by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Fantasy owners were spoiled by the rookie performance from Evan Engram last season, though he’s the exception not the rule. Often rookie tight ends fail to make an impact, something we saw from other early draft picks recently (like O.J. Howard and David Njoku). Will there be a rookie tight end who can make an instant impact in ’18 or should the class be completely ignored? Let’s take a look at the options:
1) Hayden Hurst – Baltimore Ravens
The only tight end selected in the first round, the Ravens did ultimately double up (they added Mark Andrews in the third round). That goes to show the need that they have at the position, and the potential upside Hurst has. In fact you can argue that he is already the locked in starter, and with a wide receiving corps that features Michael Crabtree (6’1”), John Brown (5’11”) and Willie Sneed (5’11”) the 6’4” Hurst should immediately make an impact in the red zone. He also proved capable of catching the football over his last two years in college (92 receptions, 1,175 yards), helping lead Walter Football to compare him to Zach Ertz prior to the draft:
Hurst and Ertz (6-5, 250) are almost identical in size and have similar athleticism. Both possess speed and agility to go with their frames. They also have blocking ability to go along with being receiving threats.
Hurst should operate as a safety valve for Joe Flacco from Week 1 and has the best chance to make an Engram-like impact in his rookie season.
2) Mike Gesicki – Miami Dolphins
He’s been getting rave reviews in training camp and with last year’s top two tight ends (Julius Thomas & Anthony Fasano) no longer in the mix there are going to be opportunities to step up and emerge. The question is going to be if he can do enough in protection to keep him on the field, as NFL.com noted:
If you are looking for a tight end who can line up and help in the running game, he’s not your guy. However, if you want a pass-catcher who can get open and has the ball skills to win against linebackers and safeties, he might be your guy. Gesicki needs to improve his play strength and his issues as a blocker could limit the amount of teams who will target him, but he has a chance to become one of the better pass catching tight ends in the league.
At 6’6” he appears to be the perfect fit as a red zone threat, and he showed it in his final season at Penn State (9 TD). With Ryan Tannehill set to return as the QB and in need of a safety valve to replace the departed Jarvis Landry, Gesicki has the potential to make an impact.
3) Chris Herndon – New York Jets
Selected in the fourth round, he may not have the pure talent as some of the other rookies around the league. However the Jets have a complete void at the position and Herndon has flown a bit under-the-radar after being overshadowed by Daivd Njoku in Miami. However he stepped up last season, with 40 catches for 477 yards and 4 TD, and could deliver immediately in the red zone (and be the perfect safety valve for Sam Darnold when he is inserted into the starting lineup).
4) Dallas Goedert – Philadelphia Eagles
Zach Ertz is a stud, but he’s also failed to stay on the field for all 16 games for three seasons running (he’s missed a total of 5 games over the past three seasons). Even if Ertz were to stay healthy, the Eagles showed a willingness to consistently utilize two-tight end sets a year ago (Trey Burton had 30 targets and Brent Celek had 23). Both of them are gone, however, and Goedert could easily assume all of those opportunities.
The Eagles utilized their first pick (second round) on Goedert, who NFL.com compared to Ertz prior to the draft (Walter Football compared him to Jack Doyle). Playing at San Diego State he clearly put up some monster numbers over his final two seasons:
- 2016 – 92 receptions, 1,293 yards, 11 TD
- 2017 – 72 receptions, 1,111 yards, 7 TD
If he were in-line to be the lead tight end his ranking would be higher, but playing behind Ertz the opportunities will be limited.
5) Ian Thomas – Carolina Panthers
You would think a Panthers tight end would be easily ignored, but the Panthers selected him as the heir apparent to Greg Olsen. With Olsen missing 9 games last season due to injury and now 33-years old, is it that hard to imagine the team needing an alternative? Of course Thomas also battled injuries in college last season and there are questions about his blocking, so thinking he’ll make an instant impact would be misguided.
Sources – ESPN, NFL.com, Walter Football
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 preseason rankings: