Fantasy Football Longshots – Tight Ends – 2020
T.J. Hockenson – Detroit Lions
The Lions tight end situation was as good as it’s been in many years on paper last season. Detroit signed Jesse James to be their number one receiving tight end and then in a surprising move, selected T.J. Hockenson with the 8th pick in the NFL draft. Lions quarterbacks largely ignored James last season without explanation. He quickly become irrelevant in the fantasy tight end conversation. Turn the page to Hockenson who erupted in game one with 131 yards and a TD in his NFL debut. You couldn’t get to the waiver wire fast enough!
The reward for Hockenson owners the rest of the season was filled with F Bombs and streaming tears. He topped 50 receiving yards just once after week one and added only one more TD. His debut game accounted for over 33% of his season production. A lot of pieces must come together for Hockenson’s sophomore year. The revamped offensive line must get better, Stafford needs to stay healthy and Darrell Bevel needs to re-incorporate the tight end position into the offense. That’s a lot of ifs for a fantasy draft selection any earlier than the last couple rounds.
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O.J. Howard – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For a 1st round pick in the 2017 draft, its baffling why O.J. Howard has been under-utilized in his three years in Tampa Bay. Howard is a beast but plays like a very agile big wide receiver. He runs smooth, clean routes and catches with soft hands. Injuries have hampered him in his three seasons, as he’s played in 14, 10 and 14 games respectively. Things will change this season with Tom Brady under center.
Two tight end sets will be the norm and the major targets including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski will be drawing a lot of attention. O.J. Howard will find himself in many one on ones with linebackers who just can’t cover him. The question is whether it will vault him into the top ten and I’m leery. There are just too many options for any one of the talented skill players on the Bucs to be a top fantasy player at their position. If Gronkowski misses a few games then jump on the waiver wire and grab O.J. Howard.
Tyler Eifert – Jacksonville Jaguars
Another 1st round tight end pick gone awry. In 7 seasons with the Bengals, Eifert has only played a full season once. And in 4 of his 7 seasons, he’s played 8 or less games. So where is the bright spot? Well, last year was his first full 16 game season. You can’t accumulate fantasy points unless you’re on the field. The downside was a stat line of 436 yards and three TD’s.
Eifert managed 13 TD’s in 2015, which is the only reason he even gets a mention. A new team, a healthy body and the potential for double digit TD’s? OK, I’ll bite. If you spend a roster spot on a backup tight end, then a new offensive with a quarterback who will continue to appreciate the check down could be a situational play.
Irv Smith Jr. and Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings invested heavily in the tight end position in 2019 after drafting Irv Smith Jr in the 2nd round and then re-upping Kyle Rudolph for another 4 years. It’s seemed like a strange move, but coming into 2020, the bet may pay dividends. From a statistical standpoint, the first season the duo spent on the field together you can barely tell the difference. Smith had just 3 fewer receptions on one less target and 55 fewer yards. Rudolph got a lot more attention in the red zone and tripled Smith Jr’s TD totals.
From a physical perspective Rudolph is a giant at 6’6” 265 pounds whereas Smith Jr comes in at 6’2” 245 pounds. After watching film from last season, at times it was hard distinguish between Smith Jr and the #3 and #4 receivers on the field. Smith Jr is extremely agile and runs routes like a wide receiver. He has the mass to overpower line backers and defensive backs. Rudolph and Smith Jr will be on the field with two tight end sets quite often. Rudolph has shown what he can do over nine seasons and doesn’t quite make the top twelve tight ends cut. Smith Jr has a very high upside and the potential to be more involved in the passing game.
Darren Fells – Houston Texans
Fells has been on four teams during his seven-year career and posted his best numbers last season in Houston. Fells finished with 34 receptions on 48 targets for 341 yards and 7 TD’s. He is a huge target in the red zone at 6’7” and will likely steal a half dozen TD’s from an inconsistent wide receiving core. DeShaun Watson’s scrambling style extends plays and during those times, the relief package includes Fells. He towers over linebackers and defensive backs and is always open.
Mike Gesicki – Miami Dolphins
Gesicki spent his first two years in the NFL without a franchise quarterback. Yet in his sophomore season he managed to tally top twelve receiving yards with 588 and 5 TD’s. He finished with more yards than Noah Fant, Evan Engram and Eric Ebron as well as many other recognizable names at the tight end position.
His 5 TD’s matched the likes of George Kittle and Travis Kelce. Gesicki is lanky and not particularly fast but received plenty of targets last season (89). With Tua Tagovailoa stepping into the starting role, a 6’6” 250-pound tight end might be his best friend as the young quarterback gets comfortable with the speed and complexity of the NFL game.