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Undervalued and Overvalued Tight Ends



By Ken Ilchuk | 7/27/22

Value is a measure of performance vs. availability. It’s a term we hear often around the NFL Draft every year, and certainly finding the best value is the goal of many a fantasy owner every summer. Most draft guides and fantasy rankings use average draft position (ADP) as a measure of value, giving owners an idea of how the fantasy world views various players in relation to their peers.

As someone who spent a fair amount of time in an actual NFL draft room, I can tell you that value drives the board and is defined by production. The trick is finding those “sleepers” who will hopefully outperform their value, and avoiding the high draft picks who don’t measure up to expectations. Determining the how and why of each player’s situation can go a long way towards making the right pick.

Here are the TEs I expect to outperform their ADPs and which I expect to fall short.

Undervalued

Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
ADP: 13.02, TE16

The Case for Kmet Being Undervalued: In 2021, Kmet ranked 8th in targets (93) and 12th in receiving yards (612) among NFL TEís.

The Case Against Kmet Being Undervalued: Over 33 career games, Kmet has averaged less than 3.0 fantasy points per game and has just two touchdown receptions, none in 2021.

The Verdict: Kmetís story really has more to do with whatís going on around him than with his own ability. From the jump he has always been an athletic, 6-6, 260-pound pass catcher with reliable hands and a willingness to compete for the ball. He just has not had a lot of opportunity, but this year may be different.

The first positive is that veteran Jimmy Graham is gone and no longer stealing targets. The second is that QB Justin Fields should make a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2. Neither of these young playmakers will be in Matt Nagyís offense this season, which featured only 31 red zone passes all last season (only five of which were completed). New Bears OC Luke Getsy has tightened up Fieldsí mechanics, shortened his release, and helped him improve his accuracy. Fields will also get to make greater use of his athleticism, making plays with his legs in space and making throws on the run.

Kmet will not only be the starter, but Getsy figures to use the former Notre Dame star in multiple roles, lining him up all over the field, which should give a jolt to his target share. Itís reasonable to think that Kmet could see 100-120 targets, including more red zone opportunities in this new system. Just five TDís and a modest increase in catches and yards could make him a TE1 in 12-team leagues. For a guy whoís trending as TE16, thatís good value.

Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos
ADP: 13.08, TE18

The Case for Okwuegbunam Being Undervalued: He takes over as Denverís TE1 in 2022 after he caught 33 of 40 targets for 330 yards and two scores in just 13 games as a backup a season ago.

The Case Against Okwuegbunam Being Undervalued: Is he a one-hit wonder? Prior to 2021 he posted just 11 catches as a rookie and only 26 receptions as a junior at Missouri before declaring for the draft.

The Verdict: With Noah Fant going to Seattle in the Russell Wilson trade, there are suddenly 68 additional receptions to be accounted for in Denverís offense as Okwuegbunam steps into the TE1 role. And speaking of Wilson, he should be a significant upgrade over 2021 signal caller Drew Lock. In addition to all the tools Wilson brings to the table, think about all the TEís that he made household names during his time with the Seahawks Ė Zach Miller, Luke Willson, Jimmy Graham, and even guys like Nick Vannett, Will Dissley, and an aging Greg Olson.

Okwuegbunam is big (6-5, 258), with 4.4 speed. He can stretch the seam and give Wilson a vertical threat down the middle of the field but is also a savvy red zone target who led the SEC with 11 TDís in nine games as a freshman at Missouri. With a full starterís workload, improved play at QB, with a guy who loves to throw to the TE, and plenty of skilled receivers around him drawing coverage, I think Okwuegbunam could double his 2021 production, which would put him squarely in the TE1 discussion.

Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ADP: 13.12, TE21

The Case for Brate Being Undervalued: He has produced before. Brate caught 24 touchdowns in the four seasons prior to Tom Bradyís arrival and had at least 30 receptions in each of those four seasons and averaging over 10.5 yards per catch.

The Case Against Brate Being Undervalued: He hasnít done it recently. A formidable red zone weapon in the past, he has just six touchdowns over the last two seasons, and the Bucs have long seemed determined to replace him.

The Verdict: Anyone who has followed any of my NFC South reports over the past 15 months or so knows that Iím a Brate fan. This guy was a difference maker for me, helping me win a couple leagues I was in with his 8-TD coming out party in 2016. Iíve had him on my team on and off ever since. He followed that 2016 season with six more scores in both 2017 and 2018, and another four in 2019 while splitting time with former 1st round pick O.J. Howard (who is no longer with the team by the way). Then Gronk showed up and Tom Brady just kept feeding his boy. But when Gronkowski couldnít stay healthy in 2021, there was old reliable Brate pulling in four touchdowns and attracting 57 targets in very limited snaps.

So why do I think things will change this year? Iím not so sure Gronk is coming back (though a lot of people seem to think thatís the play here), and if he does, itís not going to be at the beginning of the season. The Bucs drafted Cade Otten, a talented receiving TE, but still a rookie, coming off ankle surgery, who missed all or most of the teamís Spring work. Then they signed Kyle Rudolph. Really?? In a ďdownĒ year as Gronkowskiís backup, Brate still bested Rudolph last season in targets, receptions and touchdowns, and Rudolph hasnít even eclipsed 30 catches the last two years.

If itís an honest competition, I donít think either of those guys can outplay Brate. He returns to TE1 in Tampa, Brady is forced to throw to him, and he lights up the scoreboard with his red zone talents.

Overvalued

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
ADP: 4.01, TE3

The Case for Kittle Being Overvalued: While being drafted as TE3 in early mocks, he was only 7th amongst NFL TEís in targets, 6th in catches, and 8th in TDís in 2021.

The Case Against Kittle Being Overvalued: In three of the last four seasons, heís posted at least 70 catches and five touchdowns. He has two 1,000-yard seasons, and in that same four-year span he has totaled 18 TDís and 12 100-yard games.

The Verdict: No one here is saying that Kittle isnít a fantastic playmaker when heís on the field. The problem is that he canít seem to stay on the field. Heís played a full 16-game season just once in his five-year career, and not since 2018. Heís also streaky. Last season, while he had some remarkable production (back-to-back games of 181 and 151 yards come to mind), he amassed at least 50 yards in just one of his last six games, and had just one touchdown in his last seven games. Maybe some owners can tolerate that. I canít. A great player who is going to come off the board that high has got to give me consistency along with the big play strikes.

Unfortunately, Kittle was on the sidelines again this Spring with a calf injury, Jimmy Garoppolo is no longer his QB, and heíll be working with a pseudo rookie in Trey Lance who will be getting his first significant playing time behind center on a week-to-week basis. There are too many questions for me, and I see Kittle taking a step back. Heís still a TE1 play, but I can think of a few other players Iíd consider as TE3 before Kittle.

Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
ADP: 4.09, TE5

The Case for Waller Being Overvalued: The knee injury Waller suffered on Thanksgiving might explain why he finished 2021 ranked 9th in targets, 6th in receptions and 45th in touchdown catches. But his 7.1 fantasy points per game were also 9th, making him a tough sell at TE5.

The Case Against Waller Being Overvalued: Playing on a knee that likely wasnít fully healed, Waller still caught nine of 21 targets for 98 yards in the regular season finale and the Raidersí playoff game against the Bengals. Fully healthy, itís reasonable to think he could be back to top form in 2022.

The Verdict: Waller has two 1,000-yard receiving seasons on his resume, and if he hadnít been sidelined with his knee injury, would have likely been close to a third in 2021. He has been an almost a guaranteed 100+ target receiver, but Iím worried that the upgrades the Raiders have made at the skill positions may leave too few balls to go around. Davante Adams is going to be WR1 and the first option in the passing game at all times, Hunter Renfrow has become a high-volume possession receiver week in and week out, and RBís Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake both ranked among the top 35 RBís in the league in targets, receptions, and receiving yards a year ago. Waller may have a great year, and the offensive mind of Josh McDaniels may bring out the TEís best season yet. But heís fighting a lot of competition in an effort to just maintain his production level. Sure, all those weapons may yield some favorable coverage at times, but there are TEís just as talented who will see a target share much more in line with TE5 than what Waller will see.

T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
ADP: 7.11, TE9

The Case for Hockenson Being Overvalued: The Lions top receiving option has not recorded a single 100-yard game over the last two seasons and posted just two games of double-digit targets in 2021.

The Case Against Hockenson Being Overvalued: Hockenson nearly matched his best season of his career in 2021 despite playing just 12 games. In 2022, he returns with a significantly upgraded group of skill players.

The Verdict: This offseason the Lions added veteran WR D.J. Chark and 1st round pick Jameson Williams to go along with 2021 breakout receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. In addition, RB DíAndre Swift ranked among the Top 5 RBís in the league in 2021 in targets, receptions, and receiving yards. Based on past performance, itís not unreasonable to think that Brown, Chark, Swift, and Williams could account for over 400 targets. QB Jared Goff attempted less than 500 passes a season ago, and though the offense attempted over 100 more passes than rushing attempts in 2021, that had a lot to do with them playing catch-up most of the time. HC Dan Campbell wants to run the ball.

Could Hockenson still turn in a career year? Yes. He had 84 targets in 12 games. But with all this talent around him, he might not see a lot more than those 84 in 16 games. The Steelers Pat Freiermuth, Arizonaís Zach Ertz, and even New Englandís Hunter Henry, Washingtonís Logan Thomas, and Chicagoís Cole Kmet could have more opportunities to catch the ball.






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