Underrated Upside: Tight Ends


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Underrated Upside: Tight Ends

Hopefully by now, you’ve already read my recent tome, “Upside Wins Championships,” and have come to the conclusion that that title implies. Today’s article will be a less-philosophical, more-actionable accompaniment to that piece, and the first part of a larger series where we highlight the top-four players (across four different ADP tiers) with league-winning upside at each position. Today we will be focusing on the tight end position, after having already addressed quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers earlier in the week.

Tyler Higbee, TE, Los Angeles Rams

ADP: Early (TE7)

From Weeks 1-12, Los Angeles played out of 12 personnel only 17% of the time. From Week 13 on, that number jumped to 40%, which ranked second-most in the league. Over this span, Higbee led the league in receiving yards (522), exceeding 100 yards in four of five games. His 11.2 targets and 21.4 FPG weren’t just the most by any tight end over this stretch, but they were the most by any tight end over any five-game stretch last season.

What’s Higbee’s upside? If Higbee is who he was at the tail-end of last season, he could be the best pick in fantasy. What’s Higbee’s downside? Before this hot streak, Higbee averaged just 4.6 fantasy points per game across his previous 15 games. He eclipsed 50 yards just twice in 58 games.

Basically, he’s the ultimate boom-or-bust pick in 2020 drafts.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

ADP: Middle (TE11)

Gronkowski hasn’t played football in over a year, and the last time he did he looked like a shell of his former self. And even throughout his full career, he struggled to stay healthy, playing a full 16 games only once since his rookie season. O.J. Howard is still on the team, and Gronkowski will also be competing for targets with two 1,000-yard wide receivers.

Sure, he carries a great deal of risk, but he also offers an unrivaled upside. In fact, Gronkowski’s career “average” might be better than any other tight end’s “best-case scenario.” Literally, his baseline career average was greater than any other tight end’s best-ever season.

In games Gronkowski has started and finished (so, adjusting for in-game injuries), and including the playoffs, Gronkowski has averaged 20.3, 18.8, 22.5, 19.0, 18.3, 19.0, 17.4, and 11.5 fantasy points per game in each season since 2011. 2018 stands out as the unfortunate outlier, but even then, he still finished top-10 in fantasy points per game. Over this span, he’s averaged 18.0 FPG, or 19.0 if excluding 2018. So, that’s either +2.1 or +3.1 FPG over last year’s top-scoring tight end, and what would have ranked third- or fourth-best among wide receivers last year. And, keep in mind, only one tight end (Gronkowski) has ever reached 19.0 FPG in a single season.

Basically… yeah, we know Gronkowski is probably well past his prime. But he’s certainly priced like it, and even if he’s just 75% of who he was before 2018, he could still be a top-three fantasy tight end.

Gerald Everett, TE, Los Angeles Rams

ADP: Late (TE28)

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).

Will Dissly, TE, Seattle Seahawks

ADP: Super Late (TE30)

Dissly tore his patellar tendon in 2018, and then just over a year later also tore his Achilles tendon. 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’ 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.

Scott Barrett combines a unique background in philosophy and investing alongside a lifelong love of football and spreadsheets to serve as Fantasy Points’ Chief Executive Officer.