Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle/Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Tight ends are notorious for taking multiple season to develop. Delanie Walker, Kyle Rudolph, and Greg Olsen all took multiple years of experience to finally have breakout performances, so predicting a young tight end’s rise to stardom can be fairly difficult. Even so, dynamic tight ends have proven to revolutionize their respective offenses. Jimmy Graham gave us the peak of Drew Brees’s career, while Julius Thomas helped Peyton Manning have arguably the best season by a quarterback we have ever seen. Here are my favorite breakout tight end candidates this season and how they can metamorphose their respective offenses.
Note: Let’s keep the rookie’s out of it, and focus on NFL players looking to make a big jump this season.
I’m not the biggest Austin Hooper fan, and I take this “breakout prediction” with a huge grain of salt. Hooper’s ability to breakout is entirely reliant on his target-share and more importantly the performance of Matt Ryan. To me, Austin Hooper is a mediocre NFL tight end talent. He’s a third round pick with average size, decentd speed, average quickness, and average collegiate production. Absolutely nothing about Austin Hooper is exciting to me, except for the situation he finds himself in this season: He is the undisputed starting tight end on the Atlanta Falcons. He has the 2016 MVP in Matt Ryan as his quarterback, and Jacob Tamme is no longer a threat to his starting position. I don’t see Hooper as a revolutionizing tight end when it comes to shaping an offense, but I do think his shear target share will provide a nice stat sheet from a distance.
I may be a little bias here, but the former third round pick out of Iowa may be the heaviest beneficiary of Deshaun Watson on the Texans’ offense. He definitely has every athletic box checked off: a 6’6 265 pound man running a 4.7 forty yard dash, a 4.26 twenty yard shuttle, a 7.10 three-cone drill, and 25 bench press reps. In other words, he can move for his size, and with his strength, he’s already proven to be a reliable blocker off the edge of the offensive line. In 15 games, C.J. finished with 54 receptions on 89 targets, 559 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Those stats don’t seem impressive, but we saw flash after flash throughout the season. If C.J. and Watson can string it all together, we may be looking at the next old reliable tight end. It’s also safe to say that Deshaun Watson will be a considerable upgrade over Brock “Lossweiler,” and what can be the most effective weapon in a young quarterback’s development? The reliable underneath target. C.J. Fiedorowicz’s targets should spike in 2017, and he will prove to be a sneaky fantasy-viable option in fantasy leagues.
Antonio Gates is the Old Yeller of the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s finally time for the Chargers to take the old tight end behind the proverbial barn, and put the old dog out of his misery. Hunter Henry may be the next elite tight end in the NFL, and the only thing holding him back is the Chargers’ outdated infatuation with Antonio Gates. The 37 year old veteran constantly took targets away from the 2016 second round pick, even though Hunter Henry was more efficient. Gates received double the targets per game than Henry, and Henry completed 10% more of his targets than Old Yeller. If Henry started all 16 games with Gates’s target share, the rookie projects 72 completions, 960 yards, and 16 touchdowns. I love projections, but I do understand they are just that: projections. But what a projection right? That’s 16.50 fantasy points per game for a tight end in PPR leagues. Jordan Reed and Travis Kelce led tight ends in 2016 with 14.05 and 13.94 fantasy points per game in 2016. I’m confident that if Henry claims the undisputed starting tight end role, he could immediately establish himself as a top 10 tight end in the NFL.
Honorable Mention: Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron