Part of what makes fantasy football great is identifying breakout performers. In a dynasty setting the rewards is enhanced significantly by the luxury of then being able to hold onto said player for the duration of his career. If you can nab the next Antonio Brown for the cost of a few waiver wire bucks or a late draft pick, you’ve just performed a resounding roster upgrade simply by being vigilant while other owners were still waiting for more data points.
However, there exists a flip side of that coin. Many of these breakouts will wind up as one-hit wonders (Steve Slaton says hi), leaving you with nothing more than some temporary production and a bitter taste in your mouth when you were counting on them as core components of your team moving forward. Knowing when to cash out on a player who gained a significant amount of value is every bit as important as identifying him in the first place.
As always, 2016 was no different in providing us with several of these “gatecrashers.” After combing through the PPR Top-50 lists, I’ve created lists of players who, to varying degrees, came out of nowhere to crash the fantasy party. From here, it’s time to determine how they should be valued moving forward.
I got started with the wide receivers, and then continued with the running backs (Parts One and Two). Now it’s time to move onto the inglorious tight end position! Please note that due to the lack of scoring at the position, I’ll only consider the Top-30 PPR scorers here.
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Travis Kelce, TE KC (PPR TE1, ADP = 39.5)
Kelce isn’t a newcomer to the ranks of the PPR TE1s by any stretch, but this is easily his best season yet. He bested his previous high in yardage by 350, while accumulating 13 more receptions than in any previous season. Touchdowns remained elusive (he had only four on the season), but all told this was good enough for a finish as the top PPR tight end. With that said, this was a historically bad year for the position, as Kelce would’ve only finished as the PPR WR18, if the two positions are compared. He scored 13.8 PPR PPG, but was actually one of ten tight ends who scored at least 12.0 PPR PPG. And while he ended the year on a torrid pace, he was virtually un-startable over the first half of the season. All told, he simply didn’t provide a weekly statistical edge, and wasn’t reliable all season long. As the dynasty TE2, I’d be more than happy to pivot here and sell on perceived value.
Verdict: If you own Kelce, chances are you didn’t go into the season without a backup plan. I’d happily sell for a guy like Zach Ertz, if I can get some sweeteners added in.
Kyle Rudolph, TE MIN (PPR TE2, ADP = 120.7)
2016 was the season it finally came together for the sixth-year tight end. Rudolph led all tight ends with 132 targets, and was second on the list with seven touchdowns. His efficiency was wonting, with only 83 receptions for 840 yards (10.1 YPC and 6.4 YPT), but it’s important to remember that these were Sam Bradford “extended handoff” type looks. Perhaps this will correct as the off-season drags on, but Rudolph is only the dynasty TE12 right now, despite his career year and the fact he’s signed through 2019. This will be the start of a trend here, but I’m more than willing to buy these types of guys if the rest of the dynasty community wants to spend their draft capital elsewhere.
Verdict: It wasn’t a classic breakout by any stretch, but Rudolph is a big target who runs well enough, and is a former second round pick. If he had a better “name” (think Ladarius Green) he probably would be six rounds ahead of where he currently is.
Zach Ertz, TE PHI (PPR TE6, ADP = 91.3)
I mentioned above that Kelce didn’t lap the field by any stretch, and in fact Ertz was behind him by only 0.7 PPR PPG on a weekly basis. He missed two games, but still managed to finish as the PPR TE6 on the season. Yes, there were a few lean weeks thrown in there, especially prior to his injury, but it’s prudent to remember Ertz was playing with a rookie quarterback, and went through the majority of training camp with a guy (Bradford) who was traded in early September. Regardless, Ertz closed the season securing at least six receptions in seven of nine games. And while his yearly week 17 blow-up (nearly 40 PPR points) helped add to his bottom line, I’m more than happy to accept these sorts of ups and downs at an ADP of 91.3.
Verdict: I’m of the belief Ertz is still ascending, and personally have the 26-year-old ranked as my dynasty TE7. I’d be looking to buy.
Cameron Brate, TE TB (PPR TE7, ADP = 159.0)
Brate, along with Jack Doyle below, was possibly the story of the year at the position (okay, perhaps Jimmy Graham would like a word here). Many dismissed the Harvard product despite the fact he outperformed former teammate Austin Seferian-Jenkins every step of the way through training camp (side note: sometimes the NFL nails these things, and it’s imprudent to hold onto biases about players such as ASJ when there’s overwhelming evidence suggesting there are significant warts), and continued to play well during the season. And while, much like literally everyone else at the position, he had his fair share of peaks and valleys, he still managed to lead the league in tight end touchdowns (tied with Hunter Henry). Tampa is rumored to select a tight end early, which would cool off Brate’s hype, but at cost I’m willing to take that chance.
Verdict: Brate is a sell-high candidate who you won’t actually be able to sell high on. Henry aside, rookie tight ends rarely contribute in year one, meaning Brate should have another year of viability regardless of what happens in the draft. At cost, he’s a strong hold.
Dennis Pitta, TE BAL (PPR TE8, ADP = 211.2)
Quick quiz – who led the league in receptions at the tight end position? C’mon, were you really going to say Dennis Pitta without looking it up? Stop lying, you’re embarrassing yourself. Crazily enough, the Baltimore tight end put his injury woes and a jumbled depth chart behind him en route to having a breakout year. Pitta appeared in all 16 games, leading the team in both targets and receptions. He’ll never be much of a touchdown scorer, but he has a strong rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco, and could very well be the starter come 2017. Given the price of a firm handshake, that’s a gamble I’m willing to take.
Verdict: Pitta is the type of guy you should want at the end of your bench. I’d be more than happy to hold, or flip the hyped backup running back or receiver du jour to nab him.
Jack Doyle, TE IND (PPR TE13, ADP = 224.3)
Behind all-world pass catcher TY Hilton, Doyle was second on the Colts in targets, receptions, and receiving yards. Apart from one less score, he fairly easily bested his much more hyped teammate Dwayne Allen across the board. Turning 27 in May, there’s a decent chance Doyle will cash in on 2016 success, and it’s difficult to envision him not finding a starting gig. Much like with Pitta above, these are the guys I want at the end of my bench.
Verdict: Cheap production is the name of the game if you’re not spending a premium at the position, and Doyle has as good a chance as many others in achieving that.
Eric Ebron, TE DET (PPR TE14, ADP = 96.0)
While I’m not nearly as low on him as my Dynasty One cohost (I’m not going to punch a lion in the face), I have a little bit of trouble understanding why Ebron is only a half-round lower than a guy like Zach Ertz. He decidedly showed improvement, and is a former first round pick who will only be 24 prior to the season, but there are a lot of mouths to feed in the Detroit short passing game, and Ebron hasn’t shown an ability to win down the seam or in the red zone. Later breakout can happen (see Rudolph, Kyle), but I don’t see Ebron living up to his draft pedigree.
Verdict: I’d likely sell for an early rookie second round pick, if a league-mate was desperate for help at the position.
CJ Fiedorowicz, TE HOU (PPR TE17, ADP = 126.3)
Showing the depth (i.e. mediocrity) at the position, Fiedorowicz was actually only 10 points off Ebron’s pace above, and only about 16 points away from the ranks of the TE1 tier. And while his overall numbers were nothing to write home about, the Texan more than tripled his numbers of targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns when compared to any other season. Considering the near league-worst play under center, perhaps we should regard CJF a bit more highly than we do – but if the position doesn’t get fixed, it’s hard to see him improving on his numbers. Much like many others on this list, you won’t be getting anything if you sell him, so he’s worth holding as a matchup-based option.
Verdict: CJF is probably a dime a dozen type guy, but that also happens to represent his cost. He’s worth a hold.
Hunter Henry, TE SD (PPR TE18, ADP = 69.8)
In the previous editions of this miniseries, I chronicled Saints receiver Michael Thomas and Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott as guys who exceeded expectations in year one, and should be viewed as building blocks moving forward. Henry is no different. He had a great rookie season at a position where you’re not supposed to have immediate viability, despite having to coexist with arguably the GOAT tight end in Antonio Gates. The sixth round is fine value here, and I’d be looking to buy – going into year two he’s likely already the second most talented pass catcher on the team behind only Keenan Allen.
Verdict: People are going to get crazy about their draft picks, and you might be able to nab him for a late first if your league-mates get antsy about the much talked about 2017 class.
Lance Kendricks, TE STL (PPR TE23, ADP = 241.0)
Part of me is really wishing I cut this off at the Top-20 guys. Kendricks is JAG to me, and he was only able to turn 88 targets into 499 yards (5.7 YPT). Kenny Britt might be leaving, but Tavon Austin is still there, Tyler Higbee will have a year under his belt, and the Rams will undoubtedly address the pass-catching positions either via free agency or the draft. I’d have no hesitance cutting him if I needed the roster spot.
Verdict: Kendricks just concluded his sixth year, and this is likely his high-water mark. He’s cut bait.
The Rest of the List
- Ryan Griffin, TE HOU (PPR TE24, ADP = 240.2): Griffin was only selected in one of the six January, 2017 mock drafts that helps create the ADP. See everything I wrote about Fiedorowicz above, and take about 40% off. He’s barely rosterable.
- Will Tye, TE NYG (PPR TE27, ADP = 226.2): Tye was the Giants’ top tight end, which didn’t mean a whole hell of a lot for his fantasy bottom line. He finished the year with under 100 PPR points, as the passing game simply isn’t good enough to produce more than 2-3 fantasy contributors.
- Jesse James, TE PIT (PPR TE28, ADP = 217.5): James represents a scenario where I’m actually interested. He didn’t do a whole lot in his second season, but 39 receptions isn’t terrible output for a guy who hasn’t even turned 23 yet. More importantly, he had a breakout of sorts in the post-season, with 11 receptions across three games. With Ladarius Green’s injury concerns and all-around overrated game, James might actually be a smart buy on a team looking for a second banana behind Antonio Brown.
- Vance McDonald, TE SF (PPR TE30, ADP = 214.3): Conspiracy theorists might say I stretched this list to 30 to include my personal fave at the position. Alternative facts. 30 is a nice, round, wholesome number. The best number. Deal with it. Moving on…
Though truncated by injury, McDonald had a nice little four-game stretch towards the end of the season that saw him average a nifty little 3.5-60-0.5 line, which probably represents his ceiling moving forward. Still, the 49ers paid him, and that means something – on a team where no single pass catcher eclipsed 700 yards, there’s a void to be filled, and Kyle Shanahan has proven an ability to get the most out of his athletic tight ends. I’ve been buying all along, but I’m definitely buying now.