Through four weeks, we are on pace for a record-breaking NFL season with a current average of 24.0 points per game per team. The fantasy gawds continue to shine their light upon us, gifting us a 12-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. ET.
While I’m not one to complain about football, this main slate isn’t as enticing as the one we had in Week 4. With two teams on a bye week and with the exclusion of prime-time games, we are without the following teams and tight ends:
- Thursday Night Football: Colts (Eric Ebron) at Patriots (Rob Gronkowski)
- Sunday Night Football: Cowboys (???) at Texans (Ryan Griffin)
- Monday Night Football: Redskins (Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis) at Saints (Benjamin Watson)
- Bye weeks: Bears (Trey Burton); Buccaneers (O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate)
Even so, there are four games on the slate with an over/under in excess of 50 points. Five teams have implied totals of at least 27 points. Plus, it’s always a good time to play some daily fantasy football.
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 wide receiver and more of an introduction to this week’s players via our large suite of analytic DFS Tools. We’ll start with 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.
- Zach Ertz: $6,500 DraftKings; $7,500 FanDuel
- Travis Kelce: $6,000 DraftKings; $7,700 FanDuel
Zach Ertz: Philadelphia Eagles (-3) vs. Minnesota Vikings, 46.5 O/U
Ertz leads the position and team with 47 targets, and he has 10+ targets in each game this season. Ertz has a tough matchup against the Vikings, but his usage since last year suggests that he’s a nearly matchup-proof player.
Vikings safety Harrison Smith was an All-Pro in 2017, when he led all safeties with a 91.6 Pro Football Focus coverage grade on a pass defense that ranked second against tight ends with a -24.2% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Thanks primarily to Smith, the Vikings last season held tight ends to a league-low 8.9 DraftKings points per game. There’s a real chance that Ertz could struggle in this matchup.
But last season, in the NFC championship game, Ertz excelled against the Vikings with an 8-93-0 receiving line on eight targets. Against Harrison in particular, Ertz had four receptions for 55 yards. Smith simply couldn’t stop Ertz — and this season he has a poor 59.1 PFF coverage grade. That will almost certainly improve as the season progresses, but it highlights the fact that Smith has struggled to this point in the season.
Last week saw the return of No. 1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had an 8-105-1 receiving performance on nine targets. Even with that, Ertz still finished the week as the No. 3 tight end with 24.2 DraftKings points on 10-112-0 receiving and 14 targets. Even with Jeffery back on the field and wide receiver Nelson Agholor competing for targets in the slot, Ertz is likely to get his opportunities, especially since pass-catching running back Darren Sproles (hamstring) is out for Week 5.
Additionally, quarterback Carson Wentz is starting to round into form as he returns from last year’s season-ending knee injury. While Ertz played well with backup quarterback Nick Foles, he averaged 15.2 DraftKings points with a 63.6% Consistency Rating in Wentz’s 2017 starts, and over the past two weeks he’s had 18.3 DraftKings points per game with a +3.81 Plus/Minus.
Ertz is yet to score a touchdown this season, but he’s third at the position with seven red-zone targets. Whenever Ertz starts finding the end zone, his already-impressive production will jump. He’s tied for first with seven Pro Trends on FanDuel, where he’s the top tight end in the Levitan Model.
- Dallas Goedert: $2,700 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
After his 7-73-1 breakout performance in Week 3, the high-upside small-school second-rounder did little in Week 4, ceding snaps to Jeffery as the offense shifted away from two-tight end sets and employed more three-wide formations. 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. Within a year, he and Ertz could combine to form a real Gronk-Aaron Hernandez-esque pairing.
Travis Kelce: Kansas City Chiefs (-3) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 49 O/U
After a horrendous 1-6-0 receiving performance in Week 1, Kelce has lit it up.
- Week 2 (at Steelers): 32.9 DraftKings points, +19.98 Plus/Minus, 7-109-2 receiving on 10 targets
- Week 3 (vs. 49ers): 22.4 DraftKings points, +7.46 Plus/Minus, 8-114-0 receiving on 10 targets
- Week 4 (at Broncos): 20.8 DraftKings points, +5.36 Plus/Minus, 7-78-1 receiving on 12 targets
Kelce’s +11.02 Plus/Minus over the past three weeks is unthinkably high for someone with his salary-based expectations. Right now he’s in full-on Zeus mode.
Kelce enters Week 5 with a position-high 0.28 market share of targets and 0.26 market share of air yards. It’s not a surprise that Kelce has position-high median and ceiling projections in our Models. Best of all, Kelce is on the positive side of his home/away and favorite/underdog splits: Since 2016, Kelce has averaged 17.2 DraftKings points per game at Arrowhead Stadium when the Chiefs have been laying points.
But there’s a problem with Kelce: His matchup is bad. That might not matter thanks to his elite usage, but the Jags have held tight ends to a league-low 6.8 DraftKings points per game this season, and that’s probably not a fluke. Last season the Jags had a league-best 94.5 PFF coverage grade, and this year they’ve manhandled Gronk (3.5 DraftKings points, 2-15-0 receiving) and Giants tight end Evan Engram (3.8 DraftKings points, 2-18-0 receiving). He could have a typical high-scoring game, but he also might struggle.
Regardless, Kelce could have a double-digit ownership rate in guaranteed prize pools. But if you believe in the supremacy of the Chiefs offense, use our Lineup Builder to stack Kelce with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and maybe even wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Because of their tough matchups, I expect that the three of them will be rostered together in less than 1.0% of Millionaire Maker lineups. Since 2014, tight ends on average have had a 0.42 correlation with their quarterbacks. With his quarterbacks, Kelce has had a 0.63 correlation.
Kelce is tied for first with seven Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner and Raybon Models.
Model Tight Ends
Besides Ertz and Kelce, 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.
- Jared Cook: $4,800 DraftKings; $5,900 FanDuel
- Vance McDonald: $3,700 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
- Austin Hooper: $3,000 DraftKings; $5,000 FanDuel
- Ricky Seals-Jones: $2,900 DraftKings; $5,100 FanDuel
Jared Cook: Oakland Raiders (+5.5) at Los Angeles Chargers, 52.5 O/U
Ten years into his NFL career, Jared Cook is finally living up to his potential as a 2009 third-round draft pick. Even though he’s a tight end, Cook is entrenched as the top pass catcher for the Raiders. A mismatch nightmare as a big-bodied moving tight end (6-foot-5, 246 pounds) with wide receiver speed (4.50-second 40 time), Cook is first on the team with 35 targets, 26 receptions, 370 yards receiving, 189 yards after the catch and two touchdowns receiving. He’s also first on the Raiders and second among all tight ends with eight red-zone targets.
In the past, Cook has been a volatile player with periodic and random blowup games followed by a string of below-average performances. This year, though, he’s vacillated between utterly dominant and acceptably average, and his elevated floor has made a big difference to his overall stats. For the season, he’s the No. 1 fantasy tight end with 20.3 DraftKings points per game and an outrageous +12.51 Plus/Minus. There will be regression, but Cook’s usage indicates he’ll be a key part of Oakland’s aerial attack moving forward: He’s lined up in the slot (64) and out wide (50) collectively almost as many snaps as he’s been inline (139).
This week, though, he’ll be tested. The Chargers will be without weakside linebacker Kyzir White (knee), but Cook should expect to see regular coverage from ace first-round safety Derwin James, who already has a top-10 PFF coverage grade (80.2) at the position and is the highest-rated cover man in the Chargers secondary. He’s playing like the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
On 130 coverage snaps, James has been targeted 13 times, allowing just six receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown and picking off a pass in the end zone. In his two non-blowup games this year, Cook has averaged just five targets. James could easily hold Cook to a 3-35-0-ish line on four targets. The Chargers are first in pass defense against tight ends with a -70.3% DVOA.
Cook is tied for first with seven Pro Trends on DraftKings and he’s the highest-rated FanDuel tight end in the Freedman Model — but he has a tough matchup.
Vance McDonald: Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) vs. Atlanta Falcons, 58 O/U
As we highlighted on the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, McDonald is the tight end du jour for Sunday. In a week with a historically high number of 50-point over/unders, it should come as no surprise that the Steelers-Falcons game has the highest total of the season. The Steelers are favorites at home, where they markedly outperform their road statistics, and they have a slate-high implied total of 30.5 points. Load up.
A 93rd-percentile SPARQ second-rounder who failed to develop in his first four seasons with the 49ers, McDonald has been impressive (albeit inconsistent) with the Steelers. Although he was plagued by injuries last year, McDonald flashed in the second half of the season, and his playmaking contributions have carried over to the 2018 season. Over his past eight appearances (including playoffs), McDonald has averaged 5.8 targets per game, and he’s had at least 50 yards or a touchdown in six of them.
And unlike the expensive top tight ends in the slate, McDonald has a beautiful matchup. The Falcons run a Cover 3 defense that intentionally funnels targets to the middle of the field. As long as they are able to limit the yardage earned on these plays, their defense can bend without breaking. The problem, though, is that the Falcons are without key coverage defenders in middle linebacker Deion Jones (foot, IR), free safety Keanu Neal (knee, IR) and strong safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles, IR).
They have collectively been replaced by Duke Riley, a second-year player with a 57.8 PFF coverage grade; Damontae Kazee, a second-year fifth-rounder with just 226 coverage snaps; and Brian Poole, an undrafted third-year cornerback playing out of position as a box safety. McDonald has gone over 100 yards in two of his past four games, and he has the potential to do that again this week.
On Sunday morning, I will probably look for action on McDonald’s receiving yardage prop. He’s smashed the over in each of the past two weeks. 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 90-45-3, which is good for a 65% win rate.
Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
McDonald has a position-high 68% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the top-rated tight end in the Bales, CSURAM88, Koerner, Raybon and SportsGeek Models.
Also on the Steelers:
- Jesse James: $3,100 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel
In Week 2, James had a massive 5-138-1 performance against the Chiefs, but since McDonald’s emergence, James has seen just one target in each of the past two weeks. But given the state of the Falcons defense, James might have some value as a contrarian leverage play on all his teammates.
Austin Hooper: Atlanta Falcons (+3) at Pittsburgh Steelers, 58 O/U
Hooper disappointed last week with a 1-19-0 performance on two targets in a good matchup against the Bengals, so he’s likely to have low ownership. But he has a lot of upside in what’s expected to be a high-scoring game. No team has allowed more points to tight ends this year than the Steelers, with 21.2 DraftKings points per game. They’ve allowed positive Plus/Minus performances to almost every tight end they’ve faced.
- David Njoku (Week 1 at Browns): 4.3 DraftKings points, -2.31 Plus/Minus – game played in poor passing weather
- Travis Kelce (Week 2 vs. Chiefs): 32.9 DraftKings points, +19.98 Plus/Minus
- O.J. Howard (Week 3 at Buccaneers): 13.2 DraftKings points, +6.76 Plus/Minus
- Cameron Brate (Week 3 at Buccaneers): 12.4 DraftKings points,+7.69 Plus/Minus
- Maxx Williams (Week 4 vs. Ravens): 10.1 DraftKings points,+5.76 Plus/Minus
- Nick Boyle (Week 4 vs. Ravens): 6.6 DraftKings points,+2.26 Plus/Minus
- Mark Andrews (Week 4 vs. Ravens): 3.2 DraftKings points, -1.39 Plus/Minus
Pittsburgh’s defensive incompetence against tight ends is almost certainly not a fluke. Dating back to last season (including playoffs), the Steelers have allowed per-game averages of 28.4 points, 21.9 first downs, 381.6 scrimmage yards and 255.6 receiving yards without Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (back, PUP).
Against such a team, Hooper has the potential to be a low-owned multi-touchdown GPP winner. The Falcons infamously struggled in the red zone last season under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, but they’ve been perfect inside the 20-yard line over the past three weeks, converting all 13 of their trips into points (11 touchdowns and two field goals). Hooper leads the Falcons with three targets inside the 10-yard line. He’s a real candidate to get in the end zone this week.
Hooper is the highest-rated DraftKings tight end in the SportsGeek Model.
Ricky Seals-Jones: Arizona Cardinals (+3) at San Francisco 49ers, 40 O/U
When not touring with his longtime band Ricky, Seals, Nash & Jones, the second-year undrafted wide receiver-turned-tight end makes occasional plays in the NFL. While he’s done little to this point in his career, he is third on the receiver-deficient Cardinals with 19 targets, 123 yards receiving, 180 air yards and 43 yards after the catch. In first-round quarterback Josh Rosen’s first start last week, RSJ led the team with 52 yards receiving.
The 49ers will have safeties Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) and Adrian Colbert (hip) back for this matchup, but they have allowed a league-high four touchdowns to tight ends this year and 16.7 DraftKings points per game (sixth-highest mark). After opening at +5.5, the spread has heavily moved toward the Cardinals even though only 24% of the money is backing them — which means that the sharps like them.
On the Friday edition of The Favorites podcast, Chad Millman and BlackJack Fletcher picked the Cardinals as one of the teams they’re entering this week in the Westgate SuperContest. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Arizona score some points.
A punt play with low ownership, RSJ at least has position-high 95% and 94% leverage scores on DraftKings and FanDuel, and he leads all tight ends with his 96% Bargain Rating on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 option in the Freedman and Bales Models.
Tight End Rundown
Here’s a quick look at the remaining fantasy-relevant tight ends on the slate
George Kittle: San Francisco 49ers (-3) vs. Arizona Cardinals, 40 O/U
- $5,400 DraftKings; $6,400 FanDuel
Kittle leads the team with 28 targets, 18 receptions, 316 yards receiving and 218 yards after the catch. In Week 4, Kittle exhibited some serious shower synergy with college teammate and current starting quarterback C.J. Beathard, putting up a 6-125-1 performance on a team-high eight targets.
Jimmy Graham: Green Bay Packers (PK) at Detroit Lions, 51 Over/Under
- $4,700 DraftKings; $6,100 FanDuel
After stumbling his way to a paltry 2-8-0 receiving on four targets in Week 1, Graham has averaged 12.0 DraftKings per game in Weeks 2-4. He’s not the scorer he was last year, when he led the entire NFL with 26 red-zone targets, but he has gotten three red-zone looks within the past two weeks, turning one of them into a three-yard touchdown.
Slot receiver Randall Cobb (hamstring) is out, and wide receiver Geronimo Allison (concussion, hamstring) is questionable but expected not to play. There’s even a chance that Davante Adams (calf, questionable) won’t play. No starting tight end runs a higher percentage of his routes in the slot than Graham (66.7%). With Cobb out and Allison and Adams uncertain, Graham could capitalize with more targets.
Kyle Rudolph: Minnesota Vikings (-3) at Philadelphia Eagles, 46.5 O/U
- $4,500 DraftKings; $6,100 FanDuel
Rudolph leads the Vikings with 17 touchdowns from scrimmage and 43 red-zone targets since 2016 even with wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the roster. Rudolph has been more productive away (13.5 DraftKings points per game, including one neutral contest) than at US Bank Stadium (10.3). Rudolph is tied for first with seven FanDuel Pro Trends, and the Eagles are without safety Rodney McLeod (knee, IR), who led the secondary with a 78.2 PFF coverage grade.
David Njoku: Cleveland Browns (+3) vs. Baltimore Ravens, 45.5 O/U
- $3,400 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel
Njoku has a 7-88-0 receiving line on nine targets with quarterback Baker Mayfield, but the Ravens have a slate-high 86.7 PFF coverage grade and have strong cover men in safeties Tony Jefferson, Eric Weddle and Anthony Levine. They are yet to allow a touchdown to the position.
C.J. Uzomah & Tyler Kroft: Cincinnati Bengals (-6) vs. Miami Dolphins, 48.5 O/U
- Uzomah: $2,900 DraftKings; $4,700 FanDuel
- Kroft: $2,900 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
Starting tight end and mullet all-star Tyler Eifert (ankle, IR) is out for the year. Last year, Kroft averaged 8.8 PPR points per game without Eifert, but this year Uzomah has played more snaps (159 to 93) and run more routes (65 to 21) than Kroft. It’s impossible to know how usage will shake out for these two.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins: Jacksonville Jaguars (+3) at Kansas City Chiefs, 49 O/U
- $2,900 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
ASJ has no fewer than four targets and two receptions in each game — which is not at all exciting — but the Chiefs are dead last with a 41.3 PFF coverage grade, and they’ve allowed 18.0 DraftKings points per game to tight ends this year. If the Chiefs are able to score against the Jags, ASJ could benefit from a pass-heavy game script. The Chiefs are once again likely to be without All-Pro safety Eric Berry (heel, doubtful).
Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams & Mark Andrews: Baltimore Ravens (-3) at Cleveland Browns, 45.5 O/U
- Hurst: $2,800 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
- Andrews: $2,600 DraftKings; $4,000 FanDuel
- Williams: $2,500 DraftKings; $4,300 FanDuel
- Boyle: $2,500 DraftKings; $4,400 FanDuel
Hurst (foot, questionable) has practiced on a limited basis all of this week and might finally make his NFL debut. In his absence, the rest of the Ravens tight ends have combined for 18 PPR points per game, the league’s sixth-highest mark on a per-team basis.
Ian Thomas: Carolina Panthers (-6.5) vs. New York Giants, 43.5 O/U
- $2,800 DraftKings; $4,000 FanDuel
Thomas has just four targets per game in his two starts without Greg Olsen (foot), and now he has to face All-Pro strong safety Landon Collins.
Antonio Gates: Los Angeles Chargers (-5.5) vs. Oakland Raiders, 52.5 O/U
- $2,800 DraftKings; $4,800 FanDuel
After treating Weeks 1-2 like his own personal preseason, Gates has rounded into form over the past two weeks. He’s still playing limited snaps, but he has 10 targets since Week 3 and is being used almost exclusively as a receiver with 76.4% of his snaps coming in the slot and out wide.
Charles Clay: Buffalo Bills (+5.5) vs. Tennessee Titans, 39.5 O/U
- $2,700 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
Clay (hip/shoulder) is questionable, and if he plays he’ll face an imposing safety duo in All-Pro (and Deion Sanders fan) Kevin Byard — who led the league last year with eight interceptions — and free-agent addition Kenny Vaccaro.
Jonnu Smith: Tennessee Titans (-5.5) at Buffalo Bills, 39.5 O/U
- 2,700 DraftKings; $4,200 FanDuel
In his three games without starting tight end Delanie Walker, Smith has played all but seven of the offensive snaps … and gotten just four targets.
Rhett Ellison: New York Giants (+6.5) at Carolina Panthers, 43.5 O/U
- $2,700 DraftKings; $4,400 FanDuel
The Panthers are 30th in pass defense against tight ends with a 45.0% DVOA, and Ellison has eight targets in his two games without starter Evan Engram (knee).
Jeff Heuerman: Denver Broncos (-1) at New York Jets, 42.5 O/U
- $2,600 DraftKings; $4,400 FanDuel
Heuerman had a respectable 4-57-0 performance on seven targets last week in his first 2018 game without No. 1 tight end Jake Butt (knee), but the Jets have held tight ends to the second-fewest DraftKings points per game (7.5).
Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett: Los Angeles Rams (-7.5) at Seattle Seahawks, 50 O/U
- Everett: $2,500 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
- Higbee: $2,500 DraftKings; $4,200 FanDuel
These guys will have almost no ownership, but they’re mildly intriguing as longshot leverage plays. The Rams have an explosive offense as the No. 1 team in The Action Network NFL Power Rankings, and the Seahawks will be focused on stopping running back Todd Gurley and the league’s best trio of wide receivers. Everett and Higbee could capitalize on this defensive disinterest. It only takes one play for one of these guys to hit value, and no team has completed more passes of 20+ yards than the Rams.
The Seahawks defense is not what it once was. Free safety Earl Thomas (leg, IR) and linebackers K.J. Wright (knee) and Mychal Kendricks (suspension) are out. Cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor, and edge defenders Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril — all of whom were Pro Bowlers in Seattle — are no longer with the team. Three years ago, it would’ve been unthinkable to play a bottom-tier tight end against the Seahawks. Now, it’s at least something to consider.
With head coach Sean McVay, Rams games have a 13-7 over/under record, and on the road the Rams have hit the over at a 7-2 rate, which is good for a 52.4% return on investment for over bettors (per Bet Labs). The sample is small, but it’s probably not a fluke given that McVay’s Rams have hit their implied Vegas totals in 15-of-20 games overall.
Nick Vannett: Seattle Seahawks (+7.5) vs. Los Angeles Rams, 50 O/U
- $2,500 DraftKings; $4,300 FanDuel
Will Dissly (patella, IR) is out, so Vannett presumably will play as the No. 1 tight end. He has a tough matchup against strong safety John Johnson, who has allowed an average of just 20 scoreless yards per game this season.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 5 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.
Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports.
Pictured: Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald