Senior Fantasy Football Expert Shawn Childs looks at each tight end in NFL DFS contests and analyzes the matchup and probability of success.
Matchup Risk/Against the Grain
Tough Matchup with Limited Upside
Playing Time Concern
Rob Gronkowski (DK – $6,900/FD – $8,100): Gronkowski wasn’t a lot of fun in Week 1. He was on the field for 78 of 81 plays run by the Patriots’ offense, but he only caught two of his six targets for 33 yards. He did have a nice catch for a touchdown called back due to a penalty. In 2016 over a four-game stretch from Week 5 to Week 8, Gronk had four strong games (5/109, 7/162/1, 4/93/1, and 5/109/1). His high salary commands almost 25 Fantasy points to be an edge plus a Fantasy owner needs the backend TE pool to come up short as far as impact games. Twice last year the Saints allowed over 20 Fantasy points to the TE position. The Ravens (9/117/1) and 49ers (7/160/1) had the most success. New Orleans did a nice job last season against Jimmy Graham (3/34), Greg Olsen (6/94 and 4/33), and Travis Kelce (2/24). In Week 1, Kyle Rudolph had three catches for 26 yards and a TD. I’m sure New Orleans will do their best to limit Gronkowski, but they don’t have the defensive personnel to keep both Brandin Cooks and Gronk in check. One of the two should have a 20+ point game with a chance at multiple TDs.
Greg Olsen (DK – $5,500/FD – $6,500): Game score led to Olsen having a limited opportunities in Week 1 vs. the 49ers. He caught two of his four targets for 18 yards while being on the field for every offensive play (67). Olsen hasn’t scored a TD over his last nine games and has only found the end zone once over his last 13 starts. In 2016, he had his best two games at home (5/122/1 and 9/181) with both games coming over the first five games of the season. The Bills did a nice job defending TEs last year. They held 13 teams to fewer than 12 Fantasy points in PPR leagues, but they had no answer for the Patriots TEs (Week 4 – 6/120 and Week 8 – 12/138/1) with Martellus Bennett (5/109) holding the edge over Gronkowski (1/11) in the first game. Gronk was the star in the second matchup (5/109/1). In addition, Jimmy Graham caught all eight of his targets for 103 yards and two TDs. Overall, Buffalo faced weak TEs in almost every other game. Tyler Eifert (3/37) was the only other big name TE, but he wasn’t healthy in 2016. Excellent matchup plus the Bills have more risk in their secondary this season. Basically, Gronkowski with salary cap relief.
Zack Ertz (DK – $5,300/FD – $6,100): Ertz did what was expected from him in Week 1 (8/93), but he failed to score a TD to put him at the top of the TE rankings. He proved to be a value while his salary jumped from $3,500 to $5,300 at DraftKings this week. His ticket has come in four of his last six starts (9/79/1, 10/112, 13/139/2, and 8/93). Over this span, Ertz averaged over ten targets per game (13 per game in his best four performances). Ertz almost had a top WR opportunity over his last ten games (9.4 targets per game). Kansas City ranked fifth in the NFL defending TEs in 2016 with only one team scoring over 13 Fantasy points (Chargers in Week 17 – 9/98/1 on 13 targets). Kansas City did lose their elite safety Eric Berry last week, which may create opportunities for Ertz. I can’t dismiss him based on his path, but I won’t upgrade him due to the injury to Berry. Still a value based on his salary, but I sense he falls short of expectations due to the Chiefs having talent at the linebacker position.
Jordan Reed (DK – $5,200/FD – $6,400) – In the season long games, Reed is a tough to trust due to his injury history with concussions. Over the summer, Jordan dealt with a toe injury that Washington leaked may be a fracture. In Week 1, he caught five of eight targets for 36 yards while being on the field for 55 of 63 plays. The question about Reed will be his explosiveness and his ability to make the needed cuts to score TDs. The Los Angeles Rams finished seventh in the league defending TEs last season with 11 teams scoring fewer than 15 Fantasy points. No TE had over 75 receiving yards with Cameron Brate posting the best score (5/46/2). I’d like to believe in Reed, but I fear his health. Mid-tier matchup even with him having a decent chance of scoring a TD.
Travis Kelce (DK – $5,100/FD – $6,700): The Patriots limited Kelce to five catches for 40 yards on seven targets. Over the last nine games of 2016, Travis had six games with over 100 yards receiving (7/101/1, 7/108, 8/101, 8/140, 5/101, and 11/160/1) while averaging over ten targets per game in those starts. Even with his high level of success, he only has one TD over his last 11 games, which includes the playoffs. The Eagles were very good against the TE last year (2nd in the NFL with 15 teams scoring fewer than 15 Fantasy points). They allowed four TDs to TEs and no TE gained over 55 yards. Jordan Reed was hurt in both games leading to only one catch for ten yards. The other top TEs posted these games: Jimmy Graham – 3/46/1, Kyle Rudolph – 5/55, and Tyler Eifert – 2/25/1. Tough matchup on paper, but Philly has to be more worried about Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill headed into this game. Total against the grain play while having the recent resume to post a winning score for his favorable salary.
Jimmy Graham (DK – $4,900/FD – $6,300): Fantasy owners and I get giddy over Graham too many times. He consistently falls short of expectations over the long haul. Last week he caught three of his seven targets for only eight yards. This gives Jimmy ten straight games (including playoffs) with fewer than 70 yards receiving. Only once over this period has Graham been a viable play in the daily games (Week 13 – 6/63/1). Even then, he didn’t deliver a separator score. In 2016, Jimmy had three games with over 100 yards receiving (6/100/1, 6/113, and 8/103/2). Over his last 13 games, he averaged only 5.2 targets per game. Yes, that was 5.2 targets per game. Graham did have six catches or more in six games in 2016. The 49ers were just below league average defending TEs last season (17th) with seven teams scoring 15 Fantasy points or more. San Fran struggled with both Greg Olsen (5/122/1) and Graham (6/100/1) over the first three weeks of the season while no other TE gained over 65 yards for the rest of the season. Part of this was due to the demise of the run defense. In his second game vs. the 49ers, Jimmy had four catches for 64 yards and a TD. Favorable matchup based on his 2016 history, but the luster of Graham is fading. Just because I kicked his tires, he’ll post a winning score this week. He’s only green due to his success vs. San Francisco in 2016.
Delanie Walker (DK – $4,700/FD – $6,200): The guy keeps on ticking. He caught seven of his nine targets vs. the Raiders for 76 yards while outshining all the WRs on the Titans. In 2016, Walker had only four playable games (6/83/1, 5/66/1, 7/84/1, and 9/124/1) while being flat in his two starts vs. the Jaguars (4/75 and 3/23/1). Walker was on the field for 53 of 64 plays run by Tennessee in Week 1. Jacksonville finished 15th in the league against TEs last year with fade over the second half of the season. Six teams scored over 15 Fantasy points at TE over the last ten weeks. Even with their struggles, no TE gained over 85 yards on the year. The Jaguars allowed six TDs to the TE over the last seven weeks of the season. Travis Kelce (5/58) and Kyle Rudolph (4/60/1) were the top two names at the position to face Jacksonville last year. The Jaguars had ten sacks in Week 1 so Delanie will be needed to pass block on too many plays. Based on the success of Jacksonville’s defense in Week 1, I would stay clear of Walker.
Kyle Rudolph (DK – $4,200/FD – $5,500): His $4,200 salary at DraftKings does give a Fantasy owner a double take. Rudolph was the second highest scoring TE in 2016 (83/840/7) while scoring in Week 1 (3/26/1). Over his last 17 games, he’s averaged 7.9 targets per game. Rudolph played his best ball over the last six weeks of 2016 (9/64, 6/45, 4/60/1, 8/97, 6/53, and 11/117/1) while averaging 10.7 targets per game. Pittsburgh ranked 20th in the league defending TEs (83/946/6) with eight teams scoring between 15 and 24 Fantasy points in PPR leagues. The Steelers had the toughest time with Rob Gronkowski (4/93/1), Jordan Reed (7/64) and Dennis Pitta (8/75). Interesting player to use against a Steelers’ stack due to salary and possible chaser game. Pittsburgh tends to limit the damage in TDs to TEs so 20+ Fantasy points may be a little bit too much to ask. On the positive side, the success of the two WRs in the Vikings’ offense in Week 1 should create more space for Kyle this week. If you want about 15 Fantasy points, Rudolph is in play.
Martellus Bennett (DK – $3,900/FD – $5,800): As the fifth option in the Packers’ passing game, Bennett is going to offer boring results in many games. He had three catches for 43 yards on six targets in his first game in Green Bay while being on the field for 67 of 81 plays. His results in 2016 were skewed by being the second fiddle to Rob Gronkowski early in the season plus health hurt his upside late in the year. Even with short targets in most weeks in the Patriots’ offense, Martellus had four nice games (5/114/1, 5/109, 6/67/3, and 7/102) over the first ten weeks of the season. In the Super Bowl vs. the Falcons, Bennett caught five of his six targets for 62 yards. Atlanta allowed the sixth most Fantasy points to TEs last year with four teams scoring over 20 Fantasy points. Eight TEs had six catches or more against the Falcons (Clive Walford – 6/50/1, Coby Fleener – 7/109/1, Greg Olsen – 6/76/1, Jimmy Graham – 6/89, Zack Ertz – 6/55, Travis Kelce – 8/140, Greg Olsen – 6/59, and Jared Cook – 7/78/1). Excellent chance at a TD and a mid-teens score.
Hunter Henry (DK – $3,600/FD – $5,700): Henry came up empty in Week 1 with disappointing playing time (23 snaps compared to 39 by Antonio Gates). In 2016, Hunter scored eight TDs in his 14 games while seeing 53.3 percent of the playing time at TE. Scoring ability, but his lack of snaps makes him more of a gamble with Gates still healthy.
Austin Hooper (DK – $3,500/FD – $5,500): Hooper only had two targets in Week 1, but he made the Bears pay on both chances. He scored an 88-yard TD while gaining forty yards on his other catch. The Falcons had him on the field for 47 of 59 plays. In his 15 games in the NFL, Austin only has 29 targets and has only caught more than three passes once (5/41 vs. Green Bay). His game has upside and he’s expected to have a breakout season. It comes down to where he fits in the Falcons’ passing game behind Julio Jones. The Packers had risk at times against the TE in 2016 (87/1004/4) with their three biggest failures coming against Julius Thomas (5/64/1), Delanie Walker (9/124/1), and Jason Witten (6/59/1). Tough to trust his targets, but sometimes you just have to double down on a player coming off a plus game. Low value hookup for Matt Ryan teams.
Jason Witten (DK – $3,400/FD – $5,400) – Witten had that senior citizen smell to him on draft day after starting the season at age 35. He flashed in the third preseason game (6/74/1) with follow through in Week 1 (7/59/1 on nine targets). This spring chicken was on the field for every offensive play (74) when the Cowboys defeated the Giants. Despite his success, Jason averaged fewer than ten yards per catch over his last 33 games. Denver was 18th in the NFL defending TEs last year (88/939/4) with huge problems vs. Travis Kelce (8/101 and 11/160/1). Greg Olsen (7/73) and Hunter Henry (6//83/1) played well vs. Denver in 2016. In Week 1 this year, the Broncos held the Chargers’ TEs to two catches for 17 yards. Witten’s lack of explosiveness would keep me away, but he is dirt cheap.
Jared Cook (DK – $3,300/FD – $5,100): Cook tends to have the winning mystique due to his low price point. He caught all five of his targets in Week 1 for 56 yards while being on the field 47 of 66 plays run by the Raiders. In 2016, Jared delivered an impact game in Week 11 (6/105/1 on 11 targets) only to disappear over five of his last six starts over the regular season (1/7, 3/19, 1/15, 6/85, 3/37, and 4/56). Green Bay looked his way 32 times over three games in the playoffs leading to two impactful games (6/104/1 and 7/78/1). This season he’ll be the fourth option in the Raiders’ passing game behind Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and the RB position. The Jets were 19th in the league vs. TEs last year (75/801/8) with seven teams scoring over 15 Fantasy points in PPR leagues. New York struggled with Travis Kelce (6/89/1) and Jimmy Graham (6/113). Very attractive salary while his downside is tied to game score and game flow. Oakland is a 14-point favorite in this game so they should play from the lead and run the ball with Marshawn Lynch a lot. Cook could certainly score a TD on a play action pass to cover his price point. Worth a swing, but the fairway is narrower than one may think.
Jesse James (DK – $3,200/FD – $5,400): The Browns’ defensive game plan led to Ben Roethlisberger looking James’ way eight times in Week 1. He caught six passes for 41 yards and two TDs to post the top TE score on the week. Last year Jesse had over three catches in a game only four times while failing to score a TD over his last 14 games (including playoffs). The Vikings will pay attention to him this week and they placed 14th in the NFL vs. TEs in 2016 (73/895/4). Two TEs gained over 70 yards against Minnesota last year (Zack Miller – 7/88 and Eric Ebron – 7/92). James is so last week so I would leave this club in the bag.
Coby Fleener (DK – $3,100/FD – $5,300): Fleener made a couple of nice catches in Week 1 leading to a solid game (5/54/1 on six targets). His success left some Fantasy owners wondering if he would finally put it together in New Orleans. Last season he had two strong games (7/109/1 and 6/74/1) at home over the first five weeks of the season. He lost his way over the last 11 games. He had fewer than 50 yards receiving nine times during his poor stretch while averaging only 4.2 targets per game. The Patriots were 8th in the NFL against the TE position in 2016 (74/720/4) with only Gary Barnidge (5/76) gaining over 55 yards. The loss of LB Dont’a Hightower is an upgrade for Fleener. Torn between a trap and opportunity. The lack of a second strong WR does help Coby, but it also helps shade coverage his way.
Charles Clay (DK – $3,000/FD – $5,200): Clay had nine targets in Week 1 leading to four catches for 53 yards and a TD. The Bills have questions in their depth at WR so Clay could be the second option in the passing game. Last year he only had one game with over seven targets with his best success coming in Week 15 (7/72/1) and Week 16 (8/85/2). After not scoring a TD over his first 12 games last year, Clay scored five TDs in his last five games. The Panthers struggled vs. the TE position last year (78/915/11) with four players posting solid games (Kyle Rudolph – 7/70/1, Coby Fleener – 6/74/1, Lance Kendricks – 7/90, and Jimmy Graham – 6/63/1). I expect Carolina to play well offensively so Buffalo will need to throw to win. Clay is in the mix of coin flips at the backend of the TE pool to score mid-teen Fantasy points.
Cameron Brate (DK – $3,000/FD – $5,300): After short snaps in Week 1 (25) and Week 2 (33) leading to two short games (3/30 and 3/16), Brate flashed his upside in Week 3 (5/46/2). Over his next 11 games, Cameron scored six TDs and produced at least five catches in five games. His catch rate (63.0) was better than most on the roster. Brate finished with 57 receptions for 660 yards and eight TDs on 81 targets. His success will give him the inside track for the starting TE job and Tampa may run a high volume of two TE sets in 2017. Based on stats, worth a swing, but greatness lies behind him on the depth chart in O.J. Howard. Jameis Winston will throw to the TE while Chicago ranked 11th in the league defending the position (71/727/6). Kyle Rudolph (11/117/1) played well vs. the Bears in 2016 while Brate had a plus game (7/84/1) as well. I expect a decrease in chances in 2017, but he does have scoring ability. Austin Hooper beat the Bears’ pass defense for 128 yards and a TD on two catches.
Antonio Gates (DK – $3,000/FD – $5,300): Gates had the most playing time at TE for the Chargers in Week 1. He caught two of his three targets for 17 yards while being on the field for 39 of 59 plays. He needs one more TD to break a tied record with Tony Gonzalez for the most TDs all-time at the TE position. I’m sure the Chargers would like to get him that record at home. Miami allowed the eighth most Fantasy point to TEs last year (79/916/10) with three players having plus games (Martellus Bennett – 5/114/1, Dennis Pitta – 9/90/2, and Charles Clay – 8/85/2). Gates caught four of his nine targets vs. the Dolphins in 2016 for 64 yards and a TD. Excellent chance at a TD leading to about 15 Fantasy points. Hunter Henry does limit his upside, as does looming father time (age 37).
Jack Doyle (DK – $2,900/FD – $5,200): After two early catches for 41 yards, Doyle faded in the second half vs. the Rams with only one more target. Over his last ten games, Jack only has one TD while never gaining over 65 yards during this span. Last year he only had two playable games (4/53/1 and 9/78/1). The Cardinals were the best team in the league defending TEs (47/418/2) with success in Week 1 vs. the Lions (2/9 on three targets). With Andrew Luck out, I would avoid in a big way in all formats.
O.J. Howard (DK – $2,900/FD – $5,300): I know he has talent based on the limited tape I’ve watched and his scouting report. He’s not a lock to get starting TE snaps after Cameron Brate played well last year. Winston will look for the TE (78/824/11 on 113 targets in 2016) so there is a winning opportunity if Howard emerges as the lead option. Alabama didn’t need him to win and they weren’t a high profile passing attack. O.J. caught 83 passes for 1,197 yards over his junior and senior seasons while scoring five TDs. The bottom line with Tampa is that Mike Evans is going to be a high volume WR. DeSean Jackson tends to be an injury prone deep threat with 60-to-70 catch ability. This leaves a huge opportunity for the TE to be the number two option in the passing game. Brate is the early value at TE in Tampa so we’ll have to see Howard develop on the field before playing him in the daily games. O.J. had four catches for 43 yards in the preseason.
Julius Thomas (DK – $2,800/FD – $5,000): In 2013 and 2014 with Adam Gase as the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, Thomas caught 108 passes for 1,277 yards and 24 TDs on 152 targets. His game faded in back-to-back seasons for Jacksonville (46/455/5 and 30/281/4) with the latter season ending in Week 11 with back injury. After catching nine combined passes for 135 yards and a TD on 12 targets in the first two games of the season, Julius had fewer than 30 yards receiving in seven straight games. Last year Miami completed 55 of 71 targets for 551 yards and six TDs to the TE position. On this team, it’s tough enough painting a winning Fantasy picture for DeVante Parker based on style of play. I’ll give Thomas some respect this year, but the Dolphins will need to throw more for him to have higher value over the long haul of the season. The change at QB should help him and he does have scoring ability helped by the Dolphins having two strong WRs and a top RB. San Diego ranked 9th in the league against the TE position in 2016 (75/865/4) with their only bad game against Cameron Brate (6/86/1). Thomas had four catches for 71 yards and San Diego held Travis Kelce (6/74) to a reasonable game. Jarvis Landry landed on the injury report late in the week, which may improve Thomas’s chances plus CB Jason Verrett won’t play, which will help Miami’s offense significantly. I would fade him with a higher salary, but his price point is too low to dismiss.
George Kittle (DK – $2,500/FD – $4,500): If you dig deep enough, you will find Kittle buried at the back of the TE pool in the daily games. In his first NFL game, George had five catches for 27 yards on six targets while securing full time snaps (54 of 57 plays). Seattle was the fourth best team in the league defending TEs (62/704/3) with two players having 15 Fantasy points (Martellus Bennett – 7/102 and Zach Ertz – 6/35/1). Tough matchup with a short resume, but his playing time gives him a chance going forward.