Caplan's Insider Points: Breakout TEs


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Caplan's Insider Points: Breakout TEs

For those of you who’ve listened to John Hansen and me on our SiriusXM Fantasy Football since we started in 2004, you’re probably aware I typically put out a short list of dynasty/keeper league prospects (non-obvious players) who have a chance to break out over the next few seasons. I typically do this at the end of every season, but sometimes I don’t get a chance to do so because of time restrictions.

Some of the players who appeared on this list well before anyone really knew how good they were going to be were Allen Robinson (then with the Jaguars), T.Y. Hilton, Kenny Golladay, and Chris Carson.

I put these players on the list based on being at training camps and talking to coaches and, well, my own eyes.

Of course, I’m not going to get them all right (see Darren McFadden with the Raiders many years ago), as so much goes into a player hitting his upside and talent potential (coaching is a big one — more on that later).

So, with that explanation behind, I’ll get started with a couple of young TEs I’m hearing could break out this season or in 2021.

I’ll follow these tidbits with more as we get closer to training camps opening as part of an ongoing Insider Points series of columns.

Dawson Knox (TE, Buf) — Although the Bills won’t be a high-volume passing team as they’ll play to the strengths of their defense and running game, the second-year pro is poised to see a major increase in role this season. The Week 16 game at the New England Patriots would be a good example of what Knox brings to the table. Because of his athleticism, they used him on deeper routes and he beat veteran S Patrick Chung at least twice (one looked like a TD catch--33 yards-went down at half yardline and the other one QB Josh Allen overthrew him). You’re going to see a lot of that this coming season. Their coaches know he’s a mismatch for a slower safety or LB, and OC Brian Daboll clearly saw that Knox can be a vertical TE. And as one Bills source said to me earlier this year, Knox will be a multi-year Pro Bowler. While I thought that was a bit strong, his talent is very apparent.

The one issue that Knox has to get better with is dropped passes. The coaching staff charged him with 10 drops last season. I talked to coaches who did work on him for last year’s draft and they didn’t think he had less than average hands, so hopefully this situation was only a one-season issue. I see him as a low-end starter/high-end backup for now, mostly due to the reality that he'll be their fourth passing option most weeks this season.

Irv Smith (TE, Min) — Much like with Knox and the Bills, the Vikings are going to have a controlled, low volume passing game (29.6 pass attempts per game for QB Kirk Cousins last season, down from 37.9 per game in 2018). I had mentioned on SXM Fantasy Football before the season started that the Vikings were going to roll their passing game back significantly and that’s exactly what happened. As long as Mike Zimmer is their head coach, they will have a run-first mentality, with a play-action passing game built on that mindset. That will never change. You saw what happened in 2018 when they became an aggressive passing team — Zimmer fired OC John DeFilippo before the season was over. The good news is Smith, like Knox, is a matchup nightmare for LBs and DBs. New OC Gary Kubiak (replacing new Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski) is an excellent playcaller and I fully expect him to use Smith appropriately in terms of matchups each week. With the trade of WR Stefon Diggs to the Bills, Smith should be no worse than Minnesota’s third passing option this season most weeks. Depending on how well rookie WR Justin Jefferson matriculates into their offense, he might wind up being their second option some weeks. Like Knox for this season, I see Smith as a low-end starter, high-end backup with a little more upside than Knox because he isn’t fighting for the ball as much. I wish they would throw it more, but it is what it is.