Evan Engram, TE (NY Giants)
Engram put together a terrific rookie campaign in 2017. He stepped up and provided some timely and necessary offense when the Giants lost several key players to injuries and struggled to put points on the board. Engram was targeted 115 times and ended up with 64 receptions for 722 yards and six touchdowns. His 64 receptions were the third-best in NFL history for a rookie.
Unfortunately, there are a few aspects of Engram’s game that will need to be addressed if he is to improve this season. For instance, Engram is just awful at run blocking. Granted, the entire offensive line of the Giants struggled to run block, but Engram was no help at all. Eventually he was replaced on running plays, which tipped opponents about what play the Giants were running and contributed to the troubles they had establishing a running game. Engram also has some difficulty with dropped passes. He had six drops in all and his catch rate was a very low 56%.
Still, Engram has enough upside, and the Giants’ overall improvement entering this season make him an excellent value draft target. He enters this season at Low Risk of injury along with a Peak Health Performance Factor of 97%. He may not get 115 targets again since the Giants’ receiver corps is healthy with a full complement of weapons at Eli Manning’s disposal. However, there is an excellent chance that Engram puts together another season with 700-800 yards and 8 to 10 touchdowns, making him an exceptional draft value in a thin field of players at the position.
Jimmy Graham, TE (Green Bay Packers)
Graham’s name has appeared on roughly equal numbers of articles listing him as either a top tight end to draft or a player to avoid like the plague depending on which writer you’re reading. At age 31, with nine years in the league under his belt, Graham enters the 2018 season as a relatively High risk for injury according to Inside Injuries’ player injury algorithm, but he’s also listed at his Peak Health Performance Factor, a definite plus.
The reason some analysts are down on Graham is that his 2017 season with the Seattle Seahawks was mostly dismal. The only bright spot was the heavy use he got in the red zone, which led to 10 touchdowns for Graham. Unfortunately, he was practically touchdown dependent when it came to helping his fantasy owners. He never topped 72 receiving yards in any game, and during the fantasy playoffs he totaled just two yards in Weeks 14-16. That’s terrible, and it likely cost his fantasy owners a title. However, most of the cause of Graham’s poor production had nothing to do with his play. Rather, it was a Seahawks offense that couldn’t run the ball or protect quarterback Russell Wilson to allow a good passing game.
The past is behind him now, and he will spend the 2018 season with one of the best quarterbacks in the business, Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is well-known to favor targeting his tight ends. Pair Rodgers’ talents with a tight end of Graham’s stature and ability and you have a recipe for fantasy success. This is an excellent opportunity for fantasy owners to capitalize on a favorable pairing of players. Don’t be surprised to see Graham put up a career year statistically and help his fantasy owners win a title as well.
Delanie Walker, TE (Tennessee Titans)
Walker was supposed to be a bit of an afterthought in the Tennessee offense; he was penciled in for a secondary role in the offense at the beginning of the 2017 season. However, the Titans’ wide receiver corps turned out to be awful at best, which led to Walker being needed much more than planned. He finished the season with 104 targets that led to 74 receptions for 807 yards and three touchdowns. He dropped just three passes during the season.
Walker has been a durable player for most of his 12-year career in the NFL. He hasn’t missed more than one game in any season since 2010 when he missed two games, and his rookie season in 2006 when he played just seven games. Entering 2018, Inside Injuries lists Walker as a Low Injury Risk at his Peak Health Performance Factor (99%). Walker is going to be a key player in the offense again this season. He is best utilized to move the chains and get first downs, so expect plenty of pass receptions along with Top 10 receiving yards among the tight end group. His draft cost is relatively low given his potential return on investment, so draft him with confidence
Kyle Rudolph, TE (Minnesota Vikings)
Over the course of his eight-year career, Rudolph has evolved into one of the better tight ends in the game. He hasn’t missed a game over the last three seasons, and he caught a career-high eight touchdowns last season. He is very heavily targeted in the red zone. He garnered 16 red zone targets last season, which tied him with wide receiver Adam Thielen for the team high among receivers.
Rudolph battled an ankle injury for most of last season, and he had surgery to address the problem during the offseason. Still, he enters the 2018 season at Low Risk for injury according to Inside Injuries’ algorithm, and he will be at Peak Health Performance Factor as well. With the Vikings’ improved running game, Rudolph could see a reduction in his overall targets, but he should still end up with 50-60 receptions for 500-600 yards and 6-10 touchdowns. Those are fine production numbers for a tight end, which makes Rudolph a terrific draft target for fantasy owners looking for a low-risk/high-reward tight end.
Cameron Brate, TE (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Here’s another example of a player whose outlook is somewhat evenly split between those who believe he will be a bust and those expecting another very productive season. The reason for the bust tag is the presence of fellow tight end O.J. Howard, who finished his rookie season opposite Brate with 26 catches for 432 yards and six touchdowns, which tied him for the team lead. Those expecting a down season for Brate are assuming that Howard will see increased use and overshadow his teammate. That’s all fine and dandy but the naysayers are forgetting something very important.
Brate has the trust of his quarterback, Jameis Winston, and that carries a great deal of weight when it comes down to crunch time on the football field. Winston and Brate have connected for 14 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Winston has targeted Brate 158 times for 105 receptions and 1,251 yards during that same span. No rookie (or second-year player) is going to suddenly disrupt that sort of connection between players. For that reason alone, Brate is an excellent draft target for fantasy owners.
It’s also important that Brate has been dependable health-wise, having missed just one game over the last two seasons. Brate has had some lower body injuries but was able to play through them last year. Still, the Inside Injuries algorithm has him as a Low Risk for Injury, and he will enter the 2018 season at a Peak Health Performance Factor (99.65%). Sure, Howard will get his share of targets and will almost certainly build upon his successes from last year. But Brate and Winston will simply continue what they’ve been doing and also build upon their successes. This should be another very successful season for these two players. Don’t let the naysayers tell you that Howard is going to steal Brate’s targets. There are plenty to go around, and Brate will easily put up another 50-60 receptions for 600-700 yards and 8-10 touchdowns; even more if there is an injury to Howard or other members of the Bucs’ receiver corps.
*By Tim McCullough