TE Rags to Riches

published 08/07/19 4:49:58 PM EDT
by Tom Brolley

In my last series, I looked back at 2018 ADP to see if I could find “Post-Hype Candidates” who could rebound to the top this season. Those post-hype candidates fell out of favor in 2019 but they were once top-of-the-line fantasy options back in 2018.

Now it’s time for me to look into the future to figure out who could be next season’s studs if things break right in 2019. For the WR position, I’m looking at players being drafted outside of the top 100 who have enough ceiling potential to dramatically rise up draftboards in a year’s time.

I’ve always taken the approach that drafting a player a year before I think they’ll break out is a much better approach than being a year late and drafting a player after they’ve already broken out. I took that approach last season when I made Patrick Mahomes my most drafted fantasy QB last summer. I wrote last summer that Mahomes’ breakout was likely to come in 2019 but I still drafted him a ton because he was in a great spot to succeed right away if everything broke right.

Mahomes (2018 QB14), George Kittle (TE13), James Conner (RB56), and Tyler Lockett (WR53) were just a few of the players who went from “Rags to Riches” last season. Below are my top TE candidates to go from “Rags to Riches” this season.

TE RAGS TO RICHES

NOTE: Tight ends being drafted outside of the top 100 who have enough ceiling potential to dramatically rise up draftboards in a year’s time.

Mark Andrews (ADP TE17)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Andrews was the Raven TE making the biggest impacts in this passing game with struggling rookie passer Lamar Jackson at the end of last season, ahead of first-rounder Hayden Hurst Among all TEs, Andrews finished fifth in yards per route run (2.01, per PFF) and his average depth of target sat at a healthy 11.1 yards. He averaged 16.2 YPR for the season, which ballooned to 23.7 in the final seven games with Jackson.

  • Path to the top: The Ravens will feature one of the most run-heavy offenses this season after Jackson averaged just 22.5 attempts per game in his seven starts to end last season. Volume will continue to be an issue for Andrews even if Jackson makes strides as a passer this season, but Andrew’s role should only continue to grow this year after playing just 35% of the snaps last season. He’ll still have to contend with Hurst and Nick Boyle for playing time, but he’ll be the featured passing option at the position. The Ravens also revamped their WR corps from last season, which opened up the second-most targets (296).

Delanie Walker (ADP TE17)/Jordan Reed (ADP TE20)

  • Why they have ceiling potential: Both Walker and Reed were once regarded as top fantasy options at the position. Walker was a staple at the top of the fantasy TE leaderboards from 2014-17 until a fractured ankle in the season opener derailed his 2018 campaign. Reed was once one of the most feared fantasy TEs at the position, which included his TE1 finish during the 2015 finish.
  • Paths to the top: Walker had topped 800+ receiving yards and 60+ catches in four straight seasons before last year’s disastrous ankle injury. Walker will have more competition for targets with Adam Humphries and A.J. Brown added to the mix, but QB Marcus Mariota looked lost without his #1 target last year. Reed hasn’t shown us much upside potential recently with just two 15+ FP performances in his last 19 games over the last two seasons. However, he’s been the most talked-about skill player in Redskins camp in the early stages. Reed is the healthiest he’s been in years and he’s showing some of his old explosiveness. He also has a great chance to lead the Redskins in targets if he stays healthy, so it’s not unthinkable that he climbs back into the upper echelon.

Noah Fant (TE21+)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Fant was the second Iowa TE selected in the first round of this year’s draft, going off the board 12 picks after his Hawkeye teammate T.J. Hockenson. Fant isn’t the complete prospect that Hockenson is coming into the league, but Fant has the potential to be a dominant receiver at the next level because of his freakish athletic ability (98th-percentile SPARQ).
  • Path to the top: Fant landed in an ideal spot to make an immediate impact in one of the league’s more unsettled receiving corps. Top WR Emmanuel Sanders is coming off a torn Achilles at 32 years old while Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton looked overwhelmed as rookies. Fant will also get a major PPR boost from QB Joe Flacco, who has slipped as a downfield passer but has come to use his tight ends as a crutch. Over the last six seasons, Ravens TEs averaged a healthy 8.3 targets per game or 133.5 targets per season. Rookie TEs do have a terrible fantasy track record because of their steep learning curve, which curbs some excitement in Year One. Fant has more boom-or-bust potential than Hockenson this season, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he’s among the elite TEs early in his career.

Darren Waller (TE21+)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: The Raiders seemed pretty content to stay pat at tight end this off-season, letting Jared Cook walk to New Orleans while also cutting Lee Smith. Before the draft, HC Jon Gruden declared that Waller was getting the “chance of a lifetime” this season after recording just 18 catches in 22 games in his first four seasons. Waller is a freak athlete who converted from WR to TE with the Ravens early in his career. Waller once blazed a 4.46 40-time with a 37-inch vertical and 10-foot-5 broad jump at the Combine back in 2015, and he now checks in at 6’6”, 255 pounds. At the time, Waller followed in the steps of Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, and Stephen Hill as big, physical Georgia Tech WRs to come into the league.
  • Path to the top: Waller has a freakish athletic profile for the position, but the light bulb has yet to flick on for him. The Ravens clearly were invested in him, sticking with him for three years through growing pains and substance-abuse suspensions before throwing in the towel at the end of last preseason. The Raiders are set to give Waller his big break and the Raiders receiving corps is certainly unsettled behind Antonio Brown — they have the most vacated targets from last season with 359. Waller will be only 27 years old and there’s a chance it all comes together for him in his first season as a starting TE after learning the position behind the scenes in his first four years.

Trey Burton (ADP TE15)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Burton is playing with an innovative coach (Matt Nagy) in an offense that could rank in the top third in scoring and total offense. Nagy helped Andy Reid to scheme up plays for Travis Kelce before 2018, and he could be more creative with Burton in Year Two. Burton did have monster performances in two starts with Zach Ertz out of the lineup in 2017, so he’s capable of taking over if he’s featured.
  • Path to the top: We can’t forget that last year was the first time Burton worked as a full-time starting tight end at any point in his playing career. He also had to gain experience with inconsistent second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky, who contributed to Burton’s disappointing 2018 performance. A healthy Adam Shaheen could cut into Burton’s playing time as he did in the final couple games of last season, but it could also allow Nagy to get a little more creative with Burton. Nagy targeted Burton in free agency last season, but they used him like an inline stiff with an average depth of target of just 7.7 yards. Both Trubisky and Nagy should improve with their usage of Burton, which gives him a chance to live up to last year’s hype.

Chris Herndon (TE21+)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Herndon was the rare rookie TE to sneak into weekly fantasy relevance last season despite coming into 2018 with a low profile as a fourth-round pick. The Jets could have one of the most improved offenses this season if QB Sam Darnold continues to grow as he did toward the end of his rookie season. New York finished in the bottom 10 in points per game (20.8), plays per game (60.7), and in pass attempts per game (32.8). The Jets also gave Herndon a small vote of confidence by not touching the TE depth chart in free agency and by only drafting a blocking complement in Trevon Wesco in the fourth round.
  • Path to the top: Herndon hurt his chances for a breakout campaign by earning a four-game suspension for a June 2018 DWI accident, which means he won’t be available until after their bye in Week 6. He’s also going to face more competition for targets this season with the Jets adding RB Le’Veon Bell and slot WR Jamison Crowder. Herndon still has plenty of room for growth at just 23 years old, and he could re-establish himself as potential elite fantasy TE over the final 12 weeks this season. Herndon was a borderline TE1 selection in ADP before his suspension, and he ranked as the TE10 with 10.2 FPG in Weeks 6-16 last season. If Darnold plays as he did in the final four games of last season, Herndon could take off up draftboards with him next season.

T.J. Hockenson (TE12)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: The Lions selected Hockenson at #8 overall, which is just the second time a TE has been selected in the top 10 in the last 13 drafts — the Lions also selected Eric Ebron #10 overall back in 2014. Hockenson is as complete a tight end prospect as we’ve seen in recent years, and he certainly has enough athleticism (85th-percentile SPARQ) to make an impact for Matthew Stafford right away. As you’d expect, Hockenson has already jumped right to the top of the depth chart in training camp.
  • Path to the top: The Lions traded away target-hog Golden Tate in the middle of last season, and they have 192 targets vacated from last season. I never get too excited about rookie TEs for fantasy since the group typically has a more difficult transition into the NFL than other positions. Hockenson would be one player to bet on to be the exception to the rule, but you won’t be getting any discounts to find out at his ADP.

Ian Thomas (TE21+)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Thomas had arguably the most talent in the 2018 rookie TE class, but he looked to be just a developmental prospect for the first season or two behind Greg Olsen. Well, Olsen’s lingering foot issues crept up again last season, which sped up Thomas’ NFL education. He mostly sank early in the season when Olsen missed a few games, but Thomas was ready for a bigger role the second time around late in the season when Olsen went down for the final five games of the season. Thomas posted 25/246/2 receiving to rank as the TE6 during that span.
  • Path to the top: Olsen has played in just 16 games over the last two seasons, and his right foot is far from guaranteed to stay healthy this season. He also hasn’t been a major factor when he’s been on the field the last two seasons, averaging a measly 2.8/30.1/.31 receiving per game (44/482/5 in 16 games). It’s certainly possible that Thomas could pass him at some point this season if Thomas continues to improve and Olsen continues to slip. Thomas has low-end TE1 upside if/when Olsen misses time this season.

Mike Gesicki (TE21+)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Gesicki was a complete ghost in his first season after blowing up the Combine in 2018. Gesicki has bulked up to 240 pounds, which will hopefully get him on the field more this season. He played just 400 snaps (25.0 per game) and ran only 215 routes (13.4, per PFF) during his rookie season. Brian Flores and the new staff should still want to see what they have in Gesicki, especially since they have their eyes more toward the future than this season. Gesicki is a 97th-percentile SPARQ athlete, and the Dolphins would be wise to utilize him downfield.
  • Path to the top: The Dolphins don’t have any elite receiving options on their depth chart, and Gesicki could easily earn his way into a prominent role in this offense. Gase’s offense played at a painfully deliberate pace with Ryan Tannehill at QB last season, finishing last in plays per game (54.9) and 30th in pass attempts (28.4). This year’s passing game has more hope with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen at quarterback, but Gesicki needs to pick up the pace in training camp after an “uneven” start. Gesicki has an extremely wide range of outcomes this season, but he’s worth a lottery ticket late in drafts in case he hits it big.

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Tom Brolley
Tom Brolley

@TomBrolley

Tom Brolley is the better half of The Fantasy Free Agents Podcast with his partner Joe Dolan. Brolley owned a 53.8% winning percentage picking every game against the spread for his old site over the last two seasons.