Deciding Between Two Former Iowa TEs
Tempering expectations when it comes to rookie tight ends is a smart strategy in fantasy football. Over the past 16 years, only two rookie TEs have eclipsed 600 yards receiving: Evan Engram in 2017 and John Carlson (not the Caps defenseman, the Seahawks TE) in 2008.
Let’s take a look at how many rookie TEs have finished in the top 25 in total fantasy points the past two seasons (Weeks 1-16, PPR leagues):
2018 - Chris Herndon (15th-highest point total at position), Mark Andrews (18th), Dallas Goedert (21st)
2017 - Engram (4th), O.J. Howard (19th), David Njoku (24th)
Looking at the 2019 season, the two TEs that have the best chance of finishing not only in the top 25 but potentially the top 15 are former Iowa Hawkeye teammates T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. Which one should you be targeting in your Best Ball/season-long drafts?
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
After signing Jesse James to a curious contract this offseason and drafting Hockenson No. 8 overall, the Lions have certainly upgraded a position that saw Levine Toilolo lead them with a "whopping" 21/263/1 stat line in 2018. James earned a pretty lucrative 4 year/$22.6 million contract with $8 million this upcoming season and the 2020 season fully guaranteed. While James may serve as a run-blocker quite a bit in former Seattle OC Darrell Bevell’s offense, he did reach a career high 423 yards receiving last year and it’s hard to imagine the Lions keeping him off the field with that contract.
Another potential hiccup to Hockenson’s potential production could be Bevell’s offense itself. Seahawks' pass catchers saw a league-low 213 targets from Weeks 1-16 in 2018, lowest in the NFL. Seattle tight ends were top five in fewest total targets twice from 2013-2018.
What about the guy throwing him the ball? The last time Matthew Stafford had a rookie TE with the potential to be a fantasy monster was Eric Ebron in 2014, and he had just 25 catches that season. It's also concerning that Stafford ranked 42nd in red zone completion percentage (48.6%) in 2018.
Another concern for Hockenson might be how much he’s asked to protect Stafford by blocking. Two-time Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang retired and fellow guard Kenny Wiggins was inconsistent at times last season. The team did not address the offensive line during the NFL draft and chose to build depth through the UDFA class, picking up guys like Wisconsin’s Beau Benzschawel. Hockenson’s strong run-blocking skills with the ability to finish at the second level could be a detriment to his fantasy value if he is asked to block frequently in Bevell’s run-friendly offense.
In the month of May, Hockenson is the No. 18 TE off the board in Fanball BB10s and TE14 in FFPC drafts.
Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
Fant was taken No. 20 overall by John Elway and the Broncos, entering into a somewhat more favorable position than Hockenson. Jeff Heuerman figures to be the only real competition, and he has just 564 receiving yards in three seasons. Jake Butt was a fun name to use for fantasy team names but he’s had three major knee injuries and isn't quite relevant. Troy Fumagalli spent all of 2018 on the IR as he recovered from a sports hernia injury.
The quarterback position is a bit of a question mark when trying to predict production. Joe Flacco should open the season as the starter, however the team did invest a second-round pick on Drew Lock. Flacco’s play was flat out abysmal at times last season.
Still, Flacco does have a penchant for throwing to the TE position. As Baltimore’s starter from Weeks 1-9 last season before Lamar Jackson took over, the Ravens were fourth in targets to TEs. Excluding the 2015 season where Flacco tore his ACL, Ravens' tight ends finished in the top 12 in targets from 2013 through the first nine weeks of 2018.
The edge in fantasy may come by how Fant is employed in the Broncos' offense:
Fant can get up the field quickly and catch one of Flacco’s bombs, and while the Elite One has looked lethargic in the pocket at times, he had more air yards per attempt (3.9) in 2018 than Stafford (3.2). Fant may not be asked to block much inside (just like at Iowa) as Denver upgraded their offensive line this offseason by drafting Dalton Risner in the second round.
We’ll see how new OC Rich Scangarello employs Fant, but it’s hard to imagine that he’s asked to help out and block much in the interior early on in his career as he split out to the slot often at Iowa. That may be good for fantasy owners long term he is less of a complete player than his Hawkeye teammate hence why he was drafted twelve spots lower.
In terms of May ADP, Fant is TE22 in Fanball BB10s and TE18 in FFPC.
Both TEs don’t have a ton of pass-catchers to compete with, but in Denver you have Emmanuel Sanders coming back from an Achilles injury and Courtland Sutton/DaeSean Hamilton only entering their second season. Detroit has Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones along with Theo Riddick out of the backfield, who saw the 12th-most targets at the RB position in 2018.
With a slightly lower ADP and likely a greater opportunity on offense, I would rather grab Fant. In dynasty leagues I prefer Hockenson, but based on Bevell's offensive tendencies and better competition it's hard to like him over Fant in season-long and Best Ball.