Rookie TEs: Why History Is Against Them (@FantasyFro)
In 2018 we saw the reliable TE pool shrink drastically. With Rob Gronkowski officially retired, the NFL’s elite TE group is limited to Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz. Followed by the tier two group of Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, Eric Ebron and OJ Howard. Personally, I’d recommend drafting one of the elite TEs which will save yourself tons of frustration during the season. But if you miss out or attempt to find the next TE sleeper, just make sure you’re not wasting a draft pick on a rookie.
Per ESPN, over the past 16 years only two rookie TEs have had more than 600 receiving yards (Evan Engram had 722 yards in 2017 & John Carlson had 627 in 2008). Chris Herndon from the New York Jets finished as the top fantasy rookie TE in 2018, good enough for only 16th overall among the position in PPR scoring.
While trying to decide the best players to draft (or not draft) you need to focus on annual trends. We know rookie TEs have historically been below average versus veteran TEs, but why? Quite often we see rookie RBs and WRs have great seasons but their responsibilities are much less on the field. TEs must learn run blocking, pass protection, route running and receiving - essentially they’re two positions combined into one causing them to need more time to develop. The good and bad thing about fantasy football is we don’t care about blocking skills BUT the TEs who are better blockers may see the field more often.
Continuing with trends, we see a huge increase from rookie TE performances to Sophomore TE performances, once the game slows down for them. We saw it with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE, O.J. Howard. His rookie season in 2017 he averaged only 7.8 PPR fantasy points per game. During his sophomore season in 2018, he was tied for 5th overall based on his 12.1 PPR fantasy points per game, per fantasypros.com. This trend has held true for numerous other elite TEs such as Jason Witten, Jimmy Graham, and Antonio Gates.
Come Draft Day you better have your TE rankings ready to go and plan ahead which tier you’re targeting. Dynasty league players must understand that their rookie TE won’t be relevant until at least his second season according to history - so have a reliable veteran for the short term. League owners that are trying to find this years sleeper, start with researching the 2019 Sophomores.