The season is finally here, and the Week 1 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Sep. 13, 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 our FantasyLabs Models, and I include plenty of actionable analysis relevant to season-long fantasy as well.
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Top Tight Ends in the FantasyLabs Models
There are five 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.
- Mark Andrews: $6,000 DraftKings, $7,400 FanDuel
- Zach Ertz: $5,800 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel
- Hayden Hurst: $4,300 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel
- Dallas Goedert: $4,100 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel
- Jack Doyle: $3,600 DraftKings, $5,300 FanDuel
Odds as of Friday afternoon and via DraftKings. For sports betting, get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus at DraftKings today. For daily fantasy, sign up now at DraftKings and get free entries to both Thursday’s $2.5M contest and Sunday’s $5M contest for Week 1!
Mark Andrews: Baltimore Ravens (-7.5) vs. Cleveland Browns, 48 Over/Under
It seems like Andrews was always destined to be a star. In his final season at Oklahoma, he was the No. 1 receiver for the Sooners, putting up a 62-958-8 stat line on his way to winning the John Mackey Award and Ozzie Newsome Award as the top tight end in college — and then he was drafted by Hall-of-Fame tight end-turned-general manager Ozzie Newsome.
Game respects game.
As a rookie, Andrews played just 34.8% of the team’s offensive snaps, but he still flashed with 34-552-3 receiving on 50 targets, displaying wide receiver-like efficiency with his top-five mark of 11.0 yards per target.
In the two decades prior to Andrews’ 2018 season, only 11 other rookie tight ends had put up at least 8.0 yards per target (on 40-plus targets). All of them eventually became fantasy contributors. Some of them became superstars, many of them in their second seasons.
- Antonio Gates (2003): 9.26
- Ron Gronkowski (2010): 9.25
- Hunter Henry (2016): 9.02
- Heath Miller (2005): 8.83
- Aaron Hernandez (2010): 8.80
- Jordan Reed (2013): 8.46
- Zach Ertz (2013): 8.23
- George Kittle (2017): 8.17
- Dallas Clark (2003): 8.10
- Jimmy Graham (2010): 8.09
- Alge Crumpler (2001): 8.05
When Andrews exploded in 2019 with 64-852-10 receiving on 98 targets, no one should have been surprised — except for the fact that he played just 41.4% of the team’s snaps, the exact same mark hit by backup tight end Hayden Hurst.
That won’t happen this year.
The team traded Hurst this offseason, and Andrews and blocking tight end Nick Boyle are the only true players at the position left on the roster.
Last year, Andrews and Hurst combined for just 11 pass-blocking snaps (per Pro Football Focus). Andrews is primed to inherit most if not all of Hurst’s vacated snaps, and on pass plays he will not be blocking. Instead, he’ll be running a career-high number of routes.
And that’s going to translate into lots of fantasy goodness. I already have Andrews ranked as my No. 2 dynasty tight end.
Last year, Andrews was the No. 2 tight end with 2.68 yards per route and No. 5 with 88.4 air yards and yards after the catch (AirYAC) combined per game (per AirYards.com). With limited playing time, he was a fantasy TE1 in 67% of his games (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
As a favorite, Andrews is on the positive side of the massive splits he exhibited last year (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool).
- Favorite (13 games): 16.0 DraftKings points | 69.2% Consistency Rating
- Underdog (three games): 4.8 DraftKings Points | 0.0% Consistency Rating
When the 2019 Ravens were laying points, Andrews exceeded his salary-based expectations with an elite +5.01 Plus/Minus.
He was especially productive in his two games against the Browns last year.
- Week 16 (at CLE): 27.3 DraftKings points | 6-93-2 on nine targets
- Week 4 (vs. CLE): 13.1 DraftKings points | 4-31-1 on eight targets
And the Browns are especially likely to struggle against Andrews in Week 1. They are without their three top linebackers from last year: Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey left via free agency; and, Mack Wilson (knee) is out for at least the first month with an injury.
The situation is about the same at safety: Veterans Damarious Randall and Morgan Burnett are gone, and All-American rookie Grant Delpit (Achilles) is out for the year on injured reserve.
And it only helps that No. 1 wide receiver Marquise Brown has a tough matchup against cornerback Denzel Ward. If quarterback Lamar Jackson doesn’t want to challenge Ward, he might funnel even more targets toward Andrews.
The cherry on top of the Andrews sundae is that the Ravens have a slate-high 27.75-point implied Vegas total. They will score points.
Andrews is a must-play, high-end TE1 in season-long leagues and strong candidate in cash games/guaranteed prize pools for DFS, especially on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 option in the Bales, Levitan and Raybon Models, thanks to his position-high marks with six Pro Trends and a +1.41 Projected Plus/Minus.
Zach Ertz: Philadelphia Eagles (-5.5) at Washington Football Team, 42.5 O/U
UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery (foot) is out, but rookie first-round WR Jalen Reagor (shoulder) practiced in full on Thursday and Friday and seems likely to play.
In 2018, Ertz had career-best numbers with 156 targets, 116 receptions and 1,163 yards, thanks primarily to injuries at the wide receiver position.
Entering 2019, I projected regression for Ertz, and I was correct: He had only 135 targets, 88 receptions and 916 yards … all of which were the second-highest marks of his career. Once again, the Eagles were struck by wide receiver injuries. (Subtext: I was not at all correct.)
And now, in 2020, the Eagles are still dealing with injuries in their wide receiver group. The creaky Alshon Jeffery (foot) has not practiced this week: He will likely be out for the first month or so. First-round rookie Jalen Reagor (shoulder) returned to full practice on Thursday, but he is almost certainly not 100% and missed a significant amount of training camp. Even if he plays in Week 1, he might be limited.
Everything is aligning once again for Ertz to see an increased target share as the team’s true No. 1 option. Since 2018, Ertz in the regular season has seen 10.8 targets in games without Jeffery vs. 8.8 in games with him (per RotoViz Games Splits App).
Since becoming a key contributor in 2014, Ertz has had notable splits as a favorite.
- Favorite (59 games): 11.4 FanDuel points | 62.7% Consistency Rating
- Underdog (38 games): 9.2 FanDuel points | 52.6% Consistency Rating
Over the past two years specifically, Ertz has averaged 15.1 FanDuel points with a +4.97 Plus/Minus and 71.4% Consistency Rating across 21 games when favored.
For most of the game, Ertz is likely to face strong safety Landon Collins, who has spent the past half decade matching up with Ertz two times per year, first with the Giants (2015-18) and then with the Footballers (2019).
Historically, Ertz has produced against Collins and his crew.
- Week 15, 2019 (at WAS): 14.6 FanDuel points | 5-61-1 on 10 targets
- Week 1, 2019 (vs. WAS): 7.9 FanDuel points | 5-54-0 on seven targets
- Week 12, 2018 (vs. NYG): 18.6 FanDuel points | 7-91-1 on eight targets
- Week 6, 2018 (at NYG): 13.8 FanDuel points | 7-43-1 on nine targets
- Week 15, 2017 (at NYG): 14.6 FanDuel points | 6-56-1 on nine targets
- Week 3, 2017 (vs. NYG): 13.5 FanDuel points | 8-55-1 on 10 targets
- Week 16, 2016 (vs. NYG): 4.3 FanDuel points | 2-33-0 on two targets
- Week 9, 2016 (at NYG): 13.7 FanDuel points | 8-97-0 on eight targets
- Week 17, 2015 (at NYG): 19.7 FanDuel points | 9-152-0 on eight targets
- Week 6, 2015 (vs. NYG): 6.3 FanDuel points | 4-43-0 on seven targets
All told, Ertz has put up 12.7 FanDuel points per game against Collins over the past five years.
Washington enters the season with PFF’s No. 28 secondary: Ertz has so much hand he’s falling out of his gloves.
For tournaments, use our Lineup Builder to stack Ertz with quarterback Carson Wentz, and look at Ertz as a possible cash-game alternative to the higher-priced George Kittle, Mark Andrews and Darren Waller. In season-long leagues, Ertz is a top-five option with top-two upside.
Ertz is the No. 1 tight end in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner and SportsGeek Models for FanDuel, where he has a position-high floor projection.
Hayden Hurst: Atlanta Falcons (+3) vs. Seattle Seahawks, 49 O/U
Hurst will always be compared unfavorably to Mark Andrews. They were both drafted in 2018 by the Ravens, but they selected Hurst at No. 25 overall — two rounds ahead of Andrews, who outproduced him in fantastic fashion for the first two years of their careers, rendering Hurst expendable.
But Hurst is not a bad player: The Falcons traded a second-round pick to acquire him after all, and a Hall-of-Fame tight end drafted him with a first-rounder. Last year, Hurst was No. 5 at the position with 8.9 yards per target (Andrews was No. 6 at 8.7), and he was tied at No. 13 — with Falcons predecessor Austin Hooper — with 1.65 yards per route.
For the 2019 Ravens, Hurst played 41.4% of the offensive snaps and trailed only Andrews and wide receiver Marquise Brown with his 349 yards receiving.
Hurst is not a nonentity. He’s probably just a guy who hasn’t gotten enough targets.
In Atlanta, he should get targets, including most if not all of the 97 targets vacated by Hooper, who left the team via free agency. And maybe he’ll get more. The Falcons have a league-high 258 targets unaccounted for from last year’s team.
In going from the Ravens to the Falcons, Hurst left the team with a league-low 440 pass attempts last year and joined the team with a league-high 684.
Over the past two years, Hooper benefited immensely from Atlanta’s pass-heavy offense with 71-660-4 receiving in 2018 and 75-787-6 receiving in 2019.
Hurst has a legitimate shot to get that kind of production in 2020.
The matchup for Hurst is not great. The Seahawks have bolstered their secondary over the past year by trading for safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are serviceable in coverage.
But Hooper had a 6-65-1 receiving performance on seven targets against them in Week 8 last year, and that’s well within the range of outcomes for Hurst in Week 1.
I’m betting on the Seahawks to cover: You couldn’t pay me to back Falcons HC Dan Quinn anyway, and the West Coast Carroll is 12-7-3 against the spread (ATS) in early East Coast games, good for a 21.4% return on investment (ROI, per Bet Labs).
But even if the Falcons lose, Hurst should still get targets: Quarterback Matt Ryan will need to throw the ball, and wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley can be open on every dropback.
Hurst is a low-end TE1 in redraft leagues and a viable pay-down DFS play in cash games, especially on FanDuel, where he is the top option in the Raybon Model with his position-high +2.57 Projected Plus/Minus.
Dallas Goedert: Philadelphia Eagles (-5.5) at Washington Football Team, 42.5 O/U
UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery (foot) is out, but rookie first-round WR Jalen Reagor (shoulder) practiced in full on Thursday and Friday and seems likely to play.
Even though Goedert played behind Zach Ertz last year, the should-be Dallas Cowboy had a strong 58-607-5 receiving campaign on 87 targets, and he could have a similar if not superior season in 2020.
No. 1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (foot) is expected not to play in Week 1, and rookie Jalen Reagor (shoulder) might be limited, so the Eagles will likely use a two-tight end set as their base formation against the Football Team, just as they did for much of the 2019 season.
Starting in Week 4 last year, Goedert played at least 55% of the snaps in each game: He actually saw more than two-thirds of the snaps in all but two of the final 14 games (including playoffs). With that playing time, he produced.
Not surprisingly, his per-game production, target volume and playing time increased as the season progressed.
- Weeks 4-18 (14 games): 8.9 FanDuel points | 6.5 targets | 77.9% snap rate
- Weeks 10-18, after bye (eight games): 9.7 FanDuel points | 7.9 targets | 83.1% snap rate
- Weeks 15-18, final month (four games): 11.7 FanDuel points | 9 targets | 92.8% snap rate
If last year is any indication, Goedert is almost an every-down player.
While Ertz draws the coverage of safety Landon Collins, Goedert will likely run most of his routes against off-ball linebackers. In 2019, the Footballers were No. 31 with a 23.6% pass-defense DVOA against tight ends (per Football Outsiders).
You love to see it.
Goedert missed part of training camp with a hair-line fracture, but he has practiced in full this week and should be ready to go.
A season-long high-end TE2 with upside, Goedert is an intriguing Ertz-focused pivot play likely to have a sub-5% GPP ownership rate.
He’s the No. 1 option in the Freedman Model for FanDuel, where he has a position-high seven Pro Trends.
Jack Doyle: Indianapolis Colts (-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars, 45 O/U
If you’re looking to punt tight end, Doyle might be your guy, especially on DraftKings, where he has a position-high 79% Bargain Rating.
With the No. 19 salary among all tight ends, Doyle has the No. 11 median projection in our Models. That’s not sexy, but it’s probably sufficient if you’re looking to pay down.
Doyle has just 6.8 yards per target over the past four years as a starter, so he’s not a big-play threat. He doesn’t threaten the defense deep or create chunk yardage. In 100 career regular season games, he has just one 100-yard performance.
But in his two full-time seasons with quarterback Andrew Luck (2016, 2018), Doyle at least had a +2.89 Plus/Minus and 63.6% Consistency Rating across 22 games. With quarterback Philip Rivers now on the team, perhaps Doyle will be more reliable even if he isn’t dynamic.
There are three — maybe four — big factors in Doyle’s favor for Week 1.
First, the Colts are No. 3 on the slate with their 26.25-point implied Vegas total. They should be able to put fantasy points.
Second, the Jags were No. 30 last year with a 23.0% pass-defense DVOA against tight ends, and just about a week ago they traded away starting strong safety Ronnie Harrison. In his place, Josh Jones is slated to start after playing special teams and all of nine defensive snaps with the Cowboys in 2019. The matchup is exploitable.
Third, No. 2 tight end Trey Burton (calf) is on injured reserve. A favorite of HC Frank Reich from their days together in Philadelphia, Burton when healthy will likely steal snaps and targets away from Doyle. Fortunately for Doyle and his investors, that annoyance will not exist in Week 1.
Finally, Doyle is almost certain to have an ownership rate of less than 5% in tournaments. I could see it approaching 2%. Of course, the problem with rostering Doyle in a GPP … is that you’re rostering Doyle in a GPP.
A middling TE2 in redraft leagues and high-floor/low-ceiling play in cash games, Doyle is the No. 1 tight end in the CSURAM88, Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models for DraftKings.
Upside Tight Ends for Guaranteed Prize Pools
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers ($7,200 DK, $8,000 FD): In 2018, Kittle was the No. 1 tight end with 2.82 yards per route. In 2019, he was the No. 1 overall receiver with 2.87. He might be the NFL’s best all-around player — and opposing tight end units were No. 1 against the Cardinals last year with 19.9 DraftKings and 16.1 FanDuel points per game. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): 49ers WR Deebo Samuel (foot) is out. WR Brandon Aiyuk is questionable but trending toward playing after returning to practice (albeit on a limited basis) on Thursday and Friday.
Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders ($5,900 DK, $6,800 FD): A surprise breakout, Waller led all tight ends last year five 100-yard games, and he finished No. 4 at the position with 2.42 yards per route and 89.1 AirYAC per game. It’s moderately unsettling for his prospects that the Raiders are favored: In 2019, Waller had massive win/loss splits (52.7 yards, 5.6 targets in wins; 86.3 yards, 8.7 targets in losses). But with wide receiver Tyrell Williams (shoulder) on injured reserve, Waller could see extra targets as the established No. 1 receiver in the offense.
Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints ($5,500 DK, $5,900 FD): Dreadful for the first month of 2019, Cook somehow regained his form in Week 5 and was a fantasy TE1 in literally every game he played from that point on with an average of 15.1 DraftKings points.
With his salary and all the other options on the slate, Cook is likely to have a nearly nonexistent ownership rate, and at safety, the Buccaneers are likely to start Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield Jr. — the former of whom had a horrid 38.2 PFF coverage grade last year and the latter of whom is a rookie. At the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Coors Field of fantasy football, the Saints-Bucs game could shoot out. With quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints home over is an A-graded 66-48-2 (13.5% ROI).
Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers ($5,300 DK, $6,000 FD): It’s hard to know how Henry will adjust to life without quarterback Philip Rivers, but new starter Tyrod Taylor made tight end Charles Clay one of his top options in Buffalo for three straight years. Henry has unquestioned upside with his career mark of 8.9 yards per target, and he has an advantageous matchup against the Bengals, who were No. 28 with a 10.9% pass-defense DVOA against tight ends last year.
Free-agent acquisition Vonn Bell is expected to replace Shawn Williams as the starting strong safety, but he probably won’t make much of a difference given his 52.1 PFF coverage grade last year. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Chargers C Mike Pouncey (hip) is out, RG Trai Turner (knee) is legitimately questionable after not practicing on Friday and RT Bryan Bulaga (hamstring) is questionable after limited practices on Thursday and Friday. WR Mike Williams (shoulder) is questionable and a game-time decision.
Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($4,900 DK, $5,500 FD): Ever heard of him? Gronk’s the greatest tight end of all time, and he’s reunited with longtime quarterback Tom Brady. End of blurb. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Evans (hamstring) has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable but should still be approached with extreme skepticism.
UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Bucs WR Mike Evans (hamstring) got in a limited practice on Friday after not practicing on Wednesday and Thursday, but he is still doubtful for Week 1. WR Justin Watson seems likely to replace Evans in three-wide receiver sets, although he might play in the slot with WR Chris Godwin shifting to the perimeter, where he could face Saints CB Marshon Lattimore. The Bucs also might play more two-tight end sets without Evans. Overall, this is likely a net positive for Gronk.
Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins ($4,500 DK, $5,400 FD): After the Week 5 bye last year, Gesicki averaged 6.5 targets per game, and in the final eight games of the season that number jumped up to 7.3. Because wide receivers Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opted out of 2020, Gesicki might play as more of a true slot receiver and less of a tight end, especially since he ran 72.1% of his routes out of the slot last year. With safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Dont’a Hightower sitting out the season because of Covid-19, the Patriots might be more vulnerable to tight ends than they usually are.
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions ($4,200 DK, $5,300 FD): The No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft, Hockenson balled out in Week 1 with a 6-131-1 smackdown, but he did little for the rest of the season as he battled a lingering foot injury. No. 1 wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hamstring) did not practice on Thursday and is uncertain to play, and slot receiver Danny Amendola (hamstring) has been limited this week. Hockenson could be in line for extra targets and has the raw talent to capitalize on opportunities when healthy. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Golladay is doubtful after missing Thursday and Friday practices. Amendola is questionable after limited practices each day.
Devin Asiasi, New England Patriots ($3,500 DK, $4,100 FD): Rookie tight ends rarely turn into fantasy producers, but the Patriots did it 10 years ago with Gronk and Aaron Hernandez, and there are few established pass catchers on the team. On the basis of his college production, athletic profile and draft capital, Asiasi’s closest comp in the RotoViz Box Score Scout is Mark Andrews. In five NFL seasons, safety Eric Rowe has never had a PFF coverage grade higher than 62.8. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Patriots WR Gunner Olszewski (foot) is out. TE Dalton Keene (neck) is questionable after limited practices on Thursday and Friday.
Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers ($3,400 DK, $5,100 FD): Given that Thomas has averaged 5.9 yards per target for his career, it’s far to wonder if he’s actually good at football. Regardless, Thomas is now a starter and likely to play most of Week 1, and in his nine games with a snap rate of at least 70% he has averaged a livable 5.9 targets. Safety Johnathan Abram is a 2019 first-rounder, but he played just one game last year before being placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
Chris Herndon, New York Jets ($3,300 DK, $4,800 FD): This is what human chalk looks like. That list of all-star rookies that Mark Andrews landed on in 2018 — Herndon also landed on that list, but his 2019 follow-up campaign was ruined by a season-opening suspension and a season-ending ribs injury. But Herndon has reportedly stood out in training camp and is widely expected to be one of the top receiving options in the Jets offense … and that means he’ll be popular in tournaments given his low salary. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Jets WR Denzel Mims (hamstring) is out.
Jordan Reed, San Francisco 49ers ($3,000 DK, $4,500 FD): Reunited with Kyle Shanahan, who coordinated him in Washington years ago, Reed might get significant playing time in Week 1, given that he’s as healthy as he’s ever going to be and wide receivers Deebo Samuel (foot) and Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring) are both uncertain to play. A onetime top-three fantasy tight end, Reed was No. 11 at the position with 1.63 yards per route when we last saw him in 2018. The Cardinals took dynamo safety Isaiah Simmons No. 8 overall in the draft, but he will likely cover Kittle when both tight ends are on the field, and last year the Cardinals were No. 32 with a 28.2% pass-defense DVOA against the position.
Dalton Keene, New England Patriots ($3,000 DK, $4,000 FD): Another Patriots rookie tight end? New England seems likely to use a two-tight end set as its base formation, and Keene might actually be better than teammate Devin Asiasi, given his 81st-percentile 117.6 SPARQ-x score (per Player Profiler), 9.7 yards after the catch in college (per Sports Info Solutions) and all-around versatility (21-240-5 receiving, 11-33-0 rushing as a senior). Last year the Dolphins were No. 29 with an 11.3% pass-defense DVOA against tight ends. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Patriots WR Gunner Olszewski (foot) is out. Keene (neck) is questionable after limited practices on Thursday and Friday.
Logan Thomas, Washington Footballers ($2,800 DK, $4,000 FD): A college quarterback, Thomas has seemingly been successful with his transition to tight end, as the Football Team plans to use him as its starter. The sample is small, but when targeted by actual NFL quarterbacks — in other words, not David Blough and Jeff Driskel last year and not Nathan Peterman and rookie-year Josh Allen in 2017-18 — Thomas has averaged a promising 8.4 yards per target. He exhibited elite athleticism at the 2014 combine, and the tight ends to whom he’s most physically comparable is scintillating.
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FIX – Pictured above: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens
FIX – Photo credit: Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images