Fantasy Football: Five TEs That Could Lose Targets in 2018
In the 2018 season, the tight end position is looking…less than stellar. Outside of the top three in Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz, there is a lot of uncertainty at the TE position. Part of that uncertainty lies in the fact that there are a handful of tight ends from last year who could lose targets in 2018. I highlight five of these guys below. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out Five RBs That Could Lose Targets in 2018.
When developing the list for this article, I found myself highlighting a specific type of player — the player who saw an increase in target share in 2017 due to poor play and/or injury to other players on their respective team. The other type of situation that seems to be a common theme for these guys is the addition of new teammates in 2018, including new quarterbacks. Situation and offensive system are two major factors when projecting a reduction in target share at the tight end position.
Evan Engram (2017 Targets: 115)
Engram’s rookie success and 20% target share in 2017 was largely the result of injuries sustained by the Giants’ top two wide receivers in Odell Beckham, Jr. and Brandon Marshall. As Andy, Mike, and Jason like to say, he was Mr. Necessary in 2017 for Eli Manning. Outside of Sterling Shepard, the Giants offense struggled to put serviceable wide receivers on the field, leaving Engram in a high target volume role for New York. In 2018, expect the offense to be much improved as a whole. One of the best receivers in the game is back from injury, and the team selected Saquon Barkley with the 2nd overall pick in the NFL draft, who is an excellent pass catcher. Eli is will not be short of weapons in the passing game this year.
Another thing that helped Engram in 2017 was the fact that the New York defense was putrid, giving up the fifth most points in the NFL on the season. Engram and the Giants’ offense was behind the majority of the time, putting the offense in throwing situations frequently. The defense figures to be better in 2018, and when you combine this with the fact that Engram will likely be third or even fourth in line for targets in a revamped Giants’ offense, he’s an obvious candidate for target regression this season. Projected 2018 Targets: 103
Travis Kelce (2017 Targets: 122)
Travis Kelce will still be a top two option among the Chiefs’ receivers in 2018. However, he finds himself on this list primarily because of the addition of Sammy Watkins to the Chiefs receiving corps. Watkins is now the 4th highest paid WR in the league, so the Chiefs are going to use him. How much they’ll use him remains to be seen, but the top options from the Chiefs 2017 team are likely to lose a few targets to make that happen. The last time Andy Reid‘s offense featured two WRs with the caliber of Watkins and Hill was in 2013 when he was the head coach of Philadelphia. In that season, Jeremy Maclin led the team with 122 targets while DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek each had 88 targets. Not projecting this, but it’s definitely something to think about.
Additionally, the Pat Mahomes era is set to begin in Kansas City. We knew what we were getting with Alex Smith, who absolutely locked onto Travis Kelce during his tenure with K.C. Since joining the Chiefs in 2014, Kelce has seen his target share increase each season. He led the team in targets in 2017 and 2016, but during those seasons the Chiefs’ offense only featured one WR1 caliber player. Not short of weapons, Pat Mahomes is set to succeed in 2018. However, it’s unclear if he’ll feed Kelce the way Smith did for the past few seasons. Don’t be alarmed, though. Kelce remains a lock to finish in the top 5 at the position. Projected 2018 Targets: 110
Jimmy Graham (2017 Targets: 96)
73, 103, 103, 80, 110. That’s the number of targets for the tight end position in the Green Bay offense dating back to 2013 (listed 2017 to 2013 in order). These targets aren’t just for one specific player. Rather, they’re how many times Aaron Rodgers targeted ANY tight end on the Packers’ depth chart. To put it simply, the Green Bay offense just doesn’t feature the tight end the way that other offenses in the NFL do.
During his past few seasons in Seattle, Graham was the clear number two behind Doug Baldwin. While he definitely has the chance to be the Packers’ number two, I don’t think it’s likely. Historically, A-Rod’s top two receiving options have always been two wide receivers. With that being said, I expect a big bounce back from Randall Cobb in 2018 after the loss of Jordy Nelson. Even if we give Graham the same number of targets (85) that Richard Rodgers saw in 2015 (which was the highest ever for an Aaron Rodgers lead offense), Graham will see less volume than he did in 2017. Regardless, touchdowns alone could keep Graham inside the top 10 at the position once the season comes to a close. Projected 2018 Targets: 83
Delanie Walker (2017 Targets: 111)
I’ll preface this by saying that Walker is still going to be a strong option at the TE position. I have him finishing inside the top 7 once the season comes to an end. However, he is still a candidate for target regression with the changes to the Titans’ offense in 2018. I expect Dion Lewis to take targets away from Walker after the Titans roster in 2017 didn’t feature an effective pass-catching back with Demarco Murray injured off and on all season. Additionally, second-year wideout Corey Davis is expected to take a big step forward as the top receiving option for Marcus Mariota. Personally, I see Davis leading the team in targets, something that Walker did in 2017.
In addition, the Titans offensive scheme may look a bit different in 2018. They now have a new head coach in Mike Vrabel and a new offensive coordinator in Matt LaFleur. LaFleur comes from the Atlanta Falcons in 2016 and the L.A. Rams in 2017, two offenses who were very exciting but didn’t feature the tight end position. Side note – to better understand how coaching changes may affect new offenses in 2018, be sure to check out the ‘Coaching Changes‘ section of the Ultimate Draft Kit. Walker is still expected to be one of the top options in the Titans passing game, but he may not see the same volume he did in 2017. Projected 2018 Targets: 98
Jack Doyle (2017 Targets: 108)
Despite not having Andrew Luck in 2017, Doyle saw a career high in targets in what was a down year for the Colts’ offense. Injuries to Donte Moncrief allowed Doyle to step into the number two role for the Indy passing game, and he certainly benefited as he put together the first Pro Bowl season of his career. However, I wouldn’t expect the same from Doyle this year. The Colts decided to bring in Eric Ebron in free agency, who will most certainly steal targets to the tight end position this year. It’s not unrealistic for Ebron to see a similar target share as Dwayne Allen in 2016, who was targeted 52 times as the number two TE for the Colts. For comparison, Doyle only had to compete with Brandon Williams for targets at the TE position in 2017. Williams saw just 17 targets.
If Luck does indeed return to the field, expect the offense to utilize more short and intermediate passing routes in order to get the ball out of Luck’s hands quickly and reduce his risk of re-injury. The Colts drafted a strong pass-catching back in Nyheim Hines, who is likely to steal some of these check-down targets from Doyle. With Doyle sharing targets at the TE position and a new pass-catching back in the offensive scheme, Doyle is likely to see a reduction in targets in 2018. Projected 2018 Targets: 87