The concept of this series was birthed from a couple of conversations with the Footballers asking the question, “If we could go forward in time (essentially Back to the Future), what breakouts would emerge at each position“? This was the main topic of the most recent Live Show in San Francisco, the Fantasy Time Machine.

Before we throw out names, let’s take a moment to dwell on what made George Kittle so special in 2018. Here are five specific criteria identified that allows us to eliminate and narrow the field of fantasy TEs to find a couple at the very end who might have the opportunity to do Kittle-esque things.

For the Ballers official sleepers, breakouts, and busts at the TE position, check out the Ultimate Draft Kit.

1. Diamond in the Rough

One of the reasons Kittle’s earth-shattering performance was so exciting for fantasy owners was his cost. HE WAS FREE! On average, he was going at the 12.04 as the 13th TE off the board. He was a flier at best going into the season. Not to toot my own horn, but I was pretty bullish on Kittle going into the season projecting him as the TE9. But I look foolish compared to where he ended up. Even the most ecstatic forecasters could not have seen a record-breaking sophomore season in the cards for a double-digit round guy. He was uber special as a waiver wire steal or as Andy Holloway dubbed “$44 of FAAB” or a “Kittle”. Let’s take out the TEs being drafted in the first seven rounds.

Players Eliminated: Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, George Kittle, Hunter Henry, O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, Eric Ebron

2. Isn’t a rookie

Rookie TEs simply don’t produce. There are a couple of rare exceptions. As a 23-year-old rookie, Evan Engram had the best PPR season since 1989 for a rookie TE topping Jeremy Shockey’s 2002 campaign. Mike Ditka’s 1961 still owns the top spot where he put up a line of 56-1076-12. But historically speaking, this is a position that needs a year or two for someone to truly “break out” especially as they learn the intricacies of an offense and double as a blocker. Bye, bye rooks!

Players Eliminated: T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, Irv Smith Jr., Josh Oliver, Jace Sternberger, Dawson Knox

3. Not dealing with nagging injuries or geriatrics

Kittle’s youth and athletic profile jumped off the charts as he blew the doors off at the combine to match some much more heralded TEs.

Player 40-Yard Dash Speed Score Burst Score Agility Score  Catch Radius
OJ Howard 4.51 (97th) 123.9 (98th) 113.0 (30th) 11.01 (97th) 10.22 (87th)
Evan Engram 4.42 (100th) 120.4 (96th) 125.5 (86th) 11.15 (90th) 10.31 (93rd)
George Kittle 4.52 (96th) 117.7 (94th) 127.3 (89th) 10.83 (100th) 10.36 (95th)

We’re looking for a relatively young guy with upside. If you’re searching for a breakout season at the TE position, let’s close on the book on a number of guys who have seen their best days whether that’s a nagging injury or their age dictates the usage of adult diapers.

Players Eliminated: Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Tyler Eifert, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jared Cook, Jordan Reed

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

4. Has flashed top-end fantasy potential

As a rookie in 2017, Kittle had as many top-2 PPR weeks (2) as Delanie Walker, Zach Ertz, Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, Kyle Rudolph, and Jack Doyle… COMBINED. Go back and look at where those TEs finished and you realize that he showcased as much elite boom-ability as the TE3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 14. Kittle finished as the TE20 in 0.5-point leagues but there was more to be said. If we’re dealing with a short-range possession TE in an offense that has other top-end weapons at RB and WR, it’s best to stop dreaming.

Players Eliminated: Hayden Hurst, Ricky Seals-Jones, Jordan Thomas, Luke Willson

5. Could become an “alpha” in the midst of an ambiguous WR corps

Here were the starting 49ers’ WRs heading into 2018: an aging Pierre Garcon, who was mostly in this offense because of his familiarity with the Kyle Shanahan system, and Marquise Goodwin, an elite-speed threat who also battled some major injuries and countless concussions. At the end of the year, the leading WR for San Francisco was none other than… Kendrick Bourne. The 49ers WRs had the 2nd lowest WR market share (50.4% of the targets) in the league. There was writing on the wall that someone (perhaps Kittle) could’ve asserted themselves as one of the main pass-catching options.

Players Eliminated: Austin Hooper, Jack Doyle, Gerald Everett, Kyle Rudolph, David Njoku

6. Either has a chance to lead team in receiving OR a team willing to throw

After Jimmy G’s early season-ending injury, C.J. Beathard (Kittle’s college roommate) and rookie Nick Mullens were willing to target the TE because Shanahan designed so many misdirection plays to take advantage of Kittle in open space. For more on this, I recommend Brett Kollman’s film analysis of Kittle. The team was also put in negative game scripts trailing 53% of the time, meaning there was ample opportunity to throw and throw often. We need a TE on a team gearing up to focus on targeting the position.

Players Eliminated: Chris Herndon IV, Trey Burton, Will Dissly

The TEs with Best Chance to Be George Kittle-ish

Vance McDonald– As discussed in the Fantasy Time Machine live show in San Francisco, 2019 might be the year you do the “Vance Dance” alongside Mike too. While Vance finished last year with a solid line of 50/610/4 on 72 targets, there’s room for much more of an improvement as circumstances have changed in Pittsburgh. Gone are Antonio Brown and TE nemesis Jesse James, which is 207 vacated targets, or 30.5 percent of last year’s passing volume. Vance also ranked third among TEs in receiving yards after contact behind only Kittle and Travis Kelce despite seeing much less passes. Big Ben has featured the TE in the past (Heath Miller) and with a price tag at the beginning of the 8th round, Vance might be the best chance to get a TE with freakish ability with a real ceiling to hit.

Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

Mark Andrews– What made Kittle dominant was his insane YAC-ability. He had three of the top-6 longest receptions of the season for TEs including two 80+ yarders. Andrews also had some long ones with a 74-yard reception in Week 12 and a 68-yard-TD in Week 16. He is slowly creeping up draft boards and has become a popular late round TE sleeper heading into the season. If he remains ahead of Hayden Hurst as a pure pass catcher, he definitely has the skill set and situation to assert himself as the No. 1 weapon on the Ravens. Andrews is currently rising in drafts over the last month but as the TE18, he’s basically free.

Mike Gesicki– When it comes to athletic measurables, Magic Mike is off the charts and set many combine records for TEs a year ago. But actual production on the field, Gesicki was barely visible in 2018. However, he finds himself on a team that will be badddd. While Ryan Fitzpatrick does not target the TE position, he’s also never had anyone with Gesicki’s skillset before. Whether its Fitzmagic or Josh Rosen, this team is a wildcard. Gesicki is not advisable to be drafted but owners should take a more “wait-and-see” approach to see if he comes out Week 1 firing. Next year we might be talking about Gesicki as a viable TE starter.

Dallas Goedert– While finding himself behind Zach Ertz gives him little to no fantasy relevance in redraft leagues, many (including Jason Moore) are in love with Goedert’s long-term fantasy outlook. IF Ertz were to go down, Goedert is a locked and loaded top-five guy. The talent isn’t the question… it’s the guy in front of him. Luckily the Eagles ran almost 48% of their plays with 2-TEs on the field in 2018 according to SharpFootballStats. You will get to see Goedert showcased more this year especially around the goal-line.


Comments from the community:

  1. Fitz has never had a tightend with Gesicki’s skill set? Maybe not, but to imply fitz has never had a tightend that is ultra-talented is simply stating something to be right, not to get it right. OJ Howard may be the most talented tightend in the league, right now.

    Other than that, great article! And I enjoyed the read… keep em coming!

  2. The next Kittle is Kittle. Hes going to break every TE record and make Gronk look like a joke. Shanahan designes plays around his best players to get them the ball in space. His best player is Kittle. Kittle goes from a 3rd stringer to a real QB. Kittle goes from the sole focus of the D to a balanced O. Kittle is the next Kittle.

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