Unless you roster perennial stud Travis Kelce, navigating the fantasy tight end world is almost always a bumpy ride.
And so if you stumble upon an overlooked or emerging gem who can keep that position on the straight and narrow toward TE1 production, lock him in and stay the course.
That’s what it appears we have in Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller, a fourth-year player who’s basically come out of nowhere to emerge as a legit top-10 option.
Coming out of Week 3 Sunday action, Waller’s 27.4 points ranked eighth among tight ends in standard scoring and his 53.4-point total placed him third in PPR scoring. He’s the only player among the standard-scoring top 12 without a touchdown reception, but his 26 receptions pace the position and his 267 receiving yards trail only Kelce (284) and Evan Engram (277).
With 30 apiece, Engram and the Eagles’ Zach Ertz are the only tight ends with more targets so far than Waller’s 29, but his 25.7-percent team target share and his impressive 89.7-percent catch rate easily are tops at the position.
That’s largely a product of Waller’s low 6.0-yard average depth of target, but the 6-foot-6, 255-pound tight end has more than made up for it by racking up a position-high 150 yards after the catch. Engram, with 149, is the only other tight end with more than 100 yards of YAC through play Sunday.
Shades of former Raider Jared Cook, who finished fifth among fantasy tight ends (standard and PPR) with 68 catches for 896 yards and six TDs on 101 targets a season ago, a tight end has once again emerged as Derek Carr’s top target in Oakland. Waller, who’s emergence was foretold in August’s Hard Knocks series, opened by reeling in seven of his eight targets for 70 yards on the Week 1 Monday night versus the Broncos and he’s had at least seven targets, six receptions and 63 yards in all three contests so far.
Wide receiver Tyrell Williams (17 targets-14 receptions-180 yards) is the only Oakland pass-catcher with numbers remotely close to Waller’s.
And while the usage and target share are most definitely there, the TDs are sure to follow with the 6-6 tight end presenting quite the attractive end-zone target for an offense not exactly overflowing with bankable playmakers.
Regardless, lock in Waller as an upper-echelon TE1 this season.
Ingram fitting right in
The Baltimore Ravens are off to a points-aplenty (league-best 36.6 per game) offensive start, and the scoreboard outburst has, as it oddly often does, translated into fantasy production as well with quarterback Lamar Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews, wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and kicker Justin Tucker all ranking as top-10 options at their respective positions.
But not to be outdone by any of his offensive teammates, running back Mark Ingram is off to a smashing start as well, ranking third among standard-scoring fantasy backs (61.9 points) and fifth among PPR backs (67.9) with 319 total yards and five TDs on 49 touches to date.
Ingram only ranks 17th among running backs with 43 attempts, but he ranks fifth in rushing yards with 257 and his five TDs, after tallying a trio of scores Sunday in K.C., are tops in the league at any position.
Many feared Ingram, the former New Orleans Saints standout, was trading one running back timeshare for another when he signed with the Ravens this offseason, but Ingram has far outpaced the production of fellow Baltimore backs Gus Edwards (29 touches-135 total yards-0 TDs) and rookie Justice Hill (10-42-0).
In short, Ingram has emerged as the unquestioned lead back in an offense featuring the league’s No. 1 rushing quarterback – Jackson has 172 yards and a TD on 27 carries – and that’s a rather coveted position to hold in the fantasy realm as Edwards himself proved late last season when he totaled the 11th-most fantasy points among running backs from Week 11 onward when Jackson took over as the team’s starter. In that span, Edwards ranked fourth in the league in both rushing attempts (122) and yards (654).
Now Ingram holds that role after serving as the 1B option in New Orleans the previous two season behind Alvin Kamara, and suffice to say, he’s running with the RB1 opportunity.
No QB worries in Indy
Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Jacoby Brissett is not Andrew Luck, an elite quarterback in fantasy and reality.
But what Brissett is is a no-doubt top-15 quarterback – in fantasy and reality – and an improved QB surrounded by a much-better supporting cast than he had two years ago during his last stint starting for Luck.
That much was clearly demonstrated again Sunday afternoon as Brissett completed 28-of-37 passes for 310 yards, two TDs and no turnovers in the Colts’ 27-24 home win over the Falcons. It ranks as the 11th-best fantasy QB showing of Week 3 entering Monday night, and it bumped up Brissett to 14th among quarterbacks in the seasonal fantasy ranks – ahead of such notables as Jared Goff (16th), Baker Mayfield (21st) and Aaron Rodgers (23rd).
And with Brissett this season, it’s been much more about efficiency than volume as he ranks 20th in attempts (92), 15th in completions (66) and 23rd in yards (646) but is tied for fourth with seven TD passes. Only Patrick Mahomes (10), Dak Prescott (nine) and Matt Ryan (eight) have more scoring tosses.
Brissett has only thrown one interception and has been sacked six times – a far cry from his last extended starting stint in 2017 when was sacked a league-most 52 times.
The Indy arsenal of targets also is markedly better than two years ago, and through three games, 10 Colts have at least three receptions. Leading the way is speedy wideout T.Y. Hilton who leads the team across the board with a 25-20-195-4 receiving stat line.
The lack of big plays – Brissett only has five completions of 20-plus yards and his average of 7.02 yards per attempt ranks 24th in the league – could be better, but if you’re in need of a rock-solid second quarterback in a two-QB league or a productive and reliable fill-in for Drew Brees or Cam Newton, Brissett is your man.
- The Browns have yet to live up to the off-season hype, and QB Baker Mayfield’s slow start has played a key role. Mayfield ranks 11th in the league with 805 passing yards but is the only QB among the fantasy top 30 with more interceptions (five) than TD passes (three) so far.
- How badly do the Jets need to get QB Sam Darnold back into the fold? In three games – the last two without the second-year signal-caller – the New York defense/special teams have tallied three touchdowns to the offense’s one, and that came back in Week 1 on a 9-yard pass from Darnold to RB Le’Veon Bell.
- You might be blaming a slow start on Todd Gurley’s current No. 25 ranking among PPR running backs on a slow start as well, but this just may be the fantasy back that Gurley is now in 2019. Through three games, Gurley has been targeted only six times, netting four receptions for all of eight yards. It’s a sea change from the previous two seasons when Gurley ranked fourth in targets (168), fifth in receptions (123), third in receiving yards (1,368) and second in receiving TDs (10) among running backs.
- The Eagles’ RB snap counts were crazy close in Sunday’s 27-24 home loss to the Lions as Darren Sproles (27 snaps), Miles Sanders (26) and Jordan Howard (25) all played at least 33 percent of the offensive plays, but it was the rookie Sanders who led the trio in touches (13) and total yards (126) as Howard (11-37) and Sproles (2-4) were inefficient. Howard was the only Philly back to find the end zone (1-yard run) and Sanders did cough up a pair of fumbles, losing one, likely keeping this timeshare from being further tilted even more in Sanders’ favor for the time being.
- Meanwhile, the season RB snap counts in Tennessee are nearly equal (104 for Derrick Henry and 95 for Dion Lewis), but the touches and fantasy production have been anything but. Henry has totaled 299 yards and four TDs on 55 touches while Lewis has been limited to a minuscule 47 yards and no scores on 14 touches. Value Henry as an RB1 and don’t bother rostering Lewis until we see otherwise.
- This isn’t Keenan Allen’s first go-round as a fantasy dynamo, but he’s taken it to a new level so far this season, setting the league pace in targets (42), receptions (29) and yards (404). He’s also tops in the NFL in team target share (36.8 percent) with no other Charger owning more than 20 targets to date.
- Things haven’t gone so well for fellow preseason WR1 Davante Adams as the Packers’ wideout has caught 15 of 21 targets for 198 yards and no TDs so far to rank 48th at the position in standard and 44th in PPR. Adams was drafted seemingly as one of the safest fantasy options after notching at least 16 PPR points in all 16 games a season ago. So far, Adams has only hit that mark once in three games, and it wasn’t Sunday when he finished with a season-low 7.6 fantasy points, catching four of his eight targets for 36 yards. He’s a potential buy-low target if the Adams owner in your league is in a premature panic.
- The ageless Larry Fitzgerald has garnered most of the pub and has been on the receiving end of two of rookie Kyler Murray’s four TD tosses in the Cards’ pass-heavy offense. But don’t overlook second-year wideout Christian Kirk, who leads the Cards in targets (32, tied for third among all league WRs) and receptions (20, tied for sixth). Those 20 grabs have gone for 205 yards and all that’s missing is a TD.
- Looking for a PPR league flex option? Definitely throw the Bills’ Cole Beasley into the mix. He’s tied with fellow WR newcomer John Brown for the team lead in targets with 23 (no other Bill has more than 10) and has reeled in 17 for 171 yards.
- Highlighted by the Rodgers and Adams notes above, the Packers’ offense has struggled to find its early-season footing under new head coach Matt LaFleur. But the Green Bay D has started strong, ranking fourth among team defenses with 28 points so far. The Packers trail only the Patriots (13) with 12 sacks and are tied with the rival Vikings with eight takeaways (four interceptions and four fumble recoveries).