Fantasy Football 2019: Sleeper Tight Ends to Target in Drafts

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2019

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald (89) catches an 11-yard pass for a touchdown over Jacksonville Jaguars outside linebacker Telvin Smith, right, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

When it comes to building a championship fantasy football roster, there are a few positions you simply cannot ignore early. If you fail to grab an elite running back and a legitimate No. 1 receiver at the top of your draft, the chances are your initial roster is going to be weak.

Things are a little different at quarterback, where quality starters can be found in the middle rounds. It's still advisable, however, to get your signal-caller before the first seven or eight are off the board.

One position where you can wait is at tight end. There are a handful of elite pass-catching tight ends who can and should be targeted early—and viewed as valuable as No. 1 receiver.

Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle are essentially the top receivers in their respective offenses and the only three tight ends to top 1,000 yards last season.

If you don't grab one of these three, you can wait several rounds before turning your attention to the tight end spot.

The middle tier is wide and close in terms of projected production. Eric Ebron probably leads this group based on his 13-touchdown season in 2018. However, the questionable health of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck hurts his initial value. 

Ebron and Jared Cook were the only two tight ends outside the aforementioned trio to top 700 yards last season. Including the now-retired Rob Gronkowski, 12 produced between 500 and 700 yards.

If you don't get one of the top guys, you're going to get more overall value by addressing the rest of your starting lineup—aside from defense and kicker, of course—before drafting a tight end.

If you want even more value, there are some sleeper tight ends you should be able to grab late in your fantasy draft.

    

Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald was one of the mid-tier dozen last season, amassing 50 receptions, 610 yards and four touchdowns. These are solid numbers, but they don't exactly scream "draft me!"

McDonald is an ascending tight end, though. Despite being 29 years old, he's coming off his breakout season and is the clear No. 1 tight end in Pittsburgh. Jesse James is now with the Detroit Lions, and the 30 receptions he grabbed last season could now belong to McDonald.

Plus, with Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell both off the team, Ben Roethlisberger is going to have to find a new home for many of his passes.

"Numbers-wise, they have to go somewhere," McDonald said, per Joe Rutter of TribLive.com.

According to Yahoo Fantasy, McDonald's average draft position (ADP) projects him as a 10th-round pick in most drafts. Don't be afraid to grab him a round or two higher, because McDonald is poised to improve upon last season.

    

T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

When looking for sleepers, it's always a good idea to take rookies into consideration. They can often be found later in drafts because they simply don't have any proven production at the pro level. However, this doesn't mean they won't have an early impact.

Evan Engram, for example, had a strong rookie campaign for the New York Giants two years ago. He caught 64 passes for 772 yards and six touchdowns, likely delivering a few fantasy championships in the process.

This year's version of Engram could be Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson. The eighth overall pick in April's draft, Hockenson was a difference-making receiver at Iowa and is already becoming an important piece in Detroit's arsenal.

"The reps have been coming," Michael Rothstein of ESPN wrote during early training camp. "And the sparse amount of fans who have shown up the first two days of training camp have been able to see what the Lions are hoping the rest of the NFL does in less than two months when the regular season starts. A player who might be able to make a bigger-than-expected impact in Year 1."

Expect Hockenson to emerge as one of Matthew Stafford's go-to targets—particularly later in the season, once the rookie has fully adjusted to the speed and the nuances of the pro game.

With an ADP of 127, Hockenson is a quality tight end you should be able to grab late.

    

Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert is a sleeper, but he comes with a caveat. His injury history—he's missed 26 games over the last three seasons—also makes him a gamble.

It's a gamble worth making late in the draft, however. He's had multiple fluke injuries—he got injured during the 2016 Pro Bowl and suffered a broken ankle last season—and he's a quality tight end when healthy.

Though he's only appeared in 14 games over the last three years, he's racked up 48 receptions, 619 yards and six touchdowns in that span.

What's important to note is that Eifert has been healthy during training camp.

"I feel good out there running around," Eifert said, per John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "My legs feel good. I'm moving at a good pace. I'm excited and grateful to be back out there."

With wide receiver A.J. Green expected to miss regular-season games after undergoing ankle surgery, Eifert has a ton of early season value.

Given Eifert's injury history, it wouldn't hurt to pick up a second tight end for insurance purposes. With Eifert currently trending as a 12th-round pick, though, doubling up at the bottom of the draft shouldn't be a major issue.

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