Injury Discounts: Tight Ends

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Injury Discounts: Tight Ends

The “post-hype sleeper” discount. The “regression to the mean” discount. The “recency bias” discount. The “Freddie Kitchens is no longer my head coach” discount. Of all the potential fantasy discounts, none is more powerful than the injury discount.

The problem is, most fantasy players don’t really know what that word means, when to apply it, or how. Luckily, Scott Barrett is here to help. But, his problem is, well, he’s not a trained medical expert. Luckily Edwin Porras, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, is. He’s here too!

In this article, Scott (through the dark art of dank stats) will explain why he thinks a given player is an injury discount. Edwin will then make his own argument, relying on his own expertise and any relevant medical literature. Finally, The Honourable (that “u” makes it look so much more important) Joe Dolan will provide his ruling: “Yes, this player is an injury discount” or “No, this player should not be targeted in drafts” or at least “no, an injury is not pushing this player down the board.”

We’re going to wrap up our massive four-part series with tight ends now!

Note: This is Part IV of a IV part series. You can read our articles on quarterbacks here, running backs here, and wide receivers here.

Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens

ADP: Round 5, TE3

Scott:

In 2018, Mark Andrews averaged 2.01 yards per route run, which (per PFF) ranked best by any rookie tight end this past decade. In 2019, he officially broke out, averaging 2.89 yards per route run, which was the second-best mark by any tight end this past decade. And still, one wonders how much more impressive this might have been had he actually been healthy. Andrews spent a whopping seven games on the injury report listed as questionable, due to foot, shoulder, knee, and ankle injuries. Excluding a 10-snap performance in Week 14 (when he left early due to injury), Andrews averaged 14.8 fantasy points per game, which would have ranked third-best at the position last year.

Edwin:

Andrews is a very big boy (6’5”, 260), which means he’s inherently at risk for injuries such as the Lisfranc — however, this is strictly a broad injury rule of thumb and given the production he’s bound to put up, it’s not a reason to fade him.

Joe:

Andrews isn’t opting out of this season (he’s a Type 1 diabetic), and it’s likely he’s healthier now than he was at any point last season. However, it’s not uncommon to see him go into the 4th round as the clear #3 TE off the board, so there’s no discount here. I like him, but you’re paying up to get him.

VERDICT: NO INJURY DISCOUNT

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

ADP: Round 2, TE2

Scott:

Similarly, as utterly superhuman as George Kittle was last year – you can read my full breakdown here – keep in mind, he was also playing hurt.

Remember how I just told you Andrews posted the second-best yards per route run average by any tight end this past decade? Well, he ranked second in between 2018 Kittle (2.82) and 2019 Kittle (3.11). And Kittle did this, while playing with a torn labrum (all season), a knee injury (suffered on San Francisco’s first offensive play in Week 9), and a broken bone in his ankle (suffered in the first quarter of Week 9).

What was the knee injury? Coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters, "The stuff he had in his knee, I think it was a popped capsule — whatever that means — that took a couple more weeks to heal up." Kittle missed only two games after suffering the knee and ankle injuries in Week 9, returning in Week 12.

Heading into that game, reporters inquired about Kittle’s health and whether or not he could be effective playing with a broken bone in his ankle. Shanahan told reporters, “I think if it was a normal person, I'd probably make him doubtful, but Kittle's different than most people, and he won't allow me to rule him out too early because he keeps telling me he's going to surprise me by game day.” Of course, he was effective in Week 12 – he caught all six of his targets for 129 yards and a touchdown.

Edwin:

My thoughts on Kittle are this: if he is telling the truth about his labrum being torn in 2019, he's an objective risk vs. a discount. He's obviously a freakishly tough ultra-athlete, but if he consistently re-dislocates the shoulder, he won't have a choice but to eventually have surgery. This does not erase his upside and talent — he is just not a slam dunk to stay healthy in 2020.

Joe:

Kittle is a tight end going in the 2nd round. I love him. The fact that the 49ers just made him the highest-paid TE in league history makes me think they feel good about his health overall. But he’s not a discount.

VERDICT: NO INJURY DISCOUNT

Evan Engram, New York Giants

ADP: Round 8, TE7

Scott:

Kittle has averaged 13.1 fantasy points per game since entering the league in 2017. Over the same span, Evan Engram averages 13.5 in the 23 games without Odell Beckham Jr.

But at the same time, Kittle is the pinnacle of durability – he could still drop 100 yards scooting around in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, Engram has missed a combined 14 games over this span, thanks to rib (2017), MCL (2018), hamstring (2018), MCL (2019), and Lisfranc injuries (2019).

Excluding Engram’s first game back from the MCL injury (Week 7), Engram saw at least seven targets in all seven of his games, averaging a would-be position-high 9.0 targets per game. He also would have averaged 15.4 fantasy points per game, which would have ranked third-best at the position.

Engram ranks just seventh at the position by ADP, but it feels like a “trap”, rather than a “value.” He has a lengthy injury history and Lisfranc injuries are notoriously difficult to come back from. Edwin, how likely is he to miss Week 1? Should we expect a drop-off in performance this year due to the Lisfranc injury? How likely is he to suffer a compensatory injury or another MCL injury this year?

Edwin:

Engram has already missed more than 30% of his games due to injury. And, although he’s missed zero games due to concussions, he has suffered two in his career (2017, 2018), and concussions do run a high rate of recurrence for pass-catchers. However, by far the most concerning of his injuries is the Lisfranc injury -- which is extremely likely to affect his production in 2020, and in my estimation, by about 21%. On top of all this, a Week 1 return is not quite guaranteed. And I know Scott has often said that “an injury discount” becomes “an injury trap” when a player is not yet 100% healthy by draft day, which seems unlikely for Engram.

Joe:

I just can’t get on board with paying for Engram. He’s going in the mid-round dead zone for TEs — if I haven’t drafted one of the “big four,” I’m probably going dumpster-diving at the position, because there are a lot of appealing late-round options. The fact that he isn’t yet healthy is a big concern for me.

VERDICT: NO INJURY DISCOUNT

Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers

ADP: Round 9, TE9

Scott:

From 2016-2017 – his first two seasons in the league – Hunter Henry ranked second in PFF grade, second in yards per target, and third in yards per route run. He hit at least 70 receiving yards or scored a touchdown in 17 of his 25 targeted games (68 percent) – the highest rate in the league over that span. And he did this while drawing just 44% of his team’s tight end targets, to Antonio Gates’ 54%.

2018 was supposed to be his breakout year, but he tore his ACL in the preseason. So, we pushed his breakout campaign back a year. But, unfortunately, he suffered a tibia plateau fracture in Week 1, causing him to sit out the next four weeks.

While it’s unclear how long that injury might have lingered beyond his return, it is encouraging to note he still finished the season eighth in fantasy points per game (12.5), one spot above his current ADP.

Edwin:

Henry is objectively at risk for osteoarthritis in the future — which technically includes 2020 — but he’s shown no indication of slowing down yet. I’ll agree with Scott, he feels like a good bet to beat his ADP.

Joe:

Here’s another player I’m struggling with. I’m concerned with a number of things — I clearly think there is injury risk (he’s never played a full season), and I’m also worried about the fact that the Chargers are going to have one of the least voluminous passing games in the entire NFL. That being said, Tyrod Taylor threw the ball quite a bit to someone like Charles Clay in Buffalo, and Henry is significantly more talented than Clay. I’m not exactly targeting Henry, but there’s a good case to be made here for him to be a discount.

VERDICT: YES, INJURY DISCOUNT

Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles

ADP: Round 11, TE16

Scott:

Dallas Goedert finished last season 12th in fantasy points per game (9.7), and he currently ranks 16th by ADP. According to our NFL Insider Adam Caplan, Goedert suffered a calf strain early in training camp and then had at least one setback (Week 2), and as such, wasn’t really close to 100% until at least around mid-season. Goedert’s numbers at least hint at this, averaging 12.0 fantasy points per game over his final 10 games, or 13.0 fantasy points per game over his final five games (which would have ranked eighth-best). Granted, Philadelphia had a fully decimated receiving corps in the second half of last year, which undoubtedly helped prop up his numbers, but also no one is talking about (or maybe is aware of) the fact that he was playing hurt for much of the season.

Edwin:

Handcuffs rarely exist outside of the running back position, but Goedert is the exact prototype of that rarity. Not only was he injured most of last season, but his counterpart, Zach Ertz, has had hamstring injuries in four out of the last five seasons. Age and previous history of these injuries are the best predictors of recurrence and at age 30, Ertz is no spring chicken.

Joe:

I don’t know if there can be an “injury discount” for a guy if, as Scott said, most people aren’t necessarily aware that Goedert was hurt last year. I think the discount here, if there is one, is because Goedert is the #2 TE on his own team. That might not be the case for long — Ertz is looking for a new contract — but people are just having a hard time reconciling Goedert’s place on the depth chart.

VERDICT: NO INJURY DISCOUNT

Chris Herndon, New York Jets

ADP: Round 14, TE21

Scott:

As a rookie, in 2018, Chris Herndon finished sixth in PFF grade while totaling 502 yards on only 56 targets. This made him one of just 16 rookie tight ends to eclipse 500 receiving yards over the past 30 seasons, or one of just five over the past six seasons (joining George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Evan Engram, and Noah Fant). And, from Week 6 until the end of the season, Herndon ranked sixth in (standard) fantasy points, despite ranking just 15th in targets over this span.

Basically, Herndon was awesome as a rookie, and especially by the standards of a rookie tight end – remember, tight ends tend to take a massive step forward in their sophomore seasons. But Herndon was robbed of a sophomore year breakout thanks to a suspension, a hamstring strain, and a broken rib, all of which kept him off the field for all but 18 snaps last season. Is he an injury discount? He currently ranks 21st in ADP, after ranking 13th early last year (before the suspension was announced).

Per The Athletic’s Connor Hughes, "To say the Jets can’t wait to get Chris Herndon back in their lineup is a vast understatement." Adam Gase told our own Greg Cosell essentially the same thing last offseason. Per our AFC East Pow-wow: Adam Gase told Greg last off-season that he likes Chris Herndon a lot, and he had big plans for him last season before his suspension and injury. He wanted to detach him from the formation and use him as he did with Julius Thomas in Denver.”

Edwin:

I’ve been pounding the Chris Herndon drum all offseason. Hamstring issues are a possibility but his price is too good to pass up.

Joe:

Remember what I said about dumpster-diving at TE being appealing this year? Herndon is one of the major reasons why.

VERDICT: YES, INJURY DISCOUNT

Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams

ADP: Round 17, TE27

Scott:

Quoting an earlier article:

Everyone knows Tyler Higbee is clearly the Rams tight end to target in drafts, and one of the hottest breakout candidates of the season. But what this blurb presupposes is, maybe he’s not:

Higbee’s breakout came conveniently/suspiciously immediately after Everett hyperextended his knee in Week 12. Prior to that point, Everett had actually out-targeted Higbee in nine straight games (56 to 22) and seemed poised for a breakout of his own. Everett averaged 7.1 targets and 10.7 fantasy points per game across the seven games immediately preceding that injury. For perspective, those numbers ranked seventh- and ninth-best at the position, respectively, well above Higbee’s own numbers (2.7, 4.3).

Could Gerald Everett be Los Angeles’ true TE1 – the one everyone is drafting Higbee to be? Maybe. Or maybe they’re both going to be on the field at the same time, essentially cannibalizing each other’s production so neither becomes truly fantasy-viable? Maybe. Or did Higbee truly just leapfrog Everett on the pecking order? I have no idea, but I wonder if this is a clue:

Everett actually did return from his knee injury, playing in Week 16 and Week 17, but he only played six snaps total across those two games he was active. Was this because he wasn’t fully healthy? Or because Higbee had effectively relegated him to backup duties? How long does it typically take to fully recover from a hyperextended knee? What are your thoughts, Edwin?

Edwin:

Everett had an ambiguous knee injury and subsequent recovery, but it does seem like following the injury he continued to be hampered by it. I can’t confidently say that was the only reason for his inconsistency, but players constantly admit to playing through injuries. This appears to be one of those times. There’s no other significant injury history associated here.

Joe:

I’m more in the camp of thinking that the Higbee breakout is real and Everett is going to hit free agency after this year and potentially cash in elsewhere — keep in mind the Rams theoretically drafted his replacement in Brycen Hopkins this year. But Everett does fit the profile of a “Zero TE” kind of pick given his track record. This is a hard call, but I’m going to say…

VERDICT: YES, INJURY DISCOUNT

Will Dissly, Seattle Seahawks

ADP: Round 19, TE33

Scott:

Will Dissly tore his patellar tendon in 2018, and then just over a year later also tore his Achilles tendon. Correct me if I’m wrong, but, as far as injuries go, it doesn’t get much worse than that for a skill-position player. Of course this is a massive red flag, but at least he seems to think he’ll be ready for Week 1. And Dissly’s upside is well established.

For his career, Dissly averages 15.0 fantasy points per game in games started and finished. For perspective, only Travis Kelce and George Kittle averaged more than 15.0 fantasy points per game last year.

Edwin:

There’s virtually no risk in taking Dissly but from a physical performance and medical standpoint I wouldn’t hold my breath in anticipation of a big year. Plus, why is he tearing the two major tendons in the body? Does he have connective tissue issues predisposing him to yet another? I genuinely hope I’m wrong, but I can’t see him providing much value this year.

Joe:

Dissly is a free pick. Like Edwin, I’m not expecting much, but he is free.

VERDICT: YES, INJURY DISCOUNT

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