Our Buying Generic Series has thus far delved into three positions for fantasy football: QB, RB, and WR. We now turn our attention to the tight end position. Less expensive options abound. However, remember that a significant leverage point and advantage exists in selecting an elite tight end early in drafts (Kyle Pitts is the real deal). If you miss the consensus top 3-5 TEs, it would be wise to wait until near the end of the draft to select TE. In best ball, you can choose three or four very late TEs, and in redraft, you can also find hidden gems late.
Late-Round Tight End Sleepers
Many juicy options are set up for sneaky success. Among all TEs with 30 or more targets in 2021, Hayden Hurst finished with an impressive 83.87% catch rate (1st). He now finds himself on a fantastic Bengals offense projected to pass often and score at will. He will benefit from stepping outside of the shadows of Mark Andrews and Kyle Pitts, the TE1s on his last two teams.
Gerald Everett is also experiencing quite the upgrade by moving from Seattle’s paltry offense to the Justin Herbert-led Chargers. During his “second-year leap,” QB Herbert threw for over 5000 yards and looks to only be improving. Everett also boasts a 76.19% catch rate (7th).
Mo Alie-Cox will see TE-targeting extraordinaire Matt Ryan quarterbacking the Colts this year. Ryan has excelled at getting his big targets fed. He has thrown to TEs Tony Gonzales, Kyle Pitts, and Austin Hooper with great success as a Falcon. Now he gets Alie-Cox coming off of a 2021 season where he achieved 6.25 yards after the catch per reception (9th) and 0.089 end zone targets plus deep route targets per route run (2nd). With Jack Doyle retired, Alie-Cox has the size and experience to hold off his younger competition (for at least this season).
These are all viable options to choose from later in drafts. However, there is another glaring TE talent who often goes undrafted. Since last season, he has maintained the same team, head coach, and quarterback. While he was the TE2 on his team then, he is in contention to be their TE1 this season.
Name-Brand Tight End: TJ Hockenson (ADP 93)
Generic Tight End: Jonnu Smith (ADP 213)
Jonnu Smith has legitimate excuses as to why his 2021 seemed lackluster. He missed a large portion of training camp. Also, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seems to have ignored head coach Bill Belichick’s desire to involve the well-paid acquisition. This year, Smith has participated in and excelled during camp and the preseason, and McDaniels is gone. We could reasonably be in store for a rebirth of the two-fantasy-relevant-TE heyday of 2010-2012. Those seasons featured Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as a TE duo; 2022 can have Hunter Henry and Johnny Smith assume those roles.
Noted curmudgeon Belichick has even praised Smith’s work ethic and intelligence. Last preseason, Belichick even opined that Smith was the best TE in the league with the ball in tow. That might not be hyperbole.
Yards after the catch per reception
Smith: 8.29 (1st)
Hockenson: 3.26 (42nd)
Yards per route run
Smith: 1.86 (7th)
Hockenson: 1.48 (14th)
End zone targets plus deep route targets per route run:
Smith: 0.070 (6th)
Hockenson: 0.048 (17th)
Any uptick in routes and targets for Smith would put him firmly in the top-12 TEs, allowing him to transcend the 30+ TE rank quagmire he currently finds himself in.
Now, we are not picking on Hockenson. He is an immense talent on an ascending Lions squad. However, the target competition is similarly fierce in Detroit as in Foxborough. He contends with fellow short-area-targets D’Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown, among others. Lions QB Jared Goff limits Hockenson’s upside and average depth of target enough for me to put my trust in Patriots QB Mac Jones for this season’s late-round TE goodness. Drafting Jonnu Smith is a high-reward play, at literally the lowest risk possible.
At Hockenson’s ADP of ~93, you can instead draft Kadarius Toney, Chris Olave, Dak Prescott, Treylon Burks, or Rashaad Penny.
(Data courtesy of Sports Info Solutions and Trumedia Networks)