Tight End Exit Interview: Top-heavy position had limited 2019 hits

Scott Pianowski

Did you miss at tight end this year? Don’t sweat it. NFL teams aren’t good at drafting tight ends, either.

If you glance at the Top 12 tight ends on this year’s final PPR board, you won’t find an NFL first-round pick. In many cases, it’s a case of buried treasure. George Kittle (Pick 146 in his class) hardly saw the ball at Iowa. Darren Waller (Pick 204) bounced around; Baltimore, the tight-end hoarders, let Waller go for nothing, a year removed from his year-long drug suspension. The Rams didn’t realize how good Tyler Higbee (Pick 110) was until after Gerald Everett got hurt.

There were nine first-round tight ends who saw regular use last year (not so fast, Njoku), and not one of them led you to fantasy glory. I’m hesitant to say anything bad about Greg Olsen; he was in his age-34 season, and he’s a possible Hall of Famer. And heck, Carolina had nothing at quarterback. I think Noah Fant will be a dynamite player in time; he’ll be on some of my rosters next year.

Evan Engram? Hasn’t stayed healthy, and the team didn’t seem to miss him. O.J. Howard? Success has many parents, but so does failure — Tampa never unlocked this talent. Tyler Eifert actually played 16 games but they amounted to little. Eric Ebron played his way out of Indianapolis, though he was one of several injured Colts. Hayden Hurst can always boast of this: He was drafted before both Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews.

I guess T.J. Hockenson gets an incomplete. But he’s fortunate tight-end leaking Arizona was on the schedule; a juicy, stad-padding afternoon.

Tight end fantasy production has been top-heavy in recent years. I wasn’t eager to draft Kelce, Zach Ertz, or Kittle at ADP last year, which was wrong in retrospect. Sometimes I got through it fine (I had a lot of Austin Hooper), other times I stepped on the Engram or Howard rake. And sometimes you walk the earth, meander about, hope to get lucky for a week here, a week there.

The depth of the position has been more difficult to navigate in recent years, in part because of usage striation. If you take the best 100 tight end seasons of the decade, only eight came from 2019 — and only 41 came in the last five years. The golden age for these guys was in the 2011-2014 pocket.

Mash it all up and I’ll be proactive with the Big 3 next year. Middle of the board, I’ll focus on Higbee, and Fant is my favorite breakout pick. At least, that’s the January plan. I could always feel completely different in the summer.

Exit Notes - 2019 Tight Ends

• Travis Kelce: Not a lucky touchdown year, but a very safe place to park your money, even into an age-31 season.

• George Kittle: Power, intelligence, a non-stop motor — the full package. Sometimes you want to tell him to avoid a few collisions. And it’s doubtful Kyle Shanahan will ever insist on crazy target numbers for Kittle. Still, a reasonable second-round punch.

• Darren Waller: The Raiders had two viable, consistent fantasy players this year. Hey, that’s one more than the Packers.

• Zach Ertz: I was worried about the wide Philly usage tree hurting him, and then every wide receiver got hurt. Ertz and Dallas Goedert co-existed just fine, even if it was a matter of desperation.

• Mark Andrews: Had monstrous efficiency as a rookie, it was just a matter of the usage stepping up. It did. Last year’s big win. Alas, the team isn’t likely to dump targets on anyone, and the touchdown rate could easily crater.

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 22, 2019: Tight end Mark Andrews #89 of the Baltimore Ravens catches a 14-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter of a game against the Cleveland Browns on December 22, 2019 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Baltimore won 31-15. (Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
Mark Andrews has already outproduced his affordable 2018 draft slot. (Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

• Austin Hooper: He’s had linear growth his entire career, rare but oddly reassuring. Previous two-point usage pointed to last year’s mini-touchdown bump.

• Jared Cook: Led the position in yards per target; you might drink for free on that question. But at what point are we reluctant to bet on Drew Brees, who turns 41 this month?

• Tyler Higbee: Four straight 100-yard games likely carries signature significance. The genie is out of the bottle.

• Hunter Henry: Made a quick recovery from a tibia fracture in Week 1. We haven’t seen a smash-season, but it’s still in play in his mid-20s.

• Dallas Goedert: Injuries forced creativity last year, but how much can Goedert play when the receivers are healthy? And doesn’t Philly have to restock the wideout position anyway? I would love Goedert in a different city.

• Jason Witten: No upside at all, but had a playable floor as an occasional fill-in. But this could turn into a bagel at any time.

• Mike Gesicki: Still leaves too many plays on the field, but did start to pop in the second half. Caught the touchdown that pushed New England into the Wild Card round.

[Yahoo Sportsbook powered by BetMGM: Deposit $10, Get $100 in Free Bets. NJ only. 21+. Terms apply]

• Greg Olsen: For all the punishment his body has taken, found a way through 14 games. Will be a great announcer when he’s ready for Phase 2.

• Kyle Rudolph: It was all touchdown deodorant, but his boundary skills have always been underrated. He’s also useful in tight spaces. Alas, Irv Smith showed ability and is likely ready for more work.

Also Receiving Votes: Please remember that Will Dissly was a monster for six games, a likely league winner . . . Engram’s monster showing at the end of 2018 put starry dreams in my mind. Now, I’m wondering if last-round Kaden Smith is the play . . . The Titans are creative with Jonnu Smith, but this was not a high-volume passing game . . . The lesson of Darren Fells is basic: Anyone Deshaun Watson likes is fine with me . . . The Patriots shouldn’t have bailed on Jacob Hollister, but once you’re out of New England’s circle of trust, there might not be a road back into relevance.

Pianow’s Way Too Early 2020 Tight End Board

1. Travis Kelce

2. George Kittle

3. Zach Ertz

4. Mark Andrews

5. Austin Hooper

6. Tyler Higbee

7. Hunter Henry

8. Darren Waller

9. Jared Cook

10. Evan Engram

11. Dallas Goedert

12. Jonnu Smith

13. Mike Gesicki

14. Noah Fant

15. *Will Dissly

Next week, we’ll tackle the wideouts.

Previous Issues

Quarterback Exit Interview

Running Back Exit Interview

Wide Receiver Exit Interview

Listen to the Yahoo Fantasy Football Podcast