Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Eric Ebron
- Jordan Reed is primed for a huge day against the Cowboys with the Redskins missing passing options.
- Vernon Davis has the potential to rekindle old magic with Redskins quarterback Alex Smith on Sunday.
- David Njoku has a great matchup against the Buccaneers depleted secondary.
The 2018 NFL season rolls on, and we’re still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 24.1 points per game per team. We could be in for another week of high scores with a 10-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 1 p.m. ET.
With four teams on bye, two at Wembley Stadium and six in prime-time games, we are without the following tight ends.
- Thursday Night Football: Broncos (Jeff Heuerman) at Cardinals (Ricky Seals-Jones)
- International Series (London): Titans (Jonnu Smith) at Chargers (Antonio Gates)
- Sunday Night Football: Bengals (C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft) at Chiefs (Travis Kelce)
- Monday Night Football: Giants (Evan Engram,) at Falcons (Austin Hooper)
- Byes: Packers (Jimmy Graham), Raiders (Jared Cook), Steelers (Vance McDonald, Jesse James), Seahawks (Nick Vannett)
For analysis on the smaller slates, consult Chris Raybon’s premium strategy guides (released throughout the week).
In writing this piece, I’ve relied primarily on the FantasyLabs Models. This breakdown is less of a comprehensive analysis of each quarterback and more of an introduction to this week’s players via our large suite of analytic DFS Tools.
We’ll start with the three tight ends at the top of the salary scale, follow with two guys at the top of our individual Pro Models and finish with the rest of the slate’s fantasy-relevant pass-catchers.
For updates on Vegas spreads and over/unders, check out The Action Network Live Odds page.
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Highest-Priced Tight Ends
There are three tight ends at the top of the salary scale this week. The one I find most intriguing is Eric Ebron.
Eric Ebron: Indianapolis Colts (-7) vs. Buffalo Bills, 43 O/U
- $5,400 DraftKings; $6,800 FanDuel
UPDATE (10/20): Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (chest, hamstring) was not listed on the final injury report. He will play in Week 7.
The Colts are expected to welcome back No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (chest, hamstring), but tight end Jack Doyle (hip, out) will miss his fifth straight game, so Ebron should continue to enjoy his elite usage.
In his four starts without Doyle, Ebron has hit his salary-based expectations each week, averaging a robust 18.7 DraftKings points per game. Of course, Ebron has been owned at an outrageous 17.8% rate, but he’s provided immense value as a cash-game option: His +9.95 Plus/Minus as the No. 1 Colts tight end is über-elite.
What’s particularly encouraging about Ebron is, in addition to averaging 10.8 targets per game without Doyle, he’s been used in high-value ways throughout the entire campaign. For the season, he’s first among all players (not just tight ends) with five touchdowns on passes into the end zone. He’s tied for first (with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown) with 11 end-zone targets. He’s second with four red-zone touchdowns and fourth with 14 red-zone targets. With six receiving touchdowns on the season, Ebron is in a five-way tie for the league lead. No one else on the Colts has even half that number.
On top of that he’s being used as a downfield weapon. Among all tight ends on the slate, he’s the leader with 525 air yards, and his 10.1-yard average depth of target (aDOT) suggests that he’s more of a big-bodied slot receiver and less of a tight end — and the numbers back that up. Of all starting tight ends, Ebron has run a league-high 67.0% of his routes from the slot. He’s also lined up out wide on 12.2% of his snaps.
The Bills rank second in pass defense with a -19.7% DVOA, and they are specifically fourth against tight ends thanks to the play of strong safety Jordan Poyer and free safety Micah Hyde, who have above-average Pro Football Focus (PFF) coverage grades of 73.6 and 76.5. While they have collectively been targeted in coverage at a rate of just 4.3%, they have allowed a 66.7% catch rate. Additionally, Ebron is likely to see at least a few snaps against linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, the team’s primary pass defenders at the position. They have been targeted at a much higher rate (13.5%) and allowed a catch rate of 82.1%. One way or another, Ebron’s likely to get his targets.
On Sunday morning, I might look to bet the over on Ebron’s 0.5 touchdown prop, depending on how much juice that side has. Quarterback Andrew Luck is funneling the ball to Ebron whenever the Colts are within striking distance of the end zone, and the Bills have given up touchdowns to the only two starting-caliber tight ends they’ve faced — Kyle Rudolph (Week 3) and Jimmy Graham (Week 4).
To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 137-64-4, which is good for a 67% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Ebron is tied for first with seven Pro Trends on DraftKings.
Model Tight Ends
Besides Ertz and Gronk, there are two tight ends atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
Of the two, I prefer Jordan Reed.
Jordan Reed: Washington Redskins (PK) vs. Dallas Cowboys, 41.5 O/U
- $4,800 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
This could be a smash spot for Reed. The Redskins are incredibly thin at wide receiver. Jamison Crowder (ankle) missed last week and has already been declared out. Additionally, Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) is doubtful and expected to sit out. Washington’s wide receivers will be some unholy combination of Josh Doctson, Maurice Harris, Michael Floyd and Brian Quick.
On top of that, running back Chris Thompson (ribs) is questionable after missing last week. He practiced on a limited basis each day this week, so he seems likelier than not to play. He should still be considered a game-time decision, and even if plays he might have a reduced role.
Given this target vacuum, Reed has a massive opportunity to fill the void.
Since Jay Gruden became head coach for the Redskins in 2014, only Gronk (15.8) and Kelce (13.4) have had more fantasy points per game than Reed (12.8) in point-per-reception (PPR) scoring. With his extensive injury history, the Redskins seemingly limited him to a strict “pitch count” of 40 plays per game in the first month — he had 41, 40, 40 and 39 snaps in his first four games — but last week he played 47 snaps and was targeted a season-high nine times.
Even though Reed has yet to play 70% of his team’s snaps in any game, he’s at least being used as a receiving specialist. He’s run routes on 62.3% of his snaps, leaving most of the blocking workload to Vernon Davis and Jeremy Sprinkle, who have combined to block on 65.6% of their 276 snaps. Reed’s not getting as much playing time as he used to get, but when he’s on the field, he’s out there to catch the ball.
Like Ebron, Reed is basically a big-bodied wide receiver: He has lined up in the slot or out wide on 53.1% of his snaps and is functioning as the team’s No. 1 non-backfield receiving option. Thompson leads the Redskins with 26 receptions, but Reed is tied with him for first with 31 targets and has a team-high 225 yards receiving.
He’s second with 20 receptions and 222 air yards. Even though Reed has only two red-zone opportunities this season and hasn’t been targeted inside the 20-yard line since Week 1, his target share and quarterback Alex Smith’s penchant for short passes give Reed a respectable baseline of expected production.
Reed is the highest-rated FanDuel tight end in the Raybon Model.
Also on Redskins:
- Vernon Davis: $3,200 DraftKings; $4,800 FanDuel
With the lack of reliable options at wide receiver, Davis could see more pass-catching work than he usually does. Although he has only eight targets over the past three weeks, Davis has been efficient with his opportunities, producing a 7-133-1 receiving line. He could have some unexpected production at almost no ownership.
This might seem irrelevant, but Davis and Smith played together on the 49ers for six seasons before Smith was traded to the Chiefs in 2013. They have a time-tested, trans-franchise connection. Smith has thrown 188 touchdowns in his career. Davis has caught the most, with 31. Likewise, Davis has 61 receiving touchdowns. The 31 he’s gotten from Smith are a slight majority.
Of all the pass-catchers Smith has ever played with, Davis is second (right behind Kelce) with 369 targets, 238 receptions and 3,082 yards. And those numbers put Smith at the top of Davis’ list of personal quarterbacks.
Of all the passers to direct a minimum of 30 targets to Davis throughout his career, Smith has been the most efficient with Davis on those attempts, producing a mark of 9.1 adjusted yards per attempt.
I’m not saying that Smith and Davis are going to turn the clock back to 2009 and hook up for multiple touchdowns in this game. But if given the option between checking the ball down to a guy he’s throw to hundreds of times before or throwing further down the field to a backup wide receiver, Smith might opt to funnel targets to his two-time teammate.
Tight End Rundown
Of the remaining fantasy-relevant tight ends on the slate, here’s a quick look at David Njoku.
David Njoku: Cleveland Browns (+3.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 52.5 O/U
- $4,200 DraftKings; $5,700 FanDuel
UPDATE (10/20): The Browns have traded running back Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars for a 2019 fifth-round pick. In his absence, 2018 second-round selection Nick Chubb will start and change-of-pace back Duke Johnson could see additional touches.
As I mentioned in The Action Network NFL Week 7 Betting Guide, quarterback Baker Mayfield has developed a connection with Njoku, who leads the offense with 30 targets, 18 receptions, 176 yards receiving and 74 yards after the catch in Mayfield’s three starts.
And now Njoku gets the pleasure of facing the Bucs, who have allowed a league-high 21.1 DraftKings points per game to the position. Every starting tight end to face them has outperformed expectations: Ben Watson (4-44-0), Zach Ertz (11-94-0), Vance McDonald (4-112-1), Trey Burton (2-86-1) and Austin Hooper (9-71-1).
With Mayfield struggling to complete passes to wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway (4-20-0 on 19 targets last week), he could look to his tight end often in a great matchup made all the better by the absence of starting strong safety Chris Conte (knee, IR). Backup safety Justin Evans has allowed a 15-173-2 receiving line on 17 targets in his coverage.
On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, we highlighted Njoku as a player likely to be popular this weekend.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 7 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our industry-leading DFS-focused news blurbs.