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NFL Fantasy Football Lister Week 2: Hang loose with tight ends or ‘keep calm and carry one tight end’

By Marc Hardin
NKyTribune contributor

There are several successful strategies and myriad ways to build a winning fantasy football roster. Many owners can’t live without a top-flight tight end. Some owners have won their league after doing their shopping in the early draft rounds for the likes of recent vintage stars such as Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Delanie Walker and Greg Olsen.

Some owners can’t do without two elite tight ends and double down early and midway through the draft, surmising that having two of the best virtually guarantees success at a key position even if an injury rears its ugly head to the starter. Taking this to the extreme, some folks owning 16-position teams in 12-team leagues draft three tight ends.

Don’t do this.

KEEP CALM AND CARRY ONE TIGHT END

According to Wikipedia, the shaka sign, sometimes known as “hang loose,” is a gesture of friendly intent often associated with Hawaii, and surf culture. I suggest this laid-back attitude when it comes to collecting tight ends at the draft. My suggestion? Don’t collect tight ends at the draft.

Shaka

One of the reasons why I usually wait and draft just one tight end late in a 10-team or 12-team league is it affords me greater opportunity to stockpile earlier in the draft running backs and wide receivers. These are positions I deem more important because you have two slots of each and usually a flex spot to fill every week, compared to one slot at tight end. Also, inevitably there are a handful of breakout tight ends and several productive ones who go undrafted. They then become available to every one in your league in what can be a bounty of unappreciated tight ends to choose from in the post-draft free-agent pool. In a 12-team league that I play in, Jared Cook and Benjamin Watson were available on Tuesday.

In 10- or even some 12-team leagues that require starting just one tight end, I personally think it’s more efficient to select a second tight end based on real numbers put up after the draft rather than guessing who is going to be productive during the draft. Depending on the size of your league, if you miss one breakout tight end or a surprisingly productive one after the first few weeks, you can usually find another in the coming weeks as the lot of talent slowly reveals itself while attrition through injury takes hold.

You may find yourself on the hunt for a new tight end earlier than you expected, especially if you selected certain guys with enough warning signs that should have kept you from taking them so soon in the first place. There is no greater predictor of future injury than past injury and Walker (broken ankle) and Olsen (broken foot) are already hurt and you shouldn’t be surprised. Although the usually dependable Walker missed just eight games over the past 11 seasons, he’s an old tight end at age 34 with a lot of miles on the odometer and was listed with a vague “undisclosed” injury throughout preseason. He’s now out for the season. Olsen, no spring chicken at 33, didn’t miss a game for nine years until sitting nine games last season with a broken right foot. He broke it again Sunday and could be out for the season.

Ouch!

If this happened to your team, you may not have to suffer for very long. Opportunity abounds for some under-the-radar tight ends. For some perspective, here are your Week 1 tight end target leaders with catches and yards in parenthesis:

12 Jared Cook, Raiders (9-180)
10 Zach Ertz, Eagles (5-48)
10 Jack Doyle, Colts (7-60)
9 George Kittle, 49ers (5-90)
8 Rob Gronkowski, Patriots (7-123) TD
7 Delanie Walker, Titans (4-52)
7 David Njoku, Browns (3-13)
6 Travis Kelce, Chiefs (1-6)
6 Trey Burton, Bears (1-15)
6 Nick Boyle, Ravens (3-40)
6 Ricky Seals-Jones, Cardinals (3-19)
5 Jordan Reed, Redskins (4-48) TD
5 Ryan Griffin, Texans (0-0)
5 Eric Ebron, Colts (4-51) TD
5 Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jaguars (3-25)
5 Jesse James, Steelers (3-60)
5 Evan Engram, Giants (2-18)
5 Will Dissly, Seahawks (3-105) TD

It’s very early in a marathon of a season. It’s not a sprint so be careful and don’t overreact to one of the flukiest weeks of the year and make a move you’ll later regret. Eric Ebron isn’t expected to be the top pass-catching tight end in Indianapolis. Barring injury, that’s Jack Doyle’s role. So there’s a great chance Ebron’s not going to finish with 64 catches for 816 yards and 16 TDs, which are what his current totals project to over a full 16-game schedule. Ebron might, however, make a good handcuff if you own Doyle or you need a tight end in deeper leagues, or if you need a TE right now out of desperation or poor planning. Jared Cook will not finish with 144 catches and 2,880 yards, his current pace. He won’t finish with half those totals. His career highs are 54 catches and 759 yards, so temper your expectations even though Cook’s athletic ability in a pass-heavy offense is quite tantalizing.

Likewise, Kansas City’s Travis Kelce isn’t going to finish with 16 catches for 96 yards and no touchdowns although his putrid Week 1 performance of one catch for six yards projects to exactly that. By all means, hold onto him. That said, don’t wait too long to notice trends. Spot them early so you can take advantage as a means of strengthening your team, especially in the wake of injuries or rapidly developing uncertainly.

Also, try to base your decisions on empirical evidence rather than something over-imagined in a developing situation. For example, there’s a hot mess brewing in Seattle right now that most certainly will create opportunity for new names at various positions including tight end where third-year blocking specialist Nick Vannett and rookie blocking specialist Will Dissly opened the season in two tight-end sets. But a funny thing happened Sunday. Dissly went off (see the last entry in the above list), generating an intriguing small sample size including a 66-yard catch-and-run for a score.

So, is it real? Well, it could be. Then again, it may not be. That’s the beauty of playing fantasy football: Which side of history is your next move going to be on? We usually don’t know the answer to that until the games are played. But there are usually helpful clues in the run-up if you know where to look for them.

BREWING SITUATION IN SEATTLE

Percolate on this. Last season, three Seattle tight ends shared 135 targets and produced 84 receptions for 797 yards and 15 of the Seahawks’ 34 touchdowns, or 44 percent of Seattle’s passing scores. Jimmy Graham had 98 of those targets generating 57 receptions for 520 yards and 10 TDs. He’s gone, off to greener pastures in Green Bay. Last year’s second-leading pass-catching tight end Luke Willson (22/15/153/4) signed with the Lions. Veteran newcomer Ed Dickson, signed in the offseason to be the primary pass-catching tight end after hauling in 30 catches for 437 yards last year for Carolina, was placed on the reserve/NFI list with a quadriceps injury. He’ll sit at least the first six games after missing training camp.

Also, consider that last year’s second-leading Seahawks receiver Paul Richardson (80/44/703/6) is in Washington. The leading receiver Doug Baldwin, targeted a whopping 117 times for 77/991/8, reportedly suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain (partial ligament tear) in his right knee in Sunday’s opener against Denver, after being bothered all preseason by a balky left knee. Just like Dickson, he could miss multiple weeks. With neither Chris Carson (past injury history) or rookie Rashaad Penny (recent injury history) looking very consistent coming out of the backfield, the Seahawks ran the football less than one-third the time against the Broncos, putting the ball in the belly of a back on just 16 occasions while attempting 33 passes, four to tight ends. Marshawn Lynch must be turning over in his Skittles.

Furthermore, Seattle’s defunct Legion of Boom, weakened by defensive defections, surrendered 25 first downs on 72 plays and 470 yards to a Broncos offense that hasn’t done a whole lot of wowing of late. If this keeps up, and there are signs that it may, Seattle, which prefers to run the football, could find itself in hurry-up mode quite a bit this season while trailing late in games. The Seahawks also could get into some shoot-outs where quarterback Russell Wilson has no choice but to go to the air, leaving open the possibility of a lot of intermediate targets to tight ends.

Somebody or several bodies in Seattle have to make up for all those missing targets from last season. If Dissly has actually morphed into a legitimate pass-catching tight end and he emerges from an apparent time-share with Vannett, you may not want to be dissing his season-opening effort as a fluke, although that 66-yard chunk on one play might make you want to view the overall effort somewhat suspiciously. Even so, if you’re thin at tight end, you may want to think about adding him as a speculation pick if you have room on your roster or you want to cut somebody. Then again, you might want to wait a week and see what happens with the mysterious Seahawks. Maybe Vannett is the guy to go for. He looked great in preseason. It’s quite possible that these two guys will be locked in a time-share with neither accumulating enough snaps to make a big fantasy difference at tight end. They virtually split the snaps Sunday.

NAMES TO KNOW

Potentially very productive tight ends to keep an eye on who may be available in your league:

George Kittle (49ers)
David Njoku (Browns)
OJ Howard (Bucs)
Jesse James (Steelers)
Antonio Gates (Chargers)

Back-up tight ends or tight ends in two-TE sets who should be helpful in the event of injury:

Tyler Kroft (Bengals)
Cameron Brate (Bucs)
Vernon Davis (Redskins).

Remaining tight ends for the Titans and Panthers who will attempt to replace the injured Walker and Olsen:

Luke Stocker (Titans): Time-share
Jonnu Smith (Titans): Time-share
Ian Thomas (Panthers): Projected starter
Chris Manhertz (Panthers): Projected backup

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