Champions aren’t made at the draft, but late-round picks can make the difference between making the playoffs and looking in from the outside. These players may not be household names, or they may have recently underperformed, but depending on the circumstance they represent great bargains that may put your team over the edge. Let’s take a look at some notable tight ends that could be available late, but retain solid value.
Note: We use Fantasy Football Calculator to determine average draft position (ADP), looking at 12-team leagues. The ADP for each player will change as the season approaches.
Jared Cook, Green Bay Packers (ADP: 149)
Cook went beyond underutilized on the St. Louis Rams — he went almost ignored. However, now in Green Bay he looks set to receive more looks than on his previous teams. Cook is currently listed as the second tight end on the depth chart behind Richard Rodgers, but Rodgers failed to post significant numbers last year, and his starting position is in doubt. Cook has played many more first-team snaps in the preseason than Rodgers, showing that he may start despite missing time early in the preseason as he recovered from foot surgery. If the Packers return to form on offense like many believe they will, Cook will most likely be one of the primary benefactors.
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: 162)
Despite losing Tony Romo to a back injury, Witten has been the epitome of consistency. He’s played in over 200 consecutive games, has never averaged under nine yards a catch in a season and hasn’t been targeted less than 90 times in a season since 2006. These are staggering statistics for a player being drafted in the 13th round on average. In addition, rookie quarterbacks are known for using their tight ends as a safety valve for the passing game, and Dak Prescott is just that. Witten is poised to have a great year, and makes for a safe and consistent pick, a near-impossibility in the double-digit rounds.
Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: 142)
Allen has battled injuries for the majority of his career, and 2016 is no different. There are already reports of Allen experiencing a hip injury before the season even begins, but Allen is reported to be "fine" despite missing two consecutive practices, according to Indy Star Reporter Stephen Holder. In the pass-heavy offense featured in Indianapolis, Allen finally has the chance to be the No. 1 tight end with the departure of Coby Fleener to New Orleans. By picking Allen you are getting a likely top-10 tight end if he’s able to stay healthy. However, it won’t cost too much — he’s projected to be drafted in the middle of the 12th round.
Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: N/A)
Virtually a redshirt sophomore after playing sparingly in eight games in 2015, James only caught eight passes for 56 yards and one touchdown. However, the Steelers placed Ladarius Green on the PUP list, which means he will be ineligible to play for at least the first six weeks of the season. This leaves a hole in the starting roster that James seems poised to fill. In the preseason James has played primarily with the first-team offense, and his rapport with Ben Roethlisberger seems to be developing nicely. He’s gone under the radar as Green was expected to start, but as the starter, James has the potential to be a high-end TE2, with an even higher ceiling if Green misses time beyond Week 6. Best of all, James is going undrafted in most leagues, so taking your chances on him will only cost a roster spot.