The Tight End Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each week’s main NFL slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit the NFL homepage.
Welcome to the Divisional Round, our last slate of the NFL season that will feature more than just two games. The good news is there are few things better than an epic NFL postseason slow sweat. Prepare to late swap your way to the top of the leaderboard. Although it has wider applicability, this breakdown is explicitly for the four game DraftKings and FanDuel main slates.
The Alpha Dog
With so few viable options on this short slate, the top tier is certainly easy to identify.
- Rob Gronkowski ($7,100 DraftKings, $8,500 FanDuel)
To Gronk or not to Gronk?
Whenever Gronk is in a slate, one of the first questions daily fantasy players must ask themselves is whether they wish to Gronk. When healthy, Gronk is the Shaquille O’Neal of tight ends. Even though he has missed 26 games in his career, he leads the league with 76 receiving touchdowns since 2010. Even with a goose egg in Week 17, he finished first on the Patriots with 7.5 targets per game. Even with his size and prowess as a blocker, he led all starting tight ends with 1,284 total air yards. Of all the receivers quarterback Tom Brady has targeted since returning from his four game suspension in 2016, Gronkowski has gifted Brady with the highest adjusted yards per attempt at 12.4. Gronk often isn’t the best daily fantasy play on account of his elevated salary, but he’s the most productive fantasy tight end this year and the best all-around player at his position.
The Patriots lead the slate with an implied total of 30.75 points as -13.5 home favorites and have the slate’s highest passing points expectation, so there could be a lot of damage done through the air. Gronk theoretically has the best on-paper matchup at the position, facing a Titans defense who are 24th against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ pass Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) and allowed the 11th most receiving yards per game to the position. Fellow alpha dog Travis Kelce was on his way to a huge game in the Wild Card round with a 4-66-1 stat line through less than a half before his concussion.
Gronk is an important part of New England’s identity so it’s not surprising that Brady has thrown to a tight end on 24.4 percent of his passes over the past year. It’s notable that Marcus Mariota (27.6 percent) and Nick Foles (25.7 percent) actually lead the slate in that category. Gronk is likely to get his no matter what, but Chris Hogan was not listed on the final injury report and could conceivably steal some high-value targets. Hogan led all Patriots receivers and running backs in targets inside the 10-yard line with eight. Regardless, Gronk will likely be popular. He leads all tight ends with six Pro Trends on DraftKings, and he has position-high median and ceiling projections as the consensus No. 1 tight end in our Pro Models.
The Dumpoff Pass
Kyle Rudolph ($4,700 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel): His red zone target share (25.8 percent) leads the slate for tight ends, but inside the 10-yard line Rudolph (30.0 percent) was bested by only Delanie Walker (40.0 percent). The Saints are sixth in pass DVOA against tight ends and were bottom six in both catches allowed per game (3.75) and receiving yards per game (42.44) to the position this season. They did get lit up for 8-107-1 by Greg Olsen last week, but since he sprained his ankle in Week 14, Rudolph has just a 10 percent target share (excluding Week 17). He should be viewed as a low-floor option, but one with a decent touchdown expectation.
Austin Hooper ($3,200 DraftKings, $4,900 FanDuel): Hooper has been an afterthought for the Falcons this year, but Atlanta is a three point road favorite against Philadelphia, implied to score more points (22.0) than any road team this weekend. His five targets last week were more than he has had in a game since Week 12, but he reeled in just three of those for a pathetic 15 yards receiving. He doesn’t have a red zone target in his last eight games and the Eagles have allowed only one touchdown to the position in the second half of the season. He carries far less safety than paying up a bit further, with arguably the same touchdown upside as paying further down.
Vance McDonald ($2,500 DraftKings, $4,500 FanDuel) and Jesse James ($3,500 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel): Excluding Week 17, these are the snap percentages and stat lines for the Steelers tight ends in the last two games in which both were active:
Week 16 @ HOU: McDonald- 48 percent of snaps (4-42-0, five targets), Jesse James- 53 percent of snaps (0-0-0, one target)
Week 14 vs. BAL: McDonald- 39 percent of snaps (4-52-0, six targets), Jesse James- 80 percent of snaps (10-97-0, 12 targets)
McDonald has been consistently average, where James has at least shown a ceiling in recent memory to go along with a low floor. Both are pretty much dart throws, but it would make a lot of sense for them not to target the guys covered by All-Pro cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. If Jacksonville is weak anywhere through the air, it is probably their 20th-ranked DVOA against the tight end position.
Marcedes Lewis ($2,500 DraftKings, $4,700 FanDuel): Tight ends as comparably lopsided road underdogs with similar low implied totals have historically performed well below expectation on DraftKings with a -0.23 Plus/Minus and 34.1 percent Consistency rating. Lewis does have 10 red zone targets this season, but none of which have occurred over the last seven games.
Trey Burton ($2,700 DraftKings, $4,800 FanDuel): In nine games played with Zach Ertz active this season, Burton has averaged 2.33 targets, 1.78 receptions, 15.11 receiving yards, and 0.22 receiving touchdowns. It’s probably thin, but Burton still falls into the category of athletic-freak at near stone minimum with an 84th percentile 40-yard dash.
The Model Tight Ends
Besides Gronk, there are two tight ends atop the Pro Models built by the Three Donkeys: Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), and Adam Levitan.
- Delanie Walker ($5,000 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel):
- Zach Ertz ($5,800 DraftKings, $7,200 FanDuel)
Only Gronk (33 percent) and Kelce (26 percent) saw a higher target share than Walker (23 percent) from Weeks 13 to 16. However, the matchup could definitely be better. The Patriots rank 8th in TE DVOA, allowing the 10th-fewest receiving yards to tight ends this season. He’s still the best bet for reliable targets in this Titans offense, leading the team with a 25 percent target share in the Wild Card round and seeing fewer than five targets only once all season. You could make an argument that Walker is much more reliable than wide receivers like Marqise Lee ($5,100 DraftKings, $6,400 FanDuel), Martavis Bryant ($5,000, $6.700), or Nelson Agholor ($4,000, $6,400) in the same price range. With a 92 percent Bargain Rating on FanDuel, he nearly boasts the Full Donk approval as the second-highest rated tight end (behind Kelce) in the Bales and Adam Levitan Models.
It’s unfortunate that he will be without starting quarterback Carson Wentz (knee), but Ertz and Foles have an established connection from their early days in Philadelphia under former head coach Chip Kelly. Ertz saw 31.5 percent of Foles total pass attempts in Week 15 and Week 16 and is a market share monster. Over his past 20 outings, he has turned 170 targets into a wide receiver-like stat line of 117/1,306/11. He finished as a top-20 PPR scorer out of all tight ends and wide receivers this year with the 17th highest target share (23.0 percent) and will face an Atlanta team with a middling 14th-ranked DVOA to the position. As bad as the Kelly era was in Philly, the departed coach at least did something right in drafting Ertz, who leads the position with eight Pro Trends on FanDuel.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Research the tight ends for yourself with our tools, and read the other Wild Card positional breakdowns.
- Running Backs
- Wide Receivers
- Defense & Special Teams
Good luck this week!
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