Fantasy Football: Veteran TEs to Target Late in Drafts

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One of the most intriguing fantasy football topics headed into the 2019 draft season is how to handle the tight end position. If you want a detailed look at a variety of ways to address the position in your fantasy draft, check out my 5 Ways to Draft TE article.

In this article, I’m going to bring up some familiar names that are being overlooked. Tight ends routinely take more time to develop than other skill positions. While the fantasy community clamors over who the next breakout tight end could be, it’s important to remember these proven vets that can still contribute in fantasy.

Here are some recent examples of tight ends having success at an advanced age by NFL standards.

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Granted these are predominantly Hall of Fame players, but it wouldn’t be shocking if some of the players mentioned below are also enshrined in Canton someday. They’re also excellent late-round targets you can get in the double-digit rounds, after gobbling up running backs and receivers in the early and mid-rounds.

*Note: All ADP data is from 1/2 PPR mock drafts on Fantasy Football Calculator as of 6/19/19. All ages are as of 9/5/19, when the NFL season begins.

Delanie Walker

Age: 35
ADP: 11.06

Walker is entering his 14th NFL season, but he spent the first seven years of his career playing second fiddle to Vernon Davis in San Francisco. Davis is a freak athlete who was drafted number six overall; Walker was a sixth-round project from a small school. He made huge gains but was still used sparingly by the 49ers.

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In 2013 Walker joined the Titans through free agency and never finished worse than TE11 before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in week one last season. For an idea of just how good he’s been since joining the Titans, take a look at the following table cataloging his first five seasons in Tennessee.

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Keep in mind that his first two seasons he was catching passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst, and Zach Mettenberger. He’s finished as TE6 or better in the three seasons since Marcus Mariota was given the reigns at quarterback.

Jonnu Smith was a fantasy favorite to break out when Walker went down in week one, but the second year tight end failed to impress. He only managed 20 catches for 258 yards and three touchdowns, strikingly similar statistics to his rookie season when Walker was healthy.

Walker should be at full health when the regular season kicks off in 2019. He has a clear rapport with Mariota and should be able to step right back into his role in the Titans offense.

Greg Olsen

Age: 34
ADP: 12.08

Olsen is the perfect example of a talented tight end that wasn’t dominant early in his career. He didn’t have his first 1,000-yard receiving season until 2014, his eighth year in the league at 29 years old. He then proceeded to repeat the feat in 2015 and 2016. The streak may have still been active if it weren’t for foot injuries that have plagued him over the better part of the past two seasons.

The Panthers are ripe with young offensive playmakers surrounding Cam Newton, but none of them have the longstanding rapport with him that Olsen does. After his shoulder surgery, Newton may have trouble pushing the ball down the field, especially early in the season. It stands to reason that Olsen would be his preferred target on intermediate routes over the middle and in the red zone.

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Obviously, the largest risk factor for Olsen is reinjury. The good news is that after the most recent injury, Olsen had the full-blown repair surgery, as opposed to the short-term, “try to get back before the end of the season” surgery he opted for the first time. Players that have this surgery typically have fewer instances of reinjury.

Jimmy Graham

Age: 32
ADP: 13.06

It wasn’t that long ago that Jimmy Graham was considered an elite tight end. He’s finished in the top four at the position six times in his nine-year career. At 32 years old he’s actually younger than the other two tight ends profiled in this article.

His first season in Green Bay is largely viewed as a disappointment. He played with a broken thumb for the second half of the season and ended up with 55(!) catches on 89 targets for 636 yards and two touchdowns. It all added up to a TE14 fantasy finish on the season.

Graham is due for some positive regression in his second season in Green Bay. While touchdowns aren’t nearly as predictable as other stats, his two touchdowns in 2018 are an outlier given his career average of nearly 8 per season. Just one more touchdown would have bumped him up to TE10. His career average of 8 would have moved him all the way up to TE6.

Graham should be primed to bounce back in 2018. It remains to be seen how new coach head coach Matt LaFleur will deploy Graham in his offense, but it’s currently a wide-open race for the number two receiving option behind Davante Adams. Despite all the promise of the young Packers WR corps, Graham may actually be the receiving option in Green Bay to take the biggest step forward in 2019, especially if he can once again use his tremendous size to his advantage in the red zone.

Undrafted Veteran TEs to Remember

These veterans aren’t being drafted in fantasy leagues, but you should keep them on your radar if you plan on (or end up) streaming the position in 2019.

Vernon Davis
Age: 35

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We all know how great Jordan Reed can be, but we also know he never plays all 16 games. If he inevitably gets injured, Vernon Davis will slide right back into the starting role in Washington

Jason Witten
Age: 37

Hopefully, “Blade Hands” Witten remembers how to catch now that he’s left the broadcast booth to return to the Cowboys. Nobody in Dallas stepped up in his absence in 2018, and he’s had success with Dak Prescott in the past. He should be a low-end startable tight end with a decent floor in 2019, but don’t expect any big games.

Benjamin Watson
Age: 38

All Watson needs to do to become fantasy relevant is to wait out his four-game suspension and outplay Matt LaCosse. If he can succeed in that he’ll get the chance to be a red zone target for Tom Brady, giving him immediate streaming value.

For a few mid-round TE targets, check out Three TEs to Remember in 2019.

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