Out of the top 12 tight ends in ADP in 2016, only six of them finished as TE1s. Injuries played a major role in some of the top-ranked tight ends missing time, but we saw huge misses on players like Coby Fleener and Gary Barnidge.
This year we’re witnessing the hype train take off for some young tight ends. It’s a position that historically does not perform well, for fantasy purposes, in the first year. Yet one rookie is cracking the top 10 in ADP.
Let’s examine some of the cases for bust potential at tight end in 2017.
O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The last rookie tight end to catch more than 50 passes was Tim Wright in 2013. Coincidentally, he also played for the Buccaneers. Wright finished as the TE13 in PPR and standard leagues with 54 receptions and five touchdowns. If everything goes right for Howard, that’s probably close to the best positional finish we could expect in 2017.
Rookie tight ends do not turn into fantasy gold overnight. Howard was an outstanding prospect, and most fantasy analysts expect him to be a major asset eventually, but we go through the same routine every season. Owners become infatuated with rookies who can’t produce at the level they’re being drafted.
Howard is currently the No. 11 tight end coming off the board in standard drafts. If there was a clear path to him starting for the Buccaneers, his upside would be greater. But Cameron Brate remains a hindrance for Howard’s value.
Here’s what Pewter Report said about Brate in June.
"Brate and Winston’s chemistry is going to be tough to dethrone. Even if rookie O.J. Howard gets comfortable and shows his flashes of talent during training camp, it might be more difficult than we thought to see him as a solidified first team player, but in a good way. Brate and Winston look comfortable together."
Owners can grab Zach Ertz, Jack Doyle or Eric Ebron later instead of reaching for Howard in redraft leagues.
Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
Henry caught the third-most touchdowns (8) for a rookie tight end in the post-merger era. He finished as the TE18 in PPR and TE11 in standard scoring. Though the previous section is about how rookie tight ends do not pay off in fantasy, Henry was one of the few exceptions to that rule, at least in standard leagues.
But the expectations are even loftier for 2017. Henry’s draft stock continues to rise, and he’s now in the top 10 among his position. He has tremendous upside, and appears in our list of potential second-year breakout candidates, but one significant obstacle stands in his way: Antonio Gates.
Yes, he’s still playing. At 37, Gates is completely off draft boards. Even though Henry ate into his workload a bit last season, Gates still finished as the TE10 in standard leagues. Owners are treating him as if he’s already retired, but the Chargers likely won't act that way out of the "gates."
Gates saw 19.35 percent of his targets in the red zone, while Henry saw a whopping 30.19 percent in this range. Philip Rivers will continue to target these two near the end zone. If Henry were flying solo, his draft position would be much more justified.
Plus, Keenan Allen is back, Mike Williams will probably get on the field at some point, and Branden Oliver should be in the mix for targets as well. The Chargers face a tough schedule, especially early in the year.
Henry might be dominant next year, but with Gates lingering I’m not ready to go all-in.
Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints
It’s debatable whether a player can bust after being a bust, but Fleener makes the list anyway. He was the TE6 in terms of ADP in 2016, going off draft boards around 7.01. Owners completely whiffed on this pick, as Fleener caught 50 passes and finished as the TE15 in PPR leagues.
Now way down draft boards, some pundits are starting a new campaign to advocate for his upside. But they likely forget Josh Hill is still on the roster, and before going down with an injury last year, he ate away at Fleener’s snaps as the season progressed.
Fleener ranked eighth among all tight ends in routes run. He was far lower in snaps played, though, due to Hill being a superior blocker. At age 28 (will be 29 in September), we’ve realized Fleener is a better athlete than actual football player.
Despite playing with two of the league’s best quarterbacks, Fleener averages 36.6 yards per game for his career. If you’re looking for upside late in your draft, there are more promising options.