2018: Year Of The (ZERO) Tight End Strategy
The Zero TE approach is one that has not gained much notoriety over the past ten years, and for good reason. Tight End has reigned supreme in the positional scarcity department, seeing absolutely massive drop-offs in talent and situational volume outside of the typical top tier guys. Even with that being said, I think 2018 is a perfect storm for the execution of a Zero TE strategy and will provide owners who exploit it with a major advantage against league mates for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it allows you to load up on talent at WR and RB when your opponents will be taking tight ends between rounds 2-7. In this range you have the usual suspects: Gronk, Kelce, Ertz, Graham, Olsen, Engram, Rudolph, Walker, Burton, and Jordan Reed. Reed in this case is on the cusp of Zero TE in the 8th as he provides immense value in this range, but also of course carries major risk as you’d likely need to roster two TE’s.
By passing on these guys, you open the door to accumulating more value and talent depth, even into the 13th round. This has allowed me to take my late draft shots at tall ceiling upside players like Matt Breida (151), Nelson Agholor (121), Keelan Cole (199), Michael Gallup (140), Kenny Stills (133) and Anthony Miller (154).
Quick examples that come to mind of value exploitation:
Passing on Travis Kelce (30) in the 3rd allows you to roster proven producers such as: Adam Thielen, Diggs, T.Y., Baldwin, or Larry Fitz. I’m taking these guys all day over Kelce who has lost his TE inclined Quarterback in Alex Smith, in exchange for an unproven and uncertain situation in Patrick Mahomes.
Foregoing a pick on Jimmy Graham (54) in the 5th to pick up Chris Hogan, Lamar Miller, Marvin Jones, and in rare cases, Golden Tate. All of whom are proven producers, and all indications point to increased volume and target shares (Hogan, Miller with no Foreman) going into the 2018 season. The WR’s in this range have a chance to put up consistent high end WR2 – WR1 numbers. I’m taking them over Graham in a new situation in Green Bay, with an offense that has consistently favored the wide receiver position in the red zone. An argument can of course be made the other way, however in this range of the draft I want proven, reliable guys who can win me weeks, not uncertainty.
I'm avoiding Evan Engram (66) as he should see target regression with OBJ returning and Saquon in the lineup. I don’t think his ADP is justified here, especially when I can draft Crabtree, Corey Davis, Fuller, Rex Burkhead, etc. all in this range.
If you play it smart and adopt this strategy, here are some of the guys you should be targeting:
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George Kittle (112 according to FFC, 161 on ESPN)
Kittle Put up a 43/515/2 stat line in his Rookie campaign last season with the Niners and finished strong with Jimmy G at the helm with a 100 yard game to close out his season. Kittle also runs a 4.5 40 yard dash (96th Percentile), an agility score (short area quickness and balance) of 10.83 (100th Percentile), and ranks in the 95th Percentile in catch radius. He has all the tools to be a dominant tight end and is virtually uncoverable by your standard NFL linebacker. He’s a matchup nightmare and I expect him to build on his solid rookie year.
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Austin Seferian-Jenkins (175 according to FFC, 169 on ESPN)
Seferian-Jenkins enters the season in Jacksonville. He played well last year for the Jets, and although the Jets do not typically make the Tight End position a priority, ASJ finished his 13 game stint in 2017 with a 50-357-3 stat line on 11 RZ targets, (9 of these were end zone targets). I think it’s important to note that if it weren’t for a couple bogus replay overturn calls that negated 2 of his touchdowns (one for the go ahead score against New England in the fourth quarter), I think he’d be less of a bargain today.
The 2018 Jags are going to be running, and running a lot this year. Their offensive line is absolutely stacked, and with the addition of Norwell to bolster the front, they’ll be pounding the rock all year. They will be in the conversation for most rush yards and attempts if both the line and Fournette stay healthy. Their great run game should bring immense opportunity for play-action passing, and just passing in general as we’re slowly seeing the emergence of Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, and Marqise Lee meld into a solid receiving core; not to mention Bortles becoming a formidable game manager with both efficient passing and the ability to take off and use his legs to move the chains.
ASJ profiles at 6’5”, 262 lbs, and has tremendous speed for a TE, running a 4.5 forty. He will be an absolute force in the Red Zone for the Jaguars. I believe him to be the Jaguars’ top red zone threat outside of Fournette punching it in on the ground. Monitor his rapport with Bortles as the preseason goes on to get a clearer picture here, but ASJ is a guy with great upside I’m picking up basically for free at the end of all my drafts at the TE slot. I don’t think 6-8 TD’s is out of the realm of possibility for him this season.
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Ricky Seals-Jones (177 according to FFC, 246 on ESPN)
RSJ is another burner tight end that profiles as an elite SPARQ athlete. He comes into a receiving core on Arizona that is severely lacking weapons, especially in the red zone. Outside of the ageless one, Larry Fitzgerald, there really aren’t many weapons for Bradford to target. Bradford has rookie Christian Kirk, JJ Nelson, and Brice Butler heading up the WR2 and WR3 spots currently to target. Last year he started just one game, and appeared sporadically in 10, logging a 12-201-3 line. This is definitely not a large sample size to work with, however Seals-Jones flashed serious ability last year when given opportunity. The addition of Bradford, who has a history of targeting his Tight-Ends everywhere on the field and throughout the Red Zone should bode well for RSJ as he goes into 2018 as a top breakout candidate. One important note on him however is his arrest in July 2018, monitor that situation closely as you approach your draft, but he’s still virtually free and likely will be available on waivers.
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Honorable Mention: Mike Gesicki (167 according to FFC, 248 on ESPN)
Gesicki was a 2nd round selection this year for the Miami Dolphins out of PSU and his SPARQ profile is ridiculous. Gesicki is 6’6”, 247 lbs, runs a 4.5 forty, and ranks in the 100th percentile for catch radius, 99th percentile in agility, and 97th percentile overall for all NFL athletes. He’s been compared to Vernon Davis based on these metrics and ability and has the speed and size to be a formidable red zone threat for Tannehill and the Dolphins. Keep in mind the Dolphins have 290 vacated targets to fill, so Gesicki should see a number of these alongside newcomer Danny Amendola.
Running Back and (especially) Wide Receiver are shaping up to be extremely deep this year between rounds 4-9. At the end of the day, we’re looking to exploit value where we can at all times throughout the draft. I think taking proven (Cobb / Sanders / Goodwin) and calculated risk (Michael Gallup / Anthony Miller / Mike Williams) WR’s with breakout AND (re)breakout potential in the mid-late rounds will provide greater ROI over the course of the season than Tight Ends here.