The game of football progresses rather seamlessly across age groups and levels of play. From Pop Warner to high school to college, the sport whittles down the best talent while keeping the same general gameplay alive and thriving.
Only 1.2% of college-level players are drafted to play in the NFL. Once they get there, it’s generally a short shelf life profession with a lot of turnover. Most positions require a steep learning curve from Saturday marching bands to Sundays on the Red Zone Channel.
Perhaps the position that requires the most daunting leap besides quarterback is the tight end position. Most tight ends are expected to pass protect, run block, play special teams, and run routes. They wear a lot of hats, and for most players, it can take years to get those hats to fit.
The fantasy realm is a dark chasm of value scarcity for all the tight ends not named Travis Kelce or Kyle Pitts. Tight ends need to be good receivers for fantasy purposes. We know which of them are just underpaid wideouts. But which ones can you add to your dynasty roster on the cheap who will break out and not just clog up the bottom of the bench?
I have identified four tight ends that are either undervalued or not valued at all for dynasty purposes and have the chops to return winning value on the investment.
Irv Smith Jr. (TE – MIN)
Don’t let the title fool you. Irv Smith Jr. is far from an old, grizzled throwback. You would think he might be with a dynasty ADP of 148 (TE17). The 23-year-old showed a lot of promise as a backup to Kyle Rudolph in 2020, where he turned in 365 yards and five touchdowns on only 43 targets. He was slated to take over the position in 2021, but a meniscus injury derailed his season. This season, he is quite literally the only tight end on the Minnesota roster with more than five receptions in a season. Kirk Cousins has favored his tight end, especially in the red zone.
Smith is a very athletic player known for making big plays in the receiving game. The return of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson on the outside can only help single up Smith in lighter coverage. The chatter in dynasty circles was very different last season. Many called Smith “the next big thing” at the position. The community must have the memory of a goldfish if someone of Smith’s caliber has completely fallen out of favor to no fault of his own. I have him ranked much higher than consensus at dynasty TE12 (yes, a TE1). The sky is the limit for this talented young player with no positional competition in a good offense.
Gerald Everett (TE – LAC)
Boy, I’m glad Gerald Everett got out of Seattle. We tend to favor tight ends in dynasty with solid athletic profiles, and Everett fits the bill. He shared looks with Tyler Higbee on the Rams when he came up injured at key times in his role development in the offense. The Seahawks have always been content ignoring the tight end position in the passing game. Everett is now headed for more sunny surroundings as a member of the Los Angeles Chargers. It sounds so lovely for an athletic 27-year-old tight end to be catching passes from Justin Herbert. LA was top five in the NFL in every passing category, including top marks in the red zone. Even geriatric Jared Cook limped around and garnered 83 targets in 2021 (20 more than Everett got in Seattle).
Everett figures to be the de facto starter for the Chargers in 2022, with Donald Parham and Tre McKitty rounding out the depth chart. His two-year deal cements him as no worse than Herbert’s fourth option in an elite passing attack. The tight ends for the Chargers under Herbert can’t help but produce good receiving numbers. Everett’s dynasty ADP is 213 (TE27). The value is staring us right in the face since Everett hasn’t finished that low since 2019, when he only played in 13 games. He is a no-risk pick with plenty of upside left to pine for.
Ricky Seals Jones (TE – NYG)
We need to dive a little deeper into the bag of sleepers to find the New York Giants’ new tight end. Down at an ADP of 310 is 27-year-old Ricky Seals-Jones. The journeyman is already on his fifth NFL team in six seasons but might easily have found himself in the best situation to date. The Giants released Kaden Smith and Kyle Rudolph and let their best tight end (a relative term) Evan Engram leave in free agency to sign with Jacksonville. All that’s left at tight end for the new regime is Seals-Jones, former Texan Jordan Akins (a blocking specialist), and incoming rookie from San Diego State, Daniel Bellinger.
The early career has not been a productive venture for the undrafted player out of Texas A&M. If remembered for anything, it would be his propensity to vulture touchdowns that should have gone to a different tight end. Seals-Jones is a huge man at 6′ 5″ and 243 pounds but backs it up with a 69th percentile speed score and what should be oodles of prime real estate in a Giants passing attack. The Brian Daboll offense targeted starting tight end Dawson Knox 71 times in 15 games last season in Buffalo and weaponized the tight end position in goal-to-go situations to the tune of nine touchdowns. 71 targets seems modest, but that would mark a new career-high for Seals-Jones. His best attribute is providing a vast catch radius in the red zone, which is seemingly what the club had in mind when they signed him.
Hayden Hurst (TE – CIN)
This year, the former professional baseball player-turned-NFL tight end and philanthropist has found a new home in Cincinnati. Once a first-round selection of the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 out of South Carolina, Hayden Hurst took his talents to the outstanding passing game of the reigning AFC champions.
Last season, Hurst played the Y-tight end position opposite rookie phenom, Kyle Pitts. There was not a lot of volume that matriculated its way down to his role as a primary blocker. On the other hand, the Bengals incorporated recently-departed tight end CJ Uzomah into their talented receiving corps to the tune of 63 targets for 493 yards and five touchdowns. Hurst and Uzomah are eerily similar in size and athletic profile, making the picture relatively clear for next season and beyond.
Hurst is 28 years old but young in football matters from his years of playing baseball. His main competition at tight end is Drew Sample, who only garnered 15 targets in 2021 despite playing in all 17 games. Hurst figures to have a solid grasp on Uzomah’s volume share of the offense, with room to earn more targets should one of the Bengals’ top receivers miss time. His dynasty ADP is 216, putting Hurst’s value at TE28 (right behind Everett). Although his perceived upside might be limited, I believe that Hurst can easily outperform his ADP over the next two to three seasons and is worth rostering in deeper leagues.
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