Target Decline Candidates – Tight Ends

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By Craig Rondinone (@CraigRondinone)

The NFL might be a pass-first league these days, but that does not mean all tight ends will be seeing the same amount of targets as they did last season.

Tight ends are being utilized by offensive coordinators more than ever in the NFL, yet some of them will be have fewer passes thrown in their direction this year than they had tossed to them last year. We call these tight ends “target regression candidates.”

Here are four tight ends that may be due for negative regression in 2017 and therefore could be seen as busts or avoids in fantasy drafts:

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Tight Ends Due to See Less Targets

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

No tight end was targeted as often in 2016 as Rudolph was. You read that correctly! Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen were looked at less by their quarterbacks than Rudolph was by Sam Bradford. Bradford probably looked at Rudolph more often than an adolescent boy refers to his SI Swimsuit Issue.

No tight end is in for a bigger target comedown than Rudolph. He was never targeted more than 93 times in any of his first five seasons, so to think he will be aimed at 132 times again this year is akin to thinking LeGarrette Blount will rush for 18 touchdowns again even though he is no longer in New England. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are 900-yard receivers who should garner more attention, and former first-rounder Laquon Treadwell might be ready to contribute, too. I would expect Rudolph’s target total to be back in the 85-95 range this season.

Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

Witten has caught at least 64 passes for 13 consecutive seasons, and he has not missed a game since his rookie campaign all the way back in 2013. This begs the question:  How long can Witten and his body keep this up?

If workhorse tailback Ezekiel Elliott‘s six-game suspension is upheld, Dallas and sophomore sensation Zak Prescott will probably be more inclined to pass. But while some fantasy owners might think that would bode well for Witten, I predict this will be more beneficial to all-world wideout Dez Bryant, whose target-per-game average last year (7.46) was his lowest since 2011. New millionaire Terranace Williams and slot receiver Cole Beasley need their targets, too. Do not be surprised if Father Time and the other Cowboys receivers combine to drop Witten’s target total.

Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Brate was a breakout star at the position in 2016 when he tied for tops among tight ends with eight touchdown catches and added 57 receptions for 660 yards. He became quarterback Jameis Winston‘s No. 2 option for passes after top target Mike Evans and was easy for Winston to connect with (70 percent of targets resulted in catches).

So how did Tampa Bay reward Brate for his outstanding season?  The Buccaneers drafted Alabama’s O.J. Howard, the top-ranked tight end coming out of college, in the first round. While Howard is known for his blocking, he is also known for using his body to catch passes inside the red zone and down the middle of the field. Tampa Bay may use several two-TE sets throughout the season to utilize both of their tight ends, but Howard’s arrival cannot mean good things for Brate’s target number.

Will Tye, New York Giants

Tye has been a serviceable tight end during his first two NFL seasons. Despite being undrafted, Tye latched on to the Giants and has caught 90 passes for 859 yards and four touchdowns. He was looking like Eli Manning‘s top tight end for 2017, but the Giants put a stop to that with what they did in draft. New York selected Mississippi’s Evan Engram with the 23rd pick in the first round, cementing that Tye will be the backup (at best) once Engram is ready.

Tye was targeted 70 times in 2016. Do not expect Manning to look his way that many in 2017, not when Engram learns the offense and steals more of the snaps, along with all of the balls franchise receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and newly-acquired Brandon Marshall need to feed their target addictions. Tye’s fantasy value has dried up to zilch unless you play in NFC East fantasy leagues or leagues where you play three tight ends per week.

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