The Good, The Bad, and the Boring: Rookie Tight Ends Edition

By Alex McCarthy
Alex McCarthy The Good, The Bad, and the Boring: Rookie Tight Ends Edition Every fantasy football prospect has their proponents and their detractors. If you want to hear exactly how and why a given player will become the next dominant force at their position, odds are you can find an analyst to tell you. Conversely, in most cases you can find an equally credible and fervent detractor telling you why that very same player is the next Bishop Sankey or Nelson Agholor. The truth, of course, is usually more boring- most highly touted prospects don’t flame out entirely, but a relatively small number become elite at their position.

Rather than give you one side of the story, I provide all three. “The Good” focuses on the strengths of a prospect and outlines how a best-case scenario could result in fantasy football dominance. “The Bad” does just the opposite, focusing on a prospect’s flaws and outlining a worst-case scenario that could result in fantasy football mediocrity (or worse, irrelevance). “The Boring” ignores the hype and analyzes the prospect exclusively in terms of historical trends and comparisons. Finally, the “Verdict” section gives my personal take on whether I think the player in question will be Good, Bad, or Boring.

Without further ado, these are my top five tight end prospects coming out of the 2017 draft.

O.J. Howard

O.J. Howard is unquestionably the most NFL-ready of this crop of tight ends, and predictably was also the first off the board. With his selection Tampa Bay added a complementary weapon for young QB Jameis Winston who, along with fellow new acquisitions DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin, should make the Bucs one of the more potent passing offenses in the league for years to come.

The Good

1. Has adjusted speed and agility scores in the 98th and 97th percentile, respectively, making him one of the most impressive athletic specimens to enter the league in years.
2. Blocks well for an incoming rookie, which will help him get on the field early and often.
3. Has elite size and strength that, when combined with his speed and athleticism, makes him a mismatch for both linebackers and defensive backs.
4. Appears to have the “clutch” gene in spades, having put on two of his best college performances in national championship games.
5. Has excellent hands and route-running ability for a big tight end.
6. Was drafted to a team that has a solid young quarterback and a true WR1 as well as a true deep threat, all of which should translate to a lot of soft coverage for Howard.

Owners can expect TE2 production immediately with possible TE1 upside every year.

The Bad

1. Was underused at Alabama, so the sample size for his production is relatively small and could be partially the result of defenses not having sufficient tape to study.
2. Scouts have raised questions about the consistency of his effort level and his commitment to/love of the game.
3. Isn’t great at making defenders miss after the catch or getting extra yards unless he is left wide open.
4. Was drafted to a team that has a lot of other weapons, most importantly a proven pass-catching TE who already has chemistry with the young QB and will almost certainly siphon targets from Howard.
5. His blocking technique, while ahead of the curve, still requires work in a number of areas (particularly pass-blocking) before he becomes an every-down player; there is no reason to think this won’t happen in time, but it could limit his year-one production.

Owners can expect a consistently low-end TE2.

The Boring

1. Has a projected ADP between 5-12, but due to a lack of historical data will be treated as having a projected ADP between 13-24.
2. According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), TEs drafted in this range have a 50% chance of achieving consistent TE2 (top-12) production and a 25% chance of achieving consistent TE1 (top-6) production.

Owners can probably expect TE2 production with a good chance at TE1 production.

The Verdict

I believe that Howard’s potential skews closest to The Boring narrative here, but only because in the case of high pedigree TEs that narrative is very optimistic. The wealth of other options in Tampa (particularly Brate, who will take on a secondary TE role but should still siphon targets) limits Howard’s ceiling and will prevent him from ever becoming a top-3 TE; however, I think that Howard’s talent will give him a very healthy floor and he will be a quality starter for years.

Evan Engram

Evan Engram was a bit of a surprise selection by a Giants team already loaded with talented pass catchers in Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard. How exactly he will fit into the offense remains to be seen, as his skillset has some believing he will eventually transition into a WR role.

The Good

1. Possesses elite athleticism by every metric, including an unreal 4.42 40 at 234 pounds.
2. Runs better routes than most of the wide receivers entering the draft.
3. Has the pure speed to be a legitimate deep threat at the tight end position, which allows his offensive coordinator to create mismatches.
4. Represents a total mismatch against any linebacker foolish enough to try and cover him.
5. Aggressively snatches the ball out of the air before defenders can get to it.
6. Drafted by a team with a QB that can take advantage of his ability to get open.

Owners can expect TE2 production immediately with TE1 upside as Engram develops.

The Bad

1. Struggles against stronger defensive backs who play him physically.
2. Has questionable blocking technique, which could keep him off the field until it improves.
3. Could potentially transition to a WR designation, which makes his value harder to gauge.
4. Sometimes has trouble with focus drops.
5. Relatively small frame for a true tight end, placing him in the “tweener” category that tends to look better on paper than on the field.
6. Goes into camp as the fourth option in the passing game, so he may struggle to see enough volume to be fantasy football-relevant.
7. If he takes time to develop, Eli Manning should be on his way out the door by the time Engram is ready, leaving a question mark in terms of who will be throwing him the ball.

Owners can expect Engram to suffer first from lack of volume and then from lack of QB play, causing him to put up only sporadic TE2 production over the course of his career and leaving owners asking “what if”.

The Boring

1. Has a projected ADP between 13-24.
2. According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), TEs drafted in this range have a 50% chance of achieving consistent TE2 (top-12) production and a 25% chance of achieving consistent TE1 (top-6) production.

Owners can probably expect TE2 production with a good chance at TE1 production.

The Verdict

Engram is undeniably a talented football player with unreal athletic ability. However, due to the uncertainty of his specific role in the offense, the amount of time it takes “tweener” TEs to develop, and the imminent departure of Eli Manning, I’m pegging him as a Bad investment until something changes.

David Njoku

After trading back all night, the Browns traded up a few spots to select David Njoku with the 29th pick in the first round. They love his athleticism and what he can do with the ball in his hands, and hope that he can be a part of a rebuilding project many years in the making.

The Good

1. Has elite athletic measurables across the board, highlighted by an otherworldly burst score in the 97th percentile of drafted tight ends.
2. Gains consistent separation on routes by exploding out of breaks and reaching top speed in the blink of an eye.
3. Strong at the point of catch, where he is excellent at hand fighting, using his frame strategically to box out defenders, and simply jumping over people to get the ball.
4. Is extremely young (only twenty years old) and has considerable room to develop.
5. Is lethal with the ball in the open field and can take it to the house on any given play.
6. Was drafted by a team with no true WR1 and a lot of available targets, so the potential is there for a lot of volume immediately.

Owners can expect TE2 production immediately with TE1 upside as both he and the Cleveland offense develop.

The Bad

1. Needs to improve strength and technique to become an effective blocker at the NFL level, which could limit his time on the field for now.
2. Has the physical tools to run elite routes but has not yet refined his technique.
3. To summarize the two above points- he’s very, very raw.
4. Yards after catch tend to be a result of pure speed, as he often fails to make defenders miss in the open field.
5. Has struggled on occasion with focus drops.
6. Plays for the Browns.

Owners can expect yet another talented player to waste away in Cleveland… big surprise.

The Boring

1. Has a projected ADP between 13-24.
2. According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), TEs drafted in this range have a 50% chance of achieving consistent TE2 (top-12) production and a 25% chance of achieving consistent TE1 (top-6) production.

Owners can probably expect TE2 production with a good chance at TE1 production.

The Verdict

Like new teammate DeShone Kizer, the fate of David Njoku is tied to the fate of the Browns. His talent is clear and his ceiling is sky-high with a quality quarterback, but counting on Cleveland to provide that is optimistic to say the least. Still, a relatively sparse corps of pass catchers could lead to a lot of targets for Njoku and the Browns seem like they are finally building towards something. I may laugh at myself in a year for betting on the lovable losers of football, but I see Good things for David Njoku in the future.

Gerald Everett

Though all but completely overshadowed by the top three tight ends in the draft, Gerald Everett is a quality prospect in his own right. He joins a struggling Rams offense that hopes his presence can boost the confidence of young QB Jared Goff.

The Good

1. Excellent all-around athleticism makes him a mismatch for linebackers in coverage.
2. Is at his best after the catch, either making defenders miss or dragging them for an extra few hard-fought yards.
3. Has versatility to line up all over the field to make things more difficult for the defense.
4. Effectively boxes out defenders at the catch point.
5. Was handpicked by Rams HC Sean McVay, who essentially has total control of the offense and has a history as a very successful tight ends coach.

Owners can expect a year or two of development followed by TE2 production dependent on the growth of the Rams offense under McVay.

The Bad

1. Is a bit small to run-block effectively at the NFL level, which could make it hard for him to get onto the field enough to be fantasy-football relevant.
2. Is a weak route runner who can predictable at times, which in the NFL translates to jumped routes and interceptions.
3. Hands are average at best and consistently inconsistent, making circus catches one minute and dropping perfect passes the next.
4. Was drafted by a team with a project quarterback, making it probable that Everett will have a severely subpar QB during his first few years of development.

Owners can expect an average prospect amounting to nothing in a well-below average offense.

The Boring

1. Has a projected ADP between 25-48.
2. According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), TEs drafted in this range have a 15% chance of achieving consistent TE2 (top-12) production and a 5% chance of achieving consistent TE1 (top-6) production.

Owners can expect an outside chance at TE2 production and an extremely unlikely chance at TE1 production.

The Verdict

The fact that McVay targeted Everett specifically is intriguing, but it doesn’t change the fact that he will be stuck in an anemic Rams offense, at least for now. That said, if Goff develops into a true franchise quarterback than Everett could find himself in a surprisingly good position. Consequently, I think the most accurate description for him as a prospect right now is Boring.

Player I’m High On

Jake Butt

Jake Butt is a second round talent who, through a combination of injury and bad luck, managed to slip all the way to the first pick of round five. He will likely take a while to recover and develop and achieve his full potential, but the Broncos are a team with an offense in flux as it is and Butt could potentially be a piece they build around.

The Good

1. Has prototypical size for an NFL TE and knows how to use it to box out defenders and make catches over the middle.
2. Has arguably the best hands of any TE in the draft and aggressively targets the ball at the catch point.
3. Drafted by a team that is very much in need of a TE and has an offense currently developing a new identity, so there is the potential for him to grow alongside the Broncos offense.
4. Has a style of play that will make him particularly useful moving the chains on sustained drives and in red zone situations.
5. Has solid football IQ and always seems aware of the position of defenders and the ball.

Owners can expect a few years of development followed by consistent TE2 production once he reaches his full potential.

The Bad

1. Is still in the process of recovering from an ACL tear and his status for offseason workouts is uncertain, setting back his development at a position that already typically takes time to develop.
2. Has only average athleticism, so will be unable to create physical mismatches.
3. Struggled as a run-blocker even at the college level, so will require significant improvement before he’s ready to see an NFL field.

Owners can expect Butt to become a decent TE in real football and a below-replacement-level TE in fantasy football, with no relevant production.

The Boring

1. Has a projected ADP between 25-48.
2. According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), TEs drafted in this range have a 15% chance of achieving consistent TE2 (top-12) production and a 5% chance of achieving consistent TE1 (top-6) production.

Owners can expect an outside chance at TE2 production and an extremely unlikely chance at TE1 production.

The Verdict

Like all of the Players I’m High On, I see Good things for Jake Butt… a few years down the road. He is a developmental project that won’t help your team this year, but if you can afford to stash him I foresee him paying dividends in the future (and he should cost almost nothing).