Throughout the season, the Rookie Report Card has covered some of the biggest rookies and not only looked at their performance to date – but also their long term upside. Now that the regular season has wrapped up and fantasy owners are looking towards the future, we have an opportunity to take one last look at the 2015 season and assess the rookies – A final report card if you will. I already covered the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers so let’s move on.
We covered 25 rookies throughout the season, including a pair of tight ends. Let’s put a bow on the season by taking one more look at those tight ends’ first shot at catching the ball on Sundays, as well as a quick glimpse into their futures in the Final Rookie Report Card –Tight Ends.
Kennard Backman, TE GB
Season Stats: none
Some people may see Backman’s name in this article and immediately think that I’m crazy to even mention him. I may be. After all, with a rookie season that saw him active for only seven games and held without a catch, it’s not like he flashed breathtaking upside or even the ability to be a contributor on offense. I still think he has intriguing potential however.
The Packers’ offense is at its best when there is a seem stretching tight end on the field to complement their receivers. That hasn’t been a part of the Green Bay offense since JerMichael Finley was in Titletown, however. While Richard Rodgers showed he can be an effective possession tight end, he doesn’t deliver speed down the middle of the field. Backman has the potential to offer that.
When I featured Backman as the Packers’ Summer Sleeper back in August, I theorized that any player with the potential to fill the role of a vertical threat in an Aaron Rodgers offense is worth monitoring by dynasty owners. This is a simple reminder to keep monitoring the long shot.
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Blake Bell, TE SF
Season Stats: 15 receptions, 186 receiving yards (12.4 YPR), zero touchdown receptions
Coming into the NFL with only 16 college receptions and having played most of his college career at quarterback, it’s not difficult to see why most dynasty owners haven’t given much attention to Bell. But it may be time to take notice.
Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 252 pounds, Bell has the prototypical build of an NFL tight end and although 2015 was supposed to be a “red shirt” year for him, he saw the field late in the year and played well. Displaying good short to intermediate route running and good hands along with strong run-after-the-catch abilities, he showed that he has upside as an in-line tight end.
Bell is still incredibly raw but has potential as a pass catching tight end with goal line skills and like Backman, is very much worth monitoring as the off-season progresses. If San Francisco doesn’t add another tight end, he’ll have only Vance McDonald to battle for the starting job – and that’s a battle he can win. Of all the 2015 rookie tight ends on this list that may be free agents in dynasty leagues, he’s the one I’d most like to invest in.
Jeff Heuerman, TE DEN
Season Stats: none
Heuerman missed his entire rookie season due to a torn ACL that he suffered in rookie minicamp back in May but entered the league as a solid tight end prospect. Showing good athleticism and the ability to turn inaccurate throws into receptions, he displayed while at Ohio State that he has the potential to be a vertical pass catcher that could be lined up all over the field.
While it’s unknown if he can fulfill that upside – especially considering his long injury history that goes back to his days in college – he’s certainly worth keeping tabs on during the off-season.
Jesse James, TE PIT
Season Stats: eight receptions, 56 receiving yards (7.0 YPR), one touchdown reception
As a fan of Big Ten football, I watched James often while he was at Penn State. I saw him as an athletically gifted tight end with NFL upside. Then he left school early for the NFL and slipped to the fifth round of the NFL draft. Fortunately for him, he was selected by a team that uses the tight end regularly and has an aging starter (Heath Miller) currently in place.
James didn’t see the field until week nine and got limited opportunities throughout his rookie season but flashed some of the eyebrow raising playmaking ability he showed while in college. I was leery about his upside early in the year but I’ve come around of late. Only 21 years old, he’s worth rostering as end of the bench filler but is likely already on a roster. If I already had him I’d hold him but if I’m looking for young upside at the position, there are other tight ends with equal potential that will cost nothing to add.
Tyler Kroft, TE CIN
Season Stats: 11 receptions, 129 receiving yards (11.7 YPR), one touchdown reception
Kroft played in the shadow of Tyler Eifert his entire rookie season, catching just 11 passes and one touchdown. All of his production came while Eifert was injured late in the season and while his time as a starter wasn’t necessarily jaw dropping, he still carries upside as an athletic pass catcher at the position.
Kroft’s potential to make a fantasy impact is severely hindered in the short term by the presence of Eifert. But any dynasty owner in the position to be patient and looking for some youthful upside at tight end should keep Kroft on their radar.
MyCole Pruitt, TE MIN
Season Stats: 10 receptions, 89 receiving yards, zero touchdown receptions
Pruitt was a favorite sleeper of many dynasty owners during draft season due to the eye-popping numbers he posted while at Southern Illinois. I wasn’t one of those dynasty owners however. After all, every time I watched Pruitt leading up to the draft I saw a below average route runner that would likely struggle to separate from NFL defenders.
Selected by the Vikings to be their second tight end behind Kyle Rudolph, he filled that role adequately but didn’t show anything that would suggest he’s ready to make a fantasy impact as an NFL starter. Although he has good hands and can make difficult catches, he simply doesn’t have the combination of athleticism and size (6-foot-2, 251 pounds) to even be a TE2 for fantasy owners.
Will Tye, TE NYG
Season Stats: 42 receptions, 464 receiving yards (11.0 YPR), three touchdown receptions
Tye had an impressive rookie season for the Giants after replacing the injured Larry Donnell in the starting lineup. He carved out a nice role as a safety valve for Eli Manning and even flashed playmaking skills as a down the field target at times. Displaying incredible speed for a tight end (he ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at his pro day), he looked explosive running seem routes and comfortable making catches in traffic.
Although Tye is a very poor blocker, he showed enough as a pass catcher to keep Donnell in a backup role going into 2016. He should be considered a low end TE2 entering his second season but has the potential to be a top-15 fantasy option at the position.
Clive Walford, TE OAK
Season Stats: 28 receptions, 329 receiving yards (11.8 YPR), three touchdown receptions
Starting the season as a backup to Mychal Rivera, Walford proved quickly that he was the best tight end in Oakland and was starting over him by the time the second half of the year rolled around. Showing good game speed to stretch the field and great hands to make contested catches, he flashed playmaking abilities at times.
All signs point to Walford holding onto the starting job in the Raiders improving offense. While his lack of eye-popping athleticism will keep him from being a top fantasy tight end, he’s a nice developmental tight end and should be considered TE2 going into his second season.
Maxx Williams, TE BAL
Season Stats: 32 receptions, 268 receiving yards (8.4 YPR), one touchdown reception
Williams was the top tight end taken in most rookie drafts and like most rookie tight ends, he struggled to put up numbers in his first season in the league. Struggling to take snaps away from Crockett Gillmore and averaging just 8.4 yards per catch, he didn’t show the foot speed (4.78 40 time) and vertical presence as a rookie that he did while in college at Minnesota. He also didn’t make the impact expected as a red zone threat.
As I mentioned above, most tight ends struggle to make an impact during their rookie season so it’s hard to downgrade Williams much. He still profiles as a quality down-the-field and red zone threat, and should be considered a low end TE2 with low end TE1 upside going into his sophomore season.
Other rookie tight ends worth mentioning include James O’Shaughnessy, Nick Boyle and Nick O’Leary, but each of them have limited dynasty upside due to being blocked from playing time by better tight ends or athletic limitations.
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- Rookie Report Card: Zach Wilson and D’Wayne Eskridge - December 9, 2021