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Week 1 NFL DFS TE Breakdown: Travis Kelce is Worth Every Penny

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The Week 1 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, September 12th at 1 p.m. ET.

In this piece, I highlight tight ends who stand out in our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically, our FantasyLabs Player Models. While the Models are built for DFS contests, this is an all-purpose fantasy article with actionable information for all formats.

As news breaks throughout the week and we adjust our projections, player ratings in our Player Models will change. For updates, visit the Models directly.

Top Tight Ends in the FantasyLabs Models

There are four tight ends atop the individual Pro Models constructed by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, and Ryan Hodge.

Here’s where they place within our Week 1 Fantasy Rankings (as of Tuesday evening).

  • Travis Kelce (1st)
  • George Kittle (2nd)
  • Kyle Pitts (6th)
  • Dan Arnold (25th)

We’ll discuss why these four are popping in our models, as well as take a look at some other tight ends with week-winning upside.

FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns

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Travis Kelce ($8,300 DraftKings, $8,500 FanDuel) Kansas City Chiefs (-6.5) vs. Cleveland Browns 54.5

Kelce tops our pro’s FanDuel Models this week, though he leads the slate across both sites in all of our scoring projections. It’s unlikely that anybody reading this needs further convincing on the merits of rostering Travis Kelce. Still, we’ll dive into some context for why he stands out this week in particular.

One of the great things about our Models is that we allow you to see all of the settings that our team of professional DFS players has selected. They also allow you to use different sliders based on position. This is great because we can “take a peek behind the curtain” and see why a player like Kelce leads our FanDuel Models but not DraftKings. For example, 15% of Peter Jennings’ tight end Model is based on Bargain Rating (a proprietary Labs metric that compares how expensive a particular player is on one site relative to the other) where Kelce is in the 99th percentile on FanDuel. This also means, rather intuitively, he has a 1% Bargain Rating on DraftKings.

We all know Kelce is a great play almost every week. This week, in particular, he faces a Browns team that allowed the sixth-most raw fantasy points to tight ends last season, as well as being bottom-three in Plus/Minus allowed on the slate.

(Note: Plus/Minus is a proprietary FantasyLabs metric that measures production adjusted for daily fantasy salary)

According to our Trends tool, tight ends facing teams with a Plus/Minus allowed of over +4.0 beat salary expectations by +1.35 points on FanDuel (the Browns are at 5.1). On DraftKings, that trend only yields .48 extra points.

All of this serves two purposes. First, to highlight how you can use our tools to research particular players and situations. Secondly, we can see why Kelce is a better play on FanDuel this week. If you play across both sites, it makes a ton of sense to get your exposure to him there.

Of course, there’s a solid chance that Kelce outscores the rest of the position by a significant margin, in which case he’s a good play across the industry. However, it makes sense to get your exposure to him where he’s relatively cheaper. If he goes off, he’s still giving you a shot at winning tournaments, and if he doesn’t (at least not to a level worthy of his salary), you still have a shot at taking down tournaments on DraftKings.

George Kittle ($6,300 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel) San Francisco 49ers (-8) at Detroit Lions (45 total)

Kittle is our other FanDuel Model standout as FanDuel’s pricing algorithms generally lead to high-end tight ends being relatively better bargains on FanDuel. After accounting for over 30% of his team’s receiving yards last season, he led all tight ends when he was healthy. He now takes on a Lions team that was worst in the league last season against the pass and did little to improve the secondary or linebacking corps in the offseason.

I have my concerns with Kittle long-term this season. If and when rookie quarterback Trey Lance takes over, he may look to push the ball more to his wideouts. However, for now, Jimmy G is still the starter. This means we can expect a similar offensive approach from the Niners. This approach led to over 18 DraftKings points per game last season.

Kittle was also on the wrong side of touchdown variance last year. According to this article by old dad Matt Freedman, tight ends average a touchdown once every 130 receiving yards or so. Kittle found pay dirt only twice despite compiling 648 yards last season (eight games), meaning he left a little over two scores on the table. Projecting that out, he “should” have averaged around 20 DraftKings points last year.

With a great matchup, a top-six implied team total, and some positive regression expected, there’s really not a lot of holes I can poke in Kittle this week. He’s significantly cheaper than Kelce, so if Kittle’s able to keep the fantasy scoring close, he’ll end up as the better play.

Kyle Pitts ($4,400 DraftKings, $6,000 FanDuel) Atlanta Falcons (-3) vs Philadelphia Eagles (48 total)

Pitts leads most of our expert’s DraftKings models, where he’s third in Median and Ceiling Projections.

The Falcons invested the highest draft pick ever in Kyle Pitts. He has better athletic measurables than A.J Brown but is six inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. He’s essentially a giant receiver that we get to roster as a tight end while paying moderate tight end prices.

He’s taking on an Eagles defense that was 26th in DVOA against tight ends last year and projects to command a large target share moving forward. Rookie tight ends, even first-round picks, tend to struggle.

At Pitts’ reasonable price, he absolutely has the ceiling to break this slate wide open. The real question here is whether you think he can defy the past results from young tight ends. If Pitts is what the Falcons drafted him to be, we won’t see him this cheap across the industry for a decade or so. It’s entirely possible that he struggles for a few weeks, but I want at least some exposure before rostership, and his salary rises.

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Dan Arnold ($2,600 DraftKings, $4,500 FanDuel) Carolina Panthers (-5) vs. New York Jets (45 total)

On top of only the Jennings DraftKings Model, Dan Arnold is only $100 over the DraftKings minimum salary. He’s facing a Jets team with the second-worst Opponent Plus/Minus allowed on the slate. Most outlets expect him to be the starter while competing for looks with Ian Thomas.

The Panthers targeted tight ends at the worst rate of any team last season — but that was then. Quarterback Sam Darnold is taking over under center; his Jets targeted tight ends almost twice as frequently last season.

The Panthers also brought in Arnold from the Cardinals. Arnold is a better receiving tight end than incumbent Ian Thomas. He’s both taller and faster than Thomas, who profiles more as a blocking tight end. Arnold was lined up in the slow or out wide in over ⅓ of his snaps last season, so it makes sense that the Panthers signed him to be a receiving option for Sam Darnold.

While clearly not the most fun tight end to roster, Arnold instantly becomes one of the highest-scoring tight ends per dollar spent on the slate if he can find the end zone. It’s a bit of a gamble, but if the Panthers use him as a true receiving option, his salary will jump in the mid-to-high $3,000 range, so this might be the best chance all year to use him.

Other Tight Ends With Week-Winning Upside

TJ Hockenson ($4,900 DraftKings, $5,700 FanDuel) Detroit Lions (+8) vs. San Francisco 49ers (45 total)

The last man standing after the Lions lost more than 60% of last year’s targets to free agency, Hockenson projects for a massive workload this season. Unfortunately, it’s likely to be a big slice of a small pie, with the Lions expected to be one of the league’s worst offenses. Only in his third season, TJ continues to improve as a player — and reportedly has good chemistry with new quarterback Jared Goff — so the opportunities should be there.

He draws a bottom-five matchup in Opponent Plus/Minus this week in the 49ers, but the Lions have to throw it to somebody. They’ll probably even score a touchdown at some point…right? Hock has our fourth-best Ceiling Projection this week, and 10+ targets are well within his range of outcomes.

Logan Thomas ($4,600 DraftKings $5,600 FanDuel) Washington Football Team vs. Los Angeles Chargers

LT3 broke out last season with a 72/670/6 line that far eclipsed his career marks. He also flashed his ceiling with a pair of 20+ point games on DraftKings. This season, he gets an upgrade at quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick (please never retire) but also increased competition for targets after the Football Team brought in wideouts Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown.

Even so, he found the end zone six times last year, which is all it takes for a decent score at his price. He’s in the top five across all of our projections this week.