When evaluation players and their odds for Fantasy success, I always look at how much room they have to improve their reception, receiving, and touchdown totals.
So the five tight ends to watch in 2017 Fantasy Football leagues are young players who can have a bigger role than they did in 2016.
Now, this doesn’t mean they are going to finish in the top 10. They might not even finish in the top 15. But if injuries occur to other receivers on their respective teams or they just seem to be making massive strides during the offseason, these are players you will already want to have on your radar.
For example, a lot of Fantasy players assumed Golden Tate was in for a big year after Calvin Johnson retired. But if you looked at his reception totals in 2014 (99) and 2015 (90), there wasn’t any room left for him to increase his reception totals.
Also, as a 5-foot-10 receiver, his red-zone targets shouldn’t have been expected to dramatically improve with Johnson out of the lineup.
He just didn’t have any room left to increase his production unless he massively increased his YPC.
And he didn’t do that in 2016.
But these players do have room to increase their totals…
So these are the five tight ends I’m going to be watching before the start of the 2017 Fantasy Football season…
Tight Ends to Watch in 2017 Fantasy Football Leagues No. 5: Lance Kendricks
Yes. I know the Los Angeles Rams had a terrible season. I know the passing attack looked like a joke, and Jared Goff has a lot of work to do before Lance Kendricks can offer consistent Fantasy production.
The quarterbacks for the Rams only threw a total of 14 touchdown passes this year, and I don’t expect that number to get much better in 2017.
But if we look at the numbers, I like the fact that even a slight improvement from Goff would mean Kendricks could be Fantasy relevant in PPR leagues.
In 2015, Kendricks posted a 48-487-2 stat line. This season, he posted a 50-499-2 stat line. That could be the ceiling for his production moving forward, but also consider that the quarterbacks on the Rams thew 11 touchdown passes in 2015.
The Rams have just not had a reliable quarterback the past two seasons.
And that’s why even the slightest improvement at the quarterback position means Kendricks could be relevant in 2017 Fantasy Football leagues.
Consider that Jimmy Graham finished with 65 receptions and was the fourth-highest scoring tight end this year in standard scoring leagues. Martellus Bennett finished with 55 receptions, and he was the seventh-highest scoring tight end in standard leagues.
So if Kendricks could catch a few more passes, a few more touchdowns, and improve his 10.0 YPC average, he could be a much more consistent Fantasy producer in 2017. I wouldn’t want to rely on him as my main tight end next year, but I also wouldn’t mind taking a chance on him as a backup or in MFL10 league if he’s still hanging around in Round 15 or later.
Tight Ends to Watch in 2017 Fantasy Football Leagues No. 4: Jesse James
James is another player who has room for improvement.
In his rookie season in 2015, he posted a 8-56-1 stat line. This year, he posted a 39-338-3 stat line.
He still isn’t replicating the type of production Heath Miller did, but James is slowly gaining a bigger role in the offense. This year, he finished behind Antonio Brown in red-zone targets.
But keep in mind that the Steelers were also without Martavis Bryant, and Sammie Coates was dealing with injuries that limited his effectiveness. So some of Henry’s increased production may have just been from him having to step up.
He might still be a few years away before you can trust him as your starting tight end. But his red-zone targets in 2016 were a promising sign for his development.
Tight Ends to Watch in 2017 Fantasy Football Leagues No. 3: C.J. FiedorowiczEmbed from Getty Images
Here’s a fun stat: C.J. Fiedorowicz was a top-10 tight end in PPR leagues from Weeks 4-16.
And keep in mind he was able to do that with Brock Osweiler only throwing 15 touchdown passes. So most of Fiedorowicz’s production came from catching the ball. From Weeks 4-16, the 6-foot-5 tight end caught at least three passes in every game.
That’s important to note for two reasons.
The first reason is the Texans may struggle running the ball next year. Lamar Miller looked like a great pickup at the start of the season, but injuries have limited his effectiveness.
So if the running game can’t get going in 2017, the Texans will be forced to throw the ball more.
The other reason that’s important is the Texans may not have a better option than Osweiler next season. In two full starts, Tom Savage was unable to throw a touchdown.
Brandon Weeden is the third-string quarterback, and the Texans are well aware they can’t put together a winning season with the former first-round pick. At least for one more year, Houston may have no choice but to start Osweiler for most of the season.
Osweilier clearly has a rapport with Fiedorowicz, and that should continue in 2017.
Tight Ends to Watch in 2017 Fantasy Football Leagues No. 2: Cameron Brate
In the 2016 Scott Fish Bowl, I drafted Cameron Brate because of the issues Austin Seferian-Jenkins was having at practice and with the coaching staff.
Outside of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, quarterback Jameis Winston didn’t have a lot of targets. And with Jackson only playing in 10 games in 2015, I knew a tight end would need to get more involved in the passing attack for Winston.
So when things didn’t work out with Seferian-Jenkins, my bet paid off.
In 15 games, Brate led the Buccaneers in red-zone targets with 19. The next closest player was Evans with 17. The 25-year old tight end posted a a 57-680-8 stat line, which was good enough to make him the sixth-highest scoring tight end from Weeks 1-16 in PPR leagues.
The rushing attack for Tampa Bay is at a crossroads right now, and there isn’t a clear starter for 2017. That means Winston may need to throw more in 2017 than he did in 2016.
Also, Jackson is a free agent this year. He only played in five games, but he caught at least two passes in each game. Those passes could now go to Brate.
But since Brate was placed on injured reserve with a back injury on Dec. 27, 2016, Fantasy players will want to follow updates on his recovery process.
I’m interested to see where Brate is drafted as mock drafts open up. If you can get him in Round 8 or Round 9, there’s a lot of upside in pairing him with a more established tight end like Delanie Walker in Round 6 or Round 7 if you can start two tight ends.
Tight Ends to Watch in 2017 Fantasy Football Leagues No. 1: Hunter HenryEmbed from Getty Images
Rookie tight ends aren’t known for their Fantasy production.
Between learning a new playbook, working on their blocking, and just getting adjusted to the NFL, there’s a lot of learning curves.
Hunter Henry, as a 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end, was praised as a complete tight end in his draft profile. He displayed athleticism, good hands, and was a strong blocker at Arkansas. His big knock was that he could get “grabby” as a run blocker, with three penalties for holding in 2015.
And with Antonio Gates finishing with at least seven touchdown receptions from 2006 (when Philip Rivers played his first 16-game season) to 2012, Henry’s future looked bright.
Of course, Fantasy owners had been burned in the past waiting for Ladarius Green to take over for Gates. And when considering the fact Henry is a rookie, he seemed like too much of a wildcard to open up a Fantasy roster spot for.
When Week 1 rolled around, it seemed like avoiding Henry was a good idea. He only caught one pass for 20 yards.
However, Fantasy players started to take notice of the rookie in Week 3. He posted a 4-61-1 stat line, and he went on a tear after that. From Weeks 3-6, he was the third-highest scoring tight end in Fantasy Football.
He cooled off after that. But by the end of the season, he finished third in red-zone targets (16).
Just looking at that, it’s easy to get goosebumps imagining what he can do in the future….
But before getting too excited, Gates did announce he wants to return for another season. Also, remember Keen Allen will be back in the mix. In 2014, Allen finished behind Gates in red-zone targets.
And keep in mind that everyone else in your league has Henry on their radar.
I still plan to target Henry heavily in MFL10s if he has a reasonable ADP. Even if he just gives me a four or five big performances, that can give me the edge in winning my leagues. For my season long leagues, I have to follow his offseason more closely.
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