For the last few years we have seen owners taking the top 3/4 tight ends early in dynasty start-ups and in re-draft to try and gain an advantage on fellow owners due to the large gap in production between those guys and the rest of the field. But is the tight end landscape changing? Is the gap closing? Well, in this article we will take a look at the trends and also see which tight ends could be had at a value in 2020 to challenge the top guys.
In recent years, players like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Travis Kelce have dominated the tight end position in fantasy football and constantly been seen drafted in the 1st and 2nd rounds during their prime. But just how much of an advantage were owners gaining taking these top guys early in their drafts over the other tight ends?
Looking back over the last 10 years, it has usually paid off to take the top tight ends. Barring injury, they are more often than not returning value for the price you pay, especially in the last 3 years. From 2012-2014, Jimmy Graham was the TE1 based on ADP and finished with results of TE1/TE1/TE2, proving to be very reliable. The same can be said for Travis Kelce who has finished as the TE1 for the last 4 seasons. So let's dive in a little deeper and look more closely at the last 4 seasons.
So as you would expect, looking at the graphs above, taking one of the top guys early and often returns value if avoiding injury, but it is also worth noting that every year there are one or two players that have an ADP of around TE10-12 that are able to finish as a top 6 tight end. In 2018, George Kittle was going as the TE12 and managed to crush that ADP with a finish of TE3 and 256.7 points, and in 2019 Mark Andrews followed suit by finishing as the TE5 despite been drafted towards the end of the 11th round. As you can see, injuries are a big reason why tight ends with a top 12 ADP fail to return value, this is a common problem due to the role tight ends play and usually making most of their catches over the middle in crowded areas. So with that being the case, how many tight ends with an ADP outside of the top 12 actually finish as a TE1 (Top 12)?
Surprisingly, around half of the players finishing as a TE1 had an ADP outside of the top 12 over the last 4 seasons. In fact, in 2016 Kyle Rudolph managed to finish as the TE2 despite an ADP of TE24, and even last year Darren Waller broke into the top 3, with a finish of TE3 even though he was been taken as the TE21 in the pre-season.
Also, as you can see above, in 2017 and 2018 the gap between the top 3 and the rest of the field grew, especially on a PPG basis, which is quite obvious compared to 2016. But, last season the top 3 became more of a top 6 with only 2.1 PPG separating them.
To conclude, taking one of the top guys early usually represents a safe bet but it does come at the price of missing out on one of the top guys at other skill positions. However, there are tight ends that can be taken in the later rounds that can finish as a high-end TE1 such as Engram, Kittle, Andrews, Waller, etc in recent times.
So with that in mind, who could be this year's late-round tight end who has a chance to join the guys at the top of the 2019 list?
Age: 24 years old - Height: 6'6" - Weight: 250lbs
2019 Stats: (via ESPN)
Mike Gesicki is an athletic freak who tore up the 2018 NFL Combine before been drafted in the 2nd round (pick 42) by the Miami Dolphins:
40 Yard Dash - 4.54s - 92%tile
Vertical Jump - 41½" - 98%tile
Broad Jump - 129" - 97%tile
3-Cone Drill - 6.76s - 98%tile
20 Yard Shuttle - 4.1s - 95%tile
60 Yard Shuttle - 11.33s - 96%tile
Bench Press - 22 reps - 66%tile
He showed glimpses of that athleticism and ability in 2019 racking up 570yds on 51rec and his 89 targets (7th most for TE in the NFL in 2019) showed that he offered a great target over the middle for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick last year. Despite a slow start to the season, after Miami's Week 5 bye, Gesicki seemed to take a step forward once Fitzpatrick replaced Josh Rosen at QB and finished the season strong with 5 TDs in his final 6 games. He also played 33% of his snaps from the slot and was asked to run routes far more often than been used as a blocker (97% of the time he ran routes when on the field)
So with Miami clearly been a fan of his receiving ability, he has a real chance to be one of the top targets for his QB, whether that be Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tua Tagovailoa, in 2020. And with an ADP of TE13, he is right around that ADP of previous TE risers George Kittle and Mark Andrews in the years they broke out. He is a great offseason buy right now before he takes that next step forward in his career in 2020.
Age: 24 years old - Height: 6'3" - Weight: 248lbs
2019 Stats: (Via ESPN)
Similarly to Gesicki, Jonnu Smith is a very athletic tight end who put in a great performance at the 2017 NFL Combine before been drafted in the 3rd round (pick 100) by the Tennessee Titans:
40 Yard Dash - 4.62s - 83%tile
Vertical Jump - 38" - 93%tile
Broad Jump - 127" - 95%tile
20 Yard Shuttle - 4.18s - 85%tile
60 Yard Shuttle - 11.57s - 80%tile
Bench Press - 22 reps - 66%tile
Jonnu Smith took a step forward in his 3rd season in the NFL, putting up career-high numbers in target, receptions, and yards after forming a solid partnership with QB Ryan Tannehill once he took over from Marcus Mariota in week 7. Smith is a yard after the catch beast, with 10yds/tar (2nd amongst TEs) and also gaining 12.5yds/rec. He also showed his versatility and the Titans desire to get the ball in his hands by having 4 rushing attempts for 78yds.
So with that in mind, I really think Jonnu Smith could easily outperform his ADP of TE16, but I also think he has the tools to battle with the guys at the top of the tight end rankings. He has a great opportunity with no more Delanie Walker around and no real receiving depth beyond A.J Brown and Corey Davis in Tennessee. 2020 could be a big year for Jonnu Smith!
Age: 25 years old - Height: 6'5" - Weight: 260lbs
2019 Stats: (via ESPN)
While Blake Jarwin might not have the speed and agility of Gesicki and Smith, or the draft capital after going undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft, what he lacks in quickness he makes up for in explosiveness. He's great after the catch but not through elusiveness, but more through a George Kittle style of running over guys and using his power!
Jarwin put up stats of 31/365/3 despite having to split snaps with Jason Witten and having a snap share of only 31%. But with Witten now heading to Las Vegas with the Raiders, Jarwin has a great opportunity to become the lead tight end in Dallas with only Dalton Schultz, Blake Bell, and Cole Hikutini behind him on the depth chart. He is also a very capable blocker with his size and power so that will also help keep Jarwin on the field.
Many people will argue that, following the Cowboys drafting CeeDee Lamb, opportunities may be limited for Jarwin. However, in 2019 Dak Prescott had just under 600 passing attempts and finished the season 2nd in the league for passing yards with 4902yds. If he can match that level in 2020 then that should be plenty of targets to share around in this high powered Dallas offense. So if the Cowboys head coach, Mike McCarthy, can use Jarwin correctly with Witten gone, then 2020 could turn out to be a great year for the underrated and undervalued Blake Jarwin!