The underperforming nature of the tight end position means that we always need to take into account how top-heavy the whole group is. Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and George Kittle are the clear cut top-tier but what follows them is fiercely debated. It’s also important to note that a top-ten tight end may have very underwhelming statistical performances when you look back on them, which is why drafting one early can lead to success.
On the flip side of that, if you nail down the one or two players that emerge out of nowhere then you hold a significant advantage over your leaguemates. Last season we saw Trey Burton and Kyle Rudolph straddle the line between serviceable and disappointing, but both of them still ended the season in the top-ten. This whole disclaimer can be summed up by saying “temper your expectations”. If you absolutely need top tier production from your tight end in order to feel good about your team on draft day, then you have to take one of the big three.
Jared Cook – 2018 finish: TE5
Cook is the toughest of this group to project since he’s changing teams and quarterbacks. Normally when a player goes to New Orleans it signifies an increase in production, but pass catching TEs should always be viewed on a case by case basis. Cook may have finished in the top-five overall last year, but he was far from consistent. He had seven weeks where he cleared double-digit fantasy points, but another six weeks where he had less than five. Those who have been following Cook throughout his career know that he’s been this guy for a long time; he just happened to see a higher target total on an offense that played catch up every week.
Now that he’s rocking the black and gold he may see more valuable targets near the red zone, but his volume will certainly decrease. The highest targeted tight end for the Saints last season was Benjamin Watson who didn’t even see three targets a game. Cook is not the type of player to demand a big role at this stage in his career and the Saints don’t gameplan for the tight end very often. Cook will likely be one of the biggest traps of the upcoming season and I’d avoid him at all costs.
Austin Hooper – 2018 finish: TE6
Hooper is a curious case because he’s constantly relevant but rarely dominant. He ranked seventh in targets at the position, but fourth on his own team. He never reached 80 yards receiving in a single game, but still managed to be seventh overall in receiving yardage for the position.
Since tight ends typically take longer to grow into fantasy relevance, Hooper fits the mold of someone to keep an eye on. He plays in a potent offense with a consistent quarterback, he’s improved in every major category for three years straight, and he’s only 24. Hooper is a great dynasty target and should pay dividends in redraft leagues this year too.
Given the nature of the position and how tough it is to find reliable tight ends, you’d think Hooper would be a mid-round steal in most leagues. Surprisingly, it’s the total opposite. His ADP currently sits at TE17, which means he’s a screaming value in the late rounds. Come on y’all, what did Austin Hooper ever do to you?! If you’re one of the owners who decide to wait at the position, Hooper should be your top target.
Eric Ebron – 2018 finish: TE4
Ebron seems to be the guy that people love to hate, and I completely understand it. He came out of nowhere after a few disappointing seasons in Detroit and suddenly scored touchdowns at a rate that made Tyler Lockett feel included. With the likely return of Jack Doyle and the addition of Parris Campbell, Ebron may struggle to see the same target share that he did in 2018. I’m going to cheat a little bit and say that Ebron will still have a very strong campaign, but might slip out of the top-five. Any top target of Andrew Luck is worth drafting and we still saw Ebron find the end zone at a consistent rate when Doyle was on the field. Ebron was fourth in the league in targets amongst tight ends, so it’s reasonable to expect that number to drop when Doyle gets back. This still doesn’t mean the big guy is doomed.
The area where Ebron made his living was the red zone. He scored more touchdowns than Melvin Gordon, Davante Adams, and Christian McCaffrey. The odds that this continues at such a high rate is unlikely, so the recipe for a top-five finish is pretty sour. Ebron is currently going off the board as the TE5 which seems fair given his explosion last season, but that will likely turn out to be too high. I still have a lot of interest in drafting him this year if he slips at all, but his draft price is too high right now to take on the projected regression.