Next Man Up: Tight Ends

John DiBari

Anyone who has played fantasy football for some time is familiar with the concept of handcuffing your players. In this series, I’m going to take a look at some of the more overlooked backups who could become league winners if the players ahead of them fall victim to injury during the season.

READ: Next Man Up: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers

This year, more than any, with a limited off-season and a global pandemic, it sure seems like we may see more backups see significant snaps than we have seen in recent memory. Omitting the obvious targets, I wanted to look at some of the more overlooked reserves who could be league winners if they are forced into action.

I’m a big-time proponent of streaming tight ends. I’ve managed to do it successfully in redraft for longer than I can remember, and I’ve even been able to pull it off successfully in dynasty as well. As a result, I feel like I’m in tune with tight end depth charts and many of the lesser-known options at the position better than most.

Unlike the previous installments of this series, I didn’t even need to consult team depth charts; these are all players I already had in mind and deep-dive targets in all of my leagues. I’m confident this quintet of options will pay dividends throughout the upcoming season, so let’s get to them!

Ricky Seals-Jones, TE KC

Travis Kelce will be 31 in October and has played in 95 of 96 games over the last six seasons. I don’t see it continuing. The tight end position is notoriously injury-plagued, and we’ve seen many of the leagues’ top tight ends fall off the age cliff around this time.

The Chiefs brought in Ricky Seals-Jones this off-season after two years in Arizona and one year in Cleveland. Seals-Jones checks a lot of boxes. He’s only 25 years old, and this is only going to be his fourth year playing tight end after playing as a wide receiver in college.

We’ve seen plenty of basketball players convert to capable NFL tight ends, and Seals-Jones was a high school all-American basketball player. I’m aware there are lots of “what-ifs” here, but if there has ever been a year for these types of players to break out, this is it.

Update: Seals-Jones was carted off the field at Chiefs practice on August 17th, and I have yet to see an update on his status. Technically, Deon Yelder would be the next man up, be he has zero upside for fantasy. If you want to go super deep, Nick Keizer would one of the sleepiest sleepers of all time.

Foster Moreau, TE LV

I was super-duper, extra high on Moreau as a rookie coming out of LSU. I loved his measurables, and after the Raiders used a fourth-round pick on him, I knew a tight end could explode in this system. Well, it turned out Journeyman Darren Waller was the tight end breakout, but I’m not about to give up on my man Moreau, even though the Raiders brought in veteran Jason Witten to compete at the position this year.

Waller took 90% of the tight end snaps last year, and Moreau only saw 36%, but Moreau made the most of his opportunities. Between weeks four and 14, Moreau was TE19 in standard leagues and finished the year with the third-most receiving touchdowns among rookies with five scores. If Waller regresses, and Witten plays like a 38-year old, the door is wide open for the uber-athletic Moreau to excel in this system.

Dalton Schultz, TE DAL

A strange fact I stumbled upon: both Moreau and Shultz were selected in the fourth round with the 137th overall pick. Now that that nonsense is out of the way, let’s look at Schultz a bit more.

He’s essentially done nothing during his two-year career, and actually regressed statistically last season, but at the end of the day, he is their TE2. Blake Jarwin was the team’s TE2 in each of the previous two seasons while garnering approximately 36-percent of the snaps at the position.

With Jarwin the top option, we should expect Schultz to see his snaps percentage jump to similar numbers. Even as a backup, a 30/360/2 (TE3) stat line is probable, and if he ever cracks the starting lineup, he could easily become a low-end TE2 for fantasy on a per-game basis.

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Kaden Smith, TE NYG

Smith might be my top target in leagues where I am needy at tight end. I liked Smith coming out of Stanford, and the 49ers drafted him in the sixth round. The Niners released him, and he was scooped up by the Giants. He was relegated to the bench in New York behind Evan Engram– who has yet to play 16 games over his three-year career.

When Engram went down, the starting gig was handed to Smith, who responded with 31 receptions, 268 yards, and three touchdowns in seven games – good enough to finish the season as TE35 and TE17 on a per-game basis. If you don’t like to tie up several roster spots, rolling with Engram as your top guy with Smith as a handcuff and hitting waivers for their bye week should be more than fine all year. If Engram misses time, again, Smith could be a TE1.

Nick Boyle, TE BAL

Do you know who led the Ravens in snaps at tight end last season? It had to have been breakout player Mark Andrews, right? Nope. Well, then it must have been former first-round pick and 2020 fast-riser Hayden Hurst, right? Nope. Andrews and Hurst both saw 41% of offensive snaps, but Boyle surprisingly saw 70% and led the team. Boyle also led the team in snaps in 2018 and was only second in snaps in 2017 by three snaps.

Given his history, the team clearly loves Boyle. They drafted him in the fifth round in 2015, and he finished his rookie campaign with a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Boyle kicked off his sophomore year in the NFL with a ten-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He was suspended for 14 of his first 26 games in the NFL, and the Ravens not only kept him around but rewarded him with a three-year, 18-million dollar deal. As good as Andrews has been, Boyle is clearly in the plans for this team.

The tight end position always has a few surprises each year. There is no reason to believe this year will be any different, and may possibly end up being one of the best years in memory for fantasy owners who like to stream at the position.

When injuries and illnesses start piling up as the year goes on, many of the above options are going to be hot commodities on the waiver wire. As of now, they are all free, but each could cost you a significant portion of your FAAB in-season if any of the incumbents ahead of them are lost for a few or more games.

john dibari