The Tight End Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each week’s main NFL slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit the NFL homepage.
It’s Week 15. If you’re reading this intro, you’ve already wasted 10 seconds. Although it has wider applicability, this breakdown is explicitly for the 11-game main slate.
The Big Two
Travis Kelce plays on Saturday, so just two players are at the top of the tight end salary scale on the main slate.
- Rob Gronkowski ($7,300 DraftKings, $8,500 FanDuel)
- Zach Ertz ($6,000 DraftKings, $7,900 FanDuel)
Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
To Gronk or not to Gronk?
Whenever Gronk is in a slate one of the first questions daily fantasy players must ask themselves is whether they wish to Gronk. When healthy, Gronk’s the Shaquille O’Neal of tight ends. Even though Gronk has missed 26 games, he leads the league with 75 touchdowns receiving since 2010. First on the Patriots with 7.7 targets per game, Gronk is atypical in that, despite his size and prowess as a blocker, he leads all starting tight ends with an average depth of target of 12.4 yards. Of all the receivers quarterback Tom Brady has targeted in the post-Deflategate suspension era, Gronk has gifted Brady with the highest adjusted yards per attempt at 12.8. Gronk often isn’t the best daily fantasy play, but he’s still the best tight end in the league.
Gronk has an intriguing matchup. The Steelers are first against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ pass Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), but that ranking is now largely irrelevant, as Ryan Shazier (back) is now on Injured Reserve. Pro Football Focus’ No. 7 coverage linebacker, Shazier would’ve provided much of the pass defense on Gronk if he were active. The Pats are -3.0 favorites, and the game leads the slate with an over/under of 53.0 points, so Gronk will likely have the opportunity to produce even if the Patriots offense struggles: Gronk is an important part of New England’s identity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gronk has position-high median, ceiling, and floor projections and is the No. 1 FanDuel tight end in the Levitan Model.
“Everybody Ertz Sometimes”
After exiting Week 13 with a concussion and missing Week 14, Ertz has cleared the league’s protocol and has a bacchanal of a matchup against the Giants, who have allowed a league-high 16.2 DraftKings and 13.4 FanDuel points per game (PPG) to tight ends. It’s unfortunate that he will be without starting quarterback Carson Wentz (knee), but Ertz and backup Nick Foles have an established connection from their early days in Philadelphia under former head coach Chip Kelly, and even though Foles is a downgrade he’s almost certainly still good enough to enable Ertz to exploit the Giants. The Eagles have hit their implied Vegas total in an NFL-best 11 games and are -7.5 road favorites. They have an NFL-high 42 offensive touchdowns, 67.4 percent red zone conversion rate, and 31.08 points per game (PPG). As I mentioned on the Week 15 Daily Fantasy Flex pod, <a ” href=”https://www.fantasylabs.com/articles/daily-fantasy-flex-nfl-week-15-2017/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Ertz is pretty close to a chalk lock given his talent and matchup.
Ertz is a market share monster, and over his past 16 outings he has turned 139 targets into a wide receiver-like stat line of 97/1,106/10. In his 13 games since last year without former teammate and wide receiver Jordan Matthews, Ertz has functioned as the team’s slot man, turning 116 targets into a 79/881/10 line. Along with Gronk and Kelce, Ertz is a top-three fantasy tight end. As bad as the Kelly era was in Philly, the departed coach at least did something right in drafting Ertz, who leads the position with seven Pro Trends on DraftKings.
The Dumpoff Pass
Evan Engram ($5,600 DraftKings, $6,300 FanDuel): Engram has had bouts of inconsistency as a rookie, but since the season-ending injuries to wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle) and Brandon Marshall (ankle) in Week 5 he has led the Giants with 66 targets, 36 receptions, 423 receiving yards, 579 air yards, 212 yards after the catch, and five receiving touchdowns. Engram could benefit from a pass-heavy game script as a +7.5 home underdog against the Eagles. Engram leads the position with eight Pro Trends on FanDuel, where he has a position-high 99 percent Bargain Rating.
Delanie Walker ($5,200 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel): Walker leads the Titans with 91 targets, 63 receptions, 718 receiving yards, and 949 air yards. Since his Week 8 bye, he has hit his salary-based expectations in five of six games, and he has a good matchup against the 49ers, who have placed safeties Jaquiski Tartt (arm) and Jimmie Ward (arm) on IR. Since Tartt suffered his injury in Week 9, tight ends have scored four touchdowns against the 49ers in five games.
Vernon Davis ($3,900 DraftKings, $5,800 FanDuel): I’m old enough to remember when Jordan Reed (hamstring) played football. He was finally put on IR this week: The Reedskins are dead, long live the Reedskins. As he has for most of the season, Davis will function as the primary tight end for Washington. Davis hasn’t been consistent with the Redskins, but he’s had pockets of production. Over the past two years, Davis has averaged 5.4 targets per game without Reed for 3.6 receptions, 45.6 yards, and 0.27 touchdowns.
Greg Olsen ($4,000 DraftKings, $5,600 FanDuel): Olsen (foot) played 92.2 percent of Carolina’s offensive snaps last week, so he seems to be healthy, but he ran only 22 routes and was targeted just once. To be fair, though, he had a tough matchup against the Vikings, and he averaged just 20.5 routes per game in Weeks 1-2 before his injury. At some point he will enjoy target progression — but he has another subpar matchup this week against the Packers, who have held tight ends to the second-fewest points with 9.4 DraftKings and 7.3 FanDuel PPG.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins ($2,900 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel): Week 7 is the last time ASJ scored a touchdown, but he’s averaged five targets per game since then and has a position-high 99 percent Bargain Rating on DraftKings.
Tyler Kroft ($2,800 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel): He has just three targets over the past two weeks, but since becoming the every-down tight end in Week 3 Kroft has averaged 31.1 yards and 0.45 touchdowns per game. Over that same time No. 2 wide receiver Brandon LaFell has 36.2 yards and 0.27 touchdowns. Behind A.J. Green, Kroft is basically the second option in Cincinnati’s passing game — but his matchup is undesirable. The Vikings have held tight ends to bottom-four fantasy marks of 9.8 DraftKings and 7.6 FanDuel PPG, thanks in part to strong safety Harrison Smith, who is PFF’s No. 5 cover man at his position.
Jesse James ($2,900 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel): James was targeted 12 times last week, but he benefited from a pass-heavy game script against a team that is weak versus tight ends. James could see a bump in volume if Vance McDonald (shoulder) misses the game, but in six contests this year James has been targeted no more than three times, and the Pats are ninth in pass DVOA against the position.
Stephen Anderson ($3,500 DraftKings, $5,100 FanDuel): Anderson wasn’t a total disappointment last week in that he got six targets, but his 2/16/0 line was disgusting. His salaries are higher so he’s less enticing now, especially with third-stringer T.J. Yates at quarterback, but Anderson is still operating as Houston’s third receiver, running 53 routes out of the slot over the past two weeks. He has an awful matchup against the Jags, but at least he should benefit from a pass-heavy game script, as the Texans are +11.5 road dogs.
Ricky Seals-Jones ($3,000 DraftKings, $5,300 FanDuel): In Blaine Gabbert‘s four starts at quarterback, RSJ has turned 19 targets into 10 receptions, 190 yards, and three touchdowns. An undrafted rookie, Seals-Jones is intriguing, but he’s yet to play even 20 offensive snaps in a game. At least he has a great matchup against the Redskins, who have allowed the third-most fantasy points to tight ends with 15.6 DraftKings and 12.7 FanDuel PPG.
Marcedes Lewis ($2,600 DraftKings, $4,700 FanDuel): The Jaguars are -11.5 home favorites, the Texans have allowed the fifth-most points to tight ends with 15.1 DraftKings and 12.5 FanDuel PPG, and Lewis leads the team with five receiving touchdowns. His ownership will be almost nonexistent.
Ben Watson ($3,800 DraftKings, $4,900 FanDuel): Watson is third on the Ravens with 59 targets and 347 yards receiving and first with 45 receptions and three touchdowns. The Ravens are -7.5 road favorites against the Browns, who have allowed the second-most points to the position with 16.0 DraftKings and 12.8 FanDuel PPG. They are dead last in pass DVOA against tight ends and have allowed a league-high 32 touchdowns to the position since 2015.
Josh Hill ($2,500 DraftKings, $4,500 FanDuel): Stone minimum, Hill is at the Coors Field of fantasy football, and the Saints have the slate’s highest implied total at 31.75 points as -16.0 home favorites. Hill (shoulder) is dealing with an injury, but he’s averaged about two-thirds of the offensive snaps over the past three games, and he provides leverage on his high-profile teammates. The Saints have the slate’s highest passing points expectation.
David Njoku ($2,700 DraftKings, $4,800 FanDuel): He’s played over 50 percent of the snaps in four of the past five games, he leads the Browns with four touchdowns receiving, and the only tight ends in NFL history with that many touchdowns as 21-year-old rookies are Gronk and Aaron Hernandez. The Browns could have a pass-heavy game script as +7.5 home dogs against the Ravens, who have a tight end-flowing aerial funnel defense: They rank third, first, and eighth in pass DVOA against primary, secondary, and supplementary wide receivers but 31st in pass DVOA against tight ends. At some point — whether it’s this year, next year, or in his third year — the Njoku breakout is coming.
The Model Tight Ends
Besides Gronk, there are four tight ends atop the Pro Models built by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, and Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek).
- Jimmy Graham ($4,900 DraftKings, $6,700 FanDuel)
- Kyle Rudolph ($4,700 DraftKings, $6,000 FanDuel)
- Charles Clay ($3,000 DraftKings, $5,300 FanDuel)
- Garrett Celek ($2,700 DraftKings, $5,100 FanDuel)
After scoring nine touchdowns and a two-point conversion in the previous eight games, Graham put up a fantasy goose egg last week against the Jags and their fearsome secondary, highlighting how fragile he is as a fantasy asset at this point in his career: He’s no longer a yardage accumulator, so if he doesn’t score a touchdown he’s likely to disappoint — and this week he has a tough matchup against the Rams . . . in theory. I said the same last week about the Rams, and then the Ertzless Eagles gave three touchdowns to their tight ends. The Rams are eighth in pass DVOA against tight ends thanks to safeties Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson III and linebacker Mark Barron: Joyner is PFF’s No. 1 safety in coverage, and Johnson and Barron are top-20 cover men at their position. But even with the matchup Graham is likely to be popular. He’s still first in the league with 15 targets inside the 10-yard line, and Graham has strong correlation with quarterback Russell Wilson. If you want to use Wilson and Graham in guaranteed prize pools, use our Lineup Builder to create Seahawks stacks and then differentiate from the chalk at other positions. Graham pulls off the Double Donk as the highest-rated FanDuel tight end in the Bales and CSURAM88 Models.
Rudolph has 40 targets inside the red zone since last season and a team-high seven touchdowns receiving this year. He’s been especially hot since Minnesota’s Week 9 bye, scoring four touchdowns over the past five games. The Vikings are implied for 26.5 points as -11.0 home favorites against the Bengals, who are 28th in pass DVOA against the position and have a weak collection of PFF coverage safeties and linebackers. Rudolph has high touchdown equity as the No. 1 FanDuel tight end in the SportsGeek Model.
Even though Clay had only two receptions for 11 yards last week, he was targeted on five of Buffalo’s 16 passing attempts in the blizzard bowl. Clay (knee) always seems to be dealing with injury issues, but he practiced on Wednesday as did quarterback Tyrod Taylor (knee), who is expected to return to the starting lineup, which should be a boon for Clay. As of writing there’s still no line for the Dolphins-Bills game — com’on, bookmakers! — but the Dolphins are 29th in pass DVOA against tight ends: Not one starting safety or linebacker for the Dolphins has a PFF coverage grade of even 70.0. It’s possible that Clay could see extra targets with slot receiver Jordan Matthews (knee) on IR. Clay is one of the rare players this season to manage the Full Donk as the highest-rated DraftKings tight end in the Bales, CSURAM88, and Levitan Models.
George Kittle is a mighty fine-lookin’ Iowan, and he might be a good NFL tight end one day, but the rookie’s hype has subsided. Celek the Lesser has played the supermajority of offensive snaps for the 49ers over the past five games. He hasn’t been highly productive in that span, but he has averaged four targets per game, and in the two most recent games — with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback — he’s turned eight targets (two inside the 10-yard line) into four receptions, 97 yards, and a touchdown. The 49ers are favorites for the first time this season — and when a team with only three wins is favored it’s significant. The Titans are 22nd in pass DVOA against the position, and the 49ers play at the league’s fastest pace (25.35 seconds per play) and have the third-highest passing rate (63.5 percent). Given how cheap he is, you could do a lot worse on DraftKings, where he’s the top tight end in the SportsGeek Model. You ain’t livin’ if you ain’t dyin’.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Research the tight ends for yourself with our tools, and read the other Week 15 positional breakdowns.
Good luck this week!
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