2024 Underdog Fantasy Must-Draft TEs


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2024 Underdog Fantasy Must-Draft TEs

Scott Barrett and Ryan Heath join forces to bring you the best fantasy football value picks and essential tight ends to draft for Underdog Fantasy's Best Ball Mania 5.

Must Draft

Mark Andrews, TE, Baltimore Ravens

ADP: TE5, Round 5

Andrews averaged 12.2 Underdog FPG across his 9 healthy games last year, which would have led the position by +0.6. The year before that, he averaged 12.7 FPG (behind only Travis Kelce) across the 9 games both he and Lamar Jackson played in full. Then, the year before that, he finished as the overall TE1 in fantasy (14.6 FPG). So, why is priced as just the TE5 on Underdog? I have no idea.

Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons

ADP: TE6, Round 6

We’ve waited a long time for this moment, and it may finally be here – the year Kyle Pitts finally lives up to his true league-wrecking potential. According to Bill Belichick, that means he’ll be somewhere between a Julio Jones and a Tony Gonzalez. According to Scott Barrett, that means he could be one of the most deadly fantasy cheat codes we’ve ever seen – basically Calvin Johnson with a TE designation for fantasy.

Under Arthur Smith, the Falcons operated one of the most hostile offenses to receiving production we’ve seen in recent memory; the team averaged the 2nd-fewest catchable targets per game over the past two seasons (20.0). Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings under new Falcons QB Kirk Cousins averaged the 2nd-most over that span (30.1); a whopping +50% difference in catchable targets.

Seriously, read that again: the Vikings passing game has been 50% more hospitable to fantasy production than the Falcons over the past two years. This fact has been thoroughly priced into Drake London’s ADP (WR10), but not into Pitts’ for some reason.

If we accept the offense will be vastly improved this year, it’s necessary to use per-route numbers (controls for pass volume) and expected fantasy points (controls for awful QB play) in order to project Pitts fairly. Over the past two seasons, Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews are the only TEs to have averaged more expected fantasy points per route run (XFP/RR) than Pitts. In other words, Pitts has earned opportunity (adjusted for fantasy value) at a comparable rate to those players. This suggests that Pitts has been by far the most unlucky TE in the league, and also that his ability to command targets is (at worst) on par with the best players at the position.

Note: the exact XFP numbers in the tweet above are calculated based on full PPR scoring rather than Underdog’s 0.5 PPR format, but Pitts’ ability to earn per-route opportunity applies to all scoring formats

Pitts accomplished this despite being hobbled for the entire 2023 season after undergoing MCL and PCL surgery, a more complex injury than was originally reported. Combine this with Pitts’ rookie season (in which he produced the most receiving yards ever by any rookie TE since the merger), his demonstrated ability to earn downfield targets like no other TE in the league, the most fantasy-friendly QB in the NFL, and a new OC from the Shanahan coaching tree … and you get the most screaming fantasy value at the TE position we’ve seen in years. Do not let the ghosts of Arthur Smith and Desmond Ridder talk you out of this.

Jake Ferguson, TE, Dallas Cowboys

ADP: TE9, Round 8

Ferguson is due for a massive (positive) touchdown regression on top of his TE9 finish last season – he led all TEs in red zone targets (21) and ranked 2nd in end zone targets (9), despite finishing in a 5-way tie for 7th place in total touchdowns (5). He was also at his best at the tail end of the season, which is not too surprising for an inexperienced sophomore TE who still has plenty of room for growth. Over his last seven games (including his massive 32.3-point spike week in the postseason), Ferguson averaged 7.6 targets per game (~TE4, low of 6) on a 77% route share (~TE4), and his 12.5 Underdog FPG would have led all TEs if over the full season.

But really, the crux of the argument is just that… Dallas is one of the best (or at least safest) offenses for a fantasy TE – Dallas’ TE1 has ranked top-10 at the position in total targets in 8 of the last 9 seasons. Dallas could very well lead the NFL in pass attempts this year (it did from Week 9 on last season), and the Cowboys don’t really have anyone to throw the ball to beyond CeeDee Lamb and Ferguson. Sometimes it’s really that simple.

Luke Musgrave, TE, Green Bay Packers

ADP: TE17, Round 13

Musgrave played in only eight full games before suffering an abdominal injury, which landed him on I.R. In those eight healthy games, Musgrave averaged 39.0 YPG (~TE14) on a 78% snap share (~TE9). Over the team’s next six games without Musgrave, fellow rookie TE Tucker Kraft averaged 46.8 YPG (~TE13) on a 94% snap share (~TE2).

Basically, one of these TEs is an extreme value, based on their results last season and the value of this TE1 role, and then amplified by the fact that drafting sophomore TEs has long been one of the most potent cheat codes in fantasy. The only question is which one do you draft – Musgrave, who started the season off as the starter (and was drafted a full round earlier than Kraft) or the TE who outperformed Musgrave?

Luckily, this is now an easy question to answer, given that Kraft is dealing with a very serious pectoral injury, which could cause him to miss all of training camp. Musgrave is the TE to draft and appears mispriced by multiple rounds.

Top Values

George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers

ADP: TE7, Round 7

Kittle arguably has the highest weekly ceiling of any TE — he has 14 games over the past three seasons of at least 15.0 Underdog FPG (2nd-most), and no other TEs aside from Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce have more than 8. Kittle’s ceiling shoots even higher whenever Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel miss time: he has averaged 17.1 Underdog FPG over the past two seasons in six games with either Aiyuk or Samuel out. For perspective, Travis Kelce led all TEs with 11.6 Underdog FPG last year.

If either Samuel or Aiyuk are traded before the start of the season, Kittle’s price will spike, and getting him at TE7 in the early summer will look like the best pick on the board. Even if neither WR is traded, but one of them is injured from Weeks 15-17, Kittle at TE7 will still look like the best pick on the board. And if all remain fully healthy for 17 games, Kittle is merely “appropriately priced.”

Of course, the fragile nature of this selection means you must build your roster accordingly — selecting 3 TEs on any team that relies on Kittle as its TE1 is advisable. But this is the most affordable way to get access to truly elite weekly upside at the TE position, a key ingredient to winning a tournament with over 600,000 entries. And it’s not as if Kittle is a dead pick should the dream of a Deebo-less playoff run not materialize — he’s scored as about the TE8 with Samuel in the lineup since 2020 and shows no signs of slowing down, having just finished top-3 at the position in both route share and yards per game (63.8) despite playing through a serious injury (although that’s apparently always the case).

Evan Engram, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars

ADP: TE8, Round 7

Much has been made about Engram’s splits with and without Christian Kirk, but even with Kirk in the lineup from Weeks 1-12, Engram ranked as the TE7 by FPG, despite seeing only one end zone target over that entire span. Then, without Kirk from weeks 13-18, Engram ranked as the TE2 by FPG (15.3, just 0.1 behind David Njoku), benefitting from four end zone targets (resulting in three end zone TDs).

Those scoring opportunities (which often randomly fluctuate regardless of who is injured) were most of the difference for Engram — his slot rate and route participation rate in that area of the field hardly changed after Kirk’s injury. And he’s priced as if that late stretch of production didn’t happen.

If TD opportunities are your concern for Engram in 2024, you’ll also be relieved to learn that the departed Calvin Ridley — not Christian Kirk — led all players in end-zone targets last year, leaving plenty to go around for Engram. That leaves him as a smart anti-Gabriel Davis bet — a bet I’m always going to make.

Hunter Henry, TE, New England Patriots

ADP: TE19, Round 14

The fantasy community has a bad habit of leaving offenses for dead, even if its most important pieces (the QB and the play caller) are entirely different. This mistake was made with C.J. Stroud and Bobby Slowik last year, making every Texans skill position player a massive bargain. I believe we could be making the same mistake with the Patriots in 2024, treating it as a foregone conclusion that Drake Maye (a top-3 pick) and Alex Van Pelt (a Kevin Stefanski disciple — from the coaching tree that just gave us surprise breakouts in David Njoku and Trey McBride) will fail.

Henry handily outperformed this TE19 ADP last year despite the offense ranking bottom-5 in passing yards and TDs. He then re-signed with the new regime, suggesting he’s as good a bet as anyone in this murky Patriots receiving corps to lead the way in scoring again.

Tyler Conklin, TE, New York Jets

ADP: TE22, Round 15

Conklin has finished 2nd on the Jets in receiving yards in each of the last two seasons. He joins only Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Dalton Schultz as the only TEs to see at least 85 targets in each of the last three seasons. And he’s finished no worse than the TE17 over this span. Just based on that alone, Conklin is a strong value. But the upgrade from Zach Wilson (worst QB in football) to Aaron Rodgers (won MVP in each of his last two healthy seasons) means he now offers legitimate low-end TE1 upside, which you’ll be acquiring for free.

Jonnu Smith, TE, Miami Dolphins

ADP: TE26, Round 17

Smith probably isn’t going to be a league winner or anything, but he is essentially free. And free despite finishing as last year’s TE17 in half-point PRR scoring despite serving as the TE2 on his own team; one of the most run-heavy offenses in football (that was saddled with league-worst levels QB play). And now he’s on one of the most potent offenses in football, replacing Durham Smythe, who quietly ranked 10th at the position in snap share last season (77.2%).