Guess what? Training camp is almost here! Football is back (sort of)! But either way you look at it the NFL is season is approaching rapidly, and if you are like me you are just chomping at the bit to get it back. That is mostly because I just love the sport, but also because I am ready to start preparing for my fantasy draft, and I know I am not alone in that regard. With that being said, let’s tale a look at the tight end position for the upcoming year and how you should approach it come draft time.
Last season the position was very weak. There is no sugarcoating it. There were basically only three consistent guys (Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, George Kittle) that you could be comfortable slotting in your lineup every week. All three were studs that put up record-breaking stats, but for teams that did not have any of the Three Musketeers, the position was unbearable.
After those three, last year’s highest point getter among tight ends in a PPR format was Eric Ebron, who was still 36.5 points away from the aforementioned Kittle. And yes Ebron was good, but his point total was elevated by scoring 13 touchdowns (three multiple score games) after scoring only 11 times in the first four years of his career. Regression is coming for him especially with a healthy Jack Doyle coming back to take away some of his already limited playing time.
“So are you telling me I need one of the ‘Big Three’ to be happy with my tight end?” Last year, I would’ve said yes, but 2019 is a different story. You can’t expect those three to keep breaking record after record, so- just like Ebron- regression should be on its way. All three will still be great barring any injury, but the strategy to employ for your 2019 draft is to pick up a guy that could BECOME that type of player. No one expected George Kittle to do what he did, so it is reasonable to expect other tight ends to step their game up, and I have three in mind.
Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers- McDonald is entering his third season in Pittsburgh after spending the first four years of his career in San Francisco. With Antonio Brown gone (169 vacated targets) someone is going to have to step up, and Vance could be the guy.
We know Juju Smith-Schuster will be carrying the load at the number one receiver, but after him it gets murky. Who is the number two option? James Washington? Donte Moncrief? Maybe, but my bet is on McDonald. The ultra-athletic tight end that has an established relationship with the quarterback and is now the full-time starter with former teammate Jesse James heading to Detroit. (ADP: 9.03)
Evan Engram, New York Giants- Just like the Steelers, the Giants have a lot of targets to go around with Odell Beckham Jr. out in Ohio. I know to some that doesn’t matter because grandpa is the one slinging to pigskin for the G-Men right now, but regardless passes will be made, and Engram is going to get his. Sterling Sheppard and new addition Golden Tate could be beneficiaries, but I feel Sheppard is what he is and Tate is another possession guy that Eli gets to dump off to. That leaves Engram (another athletic freak) to be the guy to run the downfield routes, resulting in big plays and, more importantly, fantasy points. (ADP: 6.08)
O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers- DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries are gone from the Bucs (see a theme). As a result people are expecting big things from wide receiver Chris Godwin. Godwin will be good, but Howard could be an absolute monster this year.
The Tampa Bay passing offense has been relatively good for fantasy over the past few years. Winston slings it and they were always playing from behind. With new head coach Bruce Arians in the fold, things could change…but I doubt it. Tampa’s defense just isn’t good enough to hang with the teams of the NFC South so expect more of the same gunslinging action. That’s why Howard (another freak athlete) is in for a big year. The ball will still be flying around and the potential he showed last year will become performance. (ADP: 6.03)
-Jarrod Ribaudo (@Jribs53)