The 2018 NFL season rolls on, and we’re still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 24.0 points per game per team. We could be in for another week of high scores with a 12-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 1 p.m. ET.
With two teams on bye and six in prime-time games, we are without many top-tier tight ends.
- Thursday Night Football: Eagles (Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert) at Giants (Evan Engram)
- Sunday Night Football: Chiefs (Travis Kelce) at Patriots (Rob Gronkowski)
- Monday Night Football: 49ers (George Kittle) at Packers (Jimmy Graham)
- Byes: Lions (Luke Willson), Saints (Benjamin Watson)
Even so, this slate features some great games. 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 tight end and more of an introduction to this week’s players via our large suite of analytic DFS Tools. We’ll start with the three tight ends at the top of the salary scale, follow with five 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.
Highest-Priced Tight Ends
On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, this slate was referred to as the “Tight End Drain.” In a full slate, if there’s a clear tier of three tight ends at the top of the positional salary scale, they’re normally Gronk, Kelce and Ertz.
We have no such luck this week. Let’s get through this as quickly as possible.
Here are the three highest-priced tight ends on DraftKings and FanDuel this week.
- Eric Ebron: $5,400 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
- Jordan Reed: $5,200 DraftKings; $6,200 FanDuel
- Jared Cook: $5,000 DraftKings; $6,400 FanDuel
Eric Ebron: Indianapolis Colts (+2) at New York Jets, 45.5 O/U
UPDATE (10/14): Ebron (shin, quad, ankle, knee) is questionable. He practiced fully on Friday and is tentatively expected to play but is a game-time decision.
Ebron (shin, quad, ankle, knee) exited last game early with a smorgasbord of knee ailments, but he’s fully expected to play through his questionable tag. Fellow tight end Jack Doyle (hip) is once again out, as is No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, which means that Ebron should continue to be a target monster.
In his three games without Doyle, Ebron has hit his salary-based expectations in each game, averaging a robust 19.3 DraftKings points per game. Of course, Ebron has been owned at an outrageous 23.9% rate, but he’s provided immense value as a cash-game option: Ebron’s +11.48 Plus/Minus as the No. 1 Colts tight end is über-elite.
What’s most encouraging about Ebron is that — in addition to getting 10 or more targets in each of the past three weeks and averaging 12 targets per game in that span — he’s being used in high-value ways. For the season, he’s tied for first among all players (not just tight ends) with four red-zone touchdowns, and he’s tied for third with 12 red-zone targets. No one has more than his three receiving touchdowns inside the 10-yard line.
On top of that he’s being used as a downfield weapon. He leads the slate with 420 air yards, and his 9.3-yard average depth of target (aDOT) suggests that he’s more of a big-bodied slot receiver and less of a tight end — and the numbers back that up. Of all starting tight ends, Ebron has run a league-high 66.5% of his routes from the slot. He’s also lined up out wide on 12.1% of his snaps. He’s anything but a conventional inline tight end.
Ebron in theory has a poor matchup against the Jets, who have held tight ends to a league-low 7.5 DraftKings points per game, thanks to the play of second-year safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, who lead their defense with 80.2 and 81.6 Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades. In fact, the Jets have held tight ends to an NFL-worst 33.4 yards per game. But I’m not worried about the matchup: The Jets have played the Lions, Dolphins, Browns, Jaguars and Broncos, only one of which actually gives regular targets to the tight end position.
As long as he gets his targets — and quarterback Andrew Luck has to throw to someone — Ebron is likely to produce.
Jordan Reed: Washington Redskins (+1.5) vs. Carolina Panthers, 44.5 O/U
UPDATE (10/14): Running back Chris Thompson (rib, knee) is technically questionable but expected not to play. Wide receiver Jamison Crowder (ankle) is also questionable but expected to sit. Wide receivers Paul Richardson (knee) and Josh Doctson (heel) are questionable but seem likelier to play.
Since Jay Gruden became head coach for the Redskins in 2014, only Gronk (15.9) and Kelce (13.4) have had more fantasy points per game than Reed (12.9) in point-per-reception (PPR) scoring. Because of his extensive injury history, the team has seemingly limited him to a strict “pitch count” of 40 plays per game — he has 41, 40, 40 and 39 snaps in his four games this year — but he’s at least being used as a receiving specialist. He’s run routes on 62.5% of his snaps, leaving most of the blocking workload to Vernon Davis and Jeremy Sprinkle, who have combined to block on 67.6% of their 219 snaps. Reed’s not playing as many snaps as he used to, but when he’s on the field, he’s out there to catch the ball.
Like Ebron, Reed is basically a big-bodied wide receiver: He has lined up in the slot and out wide on 55% of his snaps and is functioning as the team’s No. 1 non-backfield receiving option. While pass-catching back Chris Thompson leads the team with 31 targets, 26 receptions and 200 yards receiving, Reed is second with 22, 15 and 189. Even though Reed has only two red-zone opportunities this year and hasn’t been targeted inside the 20-yard line since Week 1, his target share and quarterback Alex Smith’s penchant for short passes gives Reed a respectable baseline of expected production.
Reed has a position-high floor projection for DraftKings and is the No. 1 tight end in the Bales and Levitan Models.
Jared Cook: Oakland Raiders (+2.5) vs. Seattle Seahawks, 48.5 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 move tight end (6-foot-5, 246 pounds) with wide receiver speed (4.50-second 40 time), Cook is first on the team with 41 targets, 30 receptions, 390 yards receiving and 190 yards after the catch. He’s also first on the Raiders and second among all tight ends with 11 red-zone targets. Cook leads the slate with his 0.21 market share of 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. 4 fantasy tight end with 17.4 DraftKings points per game and a strong +9.18 Plus/Minus. There will be regression, but Cook’s usage indicates that he’ll be a key part of Oakland’s aerial attack moving forward: He’s lined up in the slot and out wide on a respectable potion of his snaps (44.0%).
Cook is in a good spot this week. Although the Seahawks are No. 6 in pass defense against tight ends with a -25.0% Football Outsiders’ DVOA, they have faced only a couple of teams (Bears, Cardinals) that rely on their tight ends in the passing game. If this were 2015, it would be almost unthinkable to start a tight end against the Seahawks, but they are without coverage stalwarts in free safety Earl Thomas (leg, IR), strong safety Kam Chancellor (neck, retirement) and linebacker K.J. Wright (knee, out).
If you roster Cook in tournaments, you might want to use our Lineup Builder to stack him with quarterback Derek Carr. Since 2014, tight ends on average have had 0.43 correlation with their quarterbacks. The sample is small, but with Carr, Cook has a personal-high mark of 0.52. This game is at Wembley Stadium, and since 2012, the London game has an 11-5 over/under record. Cook could find himself in a shootout. Cook has a slate-high seven Pro Trends on DraftKings and FanDuel, and he leads the position with his median and ceiling projections in our Models.
Model Tight Ends
Besides Reed, there are five 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.
- Cameron Brate: $3,700 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
- Austin Hooper: $3,500 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
- Vance McDonald: $3,400 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
- Ricky Seals-Jones: $2,700 DraftKings; $5,000 FanDuel
- Ryan Griffin: $2,500 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
Cameron Brate: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3) at Atlanta Falcons, 57 O/U
UPDATE (10/14): Tight end O.J. Howard (knee) is questionable but expected to play on Sunday.
Brate had no receptions on two targets in the first two weeks of the season. As the Bucs used more three-wide sets, Brate played fewer snaps, getting only 38 reps and running just 24 routes. Within the offense, he was an afterthought. Since then, though, he’s been much more active in the offense, running an outstanding 54 routes on 68 snaps. In Weeks 3-4, he averaged four targets for three receptions, 31.5 yards and one touchdown for 12.2 DraftKings points per game.
Coming out of the Week 5 bye, Brate should benefit from the return of starting quarterback Jameis Winston, with whom he’s exhibited a special synergy in the past. Brate has been targeted on 16-of-19 receiving touchdowns by Winston for his career, and since 2016 he has had some extreme quarterback-based splits.
- With Winston (29 games): 11.0 PPR points, 5.3 targets, 3.6 receptions, 43.2 yards receiving, 0.52 touchdowns
- Without Winston (five games): 3.6 PPR points, 2.8 targets, 1.2 receptions, 12.4 yards receiving, 0.2 touchdowns
And Brate has a good 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).
Given the return of Winston, the high over/under, the matchup and the lack of options on the slate, we’re projecting Brate to be popular. He has a position-high 68% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the Koerner, Raybon and SportsGeek Models.
Also on the Bucs:
- O.J. Howard: $3,500 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel
Howard (knee) exited Week 4 early with an injury, but he was able to rest over the Week 5 bye and practice in a limited fashion every day this week. He’s questionable but tentatively expected to play. He will, however, likely be limited if active: The team can afford to ease him back in given the presence of Brate and the extent to which the Bucs want to use packages with 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end). If Howard is unable to play, Brate will be all the more popular.
Austin Hooper: Atlanta Falcons (-3) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 57 Over/Under
In a great matchup last week, Hooper had a big game with 9-77-0 receiving on 12 targets, and he has another highly exploitable matchup this week. No team has allowed more points to tight ends this year than the Bucs, with 20.9 DraftKings points per game. They’ve allowed positive Plus/Minus performances to every starting tight end they’ve faced.
- Ben Watson (Week 1 at Saints): 8.4 DraftKings points, +2.55 Plus/Minus
- Zach Ertz (Week 2 at Bucs): 20.4 DraftKings points, +6.98 Plus/Minus
- Vance McDonald (Week 3 at Bucs): 24.2 DraftKings points, +18.6 Plus/Minus
- Trey Burton (Week 4 at Bears): 16.6 DraftKings points,+8.73 Plus/Minus
Tampa Bay’s defensive incompetence against tight ends is almost certainly not a fluke. Under defensive coordinator and former Falcons head coach Mike Smith (#RevengeGame), the Bucs have been a team focused on stopping the run, which has enabled opponents to pass at will. Additionally, the Bucs are without their primary tight end “defender” in strong safety Chris Conte (knee/stiff arm, IR). But even if he were healthy, it probably wouldn’t matter. This defense is just bad, ranking dead last with a 28.9% mark in DVOA.
On Sunday morning, I will probably look for action on Hooper’s receiving yardage prop: The Bucs have allowed a league-high 103.8 yards per game to tight ends. 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 107-58-4, which is good for a 63% win rate.
Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
The Falcons-Bucs game easily has the slate’s highest over/under, and the Falcons lead all teams with their 30.25-point implied Vegas total.
For the second week in a row, Hooper is the highest-rated DraftKings tight end in the SportsGeek Model.
Vance McDonald: Pittsburgh Steelers (+1.5) at Cincinnati Bengals, 50.5 O/U
McDonald is coming a stinker of a performance (1-6-0 receiving on two targets), but DFS beggars can’t be choosers. 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 nine appearances (including playoffs), McDonald has averaged 5.3 targets per game, and he’s had at least 50 yards or a touchdown in six of them.
Like the Falcons, the Bengals run a Cover 3 defense, which has historically resulted in lots of opportunities for opposing tight ends.
- 2018: 28 receptions allowed to tight ends, on pace for 89.6 (tied for fifth)
- 2017: 83 (tied for fourth)
- 2016: 103 (third)
- 2015: 100 (first)
McDonald’s production is always hard to project, so he’s best as a GPP-only option, but he’s tied for the position lead with seven Pro Trends on FanDuel, where he leads all tight ends with his floor projection and has the position’s highest rating in the CSURAM88 and Freedman Models.
Also on the Steelers:
- Jesse James: $2,900 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel
In Week 3, James had a massive 5-138-1 performance against the Chiefs, but since McDonald’s emergence, James has seen just four targets over the past three weeks.
Ricky Seals-Jones: Arizona Cardinals (+10) at Minnesota Vikings, 44 O/U
When not touring with his longtime band Ricky, Seals, Ros’n & 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 tied for second on the receiver-deficient Cardinals with 25 targets and is third with 123 yards receiving and 43 yards after the catch. On top of that, he leads the team with 290 air yards and all tight ends in the slate with his 0.27 market share of air yards. In first-round rookie quarterback Josh Rosen’s starts, that number has jumped up to 0.33.
His matchup is somewhat mixed. The Cardinals could have a pass-heavy game script, which would benefit RSJ, but Vikings safety Harrison Smith was an All-Pro in 2017, when he led all safeties with a 91.6 PFF coverage grade on a pass defense that ranked second against tight ends with a -24.2% DVOA. Thanks primarily to Smith, the Vikings last season held tight ends to a league-low 8.9 DraftKings points per game.
But this year this Vikings have allowed a top-five mark of 16.0 DraftKings points per game to tight ends, and Smith has regressed with his subpar 62.0 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.
Expected to have less than 1% ownership, RSJ is a punt play with a position-high 97% Bargain Rating on DraftKings, where he’s the top tight end in the Bales, Levitan and Freedman Models.
Ryan Griffin: Houston Texans (-10) vs. Buffalo Bills, 40 O/U
UPDATE (10/14): Quarterback Deshaun Watson (chest) is expected to play. He’s questionable, but his status has never been in doubt.
That Griffin is one of the tight ends popping in our Models tells you pretty much all you need to know about this slate. He dominates tight end targets (20), routes (146) and air yards (178) compared to rookie teammates Jordan Akins (10, 79, 48) and Jordan Thomas (8, 33, 62), but to date he has little to show for it with a 10-140-0 receiving line.
But to quote Gandalf, “There is more to this hobbit than meets the eye.” Griffin is third on the slate (behind Ebron and Cook) and second on his team (behind No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins) with eight red-zone targets. Although Griffin has never scored more than two touchdowns in an NFL season, in college as a senior he had 60% of his team’s receiving touchdowns — a number that is downright Gronkian.
Last week Griffin had his best game of the season with 6-65-0 receiving and 12.5 DraftKings points on nine targets. Rosterable for the stone minimum, Griffin is the No. 1 DraftKings tight end in the CSURAM88, Koerner and Raybon Models.
Tight End Rundown
Here’s a quick look at the remaining fantasy-relevant tight ends on the slate.
Trey Burton: Chicago Bears (-4) at Miami Dolphins, 41.5 O/U
- $4,500 DraftKings; $5,800 FanDuel
After doing almost nothing (1-15-0) in Week 1, Burton has hit his salary-based expectations in each game, averaging 12.8 DraftKings points per week.
Kyle Rudolph: Minnesota Vikings (-10) vs. Arizona Cardinals, 44 O/U
- $4,400 DraftKings; $6,200 FanDuel
Rudolph leads the Vikings with 17 touchdowns from scrimmage and 44 red-zone targets since 2016 even with wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the roster.
Greg Olsen: Carolina Panthers (-1.5) at Washington Redskins, 44.5 O/U
- $4,300 DraftKings; $5,900 FanDuel
Olsen (foot) is expected to return to action after suffering an injury in Week 1. He practiced in full on Thursday and Friday. Olsen led all tight ends with 591 targets and 4,844 yards receiving in the half decade before his injury-impacted 2017 campaign.
David Njoku: Cleveland Browns (-1) vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 46.5 O/U
- $3,800 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel
Njoku has a solid 11-121-0 receiving line on 18 targets in quarterback Baker Mayfield’s two starts. He has a tough matchup with ace first-round strong safety Derwin James — the Chargers are first against tight ends with a -82.4% DVOA — but Njoku might see a few extra targets with wide receiver Rashard Higgins (knee) out.
C.J. Uzomah: Cincinnati Bengals (-6) vs. Miami Dolphins, 48.5 O/U
- $3,000 DraftKings; $5,100 FanDuel
Starting tight end and mullet all-star Tyler Eifert (ankle, IR) is out for the year, and backup Tyler Kroft (foot) is also out, which leaves Uzomah with all of the snaps. The Steelers have allowed the second-most DraftKings points per game (20.7) to tight ends this year, and dating back to last season (including playoffs), the Steelers have allowed per-game averages of 27.3 points, 21.9 first downs, 375.8 scrimmage yards and 256.2 receiving yards without Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (back, PUP).
Gerald Everett & Tyler Higbee: Los Angeles Rams (-7) at Denver Broncos, 51.5 O/U
- Everett: $2,900 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
- Higbee: $2,900 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 Broncos under HC Vance Joseph have allowed top-four marks to tight ends since last season (2017, 14.9 DraftKings points per game; 2018, 16.0).
With HC Sean McVay, Rams games have a 14-7 over/under record, and on the road the Rams have hit the over at an 8-2 rate, which is good for a 56.9% return on investment for over bettors (per Bet Labs). The sample is small, but it’s probably not a fluke, considering that the McVay Rams have hit their implied Vegas totals in 16-of-21 games overall.
Geoff Swaim: Dallas Cowboys (+3.5) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 40 O/U
- $2,900 DraftKings; $4,400 FanDuel
Swaim is third on the team with 19 targets and 14 receptions, second with 159 yards receiving and 126 yards after the catch and first with Jason Witten envy. The Jags have allowed more than three receptions to just one tight end this year: Kelce. Swaim ain’t no Kelce.
Nick Vannett: Seattle Seahawks (-2.5) at Oakland Raiders, 48.5 O/U
- $2,900 DraftKings; $4,900 FanDuel
In his first game of the year without Will Dissly (patella, IR) is out, Vannett had an acceptably “meh” 3-43-0 performance on four targets. The Raiders are 28th against tight ends with a 35.5% pass DVOA, and since 2012, the favored team in the London game has hit its implied Vegas total in an outstanding 12-of-16 events.
Antonio Gates: Los Angeles Chargers (+1) at Cleveland Browns, 46.5 O/U
- $2,800 DraftKings; $5,000 FanDuel
With no more than five targets in any game and just three red-zone targets on the season, Gates is difficult to trust. He’s playing almost exclusively as a receiver with 73.2% of his snaps coming in the slot and out wide, but the rebuilt Browns pass defense is second against tight ends with a -48.3%.
Charles Clay: Buffalo Bills (+10) at Houston Texans, 40 O/U
- $2,700 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
Clay might be the best non-LeSean McCoy receiver on the Bills, yet he’s fourth in targets (15) and yards receiving (99). Since last season, the Texans have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends (2017, 14.2 DraftKings points per game; 2018, 15.8).
Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle & Maxx Williams: Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) at Tennessee Titans, 41.5 O/U
- Hurst: $2,700 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
- Andrews: $2,600 DraftKings; $4,000 FanDuel
- Boyle: $2,500 DraftKings; $4,400 FanDuel
- Williams: $2,500 DraftKings; $4,300 FanDuel
A 25-year-old first-rounder drafted by a Hall-of-Fame tight end-turned-general manager, Hurst made his 2018 debut last week with a 1-7-0 performance on two targets, playing just 24.1% of the snaps and running just 12 routes. Hopefully in the future we see better from the would-be Chris Hemsworth impersonator. As a cohort, the Ravens tight ends have combined for 16.2 PPR points per game, a top-eight mark on a per-team basis.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 6 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: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports.
Pictured: Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah (87)