The latest NFL Fantasy LIVE Podcast features another round of "Hype Train or Smokescreen" and introduces a new segment -- "Can You Take Me High Enough?" For more fantasy content, check out the 2015 fantasy draft kit.
I know, I know, you've probably heard this over and over again, but that's because it rings true. Once you get past the top tier (Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham) the unpredictability and scarcity at fantasy tight end could be referred to as any number of epically disastrous things. A grandiose dumpster fire perhaps, or a tremendous train wreck, or maybe even a colossal cluster if you want to get fancy. While it can be entertaining to come up with terms to describe this positional plight, it's even more fun to expose some late-round options that you won't have to pay the iron price for on draft day, but could end up providing your fantasy team with all the value you need throughout the season.
Delanie Walker, Titans (ADP 135.89)
Last year the veteran tight end drew 100 targets over the course of the season. On a Tennessee squad that finished with a 2-14 record, Walker paced his team in receiving. He led all Titans' pass-catchers with 63 receptions for 890 yards and his yardage total was fourth most among tight ends in the NFL (one more yard than Jimmy Graham). Walker added four touchdowns, three of which came in his first four games of the year. He also posted two games with more than 140 receiving yards -- the only tight end to accomplish such a feat in 2014.
Standing 6-feet tall, Walker is not the biggest occupant on the gridiron but he makes up for his lack of size with deceptive speed. Now with rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota under center, Walker is set up for another big season. While Tennessee did some work to shore up its receiving corps, the talent pool is lackluster to say the least with Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Hakeem Nicks, Harry Douglas and rookie Dorial Green-Beckham all competing for looks. Walker is the most reliable target Mariota has and you can bet he's going to take advantage of the trustworthy veteran's presence. All signs point to Walker as an absolute steal at his current asking price.
Jason Witten, Cowboys (ADP 125.20)
Prove it you say? Gladly.
Let's start with the fact that Witten hasn't missed a single game since October 12, 2003 (his rookie year). In every season dating back to 2007, the Cowboys' tight end has finished in the top 10 in fantasy points at his position. He has totaled 700 or more receiving yards in every season dating back to 2004 and has piled up no fewer than 64 receptions in each of those campaigns.
Last year Witten was second on the Cowboys to only Dez Bryant in terms of receiving yards (703) and receptions (64) while he added five trips to the end zone (four of which came between Week 6 and Week 10). He was also one of only three tight ends to be on the field for over 1,000 of his team's offensive snaps. Obviously being on the field leads to more opportunities -- he drew 90 targets -- and more opportunities eventually leads to fantasy points.
Dallas' pass-catching corps is shallower than you may think as Bryant and Terrance Williams pose the only legitimate threat to Witten's prospective targets. Plus, DeMarco Murray hauled in 57 passes of his own last season, and now that he is in Philly, those receptions need to be distributed elsewhere. After a career-low 703 yards last season, Witten is primed for a rebound and is a no-brainer with his current ADP.
Tyler Eifert, Bengals (ADP 150.33)
Tyler Eifert missed nearly all of 2014 with a shoulder/elbow injury so we only really have his stats and film from his 2013 rookie campaign to draw conclusions from. He managed a respectable 445 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 39 receptions in his first pro season. That stat line doesn't quite equate to fantasy success but it's a great starting point considering Eifert was on the field for fewer than 60 percent of the Bengals' offensive snaps that year.
Cincinnati frequently used him like a wide receiver, lining up the 6-foot-6 Notre Dame product on the outside to take advantage of his size. His draft profile pegged his "lean receiver-like build" as a weakness, but if he is utilized the right way, Eifert's physique becomes a major advantage which is evident on this play:
Eifert can play the role of a monstrous slot receiver, presents a matchup nightmare on the outside and is an enormous target underneath. While there are some concerns about all the mouths to feed in Cincy, Eifert's ceiling in 2015 is through the roof.
Mychal Rivera, Raiders (ADP 150.68)
The 6-foot-4, 254-pound Miami (FL) product racked up 44 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games last season with the Hurricanes. He showcased impressive speed for his size, an ability to go get tough passes and was utilized both in the slot and out wide -- a growing trend among NFL tight ends.
Although there is speculation that Walford could overtake third-year pro Mychal Rivera as Oakland's No. 1 tight end, I'm not jumping on that bandwagon just yet. History hasn't been kind to rookie tight ends, especially in terms of fantasy production. Instead I'll take my chances with a late round shot in the dark on Rivera, who returns to the Raiders as one of Derek Carr's most familiar targets.
On an Oakland squad that attempted over 600 passes in 2014, Rivera ranked second on the team in receptions (58), receiving yards (534) and tied for second in receiving touchdowns (4). The Tennessee product built a solid rapport with Carr by midseason and, per Pro Football Focus, Rivera was thrown at 91 times in 2014 which tied him for seventh in the NFL among tight ends (Jared Cook). He caught no fewer than six passes in six of Oakland's final 10 games of the season. Unfortunately, this only amounted to a viable fantasy output on three separate occasions in Weeks 9, 10 and 14.
Going forward, Rivera could once again be Carr's No. 2 target behind rookie wideout Amari Cooper. And while the presence of former 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree could chip into Rivera's opportunities, it's not likely to be enough to dent the tight end's upside. And upside is really all we're looking for when we're talking about players this late in fantasy drafts. In standard leagues, Rivera won't be a week-to-week starter but he remains a solid bench stash for bye weeks or as an injury backup. Unless Walford has a groundbreaking preseason, he'll likely remain on the waiver-wire but makes for an interesting dynasty acquisition.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers (ADP 150.33)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins only played in nine games (21-221-2) in his rookie campaign due to ankle and back injuries. After a full offseason to regain his health he has said that he "wants to be an explosive player" in his second season. At 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds the sophomore tight end out of Washington is one of several lethal weapons in the Bucs' passing attack. Along with wideouts Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, Seferian-Jenkins is a skyscraping target with big hands and an incredible wingspan. On film, he seems to roam around the gridiron as gracefully as any man of his size can while simply towering over defenders -- defensive coordinators might as well forget about one-on-one coverage. Seferian-Jenkins can rise above double coverage with his reach and he has the strength to power through any would-be tacklers for extra yardage.
His talent is on display here with an impressive toe-tapping grab that we're so used to seeing wide receivers make, but is a rarity for big tight ends:
Also in Seferian-Jenkins' favor for 2015 is the Bucs' hiring of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter who has a solid history with tight ends. In Jacksonville in 2010, Koetter coached Marcedes Lewis in a career-best season with 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. Koetter also coached Tony Gonzalez's 2012 and 2013 campaigns in Atlanta -- he piled up over 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns over the two seasons.
And while it remains to be seen if rookie signal-caller Jameis Winston is truly an upgrade from Josh McCown/Mike Glennon, early reports claim that the duo has already built chemistry. ASJ is virtually going undrafted in NFL.com fantasy leagues and is worth a pick anywhere from Round 10 on based on upside alone.
Matt Franciscovich is an associate fantasy editor at NFL.com. He listened to this mellow collection of Wu-Tang Clan instrumentals while crafting this masterpiece of an article. Hit him up on Twitter @m_franciscovich for music recommendations and fantasy advice.