The Tight End Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each week’s main NFL slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit our NFL dashboard (out soon).
The wait is over. Week 1 is here, bringing us a 12-game main slate, as the Buccaneers-Dolphins game has been postponed to Week 11 due to Hurricane Irma. Monitor our NFL news feed for player and weather updates throughout the week. For analysis of the Thursday and Monday night games, see Joe Holka’s Thursday Night NFL Breakdown and Kelly McCann’s Prime Time NFL Breakdown (out later this week). For more information on the players highlighted in this article, see our Fantasy Football Preview Dashboard.
The Big Two
With Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce playing on Thursday night and Kyle Rudolph, Hunter Henry, and Antonio Gates playing on Monday night, the main slate is thin on talent. Of the remaining tight ends, there’s a tier of two atop the salary scale:
- Greg Olsen ($6,200 DraftKings, $7,100 FanDuel)
- Jordan Reed ($5,900 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel)
Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
The Younger Jason Witten
There’s not much to dislike about #überWitten. Over the last three years — during which time he’s had a 1,000-yard campaign in each season — Olsen has been a top-three fantasy tight end in points per game (PPG) with 14.18 DraftKings and 11.15 FanDuel points PPG (per our Trends tool). Olsen unsurprisingly has the highest median projections in our Models — but he’s outside the top-three in ceiling projections. Why?
Olsen is a reception hog and yardage accumulator — over the last three years no tight end has more than his 241 receptions and 3,185 yards — but he’s deficient as a touchdown producer: In his six years with quarterback Cam Newton, Olsen has scored more than six touchdowns in a season just once. He’s led the Panthers in receptions and yards receiving in each of the last four seasons, and last year he was third at the position with 50.3 routes per game (Pro Football Focus) — but near the goal line he gets the Witten treatment, which makes him an unappealing option in guaranteed prize pools.
Nevertheless, Olsen is a fine option in cash games for people who don’t mind paying up, especially on FanDuel, where he has a slate-high 99 percent Bargain Rating. The Panthers are top-five with a 26.5-point implied total against the 49ers (per our Vegas Dashboard), who last year were 27th in pass defense against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). He has a good matchup, but that might not result in a touchdown.
The Washington Reedskins
Over the last two years, Reed has been superior to all tight ends — even Gronk — as a daily fantasy play. Here’s the Gronk/Reed comparison:
- DraftKings PPG: 16.37 vs. 16.22
- Plus/Minus: +1.64 vs. +4.93
- Consistency Rating (percent): 56.5 vs. 57.7
- Ownership Rate (percent): 13.4 vs. 8.1
Nevertheless, Reed is projected for just single-digit ownership in our Models. Why? The Redskins are implied for just 23.25 points against the Eagles, whose defense last year was second in overall pass DVOA and first in pass DVOA against tight ends. Reed’s matchup is about as bad as it can be. That said, he’s the best non-Gronk tight end in the league, and the Redskins are without two 1,000-yard receivers from last year’s team. With his low ownership, he makes a nice contrarian play. Use our Lineup Builder to stack Reed with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
This year FantasyLabs users can review ownership trends across GPPs of various buy-in levels with our DFS Ownership Dashboard, which is reason enough to subscribe to FantasyLabs. After lineups lock, visit our DFS Contests Dashboard to see how Cousins-Reed lineups fared in terms of uniqueness. Our Correlations Matrix shows that their interdependence is strong.
The Dumpoff Pass
Don’t be a #DadRunner.
Jimmy Graham ($5,100 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel): Graham leads the slate with seven Pro Trends on FanDuel, and the Seahawks-Packers game leads the slate with a 51.0-point over/under, but the matchup isn’t great: Last year the Packers were seventh in pass DVOA against tight ends and strong safety Morgan Burnett was PFF’s No. 14 safety. He’ll likely spend much of the game defending Graham.
Delanie Walker ($4,300 DraftKings, $6,100 FanDuel): The Raiders-Titans game has the slate’s second-highest total (50.5 points), and Oakland was 23rd in pass DVOA against tight ends last year. With the additions of wide receivers Eric Decker, Corey Davis, and Taywan Taylor, less of the offense will be funneled through Walker this year, but he’s still a top-eight fantasy tight end with an exploitable matchup.
Tyler Eifert ($4,600 DraftKings, $6,100 FanDuel): As I mention in this week’s Rotoworld pivot piece, Eifert is a top-tier alternative to the slate’s popular options. He leads the position with his ceiling projections, and he’s scored 18 touchdowns in his 19 healthy games over the last two seasons. No tight end has more touchdowns since 2015, and he’s been quarterback Andy Dalton’s best receiver ever since entering the league, gifting the passer with 8.9 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) on 179 targets. His matchup against the divisional rival Ravens is tough — they were third against tight ends in pass DVOA last year — but that just means he’ll have single-digit ownership.
Jason Witten ($3,900 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel): Witten’s game has dropped off over the last three years, but he has a good matchup against the Giants, who are defensively stout but were 26th in pass DVOA against tight ends in 2016.
Eric Ebron ($3,600 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel): Ebron seems likely to take a portion of the middle-of-the-field work vacated by Anquan Boldin — but the Cardinals allowed the fewest PPG (6.3 DraftKings, 4.8 FanDuel) to opposing tight ends last year. The wait for the Ebron breakout will continue at least one more week.
Austin Hooper ($3,000 DraftKings, $4,700 FanDuel): Hooper flashed big-play ability last season in catching passes from quarterback Matt Ryan (12.3 AY/A). The Falcons are implied for a slate-high 27.5 points against the Bears, who last year were 28th in pass DVOA against tight ends. Hooper could be an underappreciated part of Falcons stacks.
Charles Clay ($3,200 DraftKings, $4,600 FanDuel): There are a lot of targets to go around with the departures of wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, and the opposing Jets in 2016 allowed the third-most touchdowns to tight ends with 10.
Jermaine Gresham ($2,700 DraftKings, $4,600 FanDuel): Somehow Gresham was targeted 61 times last year. The Lions have allowed 22 touchdowns to tight ends over the last two years.
George Kittle ($2,500 DraftKings, $4,500 FanDuel): He’s the starter, and the Panthers last year were top-five in PPG (15.5 DraftKings, 13.1 FanDuel) allowed to opposing tight ends, finishing second with 12 touchdowns forfeited to the position. Kittle reportedly aggravated his hamstring on Wednesday. Monitor his situation.
Jesse James ($3,000 DraftKings, $4,700 FanDuel): He’s ostensibly still at the top of the depth chart, and the Steelers are tied for first in the slate with an implied total of 27.5 points as 8.0-point favorites against the Browns, who last year were 32nd against tight ends in pass DVOA, allowing the most PPG (18.1 DraftKings, 14.5 FanDuel) to the position. Over the last two years the Browns have allowed 23 touchdowns to tight ends.
Evan Engram ($2,900 DraftKings, $4,900 FanDuel): Engram is a first-round rookie expected to play the majority of snaps right away. A legitimate receiving threat in college (65-926-8 in 11 games as a senior), he could make a splash in his NFL debut against the Cowboys, who last year allowed the second-most PPG (17.3 DraftKings, 13.6 FanDuel) to the position.
The Model Tight Ends
There are currently two tight ends atop the Pro Models built by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, and Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek): Olsen and Zach Ertz ($3,500 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel).
As mentioned on the Week 1 Daily Fantasy Flex, Ertz is the chalk du jour on both sites but will be especially powdery on DraftKings, where he has just the 10th-highest tight end salary and leads the position with a 97 percent Bargain Rating. Ertz is basically a big slot receiver — he ran 52.8 percent of his snaps there last year (PFF) — and with wide receiver Jordan Matthews now in Buffalo it’s likely that Ertz will function as the team’s primary option in the middle of the field. The Eagles are implied for only 24.25 points, but Ertz individually has a great matchup against a Washington defense that last year was top-five in PPG (16.9 DraftKings, 12.7 FanDuel) allowed to opposing tight ends. He leads the slate with seven Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he’s the consensus top tight end.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Be sure to read the other Week 1 positional breakdowns:
Also, visit our suite of Tools to research all of the slate’s tight ends for yourself.
Good luck this week!
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