Tight ends have a hard time translating their skills for fantasy production in their rookie years. There have been very few players that were able to produce entering the league in their first year. Over the past 20 years, there have been two that showcased great production and surprisingly both of those players played for the New York Giants.
In 2017, Evan Engram was able to take advantage of injuries to the receiving corps and led his team in targets, receptions, and receiving touchdowns in his first NFL season. Going back to 2002, Jeremy Shockey was drafted 14th overall and he finished his rookie year second on the team in targets, receptions, and receiving yards.
These are the two most notable and we’ll see if any of this year’s tight ends can join Shockey and Engram as great rookie tight end producers. Let’s dive into some of their situations and see who has the best chance at being first-year fantasy studs.
The Newest Crop Of Fantasy Football Rookie TEs
Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
Well if there’s one thing the Bears are not short on, it’s tight ends. After the NFL Draft weekend, Chicago had 10 – that’s right 10! – tight ends on their roster. It’s safe to say that all 10 will not be on their 55-man roster (one gameday) when the 2020 season begins, but it’s a bit surprising to see the Bears draft a tight end with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Kmet is a talented tight end and was arguably the best at his position in this year’s draft class. Using a second-round pick on Kmet is a good pick, but maybe not the best pick considering some of the other holes the Bears could have filled.
Kmet is a great pass-catcher, but not as good at blocking. That is going to be the major thing he will need to work on when coming into the NFL. He should be able to see some good action as a pass-catching tight end, while the other tight ends on the roster will be kept in to block.
His main competition will be Jimmy Graham, who the Bears signed away from Packers. Graham has never been a great blocker, but a more than accomplished receiver from the tight end position. The good thing for Kmet is that Graham is not the same player he was back in New Orleans or even his brief stint in Seattle. Graham may hope to rekindle some of that magic in Chicago, but he was brought in more as a low-value addition to the roster. Although with the contract they gave him, he should be first in line to see the most targets in the offense.
Kmet should see the field in his rookie year, there’s no question about that. The real thing to keep in mind is that rookie tight ends just don’t see huge production numbers in their first year in the league. Also as mentioned earlier, they signed Graham to a large contract in hopes of bringing more production to the offense from the tight end position. There is no guarantee that Graham does that, but they sure will give him enough opportunities early in the year to try and reclaim his former glory.
This eats into Kmet seeing a fantasy-relevant enough of touches to make him worth noting. He has great long-term value for the team, which is great for all those dynasty league players, but his redraft value is low. You can add him as a final pick for your bench, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him slip into the waiver pool after your draft.
Depending on how Graham ends up producing for the Bears, Kmet could see decent streaming value when the bye weeks start rolling in. It’s a stretch for sure, as Kmet just needs to thoroughly outshine Graham in training camp to earn more looks in the offense. He has the skills to do it, let’s just hope head coach Matt Nagy is smart enough to use him.
Projected Stat-line: 32/357/3 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Josiah Deguara, Green Bay Packers
So Aaron Rodgers was short on weapons last season and the team went 13-3. This was largely in part to the high-level the defense was playing at and also a strong running game with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. So you would think that going into the 2020 NFL Draft, the Packers would give Rodgers some weapons to throw to, to possibly get this team into the Super Bowl, after falling one step short last year. Instead, they drafted his replacement in the first round, a power-running back with no hands in the second round, and then with the third-round pick, they selected a blocking tight end.
Deguara was one of the more targeted players on his team in college, but it was a run-first offense and he didn’t exactly blow us away with his receiving skills. He was used mainly as a short-yard receiver and was very dependable in that role. His asset on the team was his ability to set-up good blocking for the running backs.
Now he can adjust to the NFL game and become a more utilized weapon in the passing game, but most likely this selection was made for the future of the offense which seems to be a power-running attack. Deguara is going to compete for targets in this offense with long-time veteran Marcedes Lewis and the inexperienced Jace Sternberger.
Lewis may have the slight lead in this group with Sternberger right on his tail and Deguara a distant third place, for now. Sternberger was drafted in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft but suffered a concussion during offseason camps and then an ankle injury in the preseason, which led to him missing the majority of the season. Sternberger will push Lewis for the starting job and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him win it, as he is more skilled than Lewis at this point in his career.
Deguara’s best shot at seeing the field is as a blocker and possible short-yard work. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him take Lewis’ snaps in the offense and eventually take over his targets with Sternberger.
Deguara is not a tight end to think about when putting together your draft rankings and strategies for the 2020 season. Even for those playing in dynasty leagues, his appeal is low as he will mainly be used in the running game instead of the passing game and Sternberger becomes the tight end to covet. While he may score a few red-zone touchdowns or one of Rodgers’ trademark Hail Mary heaves, his value is next to non-existent with the Packers and should remain off your draft board. If there are any injuries, he may become more relevant but that’s still a longshot as there are better weapons in this pass offense. Which is saying something as that might be the one thing that may have Rodgers suiting up for another team to end his career.
Projected Stat-line: 21/193/1 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Devin Asiasi/Dalton Keene, New England Patriots
Round three of the 2020 NFL Draft brought along a familiar draft strategy employed by the Patriots. Back in 2010, New England decided to draft two tight ends and employ a twin-tight end offense. It worked pretty well as Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski had very successful seasons as rookies. They racked up over 1,100 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns on 87 receptions combined. They followed that up by putting together a combined stat-line of 169 receptions, 2,237 receiving yards, and 24 receiving touchdowns.
So this strategy worked for the Patriots before and if it weren’t for some off-the-field issues that led to Hernandez being incarcerated, we might still be talking about their dominance. Instead, Gronkowski is now going to play for Tampa Bay with Tom Brady and Hernandez…well he’s not in the league anymore. Can Keene and Asiasi replicate what the Patriots had in the early 2010s?
Asiasi is a raw talent that can be refined in the Patriots offense. He is a natural pass-catcher and great at finding the holes in the defense to get open. He is also an above-average blocker but will most likely be used more in the passing game for his receiving ability instead of blocking for the running game. Asiasi had a great final season of his college career and was able to leverage that into a third-round pick. He can become the Gronkowski of this offense if he can fit into the system and become a model Patriot player. The ability is there and the coaching should be able to mold him into a solid fantasy tight end for years to come.
Keene was selected just 11 picks after Asiasi and will pair with him to become the new dynamic duo at tight end. While Asiasi is the natural pass-catcher, Keene is the more refined blocker. He has shown great ability to catch the ball, but his skills are better suited for blocking and becoming a pass-catcher as a screen or flat option. Keene will be a more versatile player as New England will probably find ways to get him into the offense in different positions. With the retirement of James Develin, Keene could see his role shifting to take Develin’s. So Keene could be seen more as an H-back instead of a traditional tight end. This means that Keene will take on the Hernandez role in this offense going forward.
So fantasy-wise, it’s going to be an intriguing situation to watch. Both players are capable players and there is no competition for them to worry about taking targets and touches away from them. They’ll both step into starting roles and become solid producers over time.
Asiasi is the one tight end that has more fantasy value as he will be the main target in the passing game, compared to Keene. Since the Patriots still have other passing weapons like Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry in the offense, the usage of Keene in the H-back role might be more of the short-yard work and also third-down conversions.
Asiasi will become more of a fantasy weapon as he becomes the starting tight end and will just need to get used to playing at the next level. Asiasi should be drafted as a bench player for now, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him inch his way into a starting role on your fantasy roster midseason. Keene has some streaming value at the most now, but it really depends on how this Patriots offense will look without Brady at the helm. Both players have a blueprint for stardom in the NFL and in fantasy circles, but we just need to see how they adjust to being New England Patriots.
Projected Stat-line for Devin Asiasi: 56/623/5 (Reception/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns
Projected Stat-line for Dalton Keene: 39/371/3 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints
The Saints traded the rest of their draft picks to select Trautman with the 105th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. This says something when a guy like Sean Payton is trying to trade up to select you. Trautman was being discussed with Kmet and Bryant as the top tight end prospects in the draft. The know on Trautman was that his production came from a smaller school and he faced inferior competition. Still, every year that Trautman was with the Dayton Flyers, his receiving numbers escalated and in his final season, he produced a stat-line of 70 receptions, 916 receiving yards, and 14 receiving touchdowns. There is a lot of potential here for Trautman long term and he landed in a great situation learning from Drew Brees, Jared Cook, Michael Thomas, and Payton’s coaching staff.
Trautman in New Orleans is one of those dream scenarios that fantasy analysts love to see actually come true. While he has excellent long-term appeal, his short-term appeal is more questionable. The starting tight end in New Orleans is Cook and they use Josh Hill in red-zone chances and short-yard work. Trautman has the skills to easily unseat Hill for his role and could be in line for more targets if Cook were to miss time.
Cook scored the most touchdowns in his career with the Saints and also had the third-most receiving yards as well. The Saints were able to utilize his skills properly and he was a great weapon in the offense.
Now, this is also the season that Thomas had his record-breaking season in which he broke the single-season reception record, so he didn’t see a ton of targets. Now Thomas is still the focal point of the passing game, but with the signing of Emmanuel Sanders, the Saints clearly want to limit the wear-and-tear for Thomas and make sure he can have a long career with New Orleans. Sanders, Cook, and Alvin Kamara will help spread the load, and Trautman should be able to get the remaining scrap targets.
As long as Cook is healthy, that will prevent Trautman from breaking out in this offense. He is a valuable handcuff though because if Cook misses any games, Trautman would be first in line to take on those targets in the passing offense. Trautman is a good candidate to replace Hill in the running-game and the short-yard work, but that will be a slow process as he adjusts to the speed of the professional level.
He has excellent value in dynasty leagues, as mentioned because Cook is no spring chicken and it wouldn’t be out of the realm to see Trautman as the starting tight end in 2021, once Cook’s contract expires at the end of this year.
For redraft leagues, Trautman is a high-level handcuff and will be a great addition if Cook gets hurt. Until then, he will see a low amount of targets. A big risk to take for that kind of game and it’s best to stash him on your bench or add him to your watch list if he goes undrafted.
Projected Stat-line: 38/402/3 (Reception/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Harrison Bryant, Cleveland Browns
When it came to tight end prospects, Bryant was one of the best in the 2020 NFL Draft. While he has the skills to develop into a great tight end in the league, his landing spot in Cleveland will be interesting to watch. New head coach Kevin Stefanski is a big proponent of using tight ends in his offense. This is part of the reason he signed Austin Hooper in the offseason to pair up with David Njoku. Now you add Bryant to this picture and you wonder who is going to see a good amount of targets to make them fantasy relevant in redraft leagues.
As mentioned, the Browns added Hooper and already had Njoku on the team. Hooper benefitted from a pass-first offense that helped him break out in his contract year with Atlanta. Prior to last season, Hooper was nothing more than a safety net option for Matt Ryan and we’ll see if he can find the same success as last season with a new team.
Njoku enjoyed a great season in 2018 and we all thought he could replicate that coming into 2019. Well, he ended up getting hurt and we’ll need to see if he can rebound in a new season and with a new coaching staff.
So while there were rumors going around that the Browns may ship Njoku out of town, he is a member of the Cleveland organization for now, and that hurts Bryant’s chances of seeing the field. Let’s also remember that the Browns have great receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to throw to as well. So the targets in the offense are going to be hard to come by and this will lead Bryant to being a fantasy afterthought for redraft leagues.
If Bryant can bulk up and become a more willing blocker, he could see more time on the field. While he certainly is a gifted pass-catcher, the logjam at the position will curb his fantasy value in redraft leagues. The outlook for dynasty leagues is good, but it once again depends on how Hooper plays for the Browns and if the front office decides to trade Njoku to another team. Until then, Bryant is a back-up that will see limited action unless he completely wows the coaching staff with his abilities.
Projected Stat-line: 19/179/1 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos
Drew Lock now has a plethora of weapons in the offense going into the 2020 season. He already had Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Noah Fant, and Phillip Lindsay. In the offseason, they added Melvin Gordon and in the draft, they added Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, and Okwuegbunam. Clearly, the front office decided to add some speed as Hamler and Okwuegbunam are pure burners at their respective positions. Pairing Fant with Okwuegbunam will lead to a dangerous combo from the tight end position.
Now Okwuegbunam is not as versatile as Fant, but he is a home run hitter. He scored 23 receiving touchdowns on 98 receptions. So on an average of every four to five receptions, Okwuegbunam is catching a receiving touchdown. Now that may not translate to the speed aspect necessarily, but the sub 4.5 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine tells us that he can get deep quickly from the tight end spot. He may be able to take the top off defenses on the college level, but we need to see if the physicality at the next level will prevent him from burning NFL secondaries. He has the size of a prototypical tight end and he should be able to hang with NFL defenses, but we need to see it to believe it.
So Okwuegbunam seems like he could be a great fantasy asset right? As mentioned, there are a lot of players needing targets in this offense now. While Okwuegbunam may seem like a great player to target, his abilities might lead him to being a flash-in-the-pan type of player. He might have one or two great games that become outliers for the entire season.
His home run ability might lead to him being on the field, but it will also lead to his downfall as being a fantasy-relevant player early in his career. Fant is the more versatile and polished player and this could lead to Okwuegbunam seeing limited snaps in the offense. Also, there are other tight ends on the roster already that could lead to him trying to just climb the depth chart.
In dynasty leagues, he holds some value, as he could become a good sidekick to Fant. Unfortunately in redraft leagues though, his value is very small and he is better left going undrafted in your fantasy draft.
Projected Stat-line: 24/214/2 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)