Narrowing the Field to Find 2020’s Mark Andrews (Fantasy Football)
Identifying breakout candidates especially at the tight end position isn’t always an exact science. However, last year I pegged Ravens’ second-year tight-end Mark Andrews, who was going in the double-digit rounds, not just as a sleeper, but “My Guy” in our annual Writing Staff Picks for 2019. I wrote: “I’m bullish enough to believe he has top-5 TE upside and an opportunity to see 100+ targets even in a low-volume passing offense.” Honestly, Andrews’ ascent alongside Lamar Jackson was far more than what I had even imagined.
I also highlighted Andrews in Narrowing the Field to Find 2019’s George Kittle after tabbing Kittle as my TE breakout the year prior. Yes, I’ve been fortunate with late-round TEs recently so I thought I’d give it another shot in 2020.
Before we throw out names, let’s take a moment to dwell on what made Andrews so special in 2019. Here are five specific criteria identified that allow us to eliminate and narrow the field of fantasy TEs to find a couple at the very end who might have the opportunity to do Andrews-esque things in 2020.
For the Footballers official sleepers, breakouts, and busts at the TE position, check out the Ultimate Draft Kit.
1. Diamond in the Rough
This may seem obvious but when we’re looking for a tight-end to break out, we want someone with the draft capital that pays off massively. We want someone trending towards being free. I’ll be generous but we need to eliminate any tight-end in the first seven rounds according to current BestBall ADP. I personally do not draft TEs early from bad experiences (O.J. Howard) as well as the opportunity cost of RBs and WRs I’d be passing up.
2. Isn’t a Rookie
You probably know this already but rookie TEs simply don’t produce. There are a couple of rare exceptions. As a 23-year-old rookie, Evan Engram had the best PPR season since 1989 for a rookie TE topping Jeremy Shockey’s 2002 campaign. Mike Ditka’s 1961 still owns the top spot where he put up a line of 56-1076-12. Historically speaking, this is a position that needs a year or two for someone to truly “break out” especially as they learn the intricacies of an offense and double as a blocker. Last year’s top rookies for fantasy were Noah Fant at TE15, Dawson Knox at TE30, and T.J. Hockenson at TE31. It also helps us cross them off knowing that 2020’s crop of tight-ends was poor by most draft evaluators and the lack of high draft capital spent. Bye, bye rooks!
Players Eliminated: Cole Kmet, Devin Asiasi, Josiah Deguara, Brycen Hopkins, Harrison Bryant, Adam Trautman
3. Flying Under-the-Radar
No-one was buying the Ravens passing game going into 2019 due to the lack of perceived top-end talent at wideout as well as the low volume from Lamar Jackson in his rookie year. Remember Jackson started the final seven games of the season and averaged 159 passing yards and never completed more than 14 passes in a game. Looking back those numbers seem downright anemic and definitely drove down the price of Andrews and other Ravens passing options heading into the season. However, you know the rest of the story as Jackson was unleashed as a fantasy force and posted an insane TD rate nine percent, to which Andrews benefitted. For finding this year’s version, we need to sift through some names attached to offenses we think are known commodities.
4. Flashed Yards After the Catch-ability
If I had to pinpoint one statistic that has translated the most in my two year run of predicting TE breakouts, it is yards after the catch and yards per route run. It makes sense that the TE that runs deeper routes is more likely to break off big gains and get downfield with chunk yardage plays. As a rookie, Andrews ranked second among TEs in Yards per Target (11.0), 2nd in Yards per Reception (16.2), and 3rd in aDOT (10.9). While some might’ve claimed it was on such a small sample size of 50 targets, it couldn’t be ignored considering the massive field of mediocrity at the position for fantasy. YAC isn’t for everyone as many TEs are release valves or have a limited route tree focused on 5-yard outs and drags rather than seam and post routes. Last year, Andrews had the highest aDOT among qualifying TEs (11.8) and ranked 2nd in Yards per Route Run (3.69). Peruse the list of aDOT and YPRR to find the outliers.
5. Potential to Soak Up Market Share
What made Andrews so special is that even on a low volume offense in terms of total pass attempts the dude was soaking up a large share of the targets. At 23.1 percent, Andrews had the 3rd highest target share among TEs behind only Travis Kelce and Darren Waller. The type of targets Andrews received also was valuable for fantasy. He caught the most 20+ yard passes among TEs, he tied for 12th among all pass catchers with 19 red zone looks and tied for first with nine red-zone TDs alongside Michael Thomas! We need someone not just with the ability to receive a 20+ percent market share but also on an offense that needs their TE to produce inside the 20-yard line.
The TEs with Best Chance to Be Mark Andrews-ish
Jonnu Smith– Current ADP: 134th Overall, TE17
If you listened to the Explain Yourself! episode, Jason began sounding the horn of Gondor for Jonnu tabbing him as his TE7 in his initial projections. Over the last two seasons, here are the only TEs to average 12.5 yards per reception or better: Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, O.J. Howard, Jared Cook, and…. JONNU SMITH. In 2019, he had the 2nd highest yards per target among TEs and the 8th most YAC despite collecting the 26th most receptions at the position. With Delanie Walker finally out of the way, Smith should be a full-time player in 2020 and a reliable target for Ryan Tannehill. If the Titans line him up in the slot more (only 35.4 percent of the time last year), he can wreak havoc on opposing secondaries as the 2nd option behind A.J. Brown. I can see Smith approach an 18+ percent target share if he asserts himself. Just a reminder also that Tannehill’s efficiency was off the charts last year so there might be some regression in the Titans passing game. Still, Smith’s athletic profile and opportunity make him a potential top-5 guy but you don’t have to draft him there making him a perfect archetype for the late-round TE.
Noah Fant– Current ADP: 112th Overall, TE14
Mr. Fantastic sputtered out of the gate as a rookie with some major dud weeks and some hideous drops. Despite these shortcomings, he quietly put up the 6th most PPR fantasy pts for a rookie TE since 2011. What is most encouraging from his athletic profile is the afterburners to stretch a 10-yard catch into a 30 or 40-yarder. Fant posted the second-highest yards per reception (14.1) for a rookie TE over the last 25 years! Who was #1 you ask? Mark Andrews. There is steep competition in Denver for targets with Courtland Sutton the clear alpha and the drafting of wideout Jerry Jeudy. But perhaps Fant is able to find that much more room in the middle of the field and become more efficient in 2020. The route to a breakout season isn’t guaranteed as Fant had just one red zone reception last year. Drew Lock is the key so if the entire Broncos offense takes a step forward, Fant could be a major beneficiary.
Hayden Hurst– Current ADP: 107th Overall, TE12
The fantasy community poo-pooed on Hurst coming in as he was old for a rookie and was quickly surpassed on the depth chart in Baltimore. The former Raven finds himself in a gratuitous situation in Atlanta as the Falcons have the most vacated targets in the league. Beyond a massive opportunity, Hurst steps into the shoes of Austin Hooper who was trending as the TE1 early in the season. However, the TEs were used completely different as Hurst had a respectable aDOT of 11.9 and one more “deep target” of 20+ yards than Hooper (5-4) despite running 271(!) fewer routes. In other words, Hooper was a safety valve and Lamar Jackson weaponized his TEs (including Andrews) as seam-killing monsters in the middle of the field. There is literally no-one behind Hurst in Atlanta although UDFA Jared Pinkney was thought to be a 2nd/3rd rounder last year. The Falcons is a great reset and Matt Ryan has always trusted his TEs. If Hurst sees at least 70 targets, he’s worth a shot as a late-round guy given the upper-tier offense especially if the TDs fall his way.
Dawson Knox– Current ADP: 194th Overall, TE27
You’re probably surprised to see his name on here but Knox’s production profile from his rookie year had some promising points worth discussing. He saw the 6th most deep targets among TEs (10) despite coming in 27th in targets at the position. He was 3rd in yards per reception behind only Andrews and Fant and the 5th highest aDOT. The situation in Buffalo may be concerning given the fact Stefon Diggs was added and incumbents John Brown and Cole Beasley likely will command more targets. I might be cheating on his target share numbers but if Knox becomes an every-down player, he can easily end around 65-70 targets. A Josh Allen target may be more erratic but he’s also willing to challenge defenses downfield with Knox regularly. I expect him to smash his current ADP so he’s a definite target of mine in Bestball leagues. A high-end outcome as a top-10 TE shouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities if he finds himself in the end zone five or six times.