Third Year Breakout or Bust: Tight Ends (Fantasy Football)

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Finishing the season as a top 12 tight end doesn’t necessarily carry as much clout as it does at other positions. In 2019 the TE12 (Jason Witten) scored just more than half as many fantasy points as the TE1 (Travis Kelce). To be truly elite at the position a player has to separate himself from the rest of the field. 

This article series has already taken a look at running backs and wide receivers entering their pivotal third year in the NFL. This edition takes a look at the tight end, the position that typically takes the longest to develop fantasy relevance.    

Note: The tight ends listed below are mentioned in order of their 2019 fantasy finish in 0.5 PPR scoring. Mark Andrews isn’t featured as he can be considered to have broken out in 2019.

Dallas Goedert

His first two years

Goedert was a bit of a draft surprise when the Eagles selected him in the second round of the 2018 NFL draft, given they already had one of the most productive tight ends in the league in Zach Ertz. He was talented enough to find his way on the field, often in two tight end sets with Ertz. He put up solid numbers for a second-string rookie tight end, finishing as the TE20. 

Ertz didn’t go anywhere in 2019, but Goedert still took a big step forward. He logged over 600 receiving yards and hauled in five touchdowns as other Philly pass-catchers continued to go down with injuries throughout the season. He finished as the TE10 overall on the season but it didn’t really feel like it, as he only finished inside the top ten at the position in two individual weeks.

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What it’ll take for a third-year breakout

Despite his clear talent, Goedert is unlikely to bypass Ertz as the Eagles’ top tight end target. He’s a great endzone target and double-digit touchdowns aren’t out of the question, though it’s highly unlikely. Barring an injury to Ertz or some other unforeseen path to becoming the number one tight end on his own team, Goedert is unlikely to truly breakout in 2020. 

Mike Gesicki

His first two years

Gesicki made a name for himself in the fantasy community by dominating the NFL combine. He was drafted with a high second-round pick by Miami and played all 16 games as a rookie, though it didn’t amount to much production on the field. He failed to score a touchdown on just 22 receptions while barely topping 200 receiving yards on the season.

He started out slow again in his second season, averaging just 2.1 catches and 21.9 receiving yards through Week 7. He doubled that production in his last nine games, averaging 4 receptions and 46.3 yards per game. He also started finding the endzone more down the home stretch of the season; all five of his touchdowns came in the final six games of the season. That late push propelled him to a TE11 finish on the season.

What it’ll take for a third-year breakout

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While his future could be bright, it’s going to take a lot of things going right for Gesicki to break out in 2020. The Dolphins are in the midst of a committed rebuild. They have a plethora of draft picks over the next two seasons and are expected to use some big draft capital on a franchise quarterback in 2020. Gesicki will likely spend his third year catching passes from some combination of Ryan Fitzpatrick, a high-end rookie, and (gulp) Josh Rosen. He could build a long-lasting rapport with a young quarterback that pays dividends in the future, but it will be an uphill battle in 2020. 

Ian Thomas

His first two years

Thomas wasn’t drafted until the fourth round of the NFL draft to a team that already employed a future Hall of Fame tight end in Greg Olsen. Needless to say, he wasn’t expected to make much of an impact as a rookie. Even with Olsen battling injuries all season, Thomas wasn’t able to make much of an impact and finished out the season as the TE25.

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Thomas was even less productive in his second season. He was still playing behind Olsen as the Panthers trotted out a broken down Cam Newton, Kyle Allen, and Will Grier at quarterback throughout the season.

What it’ll take for a third-year breakout

Thomas would appear to have a huge opportunity in Carolina now that Olsen has moved on to Seattle. He clearly sits atop the tight end depth chart for the Panthers, but will likely be way down the offensive pecking order on an offense that includes Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robbie Anderson, and Curtis Samuel. If he can build a connection with Teddy Bridgewater, especially in the red zone, he could be very fantasy relevant. A true breakout, however, seems like a longshot.  

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Hayden Hurst

His first two years

Hurst was the first tight end selected in the 2018 NFL draft and the only one taken in the first round. The former MLB draft pick was already 25 years old when the 2018 season kicked off. He suffered a foot injury in the preseason and missed the first four games of the regular season. He didn’t do much when he returned, logging just 163 yards on 13 catches all season. He put up a goose egg in 5-of-12 games played while being overshadowed by fellow rookie Mark Andrews.

He made some nice strides in 2019 and improved all of his offensive stats. It was far from a breakout though, as he still only finished as the TE34 on the season. Meanwhile, Mark Andrews did breakout by grabbing double-digit touchdowns and finishing as the TE4 on the season.  

What it’ll take for a third-year breakout

Hurst finds himself in a brand new setting in 2020 after Baltimore traded him to Atlanta, seemingly moments after Austin Hooper left the Falcons via free agency. His new home couldn’t get much better. Hooper was the TE1 through the first ten weeks of 2019 before suffering a knee injury. Now Hurst steps into that role catching passes from Matt Ryan, who’s thrown over 600 pass attempts in consecutive season. The narrative for Hurst to breakout in 2020 appears to be the strongest of all third-year tight ends. 

Chris Herndon

His first two years

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Despite being selected later in the NFL draft than any of the previous tight ends mentioned so far, he had the most productive rookie season. He played in all 16 games on his way to racking up 502 receiving yards and four touchdowns. It was enough to put him at TE15 for the season.

Herndon’s 2019 went down as a lost season. It started with a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He injured his hamstring running routes just before he became eligible to return. He wouldn’t see game action until Week 9, where he suffered a broken rib that ended his season.

What it’ll take for a third-year breakout

Herndon showed TE1 potential as a rookie and was a favorite to breakout in 2019 before his season was completely derailed. The Jets have a talented young quarterback in Sam Darnold and no dominant target hog on the current roster. Herndon could still have a bright fantasy future if he and Darnold build a rapport. Unfortunately, there’s also a real possibility that he’s already on head coach Adam Gase’s bad side. If that’s the case you may as well flush his 2020 season down the toilet.

Comments

Kiz says:

The guy is always hurt. And now there’s more competition at that position in Seattle. I think Olsen is a shell of his former self but the money they gave him pretty much says he’s their starter.

connordobrien1992 says:

I know health is impossible to predict, but if Will Dissley is 100%, where would he rank on this list? Seems like when he’s on the field, he’s a top 5 guy

Kiz says:

Herndon is my #2 on this list. I know the situation is volatile but the jets have nothing else. Even if they draft a receiver, that WR won’t produce immediately.

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