The Week 8 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 27, 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.
- George Kittle: $6,500 DraftKings; $6,900 FanDuel
- Evan Engram: $5,300 DraftKings; $6,300 FanDuel
- Zach Ertz: $5,100 DraftKings; $6,300 FanDuel
- Jonnu Smith: $2,800 DraftKings; $4,900 FanDuel
George Kittle: San Francisco 49ers (-5.5) vs. Carolina Panthers, 42.5 Over/Under
UPDATE (Oct. 26): WR Deebo Samuel (groin) is in.
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 six games, Kittle has been a smidgen underwhelming.
- Fantasy production (per game): 10.4 FanDuel points, +1.14 Plus/Minus, 50% Consistency Rating
- Football production (for season): 34-376-1 receiving on 42 targets, 3-18-0 rushing
Those numbers, though, need to be placed in context. In Week 1, he lost two touchdown receptions because of penalties on other players. And in Week 2, he played only 67% of the snaps in an easy 41-17 victory over the Bengals. They simply didn’t need him to contribute.
Last week, he played in the fastest NFL game in a decade, as both the 49ers and Redskins stuck with the ground game in what could be described only as a torrential backyard-style muck fest.
But in Weeks 3-6 (with the bye in Week 4), Kittle averaged a more dignified 13.6 FanDuel points per game. Kittle (groin) is dealing with a lingering injury, but he’s in no danger of missing Week 8, and the injury doesn’t seem to be slowing him down.
He is still Kittle: He easily leads the team with 42 targets, 34 receptions, 376 receiving yards, 308 air yards and 190 yards after the catch. The passing offense still flows through him.
The 49ers just traded for veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who seems likely to play significant snaps right away. With Sanders on the field, Kittle’s target volume could decrease.
Additionally, the 49ers are without offensive tackles Joe Staley (leg) and Mike McGlinchy (knee) as well as fullback Kyle Juszczyk (knee) and maybe even wide receiver Deebo Samuel (groin). Down 3-4 starters, the offense could struggle to sustain drives.
But Kittle has a good matchup. Although the Panthers are No. 6 overall with an 81.7 coverage grade (per Pro Football Focus), they have something of a tight end funnel. The strength of their pass defense is in their cornerbacks and linebackers. They are No. 3 against No. 1 wide receivers (-36.3% DVOA, per Football Outsiders), No. 11 against No. 2 receivers (-2.0%), No. 2 against supplementary receivers (-47.1%) and No. 6 against running backs (-30.8%).
The Panthers, though, are No. 23 against tight ends (13.0%). Strong safety Eric Reid — the team’s primary tight end defender — has allowed a 73.9% catch rate this year and has a 51.9 PFF coverage grade.
In a strong pass defense, Reid is the most vulnerable player. Coaches often don’t act rationally, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see head coach Kyle Shanahan repeatedly move Kittle into isolated matchups with Reid and then attack him aggressively.
I probably won’t roster Kittle in cash games. With Sanders on the team, I want to get a better sense of how targets will divide before locking in #CashKittle, especially since there aren’t all that many targets to begin with: The 49ers are No. 32 in the league with a 42.9% pass-play rate.
But for guaranteed prize pools, Kittle is always in play.
Kittle leads all tight ends with his median and ceiling projections and is the No. 1 tight end in the Bales, Levitan, Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models for FanDuel, where he has position-high marks with his +2.52 Projected Plus/Minus, nine Pro Trends and 99% Bargain Rating.
Evan Engram: New York Giants (+6.5) at Detroit Lions, 49.5 O/U
UPDATE (Oct. 26): WR Sterling Shepard (concussion) is out. Lions DT Damon Harrison (thigh) and Da’Shawn Hand (elbow) are in. Lions DT Mike Daniels (foot) and CB Darius Slay (hamstring) are out.
Engram is just one week removed from stealing the GPP dreams of all his flow-chart investors, so he might have diminished market exposure this week. This could be the time to buy him low.
Despite missing Week 6, he easily leads the Giants with 53 targets, 34 receptions, 379 yards receiving, 221 yards after the catch and two touchdowns receiving.
Even with his soul-destroying scoreless six-yard performance last week, Engram is still No. 6 at the position with 11.2 FanDuel points and 90.5 air yards and yards after the catch per game.
Full disclosure: I’m a little bit worried. The sample is small, but this year Engram has had notable quarterback-based splits.
- With Eli Manning (two games): 15.5 FanDuel points per game, 17-164-1 receiving on 22 targets
- With Daniel Jones (four games): 9.1 FanDuel points per game, 17-215-1 receiving on 31 targets
We can’t say for sure, but it’s possible that Manning was more willing than Jones is to settle for shorter targets to Engram instead of downfield targets to a wide receiver. With Jones as the starter, we perhaps should adjust down our baseline expectations for Engram’s usage.
On top of that, it doesn’t help Engram’s cause that running back Saquon Barkley and slot receiver Golden Tate are such target-dominant pass-catching producers. On average, they collectively have gotten 13.5 targets per game this year. On top of that, they both compete with Engram for short targets.
Although Barkley and Tate could theoretically free him up because of the defensive attention they occupy, their presence on the field likely hinders Engram more than it benefits him.
But Engram has a couple of factors in his favor this week.
The Lions are No. 25 with a 14.5% pass defense DVOA against tight ends, and they just traded away starting strong safety Quandre Diggs, which means that Engram will match up most often with rookie Will Harris. The third-rounder has acquitted himself well in limited action, but he is still just in his first year and will be making his first start on Sunday.
Additionally, wide receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion) is still in the league’s protocol and is tentatively expected to miss Week 8. At least Engram’s target competition isn’t as fierce this week as it will be in the future.
Engram feels too risky for cash games after he had a season-low five targets last week in his first game with the Saquon-Tate tag team, but he’s in play for GPPs, because he certainly still has 100-yard, multi-touchdown upside.
Engram is the No. 1 tight end in the CSURAM88 and Raybon Models for FanDuel, where he has seven Pro Trends and a 67% Bargain Rating.
Zach Ertz: Philadelphia Eagles (+1.5) at Buffalo Bills, 43.5 O/U
UPDATE (Oct. 26): WR DeSean Jackson (abdomen), RB Darren Sproles (quad) and LT Jason Peters (knee) are out.
Remember the days when Ertz was a matchup-proof top-three tight end? Those days are gone. Ertz isn’t even a top-five option in our Week 8 fantasy rankings.
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. 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?
For the most part, the concerns for Ertz have been warranted. He hasn’t played poorly, but there has been a marked decline in production.
- 2019 (seven games): 11.8 DraftKings points, -1.11 Plus/Minus, 28.6% Consistency Rating
- 2018 (18 games): 17.5 DraftKings points, +3.21 Plus/Minus, 50% Consistency Rating
Because of how expensive he’s been, Ertz has significantly underperformed his salary-based expectations this year — and he’s done so at an elevated 10.8% main-slate ownership rate. As the saying goes, they get ya comin’, and they get ya goin’.
I don’t really know what that means, but regarding Ertz, it feels accurate. And there are a couple additional issues with Ertz this week.
First, he’s on the wrong side of his splits. Since Ertz became a key contributor in 2014, he has been his worst as a road dog, averaging just 11.1 DraftKings points per game with a +0.87 Plus/Minus and 48.0% Consistency Rating.
Plus, his matchup sucks. The Bills have held opposing tight ends to the second-fewest DraftKings points with 6.0 per game.
They did allow 10.8 DraftKings points to Engram in Week 1 (6-48-0 receiving on eight targets), but other than that, they haven’t given up much to the position. Safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds respectively have above-average PFF coverage grades of 70.5, 81.6 and 72.4.
The strength of the Bills is their pass defense: Only the Patriots and 49ers have held opposing offenses to a mark lower than the Bills’ 5.0 adjusted yards per pass attempt allowed (AY/A). Ertz won’t have an easy go of it.
But the expectation that Ertz will underperform is already accounted for in his market. On DraftKings, he has a sub-5% ownership projection, and he hasn’t been priced as low as $5,100 since Week 3 of the 2017 season.
I can’t recommend Ertz in cash, but the dude is still averaging 8.4 targets per game, and he’s now easier to acquire than he has been at any point in recent memory. When a guy has lots of volume but a depressed market, that tends to result in GPP goodness over the long run.
Ertz is the No. 1 tight end in the Levitan and Raybon Models for DraftKings, where he has a strong 91% Leverage Score.
Jonnu Smith: Tennessee Titans (-2.5) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 45.5 O/U
UPDATE (Oct. 26): TE Delanie Walker (ankle) is out.
I don’t want to write a Jonnu blurb any more than you want to read one, so let’s get this over with as quickly as possible.
Starter Delanie Walker (ankle) tried to play through an injury last week, but he was sidelined after only five snaps. He’s yet to practice this week and seemingly unlikely to play this weekend. In Walker’s stead, Smith hit season-high marks last week with an 83% snap rate, three targets, three receptions and 64 yards.
In addition to the enhanced playing time and presumably target volume, two main factors are in Smith’s favor this week.
First, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been competent in his limited action with an 80% completion rate and 9.0 AY/A. Those numbers are destined to regress, but he seems to be an upgrade on the benched Marcus Mariota, which benefits all of the receivers in the offense.
Additionally, the Buccaneers have allowed the second-most DraftKings points to tight ends with 19.1 per game. Safeties Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead have respective PFF coverage grades of 45.2 and 54.8.
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but with his increased opportunity and advantageous matchup, Smith will warrant punt-play cash-game consideration if Walker is out.
Smith is the No. 1 tight end in the Bales, CSURAM88, Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models for DraftKings, where he has an elite 94% Bargain Rating.
Upside Tight Ends for Guaranteed Prize Pools
Darren Waller, Oakland Raiders ($5,900 DK, $6,800 FD): Waller is coming off a slate-defining 7-126-2 receiving performance last week and is the No. 3 tight end with 18.5 DraftKings and 13.9 FanDuel points per game. He could lose some work to returning wide receiver Tyrell Williams (foot), but the passing offense belongs to Waller, who has a team-high 50 targets, 44 receptions, 485 yards receiving and 251 yards after the catch. Waller leads the position with his floor projections in our Models.
Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons ($5,500 DK, $6,600 FD): Assuming quarterback Matt Ryan (ankle) is able to play, Hooper is an option in all formats. He’s the No. 2 tight end with 18.9 DraftKings points per game. Despite competing for targets with wide receivers Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and formerly Mohamed Sanu, the tight end leads the team with 46 receptions and is a close No. 2 to Jones with 55 targets and 526 yards receiving. The Falcons are No. 2 with a 70.3% pass-play rate. The Seahawks should be improved in pass defense with the recent addition of strong safety Quandre Diggs, but they have allowed the fifth-most DraftKings points to tight ends with 15.5 per game. UPDATE (Oct. 26): QB Matt Ryan (ankle) is OUT. RB Ito Smith (concussion) and LG James Carpenter (knee) are out.
Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers ($4,900 DK, $6,700 FD): The sample is small, but Henry has impressed in his three games of action. He’s the No. 1 tight end with 19.6 DraftKings points per game. Only Travis Kelce has more than Henry’s 104 air yards and yards after the catch per game. The Bears are No. 24 with a 14.5% pass defense DVOA against tight ends. Henry has a position-high six Pro Trends on DraftKings. UPDATE (Oct. 26): WR Keenan Allen (hamstring) popped up on the injury report in the middle of the week and did not practice on Thursday and Friday. He is truly questionable, and HC Anthony Lynn has said that Allen will play limited snaps if active.
Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams ($4,300 DK, $6,100 FD): The third-year size/speed project has blown up over the past month with 14.2 DraftKings points per game. The Rams are laying lots of points, and London favorites are 26-12-2 against the spread, good for a 31.9% return on investment (per Bet Labs). The Bengals are No. 28 with a 22.1% pass defense DVOA against tight ends. The Rams have a slate-high 30.5-point implied Vegas total. UPDATE (Oct. 26): RB Malcolm Brown (ankle) is out. Bengals CBs Dre Kirkpatrick (knee) and Darqueze Dennard (hamstring) are out. Bengals CB William Jackson III (shoulder) is in.
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($2,700 DK, $5,200 FD): No. 1 tight end O.J. Howard (hamstring) is out for Week 8, so Brate will have the majority of the positional work to himself. In each of the past three seasons, Brate has had at least six touchdowns and is an underappreciated red-zone option. The Titans are No. 27 with a 17.6% pass defense DVOA against tight ends. UPDATE (Oct. 26): TE O.J. Howard (hamstring) is out. Titans CB Adoree’ Jackson (foot) is out.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
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Pictured above: Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith (81)
Photo credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports