We’re in the second half of the 2018 NFL season, and we’re still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 24.0 points per game per team. The action continues with an 11-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at the tight ends at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
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Model Tight Ends
This week, there are four tight ends at the top of our individual Pro Models.
- Jared Cook: $4,700 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel
- Jimmy Graham: $4,600 DraftKings; $6,300 FanDuel
- Jordan Reed: $4,400 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel
- Trey Burton: $3,900 DraftKings; $6,100 FanDuel
Jared Cook: Oakland Raiders (+10) vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 50 Over/Under
UPDATE (11/10): Left tackle Kolton Miller (knee), left guard Jon Feliciano (ribs), center Rodney Hudson (knee) and right guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) will all play after practicing on a limited basis this week.
Oh, my. Cook is a hard player to trust. He’s pretty much the only offensive playmaker left on the Raiders, but he’s just so inconsistent and unreliable. In the two games since the team traded away No. 1 wide receiver Amari Cooper, Cook has been the stereotypical yo-yo version of himself.
- Week 8 (vs. Colts): 15.4 FanDuel points, 4-74-1 receiving on five targets
- Week 9 (at 49ers): 3.0 FanDuel points, 2-20-0 receiving on two targets
There’s no knowing which version of Cook will show up this week.
A 2009 third-round draft pick, Cook is having the best season of his career. He’s been inconsistent, scoring fewer than seven FanDuel points in five games and more than 15 points in the other three, but he’s at least fully entrenched as the top pass-catching option for the Raiders, and his volatility makes him an intriguing option in guaranteed prize pools.
Even though he has a Consistency Rating of just 50%, Cook’s +4.37 FanDuel Plus/Minus gestures toward the type of upside he has. For the season, Cook is the No. 6 fantasy tight end with 10.8 FanDuel points per game.
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 50 targets, 494 yards receiving and three touchdowns and second with 38 receptions, 346 air yards and 228 yards after the catch.
He’s also first on the Raiders and top-five in the league among all players (including wide receivers and running backs) with nine targets inside the 10-yard line. 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 40.0% of his snaps.
Although the Raiders and Chargers are both set up well to create big plays in the passing game, the mutual matchup certainly favors the Chargers. The Raiders-Chargers game leads the slate with a 77.41 pass funnel rating, so a back-and-forth high-scoring contest is possible, but the Raiders individually have the week’s most extreme funnel defense, and the Chargers should challenge Cook specifically.
The Chargers are without weakside linebacker Kyzir White (knee, injured reserve), and strongside linebacker Kyle Emanuel (hip) is questionable after missing practice on Friday. Cornerback Trevor Williams (knee) missed practice on Thursday and Friday and seems unlikely to play after losing snaps last week to backup Michael Davis. And of course edge defender Joey Bosa (foot) is out.
But nevertheless the Chargers present Cook with a tough matchup. Overall, they are third in the league with an 87.2 Pro Football Focus (PFF) coverage grade, and the Chargers are first in pass defense against tight ends with a -56.4% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
When Cook played against the Chargers in Week 5, he was held to just four FanDuel points and 4-20-0 receiving, thanks primarily to the coverage of ace first-round safety Derwin James, who has allowed a receiving line of just 16-121-1 on 307 coverage snaps while adding an end-zone interception to his stats. He’s playing like the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
In full rebuild mode, the Raiders have a league-low two wins against the spread, and their -11.1 ATS margin is easily worse than that of any other team (per Bet Labs). The Raiders could predictably underwhelm. The Raiders are near the bottom of the slate with their implied Vegas total of 20 points, and they managed just three meaningless points last week against the hapless 49ers.
But they are coming off something of a mini bye after playing on Thursday Night Football, so it’s possible they could be more rested and prepared than usual, and they’re at home. Plus, having faced the Chargers in Week 5 could help head coach Jon Gruden concoct an opponent-specific game plan that’s something other than “Let’s win.” (Maybe.)
Cook has top-three median and ceiling projections on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the Bales, Levitan, Raybon and Freedman Models.
Jimmy Graham: Green Bay Packers (-10) vs. Miami Dolphins, 47.5 O/U
Graham entered the year with a position-high 16 touchdowns since 2016, but through half season’s worth of games this year he has just two. 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 eight and four.
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. Graham was horrible in Week 1 (2-8-0 on four targets) and coming off the bye in Week 8 (1-21-0 on four targets), but otherwise he’s been a solid contributor. When targeted more than four times in a game, Graham this year has 11.0 FanDuel points per game with a +3.32 Plus/Minus and 83.3% Consistency Rating. He trails only No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams on the Packers with his 55 targets, 32 receptions, 425 yards receiving and 540 air yards.
Slot wide receiver Randall Cobb (hamstring) has been battling a nagging soft-tissue injury for much of the season, and he’s now questionable after practicing in full on Wednesday but suffering a setback on Thursday. He is a game-time decision and will be limited if he plays. Over the past two games, Cobb has just 64 scoreless yards. Among all tight ends, Graham ranks first in the league with 183 slot routes. With Cobb’s injury situation, Graham could see more targets in the middle of the field.
Graham’s matchup is intriguing. Even with emerging cornerback Xavien Howard, the Dolphins are 26th with a 65.3 PFF coverage grade. Not one of their core defenders has a coverage grade of even 70, and their four worst performances against tight ends have all come over the past four games.
- Trey Burton (Week 6): 10.3 FanDuel points, 4-23-1 receiving on four targets
- Michael Roberts (Week 7): 18.3 FanDuel points, 3-48-2 receiving on three targets
- Jordan Thomas (Week 8): 16.9 FanDuel points, 4-29-2 receiving on four targets
- Christopher Herndon (Week 9): 8.2 FanDuel points, 4-62-0 receiving on four targets
Playing alongside Howard, cornerbacks Bobby McCain and Torry McTyer have seen significant action this year. McCain is a 2015 fifth-rounder who started on only a part-time basis before this season. McTyer is a 2017 undrafted signee who saw only limited action last year.
Neither has a coverage grade of even 60, and collectively they have allowed a 70.9% completion rate and 607 yards passing on 55 targets. Given that Graham plays primarily in the slot and last week lined up at wideout for a season-high 21 snaps, he could see a lot of action against McCain and McTyer.
Even with do-it-all first-round rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick lining up all over the field as a slot corner, box defender and free safety, the Dolphins have an exploitable defense, especially since they generate almost no pass rush: The Dolphins rank 29th in the league with a mark of 4.8% in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. Last week, safety Reshad Jones took himself out of the game after just 10 snaps. He wasn’t injured. He just didn’t feel like playing.
Jones is expected to play this week, and he’ll be one of Graham’s primary defenders.
Since Week 4, the only opponents not to score 27-plus points against the Dolphins have been the hapless Jets. This defense feels like it’s on the tipping point of disaster.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is on the positive side of his home/away, favorite/underdog and divisional/non-divisional splits this week: If Rodgers can get into a Lambeau Field-loving front-running rhythm against a team that isn’t familiar with him, that could benefit Graham tremendously. We’re projecting Graham to be one of the slate’s most popular tight ends.
Graham leads the position with eight Pro Trends on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the CSURAM88 Model.
Jordan Reed: Washington Redskins (+3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 51 O/U
UPDATE (11/10): Wide receiver Jamison Crowder (ankle) will miss Week 10.
For the past month, Reed has been in a smash spot thanks to the injury-induced absence of slot wide receiver Jamison Crowder (ankle). With all of Crowder’s middle-of-the-field targets available, Reed has looked like a strong play each week — but he’s horribly disappointed, turning his 7.8 targets into 4.5 receptions and 37.8 scoreless yards per game since Week 6. What should have been a match made in fantasy heaven with short-armed tight end-loving quarterback Alex Smith has turned into a 16-week prison sentence.
But maybe — just maybe — this is the week Reed will turn his targets into usable production.
Crowder might return this week after getting in limited practice sessions on Thursday and Friday, but he’s still questionable, and even if Crowder plays, the Redskins are one of the most injured teams in the league, especially on offense.
- Wide receiver Paul Richardson: Shoulder, IR
- Running back Chris Thompson: Ribs, out
- Left tackle Trent Williams: Thumb, out
- Left guard Shawn Lauvao: knee, IR
- Right guard Brandon Scherff: pectoral, IR
- Right tackle Morgan Moses: knee, questionable – exited Week 9 with injury
Without Richardson and Thompson, there should be extra targets for Reed, and with as many as four starting offensive linemen out, the Redskins could have a quick, short-yardage passing game plan that funnels the ball to the tight end.
And Reed has a great matchup. The Bucs are 29th in pass defense against tight ends (34.0% DVOA) and have allowed a top-two mark of 14.9 FanDuel points per game to the position. Every starting-caliber tight end to face the Bucs this season has trashed them.
- Zach Ertz (Week 2): 14.9 FanDuel points, 11-94-0 receiving on 13 targets
- Vance McDonald (Week 3): 19.2 FanDuel points, 4-112-1 receiving on five targets
- Trey Burton (Week 4): 15.6 FanDuel points, 2-86-1 receiving on four targets
- Austin Hooper (Week 6): 17.6 FanDuel points, 9-71-1 receiving on 10 targets
- David Njoku (Week 7): 13.2 FanDuel points, 4-52-1 receiving on six targets
- Greg Olsen (Week 9): 16.6 FanDuel points, 6-76-1 receiving on six targets
On top of that, they are severely injured. Middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (knee, IR) is out, as is backup middle linebacker Jack Cichy (ankle, IR). In the secondary, strong safety Chris Conte (knee, IR), outside cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (shoulder, IR) and slot corner M.J. Stewart (foot) are all out. On the line, defensive end Vinny Curry (ankle) is out.
Because of their high-scoring offense (28.6 points per game) and sieve-like defense (34.4 points per game allowed), the Bucs have seen an NFL-high seven games hit the over. I’m betting this game makes it eight, which is good for Reed’s fantasy prospects.
Since HC Jay Gruden joined the Redskins in 2014, Reed has been the No. 8 fantasy tight end with 9.9 FanDuel points per game. With his extensive injury history, Reed is yet to play 80% of the snaps in any game this year, but he is being used as a receiving specialist.
He’s run routes on 62.2% of his snaps, leaving most of the blocking workload to Vernon Davis and Jeremy Sprinkle, who have combined to block on 63.8% of their 417 snaps. Reed’s not getting as much playing time as he used to get, but when he’s on the field, he’s out there to catch the ball.
Like Cook and Graham, Reed is basically a big-bodied wide receiver: He has lined up in the slot and out wide on 57.8% of his snaps and is functioning as the team’s No. 1 pass-catching option, leading the Redskins with 53 targets, 33 receptions and 340 yards receiving.
Of all tight ends on the slate, Reed is second with a 0.19 market share of targets. Even though Reed has only three red-zone opportunities this season, his volume and matchup as well as Smith’s penchant for short passes give Reed a respectable baseline of expected production.
On Sunday morning, I might look to bet the over on Reed’s yardage prop. No team has allowed more yards to tight ends than the Bucs have at 80.3 per game. 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 176-85-6, good for a 66% win rate.
Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Reed has a position-high 68% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the Koerner and SportsGeek Models.
Trey Burton: Chicago Bears (-7) vs. Detroit Lions, 44 O/U
UPDATE (11/10): Wide receivers Allen Robinson (groin) and Taylor Gabriel (leg) will play after practicing in full on Friday.
Burton has had more than six targets in a game just once this year, but he’s the No. 7 fantasy tight end with 12.4 DraftKings points per game, hitting his salary-based expectations at a 75% rate. Discounting his two duds — the only games in which he’s failed to hit the 20-yard threshold — Burton has hit 15.3 DraftKings points per game: When Burton is involved in the game, he produces.
The Lions offer an enticing matchup for Burton. The Lions have the league’s third-worst PFF coverage grade at 51.8, and against tight ends in particular they are 30th in pass defense (35.1% DVOA). Strong safety Quandre Diggs and free safety Glover Quin have combined to allow a 74.4% catch rate in their coverage.
Lining up in the slot and out wide on 51.0% of his snaps and facing a secondary that will be more vulnerable than usual without No. 1 cornerback Darius Slay (knee, out), Burton has significant upside: He leads the team with five receiving touchdowns and is tied for first with eight red-zone targets and six targets inside the 10-yard line.
For guaranteed prize pools, you might want to use our Lineup Builder to stack Burton with quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Since 2014, tight ends on average have had a 0.47 correlation with their quarterbacks. With Trubisky, Burton has a personal-high 0.59 correlation. Last week, Burton was stacked with Trubisky in just 0.63% of Millionaire Maker lineups, and their shared ownership rate this week will probably be comparable.
Inexplicably priced to his lowest salary of the season, Burton is tied with Travis Kelce for the position lead with eight Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he’s the unanimous No. 1 tight end in all our Pro Models.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 10 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
Pictured above: Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (86)
Photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports