Fantasy Football: Five TEs That Could Lose Targets In 2017

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As we close out this article series, let’s dive into 5 tight ends most likely in line to lose targets in the 2017 season. If you enjoy this article or would like to check out more like it, be sure to read other “Target Regression” articles, Five RBs That Could Lose Targets in 2017 & Five WRs That Could Lose Targets in 2017.

There are plenty of factors that are in play when projecting target volume. Below are some examples of what should be considered for the tight end position.

1. Emergence/Health of Teammate(s) – This is the most effective talking point that can give you the best estimation as to what you can expect volume-wise out of an individual player.

2. Quarterback Situation – Look at the talent of the quarterback, their efficiency and average attempts per season. More attempts equals more to go around.

3. Unsustainable Target Rate – Players will “over achieve” given some situational aspects (injuries to other players, playing from behind in games, etc…) that allow them to be more involved than usual.

4. Games played/Health of player – Obviously, if you play in fewer games, you will have fewer opportunities. If your health is in question, you may not be playing at 100% when you are on the field, limiting your overall potential.

Tight End Candidates for Target Regression in 2017

Greg Olsen (2016 Targets: 129)

Greg Olsen had a career high in targets in 2016 despite Carolina’s offensive struggles. I have no doubt Olsen will continue to be heavily targeted by Cam Newton in 2017, but there have been some changes that will likely lead to his target volume dropping a bit. Kelvin Benjamin, though out of shape early, is healthy and back in shape heading into this season. If the Panthers can get some great production out of the slot with speedy rookie Curtis Samuel then it will open up the deep ball for Benjamin and the run game as well. Both of which do not involve Greg Olsen.

The Panthers also drafted Christian McCaffrey with the 8th overall pick in the draft and plan to utilize him as a speedy receiving back, something the Panther’s lacked last season. I expect McCaffrey to eat into a fair share of the available target volume in 2017, leaving less for all receivers. Although he has been a rock playing in all 16 regular season games for the past 5 seasons, you have to question if this could be the year he naturally regresses given his age (32) and usage.

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Projected 2017 Targets: 101

Kyle Rudolph (2016 Targets: 132)

The 2016 season for Kyle Rudolph appears to be an outlier. His targets skyrocketed to a career best 132, an impressive uptick 38 more than his previous best in 2012. It was quarterback, Sam Bradford’s first season with the Vikings and he had very little time to learn the offense as he was acquired on September 3rd. In most cases, when quarterbacks are uncomfortable or find themselves struggling with an offense, they tend to lean on the tight end position. You’ve all heard the term “safety blanket”. This term is often used between a quarterback and tight end positions. Bradford utilized his safety blanket last season as he targeted Kyle Rudolph more than any other receiver.

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There are two other big components on the 2016 Minnesota Vikings offense that contributed to Kyle Rudolph’s career season. The Vikings had a terrible run game last year. Their leading running back, Jerrick McKinnon had 539 rushing yards and just 2 touchdowns. Newcomers Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook should also subtract from Rudolph’s volume potential. WR Stefon Diggs represents the biggest target competition for Rudolph as he will demand more targets given a full 16 game season. Given the reasons above and the fact that Sam Bradford found another favorite target toward the end of the season in Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph’s chances of even coming close to his 132 targets are pretty slim.

Projected 2017 Targets: 98

Delanie Walker (2016 Targets: 102)

Delanie Walker had already regressed in targets from his career best 133 in 2015. Last season that number fell to 102 targets, good for 2nd best on the Titans behind Rishard Matthews. Since joining the Titans in 2011, Walker’s has averaged 106.75 targets. If you were to remove 2015 as an outlier, his averaged targets with the Titans fall to 98 targets. This number is much closer to what I expect from Delanie Walker in 2017.

The Titans added a couple of wide receivers in the 2017 draft that will likely have an immediate impact in the offense. Corey Davis, arguably the best wide receiver in the class, will line up across from Rishard Matthews and could end up leading the team in targets. The Titans did not stop there as they added wide receiver, Taywan Taylor and tight end, Jonnu Smith in the third round. Taywan will play from the slot but will be limited in 2017 as a result of the Titans signing Eric Decker. There are just too many mouths to feed and the target volume will shift and be divided into smaller portions once you get beyond the top two targets on the team. Walker will not be one of those top two targets in 2017 as I see him getting his fewest targets since becoming a Titan in 2013.

Projected 2017 Targets: 75

Jason Witten (2016 Targets: 95)

Jason Witten, the definition of consistency, has missed just one game in his career. He has been a staple in the Cowboys’ offense since taking over as the starting tight end in 2004. Although Witten isn’t typically a touchdown guy, he makes up for it in yards and catching the crucial, game-changing third down passes. However, when Dez Bryant is healthy, you can expect him to dominate the target share. If Bryant plays all 16 games, you can expect him to take away more looks from Witten. The Cowboys also extended Terrance Williams, which leads me to believe they want to get Williams more involved in the offense. The slot tandem of Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer will be a nightmare for defenses in 2017 and will take away some of those shorter quick route passes from Witten.

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With the team that has been put in place for this season, it would appear that Witten may be needed more as a blocking tight end than a receiving one.  Witten is a great blocker and can usually block and turn for a short pass. There has been plenty of talk about getting Ezekiel Elliott more involved in the passing game which would take away some of those short dump passes from the tight end. Jason Witten will not see a large decrease in targets but he will see enough to limit his opportunities.

Projected 2017 Targets: 82

Antonio Gates (2016 Targets: 93)

Antonio Gates may have the biggest target volume challenge amongst the other tight ends mentioned in this article. The Los Angeles Chargers have an abundance of options for Philip Rivers to target in 2017. It was a bit of surprise when the Chargers drafted wide receiver Mike Williams wth the 7th overall pick. They already have their WR1 in Keenan Allen, who if healthy, (I understand it’s a big “if”) Allen can stay healthy, he will be the most targeted option for Rivers. He was on pace for 178 targets in 2015 before going down in the 8th game of that season. Tyrell Williams emerged last season as the favorite target (119 targets) for Rivers in Keenan Allen’s absence. Now, Philip Rivers has two options that he will likely target more than Antonio Gates, and possibly a third.

Rookie Hunter Henry made an immediate impact on the Chargers offense and made the most of his targets in 2016. As I wrote earlier this offseason, I think Henry will take over as the TE1 in Los Angeles in 2017. Despite 40 fewer targets than Gates, Henry still had one more touchdown and only 70 fewer yards. The efficiency of Henry’s production is hard to ignore. It was somewhat a small sample size but it was his rookie season, which is notoriously bad for tight ends. Hunter Henry has gained trust from Rivers and will be the younger, faster, and more viable option of the two tight ends in 2017. Antonio Gates is 15 years older(!) than Hunter Henry. It has been impressive to see what Gates has accomplished at his age but it’s fair to question his ability at this junction of his career.

Projected 2017 Targets: 84