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Late-Round Fantasy Football Targets: Tight Ends

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Tight end is one of the most interesting positions in fantasy football drafts.

You don’t want to draft a tight end too early because most strategies suggest owners focus on running backs, wide receivers, and perhaps a quarterback in the first five or six rounds.

However, waiting for a tight end can be a very risky move, too. Every fantasy owner during your draft is surely monitoring the tight end board, ready to pounce for the player they’re watching in an instant.

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Ultimately, there’s a lot of tight ends you can’t go wrong with in the earlier rounds. George Kittle and Travis Kelce make up the top tier with their second-round ADPs. After that, there is a drop-off in talent but the value remains intriguing with names like Darren Waller, Mark Andrews, Zach Ertz, and others.

But the picks that arguably win you the draft are the late-round picks. These players are sleepers and they finish the year among the best of the best despite dropping to the double-digit rounds in drafts just months earlier.

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As such, it’s only fitting that we take a look at the five best late-round tight ends in 2020. All players listed here are value picks at the position who currently slot in below TE13 on FantasyPros’ consensus ADP rankings.

Hayden Hurst | Atlanta Falcons | ADP: TE13

Hurst joined the Falcons this offseason as a replacement to Austin Hooper, who signed with the Cleveland Browns after back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in Atlanta. After spending a second-round pick to acquire Hurst from the Baltimore Ravens, the Falcons hope he can replicate or even exceed the impact Hooper had in Georga’s capital city.

Matt Ryan is expected to be busy under center this year and Hurst will live up to his expectations as one of the team’s top pass catchers. No matter where you get your fantasy football advice, you’re going to stumble across praise for the former Baltimore first-rounder. It’s merely impossible to be pessimistic about him entering 2020.

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When you think about Hurst’s potential, you should definitely account for his history and talent, but the role he is being expected to fill should be considered, too. Essentially, he will look to replicate Hooper’s 2019, which saw him haul in 75 passes over 13 games. At this rate, if Hooper had appeared in all 16 games, he would have caught 92 passes (second-most among all tight ends) on 119 targets (third-most among all tight ends) while accumulating 968 yards (fourth-most among tight ends) and seven touchdowns (third-most among tight ends). Hurst also finished sixth in the NFL last year with 8.9 yards per catch, providing his team with a reliable option in any part of the field.

Draft Hurst before it’s too late because fantasy football’s best kept secret might find his way into folks’ top 12 tight end rankings sooner rather than later.

Mike Gesicki | Miami Dolphins | ADP: TE15

Often, a player underperforming and failing to meet expectations says something about the analysts and their projections. However, Gesicki might be an exception here. Miami’s tight end struggled in 2019 and posted some really frightening stats, but all signs still point to him breaking out in 2020.

The big issue for Gesicki in 2019 was that the Dolphins would not stop peppering him with targets, especially after one of the team’s best receiving threats in Preston Williams tore his ACL. In the eight weeks in which Williams was active, Gesicki was targeted just 31 times. This was a reasonable target share for him, and he proved it by catching 68 percent of them. However, in the eight weeks following Williams’s IR placement, Gesicki tallied 65 targets. This bombardment of passes forced Gesicki’s completion percentage over these eight weeks to drop to just 46 percent.

So, in case you couldn’t tell yet, Miami needs to make sure they spread the ball out better if they want Gesicki and their other targets to succeed. Defenses knew when the ball was going to Gesicki, leaving him with no time or space to accumulate yards after the catch—if he even made the catch in the first place.

Gesicki will also have Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing to him to start the year, which proved to be beneficial for Miami last year. All in all, Gesicki has a lot of upside and is a perfect bench tight end option who can flourish into a mid-range TE1.

Jonnu Smith | Tennessee Titans | ADP: TE16

Smith, a former third-round pick out of Florida International, has made his name known over the last three years as the backup to Delanie Walker in Tennessee. With Walker now a free agent, Smith has sole possession of the starting tight end role and is getting ready to shine.

While Walker leaving town will obviously be critical in a breakout 2020 for Smith, the endless flow of opportunities is also quite enticing. Tennessee has a talented pass-catcher in second-year receiver A.J. Brown. However, the drop-off after Brown is severe as Corey Davis and Adam Humphries make up the Nos. 2 and 3 wideout slots.

One argument that goes against Smith is Derrick Henry. 2019’s rushing leader certainly stole touches from the rest of the offense last year and will do so again in 2020. However, the focus here shouldn’t be on how many times Smith will get the ball but rather what percentage of Tannehill’s passes will head his way. After all, if the Titans pass, the odds would suggest that the pigskin ends up in the hands of Brown or Smith.

So, poised to garner the second-most targets in Tennessee this year, Smith could see fantasy success solely based on the fact that Ryan Tannehill may have no choice but to throw to him. Currently being drafted at TE16, don’t be shocked if Smith leaps into the top 12 within the first few weeks of the season.

Blake Jarwin | Dallas Cowboys | ADP: TE18

Jarwin is one of the most slept-on tight ends this year. If you’re smart, you’ll take a flier on him, because this is someone you definitely want on your roster and in your starting lineup down the stretch.

Fans were calling for Jarwin to replace Jason Witten as the No. 1 tight end in Dallas for most of last season. While that didn’t officially happen, the Oklahoma State product did show flashes of what the team could expect when Witten moved on.

Now that Witten is in Las Vegas, it is Jarwin’s time to shine. Witten and Jarwin combined for 124 targets in offensive wizard Kellen Moore‘s tight end-friendly scheme last year, so there’s a lot of balls out there for Jarwin to claim. There has been a lot of talk about CeeDee Lamb securing some of those targets, but don’t forget that he was brought in to help fill Randall Cobb‘s void, not Witten’s.

Theoretically, let’s expect Jarwin replicates his 31 targets from 2019, then adds 32 more, which is half of Witten’s catches from last year. At 11.77 yards per catch, that projects Witten right around 750 yards and six touchdowns in 2020. And giving him just half of Witten’s catches from last year is still a bit low.

The bottom line is this: the wide receivers might steal some of the tight end targets, but for the most part, Jarwin will be a top receiving threat in Dallas. He should finish the year as a top-12 tight end.

Irv Smith Jr.| Minnesota Vikings | ADP: TE23

Smith slipped to the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft after originally drawing first-round projections. In his rookie year, the Vikings’ backup to Kyle Rudolph posted 36 catches for 311 yards and two touchdowns.

Despite Smith’s underwhelming fantasy stats from last year, there is reason to believe he can drastically increase his production this year.

First of all, Smith seems to have taken over the top spot as Minnesota’s No. 1 tight end, barring a few late training camp battles with Rudolph. And if that’s not the case, it seems likely that he and Rudolph will at least split time and operate under a hot-hand, by-committee process. Both of these scenarios open the door for Smith to see more targets this year.

Second, Smith lined up as a wide receiver at times last year, and early reports out of training camp suggest he is poised to do the same this year. With Stefon Diggs being shipped out of town, Smith has a legitimate shot at being Minnesota’s No. 2 pass catcher behind Adam Thielen.

In the end, it all boils down to opportunity. If Smith can beat out Rudolph early, as many expect him to do, he should claim a large target share. But if he digs himself into the No. 2 spot out of the gate, it could be challenging for him to claim the top spot again. Thus, Smith is a decent pick for low-end TE2 this year with the potential to be inserted into starting lineups throughout the year. If Smith is on the board late in your draft, pull the trigger.


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