Before we get into potential tight end sleepers in fantasy football let’s just agree this position is an island of lost souls for the most part. Of course, you can trust Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz, but what do you do with the 29 other starting tight ends in the league? If you are like me, you find yourself taking one late in the draft or with a $1 bid in an auction and then you just use the waiver wire to play the matchups through out the season.
Here are three players currently going undrafted or are outside of the top 10 tight ends based on (average draft position) that could break into the top five. I also threw in one player that is currently being drafted as the eighth best tight end overall, but who could finish in the top three.
George Kittle - San Francisco 49ers
I’m the kind of fantasy player that waits until the final rounds to select a tight end. I’m also the kind of fantasy player completely comfortable using a different TE every week, playing the matchups, and using talent evaluation to make weekly decisions. Kittle is currently being drafted just outside the top 10 so there is a good chance he’ll be on a few of my teams.
So why am I excited about a second-year tight end that only finished with two touchdowns and only two games with five or more receptions? Simply put, I’m a firm believer that the San Francisco offense starts to take off this season with Jimmy Garoppolo entering his first full season as starter. Kittle’s rookie season wasn’t spectacular, but neither were his quarterbacks Weeks 1-12. Garoppolo should be able to keep this offense on the field for longer drives and hopefully more opportunities for the tight end out of Iowa. To take a significant step forward the 49ers will have to convert more red zone opportunities to touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. There isn’t a better red zone option on the team (currently) than the 6’4 250 pound Kittle. Pierre Garçon could also play a role in this aspect of the offense, but he has never been much of a red zone threat. I’m waiting for Kittle in most drafts and he should be a $1 bid in most auctions.
Ricky Seals-Jones - Arizona Cardinals
Another second-year tight end that has a strong possibility at breaking the fantasy top 10 is the converted wide-out, Ricky Seals-Jones. Jones blew up for nine receptions, 170 yards and three touchdowns on 16 targets over a three-game stretch in the middle of the 2017 season. That’s not a bad run at all for a tight end, especially one who was undrafted.
The boom factor for Jones is that the normal starting tight end, Jermaine Gresham, tore his Achilles’ at the end of the season and will probably not be ready to go Week 1. That should give Jones significantly more snaps early in the season. Sam Bradford likes to work the middle of the field and Jones has shown an ability to catch in traffic and burn defenders deep down the seam. I’m very interested with what he can do if he sees five or more targets a game. He’s currently going undrafted in most 12 team leagues and will likely be an early streaming option for those that punt the position.
Antonio Gates - Unsigned Hype
This sleeper recommendation comes with a few conditions. Condition the first, Antonio Gates must resign with the Chargers of Los Angeles. Condition two, the Chargers of Los Angeles must not sign any other tight ends. If these conditions are met then Gates becomes a weekly start as soon has he is active.
Why am I pitching a tight end who is currently unsigned and damn near 40 years-old? Here are Gates’ touchdown totals since 2014: 12, 5, 7, and 3. That 3 is largely due to Hunter Henry emerging in 2017. Unfortunately, Henry tore his ACL and will miss the season. That should equate to around 60 targets that need to be redistributed in one of the league’s best offenses. To be clear, Gates is only a red zone threat at this point. Let’s say he goes for 45 receptions, 500 yards, and six touchdowns (modest, yet respectable numbers), that would have been good enough for TE8 numbers in 2017. If you are drafting closer to the beginning of the regular season then Gates’ price tag may go up, but for early drafters he’s a late round steal that allows you to focus on other positions early on.
Delanie Walker - Tennessee Titans
It was a tough decision of who should go in the fourth and final sleeper spot: Trey Burton or Delanie Walker. The choice to put Walker over Burton is that I feel this will be Delanie’s best year of football. The 33 year old has a few miles on him and a spotty injury history, but he has proven to be one of the most versatile tight ends year-after-year. He’s my choice to be this year’s Zach Ertz, a tight end who goes from the top 10 to the top three.
A year after playing all 16 games, he gets a coaching upgrade and a better supporting cast. The league is excited to see how Matt LaFleur can do with the Titan offense after spending time coaching under Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay — two coaches that have a reputation for innovation and employing schemes that take advantage of their playmakers’ skill set. It is also hard to imagine Walker’s target share changing too drastically. He has often been Marcus Mariota’s safety blanket and he’s averaged just under seven targets a game in each of the last three seasons. Even if he doesn’t break into the top three at his position his floor is as solid as ever. If Tennessee’s offense is to take a step forward it will be partially done on Delanie Walker’s back.