Week 1 of the NFL regular season was one for the ages: The double-digit underdog (+10) Buccaneers beat the Saints in a shootout on the road, the Packers overcame a 20-point deficit to win in the final minutes Sunday night and the traveling Jets (+7) withstood a first-play pick-six from rookie quarterback Sam Darnold to destroy the Lions, 48-17.
And, of course, the Browns managed not to lose.
Week 2 should be equally fantastic, with a teeming main slate on Sunday, Sept. 16, that kicks off at 1 p.m. ET.
For analysis on the smaller slates, consult Chris Raybon’s premium strategy pieces.
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 three high-priced tight ends, follow with three 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
The same three tight ends occupy the top of the salary scale across DraftKings and FanDuel this week.
- Rob Gronkowski: $7,000 DraftKings; $8,100 FanDuel
- Zach Ertz: $6,100 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
- Travis Kelce: $5,900 DraftKings; $6,800 FanDuel
Rob Gronkowski: New England Patriots (-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars, 44 over/under
Last week, Gronk did what Gronk does. Playing all 75 of the team’s offensive snaps and lining up inline (44 snaps), in the slot (20) and even out wide (11). Gronkowski saw eight targets and finished with a 7-123-1 receiving line for 27.3 DraftKings points. Gronk smash. He also continued to dominate down the field. Even though he’s a savage blocker, Gronkowski last year had a position-high 12.1-yard average depth of target (aDOT). In Week 1, he had a 13.4 aDOT, leading all tight ends with three targets of 20+ yards, which he turned into three receptions and 83 yards. Gronk chalk paid off.
When he is healthy — and it’s the beginning of the season, so he’s healthy — Gronk is the most dominant player in the game. Even though he has missed 26 games in his career, no one else in the league has more than his 77 receiving touchdowns since 2010. He’s the top pass catcher on the No. 1 team in The Action Network Power Rankings: It should be no surprise that he leads all tight ends with eight DraftKings and nine FanDuel Pro Trends and has the position’s highest median, ceiling and floor projections.
The problem with Gronk is that he’s expensive, and this week he’s not as easy to fit into lineups because there’s not as much value at other positions. Additionally, Gronk has a tough matchup against the Jaguars, who last year were No. 1 in pass defense with a -27.6% Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) and entered the season with Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 secondary. In 2017, the Jags pass defense was technically weakest against tight ends (No. 20 DVOA, 2.3%), but Jacksonville still held opposing tight-end units to just 9.6 DraftKings points per game, the league’s fifth-lowest mark.
The Patriots opened with an implied total of 23.5 points, but that has dropped to 22.75 even though the Pats have received 70% of the spread bets. Translation: There is smart and heavy money betting against the Patriots and on a low-scoring game. Gronk can play well in any circumstances, but this is not a good situation for him. When the Pats played the Jags in the AFC Championship, Gronk was held to just 3.1 DraftKings points before being knocked out of the game shortly before half time with a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet penalty-inducing hit from strong safety Barry Church. This will be one of the toughest matchups Gronk has all year.
Nevertheless, if you are entering multiple lineups in guaranteed prize pools, Gronk warrants limited exposure because of his upside. His ownership rate will be much lower this week in GPPs, as will that of quarterback Tom Brady. Collectively, they could be rostered together in less than 2% of lineups. If you’re wanting to stack the Patriots, use our Lineup Builder to pair Gronk and Brady. Since 2014, tight ends have had a 0.39 correlation with their quarterbacks, but over that time Gronk and Brady have averaged a 0.52 correlation.
Zach Ertz: Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 44 O/U
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) is still out, so Ertz will once again function as the team’s primary pass catcher. Entering the year as one of just three tight ends (along with Kelce and Delanie Walker) with three straight seasons of 100+ targets, Ertz had a team-high 10 targets and eight receptions in Week 1. As the 2017 team leader with 74 receptions and 824 yards receiving, Ertz is a locked-in high-end contributor to the offense. Since 2016, Ertz has played 17 regular-season games without former Eagles slot man Jordan Matthews: In those games, Ertz has averaged 16.2 points per game in point-per-reception (PPR) scoring.
His Week 2 matchup is tremendous. Last year the Bucs defense was dead last with an 11.7% DVOA, and against the pass it was No. 31 with a 26.4% DVOA. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s unit has allowed a league-high 8,613 yards passing since he joined the Bucs in 2016. Ertz will spend much of the game running routes against strong safety Chris Conte and strongside linebacker Adarius Taylor, neither of whom has ever had a PFF coverage grade higher than 72.
Given some of the value plays at the position, we’re projecting Ertz to have relatively low ownership, which gives him a position-high 85% DraftKings leverage score. He also leads the position with a 99% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the highest-rated tight end in the Koerner and Raybon Models.
Another Eagles tight end to know:
- Dallas Goedert ($2,700 DraftKings; $4,000 FanDuel): The high-upside small-school second-rounder played just 17 snaps in Week 1.
Travis Kelce: Kansas City Chiefs (+5.5) at Pittsburgh, 53.5 O/U
I’m going to say this week about Kelce pretty much what I said last week. And I’m recycling the Week 1 analysis because almost nothing has changed. In 2016-17, Kelce scored almost as many PPR points per game (14.7) as Gronk (14.8) — and he offered superior value as a healthier, more reliable option, playing in 31-of-32 games vs. 22 for Gronk. But 2018 might be different. It sure was in Week 1, when he had a 1-6-0 receiving line on six targets.
This year, Kelce will have to deal with the transition from quarterback Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes, who might struggle at times in his first year as the starter. And even if Mahomes proves himself to be better than Smith — and he was impressive in Week 1 — that could actually be a bad development for Kelce, who could lose target share to other receivers, which is exactly what happened in Week 1. Whereas Smith was inclined to make high-percentage throws to Kelce, Mahomes focused much more on his wide receivers, giving 13 targets total to Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. With Mahomes as the starter, Kelce’s usage and role are more uncertain than they’ve previously been.
And while Kelce is pretty much a matchup-proof player — he’s led the Chiefs in targets each of the past two seasons, and last year he led all tight ends with a 0.31 air-yard market share — this week he’s facing the Steelers, who last year were No. 1 in pass defense against tight ends with a -34.6% DVOA. In 2016-17, the Chiefs played the Steelers three times (including playoffs): Kelce averaged 11.2 DraftKings points with a -2.38 Plus/Minus and 33.3% Consistency Rating. The sample is small, but that Plus/Minus underperformance is significant, especially given how expensive Kelce is.
Plus, the Chiefs are road dogs and Kelce has historically been better at home (14.1 vs. 12.9 DraftKings points per game) and as a favorite (14.2 vs. 12.0). Kelce’s been at his worst as a road dog, averaging a mediocre (for him) 11.7 DraftKings points with a +0.68 Plus/Minus and 52.9% Consistency Rating. Kelce is not without value — he’s the No. 1 FanDuel tight end in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, SportsGeek and Freedman Models — but he could disappoint against the Steelers.
Model Tight Ends
Besides Ertz and Kelce, there are three other 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.
- Jared Cook: $3,600 DraftKings; $5,000 FanDuel
- David Njoku: $3,000 DraftKings; $5,300 FanDuel
- Antonio Gates: $2,600 DraftKings; $4,800 FanDuel
Jared Cook: Oakland Raiders (+6.5) at Denver Broncos, 45.5 O/U
What a time to be alive. Cook entered the league almost 10 years ago as a top 100 pick with an elite size/speed profile (6-feet-five, 248 pounds, 4.50-second 40 time), but for almost the entirety of his career he’s been nothing more than a fantasy tease, occasionally putting up massive performances only to follow them up with a seemingly never-ending string of duds. But now — under the intense time-warping tutelage of Grandmaster Head Coach Jon Gruden — Cook has found a way to channel his inner power.
In Week 1, in an offense hearkening back to the glory days of the late ’90s, Cook exploded for a slate-high 30.0 DraftKings points, setting or tying career-high marks with 12 targets, nine receptions and 180 yards. Cook was nothing short of Gronkian in his performance. He led all tight ends with 106 yards after the catch and 4.74 yards per route (PFF), lining up more collectively in the slot (20) and out wide (14) than inline (30). The Raiders essentially treated him like a big-bodied wide receiver — which he is — and he played as the No. 1 pass-catching option. In retrospect, it’s perhaps not surprising that he played ahead of wide receivers Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson: Last season, Cook did lead the team with 688 yards receiving.
Cook enters Week 2 leading the position with a 0.30 market share of targets and an astounding 0.49 market share of air yards. Against a Broncos pass defense that ranked No. 31 last year against tight ends with a 19.8% DVOA and allowed the third-most DraftKings points per game to the position (14.9), Cook could dominate. Of course, he could also finish with zero receptions — BECAUSE HE’S JARED COOK — but doing what he did in his first game in a new offense and with a new coaching staff is encouraging.
As mentioned on the Friday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, NFL analyst Chris Raybon sees Cook as a strong pivot play to the more expensive George Kittle, who is projected for far higher ownership. Unsurprisingly, Cook is the highest-rated DraftKings tight end in the Raybon Model.
David Njoku: Cleveland Browns (+9.5) at New Orleans Saints, 49 O/U
Njoku is almost certain to be a high-end fantasy producer at some point. He was drafted last year in the first round after leading all draft-eligible tight ends with 11.2 yards after the catch as a Miami redshirt sophomore. With great size (6-feet-4, 246 pounds) and quickness (6.97-second three-cone), Njoku led the Browns as a 21-year-old rookie with four receiving touchdowns (26.7% of team total). In NFL history, 11 pass-catching tight ends before Njoku were selected in the first four rounds and played as 21-year-old rookies. Here they are in chronological order (with their draft positions in parentheses).
- Johnny Mitchell (1992, 1.05): Two top-five, three top-10 fantasy seasons
- Tony Gonzalez (1997, 1.13): Four top overall, 11 top-three, 13 top-five, 16 top-10 fantasy seasons
- Todd Heap (2001, 1.31): Three top-three, four-top five fantasy seasons
- Jason Witten (2003, 3.69): Two top overall, four top-three, seven top-five, 11 top-10 fantasy seasons
- Kellen Winslow (2004, 1.06): One top-five, four top-10 fantasy seasons
- Martellus Bennett (2008, 2.61): One top-five, three top-10 fantasy seasons
- Jermichael Finley (2008, 3.91): One top-five fantasy season
- Rob Gronkowski (2010, 2.42): Four top overall, six top-three, seven top-five fantasy seasons
- Aaron Hernandez (2010, 4.113): One top-three fantasy season
- Eric Ebron (2014, 1.10): Sabotaged by former HC Jim Caldwell
- Maxx Williams (2015, 2.55): Ruined by myriad injuries
The breakout is coming at some point. In Week 1 he played 78 snaps (87.6%) and was second on the team with seven targets. Despite what his 3-13-0 performance might suggest, Njoku was involved in the game, and he might see more action this week now that Josh Gordon (hamstring, release) has been ruled out.
Finally, Thomas is at the Coors Field of fantasy football, where the points flow like cheep beer. A shootout-friendly venue, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome has an A-graded 56-39-2 over/under record with Drew Brees at quarterback. The Saints-Browns game has the second-highest total on the slate, and Saints strong safety Kurt Coleman and strongside linebacker A.J. Klein have both had sub-60.0 PFF coverage grades in each of the past two seasons. In what could be a shootout, Njoku has massive upside as the highest-rated DraftKings tight end in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner and Freedman Models.
Antonio Gates: Los Angeles Chargers (-7) at Buffalo Bills, 42.5 O/U
The time-fighting Hall-of-Famer is a slow-motion version of his former self, and he played only 33 snaps (40.2%) and ran just 22 routes last week, so it’s hard to be too excited about him. But Gates has some factors in his favor. In 2016-17, Gates saw 33 targets in the red zone. For all his faults, he’s still capable of boxing out a defender and catching a short pass. He had only three targets for a 2-16-0 line last week, but he also converted a two-point attempt.
Additionally, the injured Hunter Henry (knee) saw 29 red-zone targets in 2016-17. Gates won’t get all of Henry’s high-leverage target share, but he’s likely to get a portion of it. And he’s also unlikely to see serious competition from backup Virgil Green. Even though Green is 30 years old, he’s never had more than 37 targets in a campaign, and his best seasonal performance is a 22-237-1 snoozer. The most red zone targets he’s ever had in a season is four.
Gates is not thought of as a high-upside player, but touchdowns and a low salary have a way of changing one’s perspective on upside. We’re projecting Gates for less than 1% ownership, and in his 13 games with a touchdown over the past three years, Gates has averaged 16.4 PPR points. If he happens to score a touchdown — and his scoring prowess is pretty much why he’s still on the team — he could pay off at his low salary and ownership. He’s the highest-rated DraftKings tight end in the SportsGeek Model.
Tight End Rundown
Here’s a quick look at the remaining fantasy-relevant tight ends on the slate.
Jordan Reed: Washington Redskins (-6) vs. Indianapolis Colts, 48 O/U
- $5,000 DraftKings; $6,200 FanDuel
- Reed had two Week 1 red-zone targets and is second only to Gronk with 13.2 PPR points per game in his four years with head coach Jay Gruden.
Jimmy Graham: Green Bay Packers (-1) vs. Minnesota Vikings, 46.5 O/U
- $4,800 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
- Graham played an outstanding 59 snaps (98.3%) last week and has a position-high 74% FanDuel leverage score.
Kyle Rudolph: Minnesota Vikings (+1) at Green Bay Packers, 46.5 O/U
- $4,200 DraftKings; $5,900 FanDuel
- Rudolph leads the Vikings with 16 touchdowns from scrimmage since 2016 even with wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the roster.
Jack Doyle & Eric Ebron: Indianapolis Colts (+6) at Washington Redskins, 48 O/U
- Doyle: $4,000 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
- Ebron: $3,500 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel
- Doyle led the team with 60 yards receiving in Week 1; the only pass of 20+ yards that quarterback Andrew Luck completed last week was Ebron’s 26-yard touchdown.
George Kittle: San Francisco 49ers (-6) vs. Detroit Lions, 48.5 O/U
- $3,800 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
- Kittle had a position-high 118 air yards in Week 1 and has averaged 13.4 DraftKings points with a +8.26 Plus/Minus across his four games with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback and at least 40% of the offensive snaps.
Ben Watson: New Orleans Saints (-9.5) vs. Cleveland Browns, 49 O/U
- $3,400 DraftKings; $5,100 FanDuel
- Watson in Week 1 caught all four of his targets and was third on the team with 35 routes.
O.J. Howard & Cameron Brate: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 44 O/U
- Howard: $3,200 DraftKings; $5,400 FanDuel
- Brate: $2,800 DraftKings; $4,700 FanDuel
- Howard drastically out-snapped Brate (43-24) in Week 1; Brate has averaged 5.1 PPR points per game with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the primary quarterback over the past two years and 9.8 without him.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins: Jacksonville Jaguars (+1) vs. New England Patriots, 44 O/U
- $3,200 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
- ASJ led all skill-position players on the team with 55 snaps (87.3%) in Week 1.
Vance McDonald & Jesse James: Pittsburgh Steelers (-5.5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 53.5 O/U
- McDonald: $3,100 DraftKings; $4,800 FanDuel
- James: $2,800 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
- McDonald (ankle) is questionable but practiced in full this week and is expected to make his 2018 debut; without McDonald, James was tied for third on the team with 36 routes and had an aggressive 13.6 aDOT.
Charles Clay: Buffalo Bills (+7) vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 42.5 O/U
- $3,100 DraftKings; $4,800 FanDuel
- Clay is just at the beginning of what’s destined to be a momentous season with 1,200 air yards and two receptions.
Jonnu Smith: Tennessee Titans (+3) vs. Houston Texans, 43 O/U
- $3,100 DraftKings; $4,200 FanDuel
- The Texans last year allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game (14.2) to opposing tight ends.
Austin Hooper: Atlanta Falcons (-6) vs. Carolina Panthers, 44 O/U
- $2,900 DraftKings; $4,800 FanDuel
- Not since Week 1 of LAST year has Hooper had more than 50 yards receiving in a game.
Ian Thomas: Carolina Panthers (+6) at Atlanta Falcons, 44 O/U
- $2,900 DraftKings; $4,000 FanDuel
- The reportedly well-prepared fourth-rounder will start in place of the injured Greg Olsen (foot) and try to improve upon his Week 1 mark of 0.16 yards per route.
Ricky Seals-Jones: Arizona Cardinals (+13) at Los Angeles Rams, 44.5 O/U
- $2,900 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel
- RSJ has a position-high 95% DraftKings Bargain Rating and in Week 1 lined up more in the slot (21) and out wide (13) than inline (13).
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 2 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: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Photo credit: Jared Cook