Targets are extremely valuable in fantasy football, so it makes sense to procure highly targeted players at every position. You can check out tons of target and market share data available in the Ultimate Draft Kit as you prepare for the upcoming season. Also, make sure to check out the other articles in this series that look at wide receivers and running backs that could potentially see a dip in targets in 2019. In this article, I’ll focus on the tight end positions.
Tight ends are one of the most valuable and intriguing positions in fantasy football today. They’re probably my favorite position to analyze. This offseason I’ve already written articles on tight end draft strategies and veteran tight ends you can target late in drafts. Finding a reliable tight end can give you a leg up on your league in fantasy football and can take you deep into the fantasy playoffs. Here are some of the prime candidates to see fewer targets in 2019.
Zach Ertz (2018 Targets: 156)
Let’s start at the top. Don’t get this twisted; I am in no way saying you should avoid Ertz, but he’ll be hard-pressed to match his 2018 target number. His 156 targets last season were the sixth most for any position and the highest number ever recorded by a tight end in the history of the NFL. Statistically speaking, it was the definition of an outlier season.
Looking past natural regression, Ertz will also see plenty of competition for targets in the Eagles offense. DeSean Jackson is back in Philly and will command his fair share of targets. The Eagles also drafted Miles Sanders, a versatile running back that showed pass-catching ability in college. There’s also the presence of Dallas Goedert, who despite being behind the Ertz on the depth chart is primed to take a step forward and increase his role in his second NFL season. Even rookie receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has been getting hype for his red zone abilities during OTAs.
Ertz can still easily be one of the top tight ends in fantasy football and set your team apart at the position, but with all the other viable receiving options in Philly, you can’t expect a repeat of 2018.
Projected 2019 Targets: 115-125
George Kittle (Targets in 2018: 136)
Kittle was the only consistent weapon for San Fransisco in 2018 while most of the offense was riddled with injuries. As Mike pointed out in the NFC West breakdown, Kittle more than doubled the targets of Kendrick Bourne, who had the second-most on the team with 66. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo only played in three games before tearing his ACL last season. It’s a small sample size, but in those games, Kittle averaged 6.7 targets per game. The final 13 games he averaged 8.9 targets per game from quarterbacks C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens.
Kittle may not even be the most targeted pass catcher for the 49ers in 2019. After a first half of the season that included rookie struggles and battling through injuries, Dante Pettis had an impressive six-game stretch to end the season. During that stretch, he averaged 6.2 targets per game while Kittle averaged a nearly identical 6.3. Another year of growth in the system and Pettis could very realistically overtake Kittle at the target leader in San Fransisco.
The new offensive weapons are also threatening to Kittle’s target share. Neither Jerick Mckinnon nor Tevin Coleman played a snap for the Niners last year, and both are above average receivers out of the backfield. Then they spent significant draft capital on receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd. And let’s not forget that a year ago at this time there was plenty of buzz regarding the connection between Jimmy G and speedster Marquise Goodwin.
Kittle will undoubtedly be a key contributor for San Fransisco in 2019, but with the offensive overhaul, he isn’t guaranteed to see the same production he did in 2018.
Projected 2019 Targets: 105-115
Eric Ebron (Targets in 2018: 110)
Ebron posted career-highs in nearly every category in 2018, including targets. The 110 he saw were 24 more than his previous career-high, nearly a 28% increase. Some of this can be chalked up to his improved situation in Indianapolis. Andrew Luck has always been known to favor tight ends and the Colts attempted 644 passes last season, the second-most in the NFL.
The elephant in the room is fellow tight end Jack Doyle, who only played in six games last season due to injury. In the six games where they were both active Doyle was on the field for 330 snaps and saw 5.5 targets per game, compared to just 166 snaps and 3.7 targets per game for Ebron. For fantasy purposes, Ebron put up more points by scoring an absurd amount of touchdowns.
Just like Ertz and Kittle, Ebron is poised to lose targets to some new faces in Indianapolis. The most obvious candidate is free-agent acquisition Devin Funchess, who is basically a tight end masquerading as a wide receiver. There’s also rookie Parris Campbell, who excels in many of the same spaces on the field that Ebron did last season, particularly in the short crossing routes over the middle. With his blazing speed, Campbell offers far more YAC upside catching the short crossers than Ebron, and could end up usurping his role in that part of the field.
Check out “The Many Faces of Regression” article for more on Ebron’s 2019 outlook.
Projected 2019 Targets: 80-90
Jared Cook (Targets in 2018: 101)
The first three tight ends I mentioned all stand to lose targets to newly acquired offensive weapons; Jared Cook is likely to see a target reduction because he is the newly acquired weapon for the Saints.
The situation for Cook in New Orleans is vastly different than it was for him last season with the Raiders. By the end of the season, Cook was clearly the best pass-catching option in Oakland. In New Orleans, he’ll be at best the third receiving option behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, who had 147 and 105 targets respectively last season. The Saints only threw the ball 519 times in 2018 and appear dedicated to being a run-first team with the backfield combo of Alvin Kamara and (potential league winner) Latavius Murray. Cook may have a few nice games, but he isn’t likely to crack triple-digit targets again in 2019.
Projected 2019 Targets: 80-90
David Njoku (Targets in 2018: 88)
Njoku saw his targets increase from 60 to 88 in his second year in the NFL, but it would be unwise to expect him to increase or even maintain that target share in his third season. The Browns made perhaps the biggest splash of the offseason when they traded for Odell Beckam Jr. back in March. Over his five years so far in the NFL he’s averaged 10.5 targets per game. That would put him over 168 targets for a full 16-game season. Baker Mayfield may spread the ball around, but OBJ will get his targets, and they have to come from somewhere. Along with Jarvis Landry Njoku is a leading candidate to see a big target reduction in Cleveland this season.
Projected 2019 Targets: 70-80