It was Zach Ertz in 2017 and George Kittle in 2018. Every analyst and fantasy gamer out there is looking for the next tight end to break out who is being drafted at a low average draft position (ADP). Experienced fantasy football players know that drafting a tight end early in drafts is risky. But, there are only a few great tight ends. So everyone out there is looking for a value late in drafts who could break out at the position. Here a few potential breakouts for 2019 at the tight end position.
Austin Hooper – Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are known as one of the premier offenses in the NFL and Matt Ryan is a well-respected quarterback. They were third in the NFL in 2018 passing play percentage. Also, they just added Dirk Koetter back as their offensive coordinator. (Koetter was the Falcons’ OC before he was the head coach of the Buccaneers.) The Bucs were one of the league’s most pass-heavy offenses under Koetter. Add in the eight games a year on turf in a dome and the Falcons pass attack is expected to be top tier in 2019. In addition, they added talent and depth to their offensive line in the NFL Draft.
If the Falcons passing offense is expected to be even better in 2019, that means all weapons for Ryan need to be upgraded accordingly. Hooper had quite the season in 2018, catching over 70 balls for 660 yards. He possesses upper-percentile agility and speed and can be on the field for all three downs. After a small breakout as a Top 10 tight end in 2018, Hooper could be a huge breakout candidate in his fourth season. Another year of experience (plus his connection to a top-tier quarterback on an offense that is expected to improve even more this season) could result in Hooper’s rise to a Top 5 tight end finish.
Chris Herndon – New York Jets
Herndon had a pretty significant season as a rookie at only 22 years old. He went over 50 yards five times and had four touchdowns on a poor Jets offense. Like George Kittle and other breakout tight ends, Herndon had a great second half of his rookie year. A great second half means the player is getting more acclimated to the NFL and is improving with more experience. Kittle had almost 200 yards in his final three games showing he was improving as the season went on — a signal of a next year breakout candidate. In Herndon’s final 11 games, he went over 10 PPR points five times as well.
Herndon’s impressive rookie season and career is now tethered to rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold grew during the season as well, finishing with the NFL’s best QB rating in December. He did this despite being the youngest quarterback to ever start a game in the NFL. The young QB showed improvement and flashes of becoming a prolific passer in the league. Herndon and Darnold grew together as rookies, which may be why the two developed chemistry so quickly. With Darnold and Herndon headed into year two, plus the new additions of Le’veon Bell, Jameison Crowder, and head coach Adam Gase, the Jets could be a significantly improved offense in 2019. This makes Herndon a potential breakout player.
Herndon has since received a four-game suspension. However, he has appealed the suspension. It makes him harder to draft in seasonal leagues but does not take away from his chance to break out as there are no other significant tight ends on the Jets roster.
Ricky Seals-Jones – Arizona Cardinals
RSJ has not been very exciting in fantasy football but has shown some positive flashes. He has shown decent speed and ability but has yet to fully turn into a true fantasy asset. Kliff Kingsbury has built on paper an explosive offense in one offseason. He has also said he wants the fastest-paced offense in the NFL. If the Cardinals are running the most plays in the league and are ultra-efficient, then all Cardinals players could become fantasy assets.
Fantasy analysts are hyping up David Johnson, Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, and even Larry Fitzgerald this season. But, it is extremely unfair to expect big things out of these players and not have hope for Seals-Jones. Charles Clay is now 30-years old and Mr. Irrelevant Caleb Wilson is only a rookie. If RSJ is the starting tight end for one of the fastest-paced and explosive offenses in the league, then there is a chance he is a potential breakout in his third NFL season.
Vance McDonald – Pittsburgh Steelers
McDonald might not be a huge buy candidate in dynasty leagues due to his age, but he could have himself a quality 2019 season. He went over 600 yards last season and possesses impressive speed for a 270-pounder. He can play all three downs, has shown Ben Roethlisberger he is a reliable target, and has a new world of opportunity this season.
Antonio Brown’s 150+ targets per season are now gone. It remains to be seen whether or not Juju Smith-Schuster can be a #1 outside receiver and more than just an elite slot player. Donte Moncrief has been mediocre in his career and James Washington was mediocre in his first season. McDonald is one of the only constants in the Steelers offense this season and with a huge target void, he could see a massive upgrade in target volume. With impressive athleticism, he could take that target increase and have a top 10 season building off his 600-yard season last year with Brown and Smith-Schuster hogging targets.
Other Potential Breakout Candidates
Mark Andrews – Baltimore Ravens
Andrews had over 500 yards as a rookie. If he can out-produce first-round pick Hayden Hurst (who struggled with a broken foot last season) and has also added 20 pounds, then he can be a special player. If Lamar Jackson takes a step forward as a passer, it could be with Andrews as they have already established some chemistry from their rookie seasons.
Mike Gesicki – Miami Dolphins
Gesicki was extremely abysmal as a rookie to say the least. The second round draft pick has one of the most impressive athletic profiles ever seen at the tight end position. Although he was unproductive last season as a rookie, there is still a chance for hope with new quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick in town.
Tight Ends One Injury Away From Greatness
Dallas Goedert – Philadelphia Eagles
Goedert is nothing short of a size-speed freak at the tight end position. He did impressive things as a rookie and could eat even more into Zach Ertz’s workload in 2019. According to Pro Football Focus, Carson Wentz has averaged a passer rating of 117.5 over the past two seasons. If Ertz ever went down, Goedert could be the next Travis Kelce of fantasy football.
Jonnu Smith – Tennessee Titans
Smith is an athletic monster who was dominant in college at a young age which makes him a breakout candidate if Delanie Walker gets hurt or retires. His third year of experience in an offense that is excellent on paper is one Marcus Mariota breakout away from his weapons being serious fantasy assets. When healthy, Mariota has shown he loves to target his tight end.
Ian Thomas – Carolina Panthers
Thomas showed some impressive flashes when Greg Olsen was hurt. Now Olsen has been injured for two straight seasons and is close to getting back into the television booth. Thomas is an impressive athlete at 260 pounds and can be an impressive tight end going into his second season and in the future when Olsen is out of the picture.