Opportunity is the mother of invention … and fantasy football breakouts.
We all have our preferred gambles and sleeper candidates. Some of the names are mentally etched into stone; others are more “what if” types — a situation has promise, though other factors make it dicey for one reason or another.
Along those lines, Tennessee Titans tight end Anthony Firkser is in a unique situation for fantasy football purposes. He replaces Jonnu Smith as the starter in a system that has been quite friendly toward the position. However, the offseason acquisition of WR Julio Jones makes for a possible catch-22.
Jones should help clear the middle of the field to create operating room on Firkser’s behalf. But there are two factors seriously working against the young tight end that make his outlook rather murky:
1) Jones will gobble up a ton of targets alongside A.J. Brown, likely far more than the 92 Corey Davis garnered in his 2020 breakthrough season.
2) The offensive designs remain dedicated to feeding Derrick Henry.
Not ideal, but we can work with it.
Some of the pros working in Firkser’s favor:
- Despite former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith leaving for Atlanta, his system will live on through the play-calling decisions of Todd Downing, also the replacement for Smith as tight ends coach after the 2019 promotion to OC. Firkser’s positional coach of two years now calls the plays … this positive cannot be understated.
- In Downing’s one year as the playcaller in the NFL, his then-Oakland Raiders heavily involved tight end Jared Cook (86 targets), also while having a pair of quality WRs in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Last year, in 14 games, Smith was targeted 65 times, tied for 17th among tight ends, and finished tied for TE6 in fantasy points per game among those with at least 59 targets. Translation: Major success from limited involvement.
- Defenses will be frantically trying to contain both Julio and Brown, the entire time worrying about Henry. This makes Firkser especially dangerous in the red zone and on play-action passing opportunities.
- Hands. Firkser landed 76.9 percent of his contested targets in 2020, ranking third at the position, and his 73.6 percent reception rate was eighth among qualifying players. On 53 targets last year, he dropped just one ball.
- Ryan Tannehill clearly trusts Firkser, making him the fourth-most targeted player on the team while playing just 32 percent of the snaps a season ago.
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For whatever it is worth, Firkser has a cheerleader in former Titans tight end and mentor Delanie Walker. “He sat under me for years and I tried to teach him everything I know, but the dude got wiggles. He can get open; he can catch the ball. I think he going to be elite,” Walker said on Turron Davenport’s podcast. After mentioning how Jones will open up the the field for his former understudy, Walker added, “Over the middle. With matchups against linebackers. And that’s gonna be hard for them to cover him, cause he destroys linebackers within seconds. It’s gonna be good.”
Fantasy football takeaway
Firkser may not rack up TE1 volume on a weekly basis, which partly makes him a better choice in standard scoring, but we witnessed Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan finish PPR TE3 out of nowhere in 2020 after catching more than four passes in only six games.
The Harvard product has a real opportunity to break out in 2021, and too many fantasy footballers are sleeping on his potential. Use that to your advantage. The position is volatile, despite being full of talented options this year. With an average draft position of 14:06 in PPR, Firkser is the 19th tight end chosen.
There is no other tight end poised to return so much value on such a minimal investment. Firkser either can be a TE1, if you choose to stock talent at other positions, or he makes for a fantastic rotational option available to owners playing the weekly matchup game.