There are very few tight ends who constantly finish as a top 12 tight end every year. Since 2010, 57 different tight ends have been a TE1. Of those 57, only 12 have done it more than three times. There is a significant drop off after the top tier. The trouble is finding who will be the next player to become that model of consistency:
Since 2010, the NFL Draft capital of TE1s range from the first round to the sixth.
Guys like Delanie Walker had younger guys with higher draft capital expected to start ahead of them.
The quarterback situation wasn't ideal for all of them.
As I spoke about in the prequel to this article - The Misconception of Young Tight Ends: Early Success - most TE1 finishes since 2010 came in the second, third, and fourth years of a player’s career. However, this doesn't always have to be the case, with the Saints' Jared Cook being the prime example and breakouts Tyler Higbee and Darren Waller in 2019. Occasionally, it takes players some time to develop.
Not all tight ends will get a shot at a starting spot immediately, whether they need to develop or there are players ahead of them. We are going to explore some of the 2020 rookie tight ends and see which ones could make an impact down the road.
Valuable Tight Ends with a Slow Start
One of the most challenging things to do in dynasty is to have patience. I've made 20 transactions in my leagues just today alone. However, none of them touched my young tight ends. Taxi spots are filled with shares of the Packers' Jace Sternberger and the Raiders' Foster Moreau from 2019, along with the Patriots' Devin Asiasi and the Saints' Adam Trautman from 2020. I didn't always do this. I had to learn the hard way after rostering George Kittle for almost an entire season before dropping him in Week 16 to pick up someone who I can't even remember their name. If you want to get bit in the ass, drop a young tight end.
If you're better than me and you've been holding onto guys like the Titans' Jonnu Smith and the Falcons' Hayden Hurst are finally ready to break out. Your patience and lack of tinkering are finally about to pay off. Now let's look at some rookies who can eventually become those guys.
Heads Above the Rest
Every year the Seahawks lose tight ends to injuries. Since 2010, there have only been four to start more than 12 games. It's probably why they signed Greg Olsen and drafted two others, making it seven tight ends on their depth chart.
The 6'7”, 252-pound Colby Parkinson becomes interesting after watching his film. He's not off to a great start after breaking his foot in the offseason, but he is ahead of schedule and should be activated off the PUP before the season starts. Hopefully, there's no curse in Seattle, and Parkinson can get some reps in training camp. But, even if he does, don't expect him to be fantasy relevant in 2020.
Outside of the rookies, there's not one tight end scheduled to be on the roster after 2021. Two years could give Parkinson enough time to work on getting off the line quicker, work on his mechanics, and of course, figure out how to block. Being 6'7” doesn't help your ability to run-block, as it's tough to get leverage and drive defenders back. It was one of the reasons Stanford flexed him out wide so often. With the Seahawks wanting to run the ball as often as they do, Parkinson has to block, or he won't see the field.
If Parkinson can improve, it wouldn't be wild to think he has a former Seahawks' tight end Jimmy Graham-type ceiling, as both towering tight ends have similar builds. His wide receiver-type play presents a tremendous mismatch for opposing defenses. He becomes even more terrifying when he uses his 33 ¼" arms to catch the ball away from his body, not giving defenders a chance.
If I have an open spot on the back end of my roster or a taxi squad, Parkinson is going on it.
There One Minute and Gone the Next
Imagine having to catch passes from three different quarterbacks in one college season. Purdue tight end Brycen Hopkins had to live that reality in his final season. Hopkins wouldn't let the lack of consistency at quarterback hinder his ability to produce. He put up 61 receptions for 830 yards and seven touchdowns while being second on the team in yards and catches and tied for first in receiving touchdowns. He was also named first team All-Big Ten, the Kwalick–Clark Tight End of the Year and a semifinalist for the Mackey Award.
After showing out at the combine with the second-fastest 40 time and the fourth fastest shuttle, the Rams picked him up in the fourth round. He's expected to compete for the third tight end spot behind Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee, allowing him just the right amount of time to develop.
Everett is a free agent in 2021, and they can move on from Higbee's contract in 2022, with only 1.2 million in dead cap space. Receiver Cooper Kupp will also be a free agent this year, and if he doesn't see the field as often (his usage tapered off at the tail end of last year), there's a good chance he'll be elsewhere. With head coach Sean McVay looking to get his tight ends involved more, it could be a golden opportunity for Hopkins to seize.
With Hopkins, breaking tackles is a form of art. This makes him a perfect candidate for mid-range targets we saw with Higbee last year. Pairing his tackle-breaking ability with his nose for the red zone is something that could make him fantasy viable for years to come.
Mackey Award Winner
For the first time, a Florida Atlantic tight end has brought home the Mackey Award. 21-year-old Harrison Bryant - who put almost 2,100 yards and 16 touchdowns throughout his career - was dominant in 2019, leading the team in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns on the way to an Owls 11-3 record.
Bryant was one of the most polarizing players to watch in all of college football. Head coach Lane Kiffin used everywhere from the screen game to a deep-threat receiver. Watching his film, there are not many plays where he wasn't involved in significant ways. When it comes to his tape, his ability to break tackles and make catches in traffic stand out immediately; eerily similar to the Vikings' Kyle Rudolph, who Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski used to oversee.
With Stefanski bringing his style of offense into Cleveland, it's no surprise he opted to draft Bryant. Although he needs to add some weight, his frame is similar as well. If developed correctly, Bryant can be the ideal in-line tight end for Stefanski's system. Meanwhile, they can use Austin Hooper - who they just signed to a record-setting contract - as the pass-catching tight end. Bryant isn't likely to start day one, however.
Former first-rounder David Njoku isn't a pushover. He's a physical freak who's shown glimpses of success. The issue isn't as much talent as his ability to stay on the field. Although he requested a trade back in July, he's since rescinded the request and reported to camp, only to get injured once again.
Reports surfacing about Njoku dropping balls and having a subpar camp only make me feel better about Bryant. Njoku's contract ends after this year, leading to Bryant getting the start at worst in 2021. So why didn't I feature him in Early Success?
Although Stefanski used two tight ends on 54% of the snaps in 2019, neither one of his starting tight ends were relevant when it came to their season-long finish. Stefanski loves to run the ball, especially in the red zone. If Hooper underperforms, the Browns can cut him while saving almost ten million dollars. The vacancy would open up the door for Bryant to dominate the snaps. That is, if he is as good as advertised.
Sometimes patience pays off, and with these three, I firmly believe it will.
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