasons for the position overall.
This past season was all about Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz. They were the top three tight ends last season and only tight ends that averaged over 10 fantasy points a game, though Eric Ebron was very close averaging 9.8 a game. Aside from that, those four and Jared Cook were the only tight ends to score more than 100 in fantasy this year. They were all far and above the best tight ends this year, as evident by this graph,
As you can see Travis Kelce is in the top right with the most points and average points per game out of any tight end, with Kittle, Ertz, Ebron, and Cook leading down towards the majority. While this may seem discouraging from first glance seeing just how big the gap is, that cluster still has talented tight ends that still have a chance to establish themselves and others that could help buck the trend and help tight ends break out of this slump and once again have 10 tight ends break the 100 point mark.
First off there are the usually suspects. Ertz and Kelce are looking to continue their dominance in the league, I wouldn’t be worried about them. I also wouldn’t worry about Eric Ebron and George Kittle as Kittle, coming off an All-Pro season, will probably once be the leader of a 49ers offense that has decent receivers, but none really game-breakers like George. Ebron also coming off a great season where he finally broke out, catching more touchdowns then his first 4 seasons combined and a career high in receiving yards, thanks to be better utilized by the Colts offense. Jared Cook is the most questionable to repeat as a 100 point scorer, but still has a good chance. Though he won’t be relied on as much in the Saints offense as he was in Oakland, he will still get his opportunity and may even have a better season with how potent NOLA’s offense has been. As long as the plays designed to go to Cook don’t get cut out by Taysom Hill plays.
Now onto the players who are looking to break into the 100 point club. Two such players are on the graph above and probably would have reached 100 if not for injury is O.J. Howard and Evan Engram. Howard only played in 10 games and finished with 86.5 points on the season. Engram only got through 11 games before a hamstring injury ended his season with only 81.3 points. If they had kept pace then they would have both would have surpassed 100 fantasy points on the season easily. Hunter Henry was also taken out by injury, but didn’t even get to play at all last season. He can also easily make break 100 fantasy points next season as long as he plays all 16 games. The only thing that will stop him really is injury. Prior to missing all of the 2018 regular season, he played in 25 of his first 32 games. Despite this I feel that even if he gets injured again that he will finally score 100 points because his biggest obstacle is gone and will only come back if he gets injured like it did last season. Now I feel bad for calling one of my favorite players of all-time in Antonio Gates an obstacle, but he split time with Henry in 2016 and still had a good amount of snaps in 2017. In 2016, Gates had 94.8 to Henry’s 94.2 and when Henry got the starting spot in 2017 and scored 81.3, Gates still scored almost 50 points. It is then probably safe to assume that Henry will probably score over 100 points this season, as long as he doesn’t split time with Virgil Green now.
There were also a handful of Tight Ends who were so close to breaking that 100 point. Trey Burton and Austin Hooper both finished with fantasy point totals in the 90s. Burton was with a new offense in the Bears and it was his first time as the full-time starter, so he did pretty well for himself and I can only see him getting better in his second season with Chicago. Hooper also had to play in a pretty lack-luster offense on an injury-prone Falcons team last year. Despite that he still put up a good enough showing to have the 7th most fantasy points among tight ends and he has steadily grown each of his first three years.
Finally, the NFL draft had a lot of buzz this year not just because the Giants made what is widely considered the worst pick of the draft in the first round, but because the two highest rated tight ends that were both chosen in the first round were also both Hawkeyes. So, while Iowa hopes to establish itself as Tight End U, TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant hope to establish themselves as top tier tight ends like their fellow Iowa alumnus, George Kittle. They both are in great positions to do so to as Hockenson getting drafted by Detroit puts him on a team with an offense run by Darrell Bevell who made Jimmy Graham one of the league’s finest in Seattle. Noah Fant will also had the privilege to be drafted by the team who traded for the elite check-down quarterback, Joe Flacco. Even if the Broncos decide to go with Drew Lock sometime during the season, check-downs are a rookie signal-callers best friend. So, as long as they can perform as advertised then both Fant and Hockenson are in position to put themselves in at least the top half of starting tight ends as rookies.
So, despite the downward trend of overall production over the past season, I strongly believe that this year will be the year that tight ends will prove themselves as valuable assets again in terms of offensive production.