Do Not Ignore These Late Round TEs In 2016

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As long as I can recall, the TE position has been a highly divisive topic in fantasy football circles. More recently, the debate has been whether you draft Rob Gronkowski in the early rounds or make sure you draft a reliable player like Greg Olsen in the fifth round. As with all the other positions, more time is being spent discussing the real impact of the TE position on your fantasy roster versus the draft investment. It’s become a viable strategy to wait on TE until the latter rounds.

Drafting a TE at the very end of the draft is not for the faint of heart. You must have nerves of steel to sit back and watch as your league mates use crucial draft picks on mid-level TEs or even worse, waste picks on a fantasy backup TE. Most leagues only require just one starting TE, so only twelve TEs are being started each week. Based on the history of the TE position we can fully expect that TEs 6-15 are all basically the same, catching a few passes each week and only being separated by the occasional touchdown.

I’m here to tell you not to reach for a TE in the middle rounds. I also highly recommend you skip a backup TE. Use that highly valuable draft position and roster spot for high upside RBs and WRs. My suggestion is to wait until the very end of your draft, quietly draft a TE who performed at a top ten pace at the end of the 2015 season and has a very real chance to finish in the top ten overall in 2016.

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Vance McDonald – San Francisco 49ers

Currently being undrafted, Vance McDonald was actually a solid start at TE to end the 2015 season. He moved into the starter’s role after Vernon Davis was traded to the Denver Broncos prior to Week 7. With Blaine Gabbert taking over the starting QB job following the Week 10 bye, Vance McDonald was thirteenth in average points scored in the six games he played with Gabbert at QB, three of them were TE1 finishes. During those six games, he averaged 3.5 receptions for 44 yards and accumulated three touchdowns. While it’s generally dangerous to extrapolate small sample sizes over a full season, those averages project out to a stat line of 56/700/8 which would have landed him in the top ten. As of this writing, Vance McDonald is the clear starting TE for the San Francisco 49ers, with little competition for TE targets from penciled in starter, Blaine Gabbert.

Vance McDonald also has two other positive things working in his favor. The most obvious is the addition of new head coach, Chip Kelly. Chip Kelly has a well-known history of utilizing the TE in the passing game. His Philadelphia Eagles teams regularly ranked in the top ten in targets to the TE, peaking last year with a top five finish in targets to the TE.

The second positive for him is the current state of the WR core in San Francisco. With the release of Anquan Boldin, the WR depth chart consists of speedster Torrey Smith and a group of unproven players. The loss of Boldin opens up 8.5 targets per game from last year. Combine those open targets with the expected increase that accompanies the Chip Kelly offense and we have a great opportunity for the 6’4” Vance McDonald to make a big jump into weekly starter consideration.

Zach Miller – Chicago Bears

Currently being drafted as the 20th TE off the board at the end of the 13th round, Zach Miller is being undervalued after the way he finished 2015. The Chicago Bears primary TE, Martellus Bennett, was injured giving Zach Miller the opportunity to take over as the starter. During Weeks 9-16, Zach Miller was a hot waiver wire pickup with an average of four receptions for 50 yards And five TDs in those eight games.

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When Martellus Bennett was traded to the New England Patriots for a 4th round draft pick, Zach Miller became the clear starter for the 2016 season. Another small sample size from the end of 2015, but his performance at the end of the season was on a 64/800/9 pace, which would have found him solidly inside the top ten.

There is one issue impacting Zach Miller’s 2016 outlook, and his name is Kevin White. The 2015 season saw many of the Chicago Bears WRs missing time to injuries. Heading into 2016, Alshon Jeffery is healthy, as is Kevin White, who many people have high expectations for in 2016. But as we saw in 2015, Jay Cutler and Zach Miller quickly built rapport, especially in the red zone, where Zach Miller scored three TDs inside the 10-yard line. In addition to being a big red zone target at 6’5”, he’s fast for a 240lb TE, running a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash. He showed off that speed in Week 9 on an 87 yard TD.

Will Tye – New York Giants

Just like the two players above, Will Tye took over the starting TE role later in the season after the incumbent starter was lost to an injury. Just like Vance McDonald and Zach Miller, Will Tye finds himself as the starter heading into 2016 with Larry Donnell being released from the New York Giants. However, Will Tye is still going undrafted in most mock drafts so far this year. After taking over the primary TE role for Eli Manning, Will Tye averaged 4.5 receptions for 53 yards and scored three TDs, all from inside the 10-yard line. These stats ranked him in the top ten from Week 10 on.

While Tye will not face much competition for TE targets, he may find himself as the third receiving option behind stud WR Odell Beckham, Jr., and rookie WR Sterling Shepard. However, history shows us that Eli Manning relies heavily on his TEs, making players like Jake Ballard, Kevin Boss, and Larry Donnell fantasy relevant TEs through the course of their seasons. While most rookie TEs struggle to make an impact in their first few seasons, Will Tye, an undrafted rookie, did make an impact. Year two in newly promoted head coach, Ben McAdoo’s, system should allow Will Tye to continue to make an impact.

There are a lot of TEs that are getting more hype and publicity. Hyped players like Coby Fleener moving to the New Orleans Saints and Ladarius Green moving to the Pittsburgh Steelers will cost you a 7th-9th round pick.  Dwayne Allen finally being the only TE option for Andrew Luck will cost you an 11th or 12th round draft pick.  While there is nothing wrong with those players, the three players I recommended above find themselves in excellent situations to continue what they started at the end of the last season. There is a lot to be said for continuity in the NFL. More importantly, they have the same upside at a significantly lower draft cost. I implore you to take the risk and hold out until the last rounds of your draft to pick on of these three TEs with top ten potential.

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