That’s my McDonald’s order. I fully expect my guy Vance McDonald to produce as much happiness for my fantasy football season in 2019 as that order does for my stomach. Although I previously touched on my tight end philosophy in my draft strategy article a few weeks ago I’ll repeat it here because I probably wouldn’t click the link either: “The 2017 and 2018 top 6 tight end finishes were comprised of 7 tight ends drafted in the 7th round or later. Additionally, 6 of the 13 tight ends drafted inside of the top 7 rounds failed to finish within the top 10 in their respective seasons. However, 7 of 9 tight ends drafted in rounds 7-9 returned similar value, or broke out. This is where I like to live at the tight end position.” With that excerpt in mind I have highlighted 3 tight ends below that I am targeting at current ADPs.
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ADP stats are courtesy of fantasy football calculator and are based on 12 team drafts.
Vance McDonald (ADP – 8.01, TE #9):
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been an offense built for fantasy football for over a decade. They had a predictable feature back, target funnels at the WR position, and a high-octane/high pace offense year after year. It has been easy to identify and forecast the most likely fantasy scoring outputs for the Steelers. Not in 2019. The team is going through its biggest offensive personnel transition in quite some time, and the time is ripe for owners to take advantage on draft day. The Steelers have over 225 vacated targets from 2018 and unless you trust James Washington can make an enormous jump those targets are going to be evenly distributed among several players. This is where Vance McDonald comes in. In 2017, there were 6 tight ends who exceed 100 targets. They made up 6 of the top 7 tight ends. In 2018, there were 5 tight ends who exceed 100 targets. They made up the top 5 tight ends. If you can locate a tight end who receives 100+ targets, the failure rate of those players is almost non-existent. Vance McDonald had 72 targets in 15 games in 2018. Of those 225+ vacated targets 39 are from the loss of Jesse James, a fellow tight end. McDonald is very talented with the ball in his hands, and it is quite possible he is the 2nd most targeted player on the Steelers. If that occurs he will likely reach the 125 target mark and produce the greatest tight end value of 2019. This does hinge on McDonald remaining healthy, but if you are waiting until the back of the tight end group, this is often a risk we must take.
David Njoku (ADP – 8.04, TE#10):
A bet on David Njoku is a bet on efficiency. Normally, I allow targets to lead me to fantasy production for wide receivers and tight ends, but we can all weave ourselves a story from time to time. The story I’m telling is that the Cleveland Browns used an above NFL average of 12 (1 RB – 2 TE) personnel in the last quarter of the season in 2018 after Freddie Kitchens took over play calling. When this increase happened, the team used Darren Fells as a blocker and allowed Njoku to work the seam relentlessly. Baker Mayfield was one of the best seam passers in the NFL with a 144 QB rating on deep middle passes as a rookie per Sharp Football Stats. This offseason the team let Darren Fells go, but added Demetrius Harris, who had an identical primary pass blocking role within the Kansas City offense last season alongside Travis Kelce. Njoku will in all likelihood not equal his 88 targets from a year ago with the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. to the fold. However, if the story is Odell pulling additional coverage, Antonio Callaway stretching the defense vertically, and Jarvis Landry working underneath, Njoku could see a huge efficiency boost in the second level of the defense where Baker thrives and exceed his draft value.
Mike Gesicki (ADP – UNDRAFTED):
If I want to fully punt the tight end position, the player I’m targeting is 2018 second round pick Mike Gesicki. He had a 99th percentile SPARQ score at the 2018 NFL combine. He is going to play for a former Patriots offensive play caller, where tight ends hold a special place within the offense. He will be on a team that could realistically be behind early in 75-80% of their games this season, which will prop up passing volume. The easy comparison that the comes mind is George Kittle. I don’t think that kind of explosion is in store for Gesicki, but he could effortlessly become a startable every week tight end. The second-year jump for tight ends is a real occurrence. Tight ends are unique from every other position as rookies, because they must learn both the routes and blocking schemes on every play. A player like Gesicki, who was not often utilized as a blocker at Penn State can struggle with this learning curve the entire rookie season. The Dolphins have one of the worst offensive lines in football and it would be optimal playcalling for them to utilize 12 personnel frequently, with the newly signed Dwayne Allen as the blocking tight end, to create confusion for defenses to slow the pass rush. When they stay in 11 personnel Gesicki is versatile enough to stay in tight or move into a slot role. All of this should lead to more snaps and targets without any notable receivers demanding a large target share. The Dolphins will throw more after only attempting 455 passes last year as Adam Gase paced down games in hopes of remaining competitive. Josh Rosen would be a boost over Ryan Tannehill, but if Ryan Fitzpatrick starts that would be the optimal scenario to push Gesicki’s ADOT further down the field with a quarterback willing to take risks.