The 2018 NFL season rolls on, and we’re still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 24.1 points per game per team. We could be in for another week of high scores with a 10-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 1 p.m. ET.
With four teams on bye, two at Wembley Stadium and six in prime-time games, we are without the following tight ends.
- Thursday Night Football: Broncos (Jeff Heuerman) at Cardinals (Ricky Seals-Jones)
- International Series (London): Titans (Jonnu Smith) at Chargers (Antonio Gates)
- Sunday Night Football: Bengals (C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft) at Chiefs (Travis Kelce)
- Monday Night Football: Giants (Evan Engram,) at Falcons (Austin Hooper)
- Byes: Packers (Jimmy Graham), Raiders (Jared Cook), Steelers (Vance McDonald, Jesse James), Seahawks (Nick Vannett)
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 quarterback 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 two 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
There are three tight ends at the top of the salary scale this week.
- Zach Ertz: $7,100 DraftKings; $7,500 FanDuel
- Rob Gronkowski: $6,000 DraftKings; $7,600 FanDuel
- Eric Ebron: $5,400 DraftKings; $6,800 FanDuel
Zach Ertz: Philadelphia Eagles (-5) vs. Carolina Panthers, 44.5 O/U
UPDATE (10/20): Left tackle Jason Peters (biceps) and right tackle Lane Johnson (ankle) will both play. Running back Darren Sproles (hamstring) is out.
With apologies to Gronk and Kelce, Ertz is the best tight end in the league right now. He is tied for sixth in the league with 67 targets. He’s second overall with 48 receptions. He’s top-10 with 11 red-zone targets. He’s the team leader with 480 yards receiving and 444 air yards. He’s just one yard shy of tying the Eagles’ leader with 153 yards after the catch. Ertz leads all tight ends with 19.0 DraftKings points per game. He’s the modern-day prototype, capable of playing snaps inline (181), in the slot (181) and out wide (59).
While strong safety Mike Adams is a solid veteran and Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson form one of the best linebacking units in the league, Ertz has an exploitable matchup against the Panthers.
Discounting irrelevant tight ends like Geoff Swaim (Week 1) and Rhett Ellison (Week 5), better tight ends have done well against the Panthers this season.
- Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen (Falcons, Week 2): 18.9 DraftKings points, 6-69-1 receiving on six targets
- Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft (Bengals, Week 3): 25.9 DraftKings points, 9-109-1 receiving on 11 targets
- Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis (Redskins, Week 3): 22.4 DraftKings points, 8-84-1 receiving on 12 targets
Even with the return of No. 1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in Week 4, Ertz has dominated the team’s aerial usage. In truth, he’s the team’s clear top receiving option.
- Ertz (Weeks 4-6): 23.8 DraftKings points per game, 34 targets, 123 routes, 27-265-2 receiving
- Jeffery (Weeks 4-6): 20.3 DraftKings points per game, 29 targets, 123 routes, 18-218-3 receiving
Ertz leads all tight ends with his position-high median, ceiling and floor projections on FanDuel, where he has a position-high nine Pro Trends and a 99% Bargain Rating and is the No. 1 option in the Bales, Levitan, Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Also on Eagles:
- Dallas Goedert: $2,600 DraftKings; $4,400 FanDuel
After his 7-73-1 breakout performance in Week 3, the high-upside small-school second-rounder has done relatively little, losing potential targets to No. 1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who made his 2018 debut in Week 4. 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.
Rob Gronkowski: New England Patriots (-3) at Chicago Bears, 48.5 O/U
UPDATE (10/20): Tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/ankle) did not travel with the team to Chicago. He is officially questionable but fully expected not to play.
Gronk is still great — but the Pats are no longer using him like Gronk. He’s “just” the No. 6 fantasy tight end on the season, averaging 12.4 DraftKings points per game with a -2.78 Plus/Minus and 16.7% Consistency Rating. He’s hit salary-based expectations only once, in Week 1, when Gronk had 7-123-1 receiving and 27.3 DraftKings points on eight targets. Since then, his production is down, averaging 5.4 targets, 3.8 receptions and 56.4 scoreless yards per game. Gronk’s -5.70 Plus/Minus for Weeks 2-6 is terrifying for a player always priced near the top of his position. That number highlights the risk Gronk carries on a weekly basis. When he’s less than his best, he’s a hard player to roster, and right now he’s not at his best.
From 2011 (Gronk’s first All-Pro season) to last season, he had 7.7 targets per game and a 9.9% touchdown rate. The Pats made a point of getting the ball to Gronk, especially in high-leverage situations with touchdown potential. This season, though, Gronk has 5.8 targets per game and a 2.9% touchdown rate. The Pats seem to care less about getting Gronk touches and touchdowns than they used to.
It’s not as if Gronk is useless. Since Week 4, when wide receiver Josh Gordon made his Patriots debut, Gronk is second on the team with 18 targets and 13 receptions and first with 2016 and 208 air yards. He’s contributing. But Brady has seven touchdowns over the past three weeks — and they’ve gone to five guys who won’t be first-ballot Hall-of-Famers. In fact, Brady has thrown 13 touchdowns this season, and just one has found its way into Gronk’s massive hands. That’s abnormal, considering that Gronk has been the league’s most prolific pass-catching scorer ever since his rookie season, scoring a league-high 77 receiving touchdowns in that span even though he’s missed 26 regular-season games.
Gronk is still Gronk in that he’s always capable of putting up a 10-reception, 100-yard, two-touchdown game. He’s just less likely to do that now than he was in the past. The potential exists, but the opportunities have diminished. And this week he has a tough matchup against a Bears defense that ranks first overall and first against the pass with -21.2% and -20.3% marks in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
Gronk is tied for first with seven Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the Bales Model. He’s also the top option in the CSURAM88 FanDuel Model.
But it’s hard for me to see Gronk as anything more than a strategic GPP play until his target volume increases.
Eric Ebron: Indianapolis Colts (-7) vs. Buffalo Bills, 43 O/U
UPDATE (10/20): Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (chest, hamstring) was not listed on the final injury report. He will play in Week 7.
The Colts are expected to welcome back No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (chest, hamstring), but tight end Jack Doyle (hip, out) will miss his fifth straight game, so Ebron should continue to enjoy his elite usage.
In his four starts without Doyle, Ebron has hit his salary-based expectations each week, averaging a robust 18.7 DraftKings points per game. Of course, Ebron has been owned at an outrageous 17.8% rate, but he’s provided immense value as a cash-game option: His +9.95 Plus/Minus as the No. 1 Colts tight end is über-elite.
What’s particularly encouraging about Ebron is, in addition to averaging 10.8 targets per game without Doyle, he’s been used in high-value ways throughout the entire campaign. For the season, he’s first among all players (not just tight ends) with five touchdowns on passes into the end zone. He’s tied for first (with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown) with 11 end-zone targets. He’s second with four red-zone touchdowns and fourth with 14 red-zone targets. With six receiving touchdowns on the season, Ebron is in a five-way tie for the league lead. No one else on the Colts has even half that number.
On top of that he’s being used as a downfield weapon. Among all tight ends on the slate, he’s the leader with 525 air yards, and his 10.1-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 67.0% of his routes from the slot. He’s also lined up out wide on 12.2% of his snaps.
The Bills rank second in pass defense with a -19.7% DVOA, and they are specifically fourth against tight ends thanks to the play of strong safety Jordan Poyer and free safety Micah Hyde, who have above-average Pro Football Focus (PFF) coverage grades of 73.6 and 76.5. While they have collectively been targeted in coverage at a rate of just 4.3%, they have allowed a 66.7% catch rate. Additionally, Ebron is likely to see at least a few snaps against linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, the team’s primary pass defenders at the position. They have been targeted at a much higher rate (13.5%) and allowed a catch rate of 82.1%. One way or another, Ebron’s likely to get his targets.
On Sunday morning, I might look to bet the over on Ebron’s 0.5 touchdown prop, depending on how much juice that side has. Quarterback Andrew Luck is funneling the ball to Ebron whenever the Colts are within striking distance of the end zone, and the Bills have given up touchdowns to the only two starting-caliber tight ends they’ve faced — Kyle Rudolph (Week 3) and Jimmy Graham (Week 4).
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 137-64-4, which is good for a 67% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Ebron is tied for first with seven Pro Trends on DraftKings.
Model Tight Ends
Besides Ertz and Gronk, there are two 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.
- Jordan Reed: $4,800 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
- Kyle Rudolph: $3,900 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
Jordan Reed: Washington Redskins (PK) vs. Dallas Cowboys, 41.5 O/U
This could be a smash spot for Reed. The Redskins are incredibly thin at wide receiver. Jamison Crowder (ankle) missed last week and has already been declared out. Additionally, Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) is doubtful and expected to sit out. Washington’s wide receivers will be some unholy combination of Josh Doctson, Maurice Harris, Michael Floyd and Brian Quick.
On top of that, running back Chris Thompson (ribs) is questionable after missing last week. He practiced on a limited basis each day this week, so he seems likelier than not to play. He should still be considered a game-time decision, and even if plays he might have a reduced role.
Given this target vacuum, Reed has a massive opportunity to fill the void.
Since Jay Gruden became head coach for the Redskins in 2014, only Gronk (15.8) and Kelce (13.4) have had more fantasy points per game than Reed (12.8) in point-per-reception (PPR) scoring. With his extensive injury history, the Redskins seemingly limited him to a strict “pitch count” of 40 plays per game in the first month — he had 41, 40, 40 and 39 snaps in his first four games — but last week he played 47 snaps and was targeted a season-high nine times.
Even though Reed is yet to play even 70% of the snaps in any game, he’s at least being used as a receiving specialist. He’s run routes on 62.3% of his snaps, leaving most of the blocking workload to Vernon Davis and Jeremy Sprinkle, who have combined to block on 65.6% of their 276 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 Ebron, Reed is basically a big-bodied wide receiver: He has lined up in the slot and out wide on 53.1% of his snaps and is functioning as the team’s No. 1 non-backfield receiving option. Thompson leads the Redskins with 26 receptions, but Reed is tied with him for first with 31 targets and has a team-high 225 yards receiving. He’s second with 20 receptions and 222 air yards. Even though Reed has only two red-zone opportunities this season 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 give Reed a respectable baseline of expected production.
Reed is the highest-rated FanDuel tight end in the Raybon Model.
Also on Redskins:
- Vernon Davis: $3,200 DraftKings; $4,800 FanDuel
With the lack of reliable options at wide receiver, Davis could see more pass-catching work than he usually does. Although he has only eight targets over the past three weeks, Davis has been efficient with his opportunities, producing a 7-133-1 receiving line. He could have some unexpected production at almost no ownership.
This might seem irrelevant, but Davis and Smith played together on the 49ers for six seasons before Smith was traded to the Chiefs in 2013. They have a time-tested, trans-franchise connection. Smith has thrown 188 touchdowns in his career. Davis has caught the most, with 31. Likewise, Davis has 61 receiving touchdowns. They 31 he’s gotten from Smith are a majority.
Of all the pass-catchers Smith has ever played with, Davis is second (right behind Kelce) with 369 targets, 238 receptions and 3,082 yards. And those numbers put Smith at the top of Davis’ list of personal quarterbacks. Of all the passers to direct a minimum of 30 targets to Davis throughout his career, Smith has been the most efficient with Davis with those attempts, producing a mark of 9.1 adjusted yards per attempt.
I’m not saying that Smith and Davis are going to turn the clock back to 2009 and hook up for multiple touchdowns in this game. But if given the option between checking the ball down to a guy he’s throw to hundreds of times before or throwing further down the field to a backup wide receiver, Smith might opt to funnel targets to his two-time teammate.
Kyle Rudolph: Minnesota Vikings (-3.5) at New York Jets, 46 O/U
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. The Jets have held the position to just 11.1 DraftKings points per game, but they’ve also had a soft schedule against tight ends: The Lions, Dolphins, Jaguars and Broncos don’t give regular targets to the position, and when the Jets faced David Njoku in Week 3 he was still being targeted by the inaccurate Tyrod Taylor (48.8% completion rate).
But last week the Jets finally faced a functional tight end partnered with a real quarterback — and Ebron had a 4-71-1 performance on seven targets. This week the Jets are expected to be without free safety Marcus Maye (hand) and cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson (quad) and Buster Skrine (concussion), so their secondary is already vulnerable. On top of that, strong safety Jamal Adams might have to focus more on wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs than he normally would, which could give Rudolph more room to operate in the middle of the field. And inside linebacker Darron Lee — even with his three interceptions on the season — has allowed an 82.1% catch rate in his coverage.
While most players tend to perform better at home, Rudolph is actually aided by his reverse splits, which he’s had since at least his 2016 breakout season.
- Home (19 games): 10.1 DraftKings points, +1.16 Plus/Minus, 52.6% Consistency Rating
- Away (19 games): 13.2 DraftKings points, +4.37 Plus/Minus, 73.7% Consistency Rating
Priced down, Rudolph is the cheapest he’s been since Week 7 of last season on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in every Pro Model except for one (Bales).
Tight End Rundown
Here’s a quick look at the remaining fantasy-relevant tight ends on the slate.
George Kittle: San Francisco 49ers (+9.5) vs. Los Angeles Rams, 52 O/U
UPDATE (10/20): Wide receivers Pierre Garcon (knee, shoulder) and Trent Taylor (back) are questionable. Garcon is likelier than Taylor to play. Wide receiver Dante Pettis (knee) is out.
- $5,000 DraftKings; $6,400 FanDuel
Kittle leads the team with 41 targets, 27 receptions, 429 yards receiving and 308 yards after the catch. In his three 2018 games with college teammate and current starting quarterback C.J. Beathard, Kittle has exhibited some serious shower synergy, averaging 14.9 PPR points per game. For tournaments, use our Lineup Builder to stack Kittle with Beathard. Since 2014, No. 1 tight ends on average have had a 0.44 correlation with their quarterbacks. With CJB, Kittle has had a robust 0.54 correlation. Kittle is tied for first with seven Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he leads all tight ends with his floor projection.
Greg Olsen: Carolina Panthers (+5) at Philadelphia Eagles, 44.5 O/U
- $4,400 DraftKings; $5,900 FanDuel
Olsen (foot) is playing through a lingering injury, but in his return to action last week he played 98% of the snaps and was second and third on the team with 35 routes and seven targets. He’s seemingly back. Olsen led all tight ends with 591 targets and 4,844 yards receiving in the half decade before his injury-impacted 2017 campaign.
Trey Burton: Chicago Bears (+3) vs. New England Patriots, 48.5 O/U
- $4,300 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
After doing almost nothing (1-15-0) in Week 1, Burton has hit his salary-based expectations in each game, averaging 12.7 DraftKings points per week. His target volume is low (4.6 per game), but at least he has five red-zone opportunities on the season. And we can probably count on him throwing a one-yard touchdown pass this week against the Patriots: “Windy, Windy.”
David Njoku: Cleveland Browns (+3.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 52.5 O/U
UPDATE (10/20): The Browns have traded running back Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars for a 2019 fifth-round pick. In his absence, 2018 second-round selection Nick Chubb will start and change-of-pace back Duke Johnson could see additional touches.
- $4,200 DraftKings; $5,700 FanDuel
As I mention in The Action Network NFL Week 7 Betting Guide, quarterback Baker Mayfield has developed a connection with Njoku, who leads the offense with 30 targets, 18 receptions, 176 yards receiving and 74 yards after the catch in Mayfield’s three starts. And now Njoku gets the pleasure of facing the Bucs, who have allowed a league-high 21.1 DraftKings points per game to the position. Every starting tight end to face them has outperformed expectations: Ben Watson (4-44-0), Zach Ertz (11-94-0), Vance McDonald (4-112-1), Trey Burton (2-86-1) and Austin Hooper (9-71-1).
With Mayfield struggling to complete passes to wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway (4-20-0 on 19 targets last week), he could look to his tight end often in a great matchup made all the better by the absence of starting strong safety Chris Conte (knee, IR). Backup safety Justin Evans has allowed a 15-173-2 receiving line on 17 targets in his coverage. On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, we highlighted Njoku as a player likely to be popular this weekend.
O.J. Howard & Cameron Brate: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5) vs. Cleveland Browns, 52.5 O/U
- Howard: $3,600 DraftKings; $5,800 FanDuel
- Brate: $3,100 DraftKings; $4,700 FanDuel
After exiting Week 4 early with a knee injury and recuperating over the bye, Howard was a surprise active in Week 6, putting up a 4-62-1 receiving line on four targets. On the verge of a breakout, Howard has averaged 13.9 DraftKings points across his four full games, hitting his salary-based expectations each week and providing strong value with his +7.56 Plus/Minus. The Browns are third against tight ends with a -50.4% pass DVOA, but Howard has a position-high 96% Bargain Rating on DraftKings.
Since his 2016 breakout season, Brate has had stark quarterback splits. In quarterback Jameis Winston’s 27 complete games over that time, Brate has 10.9 DraftKings points per game. In Ryan Fitzpatrick’s six complete games, Brate has 3.0.
Benjamin Watson: New Orleans Saints (+3) at Baltimore Ravens, 49.5 O/U
UPDATE (10/20): Left guard Andrus Peat (concussion) is out. Without him, the offensive line play could suffer.
- $3,000 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel
In a #RevengeGame, Watson has position-high 93% DraftKings and 91% FanDuel leverage scores thanks to his high ceiling and low ownership projections as the No. 1 tight end on the league’s highest-scoring team (36.0 points per game). It’s normally not ideal to roster Saints outside of the Coors Field of fantasy football, but they are coming off a bye. When head coach and offensive mastermind Sean Payton has had extra time to prepare for an opponent the game has produced points. In Payton’s 11 full seasons coaching the team, the Saints have a 9-2 over/under record coming out of the bye (per Bet Labs).
Geoff Swaim: Dallas Cowboys (PK) at Washington Redskins, 41.5 O/U
UPDATE (10/20): The spread has moved to -2 Cowboys.
- $2,900 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
Swaim is fourth on the team with 21 targets, third with 16 receptions, second with 180 yards receiving and first with Jason Witten envy.
Charles Clay: Buffalo Bills (-7) at Indianapolis Colts, 43 O/U
- $2,800 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
Josh Allen (elbow) has been ruled out and Nathan Peterman (interceptions) has been deemed incompetent. Off-the-street veteran Derek Anderson will start at quarterback in Week 7. Clay might be the best non-LeSean McCoy receiver on the Bills, yet he’s fourth in targets (20) and third in receptions (13) and yards receiving (119). The Colts have allowed a top-six mark of 15.8 DraftKings points per game to opposing tight ends. With Anderson at quarterback, perhaps Clay will have a serviceable performance.
Gerald Everett & Tyler Higbee: Los Angeles Rams (-9.5) at San Francisco 49ers, 52 O/U
- Everett: $2,700 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
- Higbee: $2,700 DraftKings; $4,200 FanDuel
The No. 1 team in The Action Network NFL Power Rankings, the Rams under HC Sean McVay have hit their implied Vegas totals in an NFL-high 16-of-22 games since last season. Against a 49ers defense that is dead last in the league with a dreadful PFF coverage grade of 38.5, the Rams should go off even though they are playing their third consecutive game on the road.
With slot receiver Cooper Kupp (knee) ruled out, it’s possible that Everett or Higbee could see some extra receiving work in the middle of the field. The Rams lead all teams with their 30.25-point implied Vegas total, and this game has the slate’s highest over/under. It’s also the only matchup with two top-10 teams in situation-neutral pace.
Chris Herndon: New York Jets (+3.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings, 46 O/U
- $2,600 DraftKings; $4,700 FanDuel
No. 1 receiver Quincy Enunwa (ankle) is out, and the explosive Terrelle Pryor (groin) is doubtful and expected not to play. A plus athlete, Herndon could see a few more opportunities this week given the team’s target vacuum. Last week he flashed with a 2-56-1 performance on two targets.
Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle & Maxx Williams: Baltimore Ravens (-3) vs. New Orleans Saints, 49.5 O/U
UPDATE (10/20): Left guard Alex Lewis (neck) has been ruled out and right tackle James Hurst (back) is questionable and should be considered a game-time decision. Without them, the team’s overall offensive line play could suffer and the tight ends could be called upon to block more frequently in pass protection.
- Hurst: $2,600 DraftKings; $4,700 FanDuel
- Andrews: $2,600 DraftKings; $4,000 FanDuel
- Boyle: $2,500 DraftKings; $4,000 FanDuel
- Williams: $2,500 DraftKings; $4,000 FanDuel
A 25-year-old first-rounder drafted by a Hall-of-Fame tight end-turned-general manager, Hurst made his 2018 debut in Week 5 and has just four opportunities over the past two games. Hopefully in the future we see better from the would-be Chris Hemsworth impersonator. As a cohort, the Ravens tight ends are tied for third in the league with 6.7 receptions per game, but the Saints have held the position to a bottom-two mark of 8.1 DraftKings points per game.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 7 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: Eric Ebron
Photo credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports