The Week 3 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Sept. 22, at 1 p.m. ET. In this piece, I highlight the tight ends who stand out in our large suite of analytical DFS Tools, most specifically the industry-leading FantasyLabs Models.
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Top Tight Ends in the FantasyLabs Models
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.
- Zach Ertz: $5,700 DraftKings; $6,900 FanDuel
- George Kittle: $5,600 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
- O.J. Howard: $3,800 DraftKings; $5,800 FanDuel
- Austin Hooper: $3,600 DraftKings; $5,800 FanDuel
Zach Ertz: Philadelphia Eagles (-6) vs. Detroit Lions, 45.5 O/U
The consensus opinion entering the season was that Ertz was due for regression. Last year, among all players (not just tight ends), he was No. 2 with 116 receptions and No. 6 with 156 targets. He was No. 4 with 27 red-zone targets. He was the team leader with 1,163 yards receiving, 1,122 air yards, 351 yards after the catch and eight touchdowns.
Last year, he had career-highs in games played, targets, receptions, touchdowns and catch rate.
With all of the other pass-catching options on the team, how could he hit those numbers again?
And for Week 1 at least — when the Eagles had everyone healthy — that pessimistic perspective on Ertz seemed accurate: His 5-54-0 receiving line on seven targets wasn’t horrible, but it was hardly the stuff of top-tier tight ends.
But in Week 2, the Eagles were beset with injuries: It was almost biblical. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (calf) and DeSean Jackson (groin) and No. 2 tight end Dallas Goedert (calf) all exited the game early, and Ertz all of a sudden was the No. 1 option in the passing game. He responded with an 8-72-0 performance plus a two-point conversion on a slate-high 16 targets.
Jeffery, Jackson and Goedert are yet to return to practice as of Thursday: They are all expected to miss Week 3.
So Ertz enters his matchup against the Lions expected to compete for targets with wide receivers Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and running back Darren Sproles. In other words, Ertz has a very good chance of seeing double-digit targets once again.
Ertz is the modern-day prototype tight end: As he did last year, Ertz has lined up all across the formation this season, playing snaps inline (78), in the slot (28) and out wide (33). If he’s getting targets, he’s an ideal player to roster.
And Ertz has a satisfactory matchup: Last year, the Lions were No. 26 against tight ends with a 19.4% pass DVOA (per Football Outsiders), and strong safety Quandre Diggs hasn’t had a coverage grade of even 70.0 since 2016 (per Pro Football Focus).
But the matchup is almost irrelevant. What matters is that Ertz is going to get targets — and that the Eagles are significant home favorites.
Since Ertz became a key contributor in 2014, he has been his best when the Eagles are laying points at home.
- Home favorite (34 games): 66.4 yards and 0.47 touchdowns on 5.9 receptions and 8.3 targets
- All other situations (43 games): 51.8 yards and 0.21 touchdowns on 4.9 receptions and 7.3 targets
Over the past half decade, Ertz has averaged 12.4 FanDuel points per game as a home favorite with a +4.51 Plus/Minus and 70.6% Consistency Rating.
No one likes to pay up for tight end, but because the Eagles played on Sunday Night Football and the full extent of their receiver issues wasn’t evident until Week 3 salaries were set, Ertz is far cheaper than he should be even though he has the position’s second-highest salary. He will likely have a tournament ownership rate in excess of 20% — and it’s hard to say that’s suboptimal.
Ertz is viable in all formats for Week 3 and is the No. 1 tight end in the Bales, Levitan, Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models for FanDuel.
He’s also the top option in the Bales and Levitan Models for DraftKings.
George Kittle: San Francisco 49ers (-6.5) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 43 Over/Under
Kittle entered the season with a lot of hype thanks to his record-setting 1,377-yard receiving campaign last year as well as the return of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. But through two weeks, he has disappointed.
- Fantasy production (per game): 8.2 FanDuel points, -1.93 Plus/Minus, 0.0% Consistency Rating
- Football production (for season): 11-108-0 receiving and 104 air yards on 13 targets
But those numbers need to be placed in context.
In Week 1, he led the 49ers with 10 targets, eight receptions, 54 yards receiving, 52 air yards and 32 yards after the catch. On top of that, he lost two touchdown receptions because of penalties on other players.
And then in Week 2, the 49ers attempted only 26 passes in a 41-17 victory over the Bengals. They simply didn’t need him to contribute.
Kittle still leads the team in targets, receptions, receiving yards and air yards: He’s still the man.
And now he’s been priced down to $6,600 on FanDuel, which is frankly insulting for a player of his talent. The last time Kittle was this cheap — Week 14 vs. the Broncos last year — he went off for 30.5 FanDuel points and a 7-210-1 receiving line on nine targets.
At the exact moment when a player like Kittle has a depreciated market — that’s when he’s most likely to provide inordinate value. As long as Kittle leads his team with a 0.25 target share and 0.31 market share of air yards, he should never be priced outside of the top three at the position.
And Kittle has the nuts matchup. Last year, the Steelers were No. 31 against tight ends with a 25.5% pass DVOA. This year, they are dead last with an 85.1% DVOA. Last week, the Steelers allowed Will Dissly — who tore his patella tendon less than a year ago — to go off for a 5-50-2 receiving performance on five targets.
Over the past two weeks, the four Steelers safeties — Terrell Edmunds, Kameron Kelly, Cameron Sutton and Sean Davis — have allowed a 15-237-2 receiving line on 18 targets in their coverage.
This is not just a good matchup. This is an old-school pants-off fantasy get-down.
Kittle leads all tight ends with nine Pro Trends on both DraftKings and FanDuel, and he has a position-high Projected Plus/Minus on both sites.
He’s the No. 1 tight end in the CSURAM88 and Raybon Models for FanDuel and also the top option in the Raybon Model for DraftKings.
O.J. Howard: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-6.5) vs. New York Giants, 47.5 O/U
Howard was a hyped player during the offseason, but despite playing 85.3% of the Buccaneers’ offensive snaps, he has basically been Cameron Brate.
- O.J. Howard (two games): 3.1 DraftKings points per game, 4-32-0 receiving on five targets
- Cameron Brate (two games): 2.9 DraftKings points per game, 4-18-0 receiving on four targets
Despite playing 92% of the snaps in a close game, Howard wasn’t even targeted in Week 2.
But there are reasons to be optimistic. Head coach Bruce Arians has acknowledged that Howard should ideally be more involved in the offense, saying “the balls will come,” and since the team played on Thursday Night Football, the coaching staff has had three extra days to game plan and think of ways to integrate Howard into the offense.
Additionally, Howard has a winnable matchup. The Giants have an NFL-worst 29.4 PFF coverage grade. In Week 2, they ostensibly held the Bills tight ends in check — but that’s nothing to brag about — and in Week 1 they allowed the Cowboys tight ends to put up points.
- Jason Witten (Week 1): 10.5 DraftKings points, 3-15-1 receiving on four targets
- Blake Jarwin (Week 1): 12.9 DraftKings points, 3-39-1 receiving on three targets
Safeties Jabrill Peppers and Antoine Bethea respectively have 59.5 and 44.4 PFF coverage grades. If the Bucs actually want to get Howard the ball, he should be able to do something it.
Howard’s talent has never been in doubt. Last year, he led all qualified tight ends with 11.8 yards per target. The year before that, he had 11.1 yards per target as a rookie. He’s a dynamic player.
But really what he has going for him most this week is his unpopularity. After his zero-target letdown in Week 2, lots of people will be off of him in Week 3, especially with the value available at the position. He’s almost certain to have an ownership rate of less than 5% in tournaments. And it will probably be closer to 0% than to 5%.
Howard is tied for second at the position with seven Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the CSURAM88, Koerner and SportsGeek Models.
Austin Hooper: Atlanta Falcons (+1) at Indianapolis Colts, 47 O/U
Hooper’s at the top of the Freedman Model this week, but in full disclosure, I’m not that interested in him. Definitely not in cash. Almost certainly not in tournaments. Hooper is just the type of tight end I never want to roster.
He’s just good enough to be a low-end TE1: That’s what he was last year, based on his 10.2 DraftKings points per game with a +2.98 Plus/Minus.
But he’s not reliable enough to trust in cash games: He’s behind wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in target priority, and there’s not much that separates him from slot receiver Mohamed Sanu.
And Hooper’s not dynamic enough to make me want him in guaranteed prize pools. For instance, he went off in Week 1 with a 9-77-0 receiving performance on nine targets. That’s close to his peak. And he was still just the No. 5 fantasy tight end with 16.7 DraftKings points.
In Hooper’s 48 career games, just once has he had 100-plus yards receiving. Only thrice has he had double-digit targets. And never has he had multiple touchdowns.
So unless there’s an injury to Julio or Ridley and a reason to project Hooper for more targets in any given game, I’m pretty much always off of him.
But I do see why he’s popping in my Model: He’s top-eight at the position with 15 targets on the year, and he has a good matchup.
Under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, the Colts have a scheme that funnels production away from wide receivers and toward tight ends: Last year, the Colts allowed a league-high 106 receptions and 1,234 yards to tight ends. That resulted in a top-three mark of 16.2 DraftKings points per game allowed to the position.
And it’s basically business as usual this year for the defense.
- 2019: 32.7% pass DVOA (No. 26)
- 2018: 21.2% pass DVOA (No. 29)
With his matchup, it is reasonable to expect that Hooper will finish on the higher end of his normal range of outcomes — and he’ll do so at minimal ownership.
That’s not worth nothing.
Upside Tight Ends for Guaranteed Prize Pools
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs ($7,100 DK, $8,000 FD): Kelce is coming off a typically dominant 7-107-1 performance on nine targets in the absence of wide receiver Tyreek Hill (clavicle), the Chiefs-Ravens game has a slate-high 52-point over/under and he leads all tight ends with his median and ceiling projections for DraftKings and FanDuel.
Evan Engram, New York Giants ($5,200 DK, $6,400 FD): The third-year tight end leads the Giants with 22 targets, 17 receptions, 164 yards receiving and 66 yards after the catch, he is likely to benefit from the elevation of rookie quarterback Daniel Jones to the starting lineup and he has position-high floor projections in our Models.
Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens ($4,600 DK, $6,800 FD): Andrews has back-to-back 100-1 games, he leads the Ravens with 16 receptions, he has position-high Plus/Minus values and the Chiefs allowed a league-high 16.5 DraftKings points to tight ends last year and have allowed a comparably high 15.8 this year.
Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers ($4,300 DK, $5,900 FD): McDonald disappointed in Week 1, but he bounced back last week with two touchdown passes from new starting quarterback Mason Rudolph, and he’s second on the team with 11 targets, nine receptions and 78 yards receiving.
Darren Waller, Oakland Raiders ($4,100 DK, $5,900 FD): Waller is top-two on the Raiders with 15 targets, 13 receptions, 133 receiving yards, 87 air yards and 84 yards after the catch, he has a position-high 96% Leverage Score on DraftKings and the Vikings last year were No. 30 against tight ends with a 22.6% pass DVOA.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers ($3,700 DK, $6,100 FD): Olsen is without longtime quarterback Cam Newton, but he has back-to-back games with nine targets, he leads the position with a 98% Bargain Rating on DraftKings and the Cardinals have allowed an obscene league-high 34.2 DraftKings points per game to tight ends.
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions ($3,500 DK, $5,500 FD): Hockenson still is top-two on the Lions with 138 yards receiving, 162 air yards and 56 yards after the catch even after his disappointing Week 2, and the Eagles have allowed a manageable 13.3 DraftKings points per game to tight ends.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals ($3,200 DK, $4,900 FD): Eifert has five-plus targets in each of the past two weeks, he has averaged a nice 0.69 touchdowns per game since his 2015 breakout season and he will have an almost nonexistent ownership rate.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
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Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.
Pictured above: George Kittle
Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports