For three weeks, the football gawds have been good. Points have rained upon us like manna descending from fantasy heaven. And now, in Week 4, the bye has arrived: Taking their day of rest this weekend will be the Redskins and Panthers.
No Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. No Ian Thomas. No problem. We still have a robust 12-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 1 p.m. ET. Let’s break it down.
For analysis on the smaller slates, consult Chris Raybon’s premium strategy guides (released throughout the week).
In writing this piece, I’ve relied primarily on the FantasyLabs Models. This breakdown is less of a comprehensive analysis of each running back and more of an introduction to this week’s players via our large suite of analytic DFS Tools. We’ll start the two tight ends at the top of the salary scale, follow with four guys at the top of our individual Pro Models and finish with the rest of the slate’s fantasy-relevant pass-catchers.
For updates on Vegas spreads and over/unders, check out The Action Network Live Odds page.
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Highest-Priced Tight Ends
Two tight ends occupy the top of the salary scale across DraftKings and FanDuel this week.
- Rob Gronkowski: $7,000 DraftKings; $8,100 FanDuel
- Zach Ertz: $6,200 DraftKings; $7,000 FanDuel
Rob Gronkowski: New England Patriots (-6.5) vs. Miami Dolphins, 48 O/U
After a dominant Week 1 in which Gronkowski had 7-123-1 receiving and 27.3 DraftKings points on eight targets, he has gone silent, putting up just six receptions and 66 scoreless yards on nine targets for 6.3 DraftKings points per game and a horrifyingly low -9.91 Plus/Minus. That number highlights the risk Gronk carries on a weekly basis. He’s so expensive relative to other tight ends, so his salary-based expectations are astronomically high. When he’s less than his best, he’s a hard player to roster, and right now he’s not at his best.
Gronk (ankle, questionable) has an injury that’s not expected to keep him out of Week 4, but he has been limited in practice all week. It’s hard to trust Gronk when he’s not healthy, and we’re far enough into the season for the cumulative effect of the collected bumps and bruises to be felt. On top of that, Gronk is getting very little support from the other pass-catchers on the team. Opposing defenses don’t fear wide receivers Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Coardarrelle Patterson, and as good as running back James White is out of the backfield, his targets tend to be of the low-leverage variety that defenses can afford to give up. As a result, Gronk has been blanketed in coverage, resulting in a reduced 0.17 market share of targets.
But he’s still Gronk. Even though he has missed 26 regular-season games in his career, no one else in the league has more than his 77 receiving touchdowns since 2010. He has played an encouraging 98.4% of the team’s offensive snaps, and he continues to get opportunities down the field. Gronkowski had a position-high 12.1-yard average depth of target (aDOT) last season. This year, he again leads all starting tight ends with a 13.4 aDOT, and he leads the league with his five targets, three receptions and 83 yards receiving on attempts of 20 yards or more. In fact, he’s the only pass-catcher with whom quarterback Tom Brady has completed a deep pass this year.
Even though he’s not fully healthy, this could be the week that Gronk and the Pats turn around their season. For one, wide receiver Josh Gordon (hamstring, questionable) might make his debut with the team. His presence on the field would force the Dolphins to shift some of their defensive attention away from Gronk.
Additionally, Gronk has a great matchup against the Dolphins, who last year allowed a league-high 16.3 DraftKings points per game to tight ends. Gronk has faced the Dolphins just once under head coach Adam Gase, so we probably shouldn’t put too much into that one performance — but he did scored 25.2 DraftKings points with a 5-82-2 stat line. The Dolphins will likely defend Gronk with some combination of strong safety Reshad Jones, rookie free safety/slot corner Minkah Fitzpatrick and strong side linebacker Jerome Backer, who all have subpar Pro Football Focus coverage grades of 43.3, 62.9 and 60.4. Gronk certainly has the capacity to exploit this matchup.
The Pats are no longer the No. 1 team in The Action Network Power Rankings, but they’re still good enough to score points against the Dolphins. Since Gronk entered the league, Gillette Stadium has been a points-friendly venue in quarterback Tom Brady’s starts, with an A-graded 40-21-0 over/under record good for a 27.8% return on investment for over bettors (per BetLabs).
We’re projecting Gronk to be the slate’s highest-owned tight end, which makes sense given his matchup and ability. Per usual, Gronk has position-high median and ceiling projections, and he’s tied for first with seven DraftKings Pro Trends. He’s the highest-rated FanDuel tight end in the Bales, Levitan, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Zach Ertz: Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5) at Tennessee Titans, 41 O/U
Ertz leads the position and team with 33 targets on the year, and he has 10+ targets in each game this year — but this might be a game to stay away. Pass-catching running back Darren Sproles (hamstring) is out, but lead running back Jay Ajayi (back) is returning, so the Eagles could lean more on the running game than they have in the past couple of weeks.
On top of that, No. 1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (shoulder/illness) is questionable but could play this weekend. He was cleared for contact and practiced fully on Wednesday before sitting out Thursday and Friday with an unreported malady. If he plays, he could significantly impact Ertz’s target share. And let’s not forget about the recent return of slot receiver Jordan Matthews, who had three consecutive 800-yard seasons with the Eagles to open his career. Last week in his 2018 debut he played just 33 of 82 snaps, but if he sees the field more this week he could start to compete with Ertz for targets in the middle of the field.
And quarterback Carson Wentz should also be mentioned. In his return last week, he looked good — but he wasn’t great. He was the league’s presumptive Most Valuable Player at the time of his season-ending injury last year. In his Week 3 debut, Wentz had just 255 yards passing and a touchdown. The Eagles scored just 20 points. Despite what the team says, Wentz (knee) is unlikely to be 100% until November at the earliest (per Dr. David Chao). With Wentz in 2017, Ertz averaged 15.2 DraftKings points per game with a 63.6% Consistency Rating, and last week Ertz had 5-73-0 receiving on 10 targets. That stat line is good, but Wentz at less than 100% combined with the possible return of Alshon could lower Ertz’s upside.
And then there’s his matchup, which is rough. With the new defensive-minded coach Mike Vrabel, the Titans have been tough against the tight ends. Granted, they’ve played only three games, and those were against the tight end-deficient Dolphins, Texans and Jaguars. Nevertheless, the Titans have an imposing safety duo with All-Pro (and Deion Sanders fan) Kevin Byard — who led the league last year with eight interceptions — and free-agent addition Kenny Vaccaro. They also have a strong duo of interior linebackers with unit stalwart Wesley Woodyard and first-rounder Rashaan Evans. The Titans’ pass defense ranks third against tight ends with a -86.3% mark in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), and it has held the position to a league-low 4.6 DraftKings points per game.
Ertz is always capable of going off for a big game, and his locked-in role gives him a significant points cushion — he has position-high floor projections in our Models — but his circumstances give me a prolonged pause.
Another Eagles tight end:
- Dallas Goedert: $2,800 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel)
After playing just 34 snaps in Weeks 1-2, the high-upside small-school second-rounder saw 55 snaps in Week 3, turning his seven targets into a 7-73-1 performance and converting his lone red-zone target into a score. Goedert will be an inconsistent week-to-week player because of Ertz and the other pass-catchers on his team, but his upside is significant. This might sound blasphemous and ridiculous, but within a year, the Eagles could have a real Gronk-Aaron Hernandez pairing — with Goedert mirroring Gronk.
Model Tight Ends
Besides Gronk, there are four tight ends atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
- Jimmy Graham: $4,500 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
- Tyler Eifert: $3,800 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
- David Njoku: $3,200 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel
- Austin Hooper: $2,900 DraftKings; $5,000 FanDuel
Jimmy Graham: Green Bay Packers (-9.5) vs. Buffalo Bills, 44 O/U
UPDATE (9/30): Wide receiver Randall Cobb (hamstring) missed the Saturday practice. He is a true game-time decision
Graham entered the year with a position-high 16 touchdowns since 2016, but through three weeks he has yet to find the end zone. Just last year, he led the entire NFL with 26 red-zone targets and 16 targets inside the 10-yard line. This year, he has just one red zone look and nothing inside the 10. Instead of using one of the best contested-catch tight ends of all time near the goal line, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has chosen to rely on his wide receivers, who have seen 80% of the red-zone targets and 100% of the targets inside the 10. When Graham joined the Packers, the expectation was that he would function largely as a short-yardage receiver, soaking up many of the touchdown-making opportunities vacated by departed wide receiver Jordy Nelson. That hasn’t been the case at all.
But that’s not to say he hasn’t been productive. After stumbling his way to a paltry 2-8-0 receiving on four targets in Week 1, Graham was an integral part of the Packers offense in Weeks 2-3, tying No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams in those games with a team-high 156 air yards and leading with 140 yards receiving and 62 yards after the catch. With his recent usage, Graham is starting to look like a reliable part of the offense.
Wide receiver Randall Cobb (hamstring, questionable) has run 88.0% of his routes this season out of the slot, but he was added to the injury report in the middle of the week and had limited practice sessions on Thursday and Friday. He could legitimately miss Week 4. If that happens, Graham could capitalize with more targets in the middle of the field. Among all tight ends, he ranks second in the league with his 78 slot routes.
Graham doesn’t have an easy matchup — the Bills just pulled off the NFL’s biggest upset since 1995 — and they have a pair of top safeties in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, both of whom had PFF coverage grades in the 90s last season. But Graham could see extra targets if Cobb misses the game, and Rodgers has significant home/road and favorite/dog splits: If Rodgers can get into a Lambeau Field-loving front-running rhythm, that could benefit Graham tremendously.
In fact, you might want to use our Lineup Builder to stack Graham with Rodgers. They will likely be a high-upside, low-owned pairing this weekend. Last week, they were rostered together in only 0.29% of Millionaire Maker lineups. Since 2014, tight ends have had a 0.39 correlation with their quarterbacks. In his short time in Green Bay, Graham has had a 0.61 correlation with Rodgers.
Graham is the No. 1 FanDuel tight end in the CSURAM88 Model.
Tyler Eifert: Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5) at Atlanta Falcons, 53.5 O/U
The Bengals opened as +5.5 dogs, but sharp money has moved the spread in their direction. On top of that, the total opened at 48 points, but bettors have driven the over/under up to the highest total on the slate. Eifert could find himself in a high-scoring game, and he’s in a great spot to exploit it given that the Falcons are without three of the defensive starters who would otherwise match up with him: Middle linebacker Deion Jones (foot, IR), strong safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles, IR) and free safety Keanu Neal (knee, IR). The Falcons use a Cover 3 defense that intentionally yields high-percentage, low-leverage attempts to pass-catchers running short routes. While this scheme tends to funnel targets to backs, it also benefits tight ends.
An oft-injured player, Eifert has been strategically used as a receiving specialist to open the season. He’s played on just 57.9% of offensive snaps, but he’s third on the team behind wide receivers A.J. Green (108) and Tyler Boyd (94) with his 81 routes, 48 (59.3%) of which have come from the slot. He’s also third on the team with 11 receptions and 141 yards receiving. While he was relatively quiet in Weeks 1-2 with 5-67-0 receiving on seven targets, in Week 3 — his first start of the year — he had six receptions for 74 yards on eight targets. Eifert is yet to get into the end zone, but in 2015-16 he scored 18 touchdowns in his 19 healthy games.
Eifert is sixth at the position with 12.4 points per game in point-per-reception (PPR) scoring since his 2015 breakout season. He makes for an excellent GPP alternative to Green, Boyd and running back Giovani Bernard and has a positon-high 68% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the Koerner and Raybon Models.
David Njoku: Cleveland Browns (+3) at Oakland Raiders, 45 O/U
As mentioned on the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, it’s a difficult slate for tight ends, but Njoku deserves a close look. Although he did relatively little in Weeks 1-2 with 7-33-0 receiving, he did earn 14 targets, and in Week 3, once quarterback Baker Mayfield had entered the game, Njoku showed signs of life, turning his two targets into two receptions for 36 yards. The Browns offense we see in Week 4 could be closer to the second half of Week 3 than it is to Weeks 1-2.
I’m a believer in Mayfield. Early betting action indicated that Mayfield and the Browns could struggle in Oakland — but I don’t care. Mayfield was a worthy No. 1 overall pick based on his college production and skill set. Last week — without preparing as the starter — he led the Browns to their first win in 20 games, completing 73.9% of his passes at a healthy clip of 8.7 yards per attempt. Additionally, in college he heavily relied on tight end Mark Andrews (a move player, like Njoku) who had 22 touchdowns in three seasons and was an All-American and John Mackey Award winner just last year.
Njoku is facing a Raiders pass defense that ranks 30th with a 26.1% DVOA, and this is Hue Jackson’s first #RevengeGame against the Raiders as a head coach: If the Browns have a chance to pour on the points, I think they will.
Njoku is almost certain to be a high-end fantasy producer at some point. He was drafted last year in the first round after leading all draft-eligible tight ends with 11.2 yards after the catch as a Miami redshirt sophomore. With great size (6-feet-4, 246 pounds) and quickness (6.97-second three-cone), Njoku led the Browns as a 21-year-old rookie with four receiving touchdowns (26.7% of team total). In NFL history, 11 pass-catching tight ends before Njoku were selected in the first four rounds and played as 21-year-old rookies. Here they are in chronological order (with their draft positions in parentheses)
- Johnny Mitchell (1992, 1.05): Two top-five, three top-10 fantasy seasons
- Tony Gonzalez (1997, 1.13): Four top overall, 11 top-three, 13 top-five, 16 top-10 fantasy seasons
- Todd Heap (2001, 1.31): Three top-three, four-top five fantasy seasons
- Jason Witten (2003, 3.69): Two top overall, four top-three, seven top-five, 11 top-10 fantasy seasons
- Kellen Winslow (2004, 1.06): One top-five, four top-10 fantasy seasons
- Martellus Bennett (2008, 2.61): One top-five, three top-10 fantasy seasons
- Jermichael Finley (2008, 3.91): One top-five fantasy season
- Rob Gronkowski (2010, 2.42): Four top overall, six top-three, seven top-five fantasy seasons
- Aaron Hernandez (2010, 4.113): One top-three fantasy season
- Eric Ebron (2014, 1.10): Sabotaged by former HC Jim Caldwell
- Maxx Williams (2015, 2.55): Ruined by myriad injuries
The breakout is coming at some point. Njoku is the highest-rated DraftKings tight end in the Raybon Model.
On Sunday morning, I will probably look for action on Njoku’s receiving yardage prop. I think it’s likely his total will not reflect the impact Mayfield will have on the offense. To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 64-36-2, which is good for a 63% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Austin Hooper: Atlanta Falcons (-3.5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 53.5 O/U
Hooper is the No. 1 DraftKings tight end in every Pro Model this week but one (Raybon). He leads the team with three targets inside the 10-yard line, and as Anthony Amico highlighted in Week 1, the Bengals have a tight end-friendly Cover 3 defense, and for one final week they will be without linebacker Vontaze Burfict (suspension), their top coverage man in the middle of the field.
Last week, the Bengals “held” the Greg Olsen-less Panthers to just five DraftKings points at the position, but in Weeks 1-2 they allowed tight ends to dominate them.
- Week 1 (Colts tight ends): 29.4 DraftKings points, 16 targets, 12-124-1 receiving
- Week 2 (Ravens tight ends): 22.1 DraftKings points, 11 targets, 8-74-1 receiving
Against such a team, Hooper has the potential to be a low-owned multi-touchdown GPP winner. Although the Falcons struggled to score points last year and in Week 1, over the past two games the Falcons have been perfect in all all their red-zone trips.
- Week 2: 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Calvin Ridley; 8-yard touchdown pass to Hooper; 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Matt Ryan; 8-yard touchdown run by Ryan
- Week 3: 18-yard touchdown pass to Ridley; 9-yard touchdown pass to Ridley; 5-yard touchdown pass to running back Tevin Coleman (successful two-point pass to Hooper); 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (successful two-point pass to Sanu)
That’s 8-for-8 in turning red-zone drives into six-pointers. As a top target inside the 10, Hooper makes for an intriguing leverage play on almost everyone else in this game. He leads the position with a 91% leverage score on FanDuel.
Tight End Rundown
Here’s a quick look at the remaining fantasy-relevant tight ends on the slate.
George Kittle: San Francisco 49ers (+10) at Los Angeles Chargers, 46 O/U
- $4,200 DraftKings; $5,700 FanDuel
Kittle leads the team with 20 targets, 12 receptions, 191 yards receiving and 128 yards after the catch, but last year in quarterback C.J. Beathard’s starts — shower synergy aside — Kittle averaged just 3.7 DraftKings points on 3.3 targets and 1.8-19.8-0 receiving per game. Kittle will probably miss Jimmy Garoppolo (knee) a lot.
Jared Cook: Oakland Raiders (-3) vs. Cleveland Browns, 45 O/U
- $4,100 DraftKings; $5,400 FanDuel
Cook is tied for first among tight ends with seven DraftKings Pro Trends and is facing a pass defense that last year allowed tight ends to score 14.8 DraftKings points per game (the league’s fourth-highest total). Cook handily leads the Raiders with 22 targets, 18 receptions, 260 yards and 159 yards after the catch.
Trey Burton: Chicago Bears (-3) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 46.5 O/U
- $3,900 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
The Bucs have allowed a league-high 22.3 DraftKings points per game to tight ends this year, and Burton leads the team with 7.33 adjusted yards per target from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Eric Ebron: Indianapolis Colts (PK) vs. Houston Texans, 47 O/U
- $3,600 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel
Jack Doyle (hip) is out, so Ebron — as he did last week — will be the team’s No. 1 tight end and (to me) is an insta-chalk play, given how much quarterback Andrew Luck has historically relied on tight ends. In Week 3, Ebron played on on 88.1% of the snaps. He lined up in the slot or out wide on 48.1% of them. He disappointed with “just” 5-33-0 receiving, but he had 11 targets — FOUR of which came within the 20-yard line, giving him six total red-zone targets on the season.
Ebron has a position-high eight FanDuel Pro Trends and 0.29 market share of air yards. And he’s facing a pass defense that this year is ranked dead last against tight ends with an 87.7% DVOA. The Colts-Texans game features two teams with top-10 rates of play, so it could shoot out.
O.J. Howard & Cameron Brate: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3) at Chicago Bears, 46.5 O/U
- Howard: $3,500 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
- Brate: $2,600 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is spreading the ball around the offense, but Howard’s target volume has increased each week (2, 4, 8), and he’s first on the team with 114 yards after the catch. But the matchup is tough. Bears safeties Eddie Jackson (84.5 PFF coverage grade) and Adrian Amos Jr. (72.5) are both solid in pass defense, and the Bears have PFF’s No. 1 coverage unit in general with a 90.3 coverage grade.
As for Brate, he has just six targets this year and 5.4 DraftKings points per game in Fitzpatrick’s seven games as the primary Bucs quarterback over the past two years.
Benjamin Watson: New Orleans Saints (-3.5) at New York Giants, 52 O/U
- $3,300 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel
Watson has position-high 91% DraftKings leverage score and is facing a pass defense that last year allowed tight ends to score 15.3 DraftKings points per game (league’s second-highest total). [INSERT HERE obligatory reference to the Coors Field of fantasy football.] Even though the Saints aren’t at home, Watson could still be a viable GPP play. He’s averaging one red-zone target per game this year.
Will Dissly: Seattle Seahawks (-3) at Arizona Cardinals, 39 O/U
- $3,100 DraftKings; $5,300 FanDuel
Dissly is a fourth-round non-receiving homegrown University of Washington product who, after having a 6-147-2 receiving line in Weeks 1-2, had just one reception for four scoreless yards last week. I maxed the under on his receiving yardage prop last week, and I might do the same this week, especially with wide receiver Doug Baldwin (knee) slated to return.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins: Jacksonville Jaguars (-7.5) vs. New York Jets, 38.5 O/U
- $3,000 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
ASJ has exactly five targets and three receptions in each game this year, but he has just 66 yards on the season, and the Jets pass defense ranks first against tight ends with a -41.7% DVOA.
Charles Clay: Buffalo Bills (+9.5) at Green Bay Packers, 44.5 O/U
- $3,000 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
Clay (shoulder/hip) never got in a full practice this week and is in danger of missing Week 4, which is unfortunate: The Bills can’t afford to miss his 2.7 targets, 1.3 receptions and 15.7 scoreless yards per game.
Ricky Seals-Jones: Arizona Cardinals (+3) vs. Seattle Seahawks, 39 O/U
UPDATE (9/30): Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) is questionable but tentatively expected to play.
- $2,900 DraftKings; $5,300 FanDuel
RSJ has a position-high 98% DraftKings Bargain Rating and might be able to improve upon his average of five targets per game if No. 1 wide receiver and slot savant Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) sits or is limited.
Rhett Ellison: New York Giants (+3.5) vs. New Orleans Saints, 52 O/U
- $2,700 DraftKings; $4,100 FanDuel
Starter Evan Engram (knee) is out after exiting Week 13 early with an injury. In his stead, Ellison played 87.1% of the snaps, ran 24 routes and turned his three targets (including one red-zone look) into a 3-39-1 receiving line. No team has allowed more touchdowns passing than the Saints with 10.
Antonio Gates: Los Angeles Chargers (-10) vs. San Francisco 49ers, 46 O/U
- $2,700 DraftKings; $4,100 FanDuel
Gates has just 66 snaps and 48 routes on the season, but the Chargers have a slate-high 28.5-point implied Vegas total, and the 49ers have a league-low PFF coverage grade of 35.7 and a significantly injured secondary: Starting left cornerback Richard Sherman (calf) is out, starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) is doubtful and starting free safety Adrian Colbert (hip) is questionable. The 49ers pass defense is 30th against tight ends with a 73.6% DVOA, and Gates last week started to round into form with season-high marks of five targets, three receptions and 45 yards.
Jonnu Smith: Tennessee Titans (+3.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 41 O/U
- $2,600 DraftKings; $4,200 FanDuel
In his two full games without starting tight end Delanie Walker, Smith has played all but five of the offensive snaps … and gotten just two targets.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 4 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our industry-leading DFS-focused news blurbs.
Pictured above: Zach Ertz
Photo credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports