Fantasy: Which TEs will exceed expectations in 2019?

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Fantasy owners who miss out on the top three tight ends often wait until much later in the draft to address the position, confident they’ll find the next breakout star.

It’s a good plan – if you can pinpoint which tight ends will return value in the later rounds.

Who will exceed expectations?

Chris Herndon

Herndon got off to a slow start in a subpar Jets offense in 2018, but the rookie was able to turn it around with 50 yards and/or a touchdown in seven of his 10 outings from Week 6 to Week 16. He was quietly a top-seven tight end in all fantasy formats during that stretch and his numbers put him on pace for 53 receptions, 715 yards, and six touchdowns over a full 16-game season.

Yet, heading into his sophomore campaign, Herndon’s current ADP has him going off the board in the 13th round as the 16th tight end selected.

Mock drafters are underestimating the upside of the Jets’ passing attack, which should make significant strides as quarterback Sam Darnold enters his second season. The more likely reason for the draft-day discount, however, is fantasy owners being scared off by the rumored two-game suspension Herndon could be facing for a DWI. Though the off-field incident needs to be factored into his value, finding a short-term fantasy replacement early in the year won’t be difficult and is worth it given Herndon’s ceiling.

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“I think he’s a more confident player,” tight ends coach John Dunn told team reporter Ethan Greenberg. “He had a good year last year. And I think for him, the more he can understand defenses and not only what we’re doing, but what the opposing team is doing, now he can maximize his skill set. So that’s where I think he’s taken his biggest leap.”

Most young tight ends need a couple of years before they make an impact in real life or fantasy football. Herndon is one of the rare exceptions. He’s a player new head coach Adam Gase referred to as a “unicorn” given his high-end abilities as a pass-catcher and a blocker.

At the shallowest position in fantasy, Herndon has an excellent chance to finish as a TE1. If you miss out on my top five tight ends, Herndon is one of the best late-round targets.

Jordan Reed

It’s almost impossible to think of Reed and not immediately envision him walking to the sidelines with trainers. On average, the veteran tight end has missed five games per season over his six-year career.

Reed told ESPN’s John Keim in November he was still playing through pain following offseason toe surgery. With the Redskins nowhere near playoff contention, it wasn’t surprising to see the team place Reed on injured reserve when he suffered a toe sprain a month later. It was a forgettable year for Washington, which also lost rookie running back Derrius Guice, quarterback Alex Smith, and several members of the offensive line to injuries.

So why are we even discussing an injury-prone player on a bad offense? For all his ailments, Reed was still a top-nine tight end through 13 weeks, putting up 10 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. The 29-year-old may not possess the elite upside he once had, but with an ADP in the 14th round, he no longer requires a heavy investment in fantasy drafts.

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For the most part, the Redskins’ offense is something to avoid in 2019. With Washington’s receiver depth chart still in flux, however, Reed will have the opportunity to lead the team in targets again – a feat he accomplished last season despite missing the final few weeks of the year.

In fact, only four tight ends saw a target share north of 20 percent in 2018: Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, George Kittle, and Reed.

He’s also one of the few tight ends with a clear and competent handcuff in Vernon Davis, who should be available on the waiver wire if and when Reed goes down.

If you’re willing to accept that Reed will likely play an injury-shortened season, forcing you to find another option along the way, you’ll enjoy top-10 production for as long as he stays on the field.

Noah Fant

Fant is a more speculative selection since rookie tight ends often struggle to establish themselves as consistent weapons, but everything is in place for him to deliver in Year 1.

The Broncos’ first-round pick is one of the most athletic tight end prospects you’ll see enter the league. At 6-foot-4, 249 lbs, Fant graded out in the 96th percentile or higher in almost every physical category, including his speed score and catch radius. You can take a closer look at his measurables at PlayerProfiler.com.

The 21-year-old landed with a team that’s been searching for an impact tight end for a while and just traded for Joe Flacco, who spent the first 11 years of his career in the Ravens’ tight-end friendly system.

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The Ravens’ tight ends combined for a 24-percent target share in 2018. By comparison, the Broncos’ tight ends saw 17 percent of the team’s attempts.

That number should rise in Denver this season, especially if Emmanuel Sanders is slowed or misses time at the start of the year as he attempts to return from a dreaded Achilles tear suffered in December. It’s a challenging injury for any player to overcome, let alone a 32-year-old wideout. Promising sophomores Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton will round out the receiving corps, but neither has proven himself as a reliable threat.

That gives Fant an opening to carve out a sizable role in the Broncos’ passing game immediately, putting him in the TE2 mix as a streamer with major upside. If injuries strike the receiver depth chart, it’s possible Fant becomes a fantasy week-winner as Evan Engram did as a rookie with the Giants in 2017.

Deep Shots

Gerald Everett – ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry identified Everett as the Rams’ surprise offseason standout. Though his overall numbers didn’t jump off the page in 2018, he did finish tied for 10th among tight ends in red-zone catches. He’s a versatile pass-catcher entering his third season at a position that often requires a year or two of development; the talent is there for a breakout if Sean McVay elects to get him more involved.

Mike Gesicki – After a disappointing rookie campaign, the Dolphins’ second-rounder will look to break out under a new coaching staff. For his part, Gesicki has added 13 pounds to his frame in an effort to match up better against NFL defenders. A year of experience should help him become a more regular contributor during his second season in South Beach.

Darren Waller – Jon Gruden has been quick to praise Waller, who currently occupies the top spot on the tight end depth chart. With Jared Cook now in New Orleans, Waller will get the first crack at taking over a starting role that saw over 100 targets in 2018. The arrivals of Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams should significantly reduce the Raiders’ reliance on tight ends, but Waller’s background as a receiver makes him an intriguing deep sleeper on an offense that should be much improved this season.

Who will exceed expectations?