The Next Mark Andrews: Late-Round Sleeper Tight Ends to Target in 2020 Fantasy Football - Roto Street Journal
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The Next Mark Andrews: Late-Round Sleeper Tight Ends to Target in 2020 Fantasy Football

The past two seasons, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, and George Kittle have all been fantasy football league-winners. All three went after Round 12, yet carried 59% or more of their team’s to their ESPN championships. Andrews and Waller ranked 5th and 6th respectively in 2019 Best Ball Win Rates, behind only McCaffrey, Ekeler, Lamar Jackson, and DJ Chark.

Meanwhile, Travis Kelce is the only other TE to appear among the top-30 “Most Common Players on ESPN Playoff Rosters” list from the past three seasons. Of the 10 TEs to appear on 50% or more championship teams in that span, 60% were drafted in the last four rounds or not at all.

In short: finding the late-round TE breakout can be crucial for fantasy success.

If you miss out on Kelce, and perhaps Kittle (hopefully because you’ve stocked up on bellcows), recent history suggests your best shot at a fantasy league-changing TE looms in the late rounds.

Here’s The Wolf‘s favorite late-round TE stabs who could swing your fantasy leagues in 2020.

Late-Round Sleeper Tight Ends in 2020 Fantasy Football

Note: I used FantasyPros Best Ball ADP as my baseline. To maintain the 12 Round (10 Team) ADP Baseline, no TEs above 120  OVR Qualify. Having said that… Hayden Hurst is among my favorite TE targets, for reasons outlined here.

Breakout TE Candidates I love:

Top Pick: Jonnu Smith (TEN); ADP = TE17, 129 OVR

Most often, the greatest harbinger of fantasy breakout is increased volume.

In 2020, the freakish Jonnu Smith is the best bet for a massive usage spike among the late-round TE candidates.

Just as a sheer specimen, look at the man:

Image

Good. Lord. Moreover, his SPARQ ranks in the 93rd percentile. He redefines “specimen,” with all the makings of a mismatch nightmare.

In limited usage, Smith’s flashed glimpses of his unfair ability, particularly after the catch. In fact:

If you need more approval, when asked about Smith before last year’s playoff matchup, Bill Belichick, gushed:

“He’s just a really good tight end,” Belichick said. “Can do a lot of things. Blocks well. Runs well. Is a good receiver. Played him at tailback, he looked pretty good back there. He’s a very athletic player. Hard to tackle. Catches the ball well… Great after the catch, probably the best in the league. I mean, I can’t imagine anyone better than him after the catch.”

Kittle similarly flashed immense YAC potential as a rookie, before exploding on more usage as a sophomore.

Could Smith’s trajectory be similar?

Delanie Walker is gone, entrenching Smith as “the undisputed TE1 heading into 2020.” Considering creatures named Anthony Firsker, MyCole Pruitt, and Parker Hesse represent his “competition,” this isn’t too bold.

Meanwhile, Dion Lewis and Walker’s removals vacated 73 targets over the middle of the field. His TE coach raved the team will use him all over and force-feed Smith looks:

This has been evident in early Training Camp, as TEN beat legend Jim Wyatt noted: “Tight end Jonnu Smith has looked really good to me right out of the gate. He’s made a lot of catches, and has looked good doing it.”

Considering this underwhelming WRs room behind AJ BrownSmith could realistically see the second-most targets in Tennessee.

Just like Andrews in 2019, Smith should benefit from the increased time to hone a rapport with his QB after a midyear turnover. Reportedly, the pair met all offseason at a local park:

Between the raw ability (especially after the catch), the available volume, and improved rapport, Smith has all the makings to explode in 2020. The Titans will remain among the run-heaviest teams, but this should only open up the seams and screens further for this freak to smash.

Smith’s my TE11 (+6 ECR), above more popular candidates like Rob Gronkowski and Mike Gesicki.

Other Late-Round TEs with Top-5 Upside

Noah Fant (DEN); ADP = TE14, 120 OVR

Similar to Smith, Fant is another athletic freak who could see a spike in 2020 usage.

This may seem counterintuitive after the Broncos added Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler as target competition.

Yet, think about what this does for Fant’s coverage. Safeties have to respect Hamler’s lid-lifting speed. Jeudy will draw No.2 CBs and dominate the inside. With Alpha Courtland Sutton also outside, Fant could go absolutely berserk in the space he’ll find underneath and down the seams, facing the fourth-best cover of defenses.

Fant also just averaged 8.3 yards after the catch per reception — the fourth-best season among qualifying TEs since 2016, and highest among rookies since 2010 by a longshot. He is one of just five rookie TEs to post 40 receptions, 500 yards, and 14.0 YPC. Two others? Kittle and Andrews, aforementioned league-winners.

New OC Pat Shurmur also brings plenty of juice to this attack. Just like how he used Evan Engram all over the place, Fant has “lined up in the tight end spot, the slot, or even out wide.” Engram saw a 20 percent target share and a 41 percent snap rate from the slot under Shurmur.

Fant’s also bulked up to 255 while maintaining his speed, and he continues to improve his short-to-intermediate routes to “add diversity to his route tree” and offer more YAC potential.

While Fant’s path to 2020 targets seems less clear, he’ll find far more space to really flash his absurd athleticism. Add in increased TD upside on a team that’s guaranteed for more Red Zone chances, and Fant could truly boom in 2020.

Eric Ebron (PIT); ADP = TE20, 144 OVR

Only two seasons ago, Eric Ebron tallied 14 TDs and finished as the breakout TE4 in fantasy.

An injury-ravaged, QB-less 2019 later, and Ebron has become a complete Draft Day afterthought:

Thorman also points out how Ebron is one of only three TEs to finish Top-12 in PFF’s predictive Yards per Route Run in each of the past three years. The other 2? Kelce and Kittle.

Ebron is only 27 years old, and has been far more productive than his “first-round bust” label suggests.

He enters a Steelers offense ailing for TDs, a season after Big Ben threw for 34 TDs and led the league with both 675 attempts and 5129 yards. Ebron landed a sturdy two-year, $12M ($6M guaranteed) from the Steelers, suggesting he’s the primary TE, especially in pass-catching scenarios.

Though Ebron’s yardage ceiling may be capped in a crowded pass-catching corps, he could easily lead this team in TDs, with real 12+ upside if Big Ben returns to form.

Unsexy Upside: Jack Doyle (IND); TE18, 139 OVR

Covered in more depth here, Jack Doyle’s my favorite pick for 2020 Hooper status. Nothing flashy. No ohhs or ahhs on Draft Day. Just plenty of fantasy meat for those who don’t need sizzle with their steak.

Ebron’s departure leaves Doyle the lone man standing in Reich’s TE-heaven scheme:

Reich’s teams have ranked Top-Five in TE target percentage in four straight seasons: 3rd (29%), 5th (26.4%), 4th (29.7%), 2nd (30.7%).

Toss out 2019’s disaster, and Reich’s top-TE has finished 4th, 3rd, 8th, 7th, and 2nd in fantasy points. He uses them vertically, as his top-TE has always topped 10.4 YPC. Ertz led the Eagles in receiving yards in both 2016 and 2017 under Reich.

Moreover, Rivers loves targeting his TEs, especially in the Red Zone. In 2016, he lobbed a whopping 42% of his Red Zone throws went to his TEs (1st). The next year, the Chargers ranked 5th (34%), and even with only corpse of Gates in 2018, the Chargers ranked 11th. Henry led TEs in TDs just two seasons ago. Last year’s 17th rank seems more like an anomaly.

Trey Burton has drawn rave reviews, but Doyle is the main man here. Though he’ll never be Top-Five like we’re hunting for, a Top-10 finish is entirely reasonable in his 2020 set up.

I’m not fully buying…

Mike Gesicki (MIA); TE13, 116 OVR

Going well above all the names listed here, Mike Gesicki is an easy late-round TE fade for me.

Certainly, plenty of quality cases can be made. He’s more athletic than any other name on this list, and really anyone in the NFL:

Moreover, Gesicki really found his groove over the final seven weeks of last year:

Ultimately, he logged the fourth-most receiving yards from the slot among TEs.

The question becomes: will he be used in this way in 2020?

New OC Chan Gailey’s track record is unkind to TEs. In 14 years calling plays, Gailey’s only facilitated one solid fantasy season from a TEr — HOFer Tony Gonzalez’s 96 receptions, 1058 yards, 10 TDs in 2008. Otherwise, the TE has been a complete afterthought.

Of course, this could, and hopefully is, more a lack of TE talent, and less a philosophy of Gailey’s. Still, we hoped for the same under Bruce Arians last season, and the uber-athletic OJ Howard rotted in Tampa Bay despite serving as the consensus TE4.

Call it a bad gut hunch, but Gesicki, despite all his athleticism and some very available targets, just doesn’t do it for me in 2020.

TJ Hockenson (DET); TE16, 122 OVR

One week into his NFL career, TJ Hockenson looked like the next Rob Gronkowski: 6 catches, 131 yards, 1 TD (PPR TE2).

Unfortunately, he never again performed as a Top-12 TE, scoring just one more TD on the season while topping 50 yards only once. Turns out his blowup came against a historically bad Cardinals defense against TEs, and he was never fully healthy between shoulder and ankle injuries.

Unfortunately, since then, Hockenson’s landed on the COVID-19 list, and is “still not quite 100%” after rehabbing all offseason:

Hock has all the tools to ascend into the elite. Still, he struggled to put it all together and with health, which both seem to be issues to start 2020. Target Hockenson’s Iowa teammate Noah Fant well ahead.

Blake Jarwin (DAL); TE19, 141 OVR

The enthusiasm for Jarwin is understandable: only the Falcons (258) have more vacated targets than the Cowboys (190), and the team’s every-down TE now belongs to Blake. He’s also a plus athlete, who’s 6-5, 246 lbs frame makes him a potential Red Zone monster on a team that’ll camp out inside-the-20.

Still, I don’t see Jarwin ever exceeding “TD-or-bust” status, with far more busts than booms. This Aerial Pie should be among the largest in the NFL, but Jarwin sits a distant fourth behind Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb.

Moreover, outside of one Jermichael Finley breakout, Mike McCarthy has never featured a usable TE in fantasy, despite countless upside candidates like Jared Cook and Jimmy Graham.

Within a scheme where he’s an afterthought, and a 4th or 5th option at best, Jarwin doesn’t move the late-round TE needle for me. Hell, give me Chris Herndon over him if all the other above names are gone.

Author

  • Founder of Roto Street Journal. Lover of workhorse backs, target hog wideouts, and Game of Thrones. Aspiring to be the "Brady" and "Leo" of the fantasy universe.

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