Trending, Pending, or Condescending - Tight Ends
Noah Fant: Trending vs Pending
After trading back in the 1st round, the Denver Broncos picked Noah Fant with the 20th selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. It took Fant until week 9 to enter the fantasy conversation. (There’s a No-ah Fant-asy relevant joke there somewhere… sorry.) Fant’s lack of production early in his debut season is almost an inevitability among rookie tight ends. In recent weeks he’s turned it on as his team has jettisoned players and undergone a drastic shift in personnel.
Emmanuel Sanders was traded to the 49ers after week 7. When he departed, so too, did a significant amount of volume. In weeks 1-7 Noah Fant averaged under 3.5 targets a game, with 0 games over 5 targets. Since the Manny Sanders’ trade, Noah Fant has climbed to almost 8 targets a game which coincides with his 3 highest snap totals of the season.
There was an aftershock to the Broncos’ week 7 trade. In week 8 they replaced Joe “finally we can agree he’s in fact not elite” Flacco. Enter Brandon Allen. We didn’t have an inkling as to what we could expect from the young backup, aside from the fact that Courtland Sutton would see his share of targets.
What we’ve seen is Brandon Allen neglecting the running backs in the pass game and favouring the Tight Ends. Over 34% of his targets have gone to the Tight End position, the 3rd highest rate since week 9. Prior to that, in the 8 games started by Joe Flacco, Noah Fant hadn’t eclipsed 37 yards receiving once. In the 2 games since Brandon Allen’s insertion to the starter’s role, Fant has amassed 175 yards receiving. So much for Joe Flacco’s famous QB rating when targeting the Tight End.
With Flacco: 8 Games, 12.5% Target Share, 4 Targets/Game, 185 Receiving Yards, 1 TD
With Allen: 2 Games, 24% Target Share, 7 Targets/Game, 175 Receiving Yards, 1TD
Fant has cleaned up the drops that plagued him early in the season, and now has a budding chemistry with the new man under center. All of a sudden, Noah Fant is on pace for 576 yards. Underwhelming?
500 yards is actually a difficult feat that few rookie Tight Ends have accomplished. It can serve as a terrific tool to predict breakout Tight ends as well. Here’s the list of rookie TE’s who have had 500 yards receiving as a rookie over the last 5 seasons:
2019 (On pace): Noah Fant, TJ Hockenson
2018: Mark Andrews, Chris Herndon
2017: Evan Engram, George Kittle
Only 4 tight ends have hit the 500 yard mark in their rookie season since 2014.
In 2016, the top rookie Tight Ends in receiving yards were Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper and both had less than 500 yards. Looking at the top receiving tight ends as rookies over the last 3 seasons we have 6 talented tight ends. Chris Herndon hasn’t had the opportunities this season due to a suspension and now injury, but the rest - Andrews, Engram, Kittle, Henry, and Hooper - are 5 of the top 7 tight ends in PPR points per game through week 11!
That bodes well for Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson and their dynasty owners. While we can label them as “Trending” from a Dynasty lens, in redraft, you can slap a “Pending” label right over top. Denver plays 3 straight defenses that allow very few fantasy points to Tight Ends (BUF/ LAC/ HOU). The Chargers could even have Derwin James back by week 13. In the fantasy championship weeks Noah Fant could be a top 8 tight end though. The Broncos play the Chiefs, and the Lions in the title. Both of which are plus matchups for this surging rookie Tight End.
Kyle Rudolph: Condescending.
If somebody were to reference my work performance with condescension…I’d be choked. Having said that, Kyle Rudolph cannot keep up his recent pace. Or can he? I lack conviction with Rudolph. He was a highly owned player of mine in 2018 and I thought he may have been cooked at that point. So let’s go through it.
Early in the season Kyle Rudolpoh was invisible. Through 6 weeks, he had 11 targets, 9 catches, 72 yards receiving and no touchdowns. He was the TE 49 in fantasy. All of that while playing on 93% of the VIkings snaps. That’s remarkable! Minnesota’s offense was looking like a death nail for the pass game, outside of maybe Adam Theilen. The abundance of 2 TE sets served only to have more run blockers on the field.
Rudolph’s lack of production had nothing to do with Irv Smith seeing volume or Rudolph's talent evaporating (condescending with the benefit of hindsight!). The Vikings offense was throwing the ball at a rate lower than we had seen in years past. The extreme pass to rush ratio extended to the red zone as well.
Since those fateful first 6 weeks, Kyle Rudolph has exploded. He’s the TE 2 overall across the last 5 weeks. He’s 4th in catches among tight ends and all 5 of Kyle Rudolph’s touchdowns have come in the last 5 games! No other Tight End has more than 6 touchdowns this season.
The red zone has always been the mine for Kyle Rudolph fantasy gold. Even more specific, inside the 10 yard line. Since 2016 no tight end has more targets inside the 10. This year, 3 of his touchdowns have come within 10 yards of paydirt, on only 3 such targets.
That was the watered down fantasy take on Rudolph. So with that let's get to the condensation that follows. A mist of condemnation and condescension. Here we go.
It’s hard to argue Kyle Rudolph being any higher than the 4th priority in this offense. Even his usage in close has been frustrating. He does lead the team in red zone targets (10) but inside the 10 yard line he does not. He’s converted when called upon but he’s been out targeted by something called a “Bisi” Johnson.
Assuming you can plug and play him could bite you. Adam Theilen likely returns after their bye week and he’s hard to trust regardless. Rudolph hasn’t had more than 6 targets all season and even during his 5 game tear he’s averaged just 5 targets per game.
Rudolph offers no big play upside, he’s entirely touchdown dependent, in the last 3 years he’s broken 75 yards receiving only once (43 games). The Vikings offense has become less conducive for fantasy production this year. They’re 1 of 3 teams in the NFL running the ball more than passing.
Tight end, as a position, is heavily reliant on touchdowns of course, so I don’t want my fantasy tight end to be on a team who leads the NFL in rush attempts inside the red zone.
I could eat my words with Kyle Rudolph. I’m bearish because of the offense, but the Vikings strength of schedule looks good on paper against tight ends.Play him if you must but dont be surprised if we see the end of a trend for Kyle Rudolph.
Ryan Griffin: Pending
The most common bucket to pull from when looking for “trends” is the last 4 weeks. Looking at Tight End since week 8 we see Travis Kelce at the top. The TE 2 over the last 4 weeks? Ryan Griffin! He’s averaging 14.6 PPR points during that sample.
In reverse order (for dramatics) here’s the top 5 snap rates among tight ends. Kyle Rudolph (87%) Greg Olsen/ Darren Waller (91%) Travis Kelce 92% and #1 among tight ends, playing 97% of the Jets snaps, is Ryan Griffin.
Chris Herndon was recently shut down for the season (oh, what could have been), leaving Ryan Griffin as a viable option in the passing game. We remember him briefly poking his head into the fantasy realm when he was with the Texans.
Recently, Griffin has some big plays and touchdowns, making fantasy gamers buy in. 3 of his 4 Touchdowns came in the last 4 games and Griffin has 4 catches of 20+ yards in that stretch as well.
The knock on Griffin is his huge range of outcomes. Boom or bust is an understatement. Below is his fantasy point totals in PPR since coming into the fantasy conversation.
Week 6: 11.8 points
Week 7: 1.1 points
Week 8: 24.6 points
Week 9: 11.0 points
Week 10: 0.8 points
Week 11: 21.9 points
Ryan Griffin should see some regression in efficiency and you can see the lumps to the head you may incur by starting him. However! The Jets schedule sets up beautifully for the tight end. Griffin plays the Oakland Raiders this week followed by matchups against the Bengals and Dolphins. Giddy up.