While fantasy football as a whole is hard to predict, tight end might just be the toughest. As I touched on in Fantasy Six Pack's 2019 Tight End Preview, for each of the last five years, at the end of the season, almost half the tight ends in the top 12 were not there the previous year.
In fact, in 2018, EIGHT of the top-12 tight end scorers were new to the club. Do I expect that volatility to continue in 2019-20? Absolutely. Every year we go into the season with so-called "locks" or "safe picks" at the position only to have them burst into flames by Week 3.
Below, I touch on two players who were top-5 finishers last year and why I expect them to severely underperform, if not fall out of the top-12. I also pick on a young up-and-coming player who is not in the best situation for his talents.
2019 Fantasy Football Tight End Busts
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Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints
The number five tight end in fantasy football in 2018, Cook will be going from the lowly Oakland Raiders and the erratic Derek Carr to the waiting arms of Drew Brees and the world-class New Orleans Saints. He's coming off a spectacular season where he caught 68 of 101 targets for 896 yards and six touchdowns.
So why do I have him as a bust in 2019? Simple. Jared Cook's 2018 season was a fluke.
Cook has been in the league since 2009 and over his 11-year career has never hit those lofty numbers. Excluding his rookie season and sophomore seasons, between 2011 and 2017, Cook averaged 3.1 catches per game, 40.1 yards per game and had a touchdown rate (touchdowns divided by total catches) of 5.6%. In this outlier 2018 season, he averaged 4.3 catches, 56 yards per game and an 8.8% touchdown rate. He was also the definition of a boom-or-bust player. 580 of his 896 (64.7%) receiving yards came in just five games. Over the other 11 games, he averaged 28.7 yards per game.
The reason Cook was able to obtain these numbers was due to an increased role in the offense. He received a gaudy 19% target share (5th among tight ends) as he functioned as the number one option. In New Orleans, he certainly will not have this opportunity as he defaults to the third option behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Not to mention up-and-coming Tre'quan Smith and the always present Ted Ginn will soak up some targets as well.
Brees was as good as ever efficiency-wise in 2018 but had the least pass attempts he's had since 2004. As he approaches his age-40 season, we have to wonder if he's going to slow down. The end approaches rapidly and often out-of-nowhere as we saw with Peyton Manning.
Speaking of age, it's fair to consider Cook's age as well. He will be heading into his age 32 season and outside of Hall-of-Famers Tony Gonzales, Antonio Gates, and Jason Witten, tight end is not a position that ages well. This is Cook's first season finishing as a top-12 tight end scorer. Since 2009, there have only been TWO instances where a tight end enters the top-12 for the first time past age 30. Here are those seasons and their following year for comparison. They each never reached the top-12 again.
|2017* (retired in 2016)
Drafters are looking at the impressive statistics and perceiving the change of scenery as an improvement when in reality, Cook's fantasy situation has taken a turn for the worse. Combine that with his history of underwhelming performances and his age and you have a recipe for a bust.
Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts
Continuing with our theme of fluke seasons, I am fully expecting Eric Ebron who severely regress this year. After a change of scenery, Ebron totaled 66 catches on 110 targets for 750 yards and tied for second with 13 touchdowns.
Since 2009, there have been 22 instances (nine combined by Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham) where a tight end caught 10 or more touchdowns. Of those, Ebron's touchdown rate would be 7th at 19.7%. That means basically one out of every five passes he caught was a touchdown.
The average touchdown rate for these seasons was 16.7%. Excluding Ebron and Travis Kelce's 2018 season, the touchdown rate for these same players the next year was 11.5% - more than a five percent decrease. In Ebron's terms, if he has the same amount of catches next year, we can probably expect him to catch almost six less touchdowns.
That's a big deal, especially considering up until this year Ebron had never caught more than five touchdowns in a season.
On top of that, there are other factors that will further drive his fantasy value down. In 2018, Ebron benefitted hugely from the absence of Jack Doyle. Doyle soaked up 183 targets in the two seasons before Ebron's arrival. When they were on the field together, Doyle out-targeted him 33 to 22. Doyle should return after dealing with a kidney injury last year and will certainly take away from Ebron. I haven't even mentioned the additions of Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell.
Chris Herndon IV, New York Jets
Can someone be considered a bust if their Average Draft Position (ADP) is only TE16? Probably not. However, I'm seeing him ranked as high as TE6 in some places and I just don't see it.
Herndon had a fine rookie season, finishing as the TE15 with 39 catches for 502 yards and four touchdowns. It's easy to expect he should build on those numbers, but nothing the Jets have done in the offseason leads me to believe that will happen.
The Dolphins hired inter-division "rival" head coach Adam Gase to run their team. In his two years with the Dolphins, they finished 22nd and dead last in number of plays run per game. They signed LeVeon Bell and traded for guard Kelechi Osemele. On defense, they spent big money on linebacker CJ Mosley and a first-round pick on Quinnen Williams. All signs point towards the Jets running a conservative, ball-control offense in Sam Darnold's second year.
Even if Gase completely turns course and runs a modern uptempo offense, Herndon has a ton of competition for targets. Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa are an underrated receiver pair. Jamison Crowder will command a lot of short to intermediate routes. LeVeon Bell is no slouch either.
I have no doubt Herndon has the ability to eventually become a talented player, I'm just not sure this is the year.
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