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Physical Graffiti: Identifying Tight End Production – The Breakouts

Part Deux of 2019 TE Physical Graffiti: an in-depth look at 20 TEs from 2019. In this edition we will study “The Breakouts” of last season. We will also view the TEs who are “Nearing Greatness”, but have yet to arrive.

The Process Revisited

Part 1 of Physical Graffiti has an in-depth explanation of the process used for this study, definitions of what all the metrics contain, and has film breakdowns of “The Standouts” from 2019. Shout out to Matt Harmon for developing the process. If you need to refer back to it, or if this is your first time viewing Physical Graffiti, here is the link.

The Breakouts

Mark Andrews Physicality Reality

Y-Alignment 36.02% | S-Alignment 50.00%

W-Alignment 11.03% | H-Alignment 2.94%

Routes/Pass Block 68.00 | Contested Catch 63.16% | Drop Rate 3.70%

Targeted on 39.71% of Routes Run | Targeted on 39.13% of Passing Snaps

Open vs. Man 70.0% | Open vs. Zone 71.4% | Tacklers Needed 1.68

Film Review and Dynasty Outlook

Mark Andrews is an exceptional vertical route runner. A matchup nightmare that will be terrorizing defenses for years to come.  Splashy downfield plays highlighted Andrew’s 2019 season. Despite this, he ran an incredibly balanced route tree.  It was apparent that the Ravens were most interested in targeting him downfield. However, Andrews proved he is capable of succeeding in any route distribution. 

Andrews excels on in-breaking routes. On these patterns, he wins with a multitude of creative route techniques and gets the best opportunities to showcase his elite speed.  He employs a sneaky hitch/stutter-step on drag routes.  Andrews is consistently able to get defenders stacked on downfield routes and tracks the ball well over his shoulder.  Despite rarely dropping passes, Andrews had a slightly below average contested catch rate due to the downfield targets he received.

The Ravens seldom used Mark as a pass blocker. As a result, he was infrequently and ineffectively used in the screen game.  Mark did show satisfactory movement skills after the catch in his limited chances. He was most effective using his length to shield and then side-step defenders. 

The Raven’s run centric philosophy makes defending this type of counter-punch player nearly impossible.  Andrews drew a target at the highest rate on passing snaps of any charted TE, but it is unlikely that he can maintain this near 40% target share in 2020. With the departure of Hayden Hurst, Andrews should be able to offset this falling target rate by playing more snaps in 2020.

Mark Andrews has the talent and offensive pieces around him to challenge for the TE1 in 2020. He is my TE3 in dynasty. Use this opportunity to target him in trades. It may be your last chance to do so for some time.

Darren Waller Physicality Reality

Y-Alignment 51.07% | S-Alignment 23.61%

W-Alignment 24.89% | H-Alignment 0.43%

Routes/Pass Block 8.03 | Contested Catch 75.00% | Drop Rate 6.76%

Targeted on 31.76% of Routes Run | Targeted on 28.24% of Passing Snaps

Open vs. Man 66.2% | Open vs. Zone 70.2% | Tacklers Needed 1.50

Film Review and Dynasty Outlook

Darren Waller’s 2019 season was a revelation for a Raider’s offense lacking playmakers. As a WR coming out of Georgia Tech, Waller made the transition to TE at the NFL level. He has quickly established himself as one of the most gifted athletes and best route runners at TE. The former Yellowjacket’s ability to sink his hips and the explosion he shows in and out of breaks is rare.

Waller is feared downfield by defenses, and because of this, he sees a lot of off-coverage looks. He very effectively stems routes at defenders. Utilizing a nifty hesitation step at the top of out-breaking patterns, Darren consistently leaves defenders in his wake.

Waller does an excellent job stacking defenders on the correct hip downfield and when facing trail-coverage. This stacked position gives QB Derek Carr room to throw the ball into and provides Waller an advantage in the event of a contested catch. Waller showed excellent leaping ability and reliable hands in these contested-catch instances, which accounted for 32% of his total charted targets.

Waller rated average in the tacklers needed metric. This average rating was primarily a byproduct of the shallow and out-breaking nature of the routes he ran. Regardless, Waller is a dangerous player after the catch. A blur in a straight line, he displayed this skill on a 75-yard Y-screen reception in the final week of the 2019 season. He may not make many defenders miss, but his speed often causes defenders to take bad angles.

Waller saw a healthy target share in Oakland last season. Despite the influx of talent brought in at WR via the NFL draft, he’s likely to be the top target again in Las Vegas. Derek Carr is the wildcard in this whole equation. 2016’s magic seems to have disappeared for Carr. In year two under HC John Gruden, and with a complimentary cast of playmakers, the time is NOW to perform.

Additions at the WR position and the potential for Derek Carr to take a step forward will propel Waller to have an even better upcoming season. 2019 was no fluke. Darren displayed the athleticism, route savvy, and power of a player capable of being fantasy’s TE1 overall. I’m not projecting that onto Waller, but it is within his range of outcomes. This upside, combined with a TE10 value, makes him one of the best low-risk/high-ceiling players to target in dynasty.

Tyler Higbee Physicality Reality

Y-Alignment 69.47% | S-Alignment 14.21%

W-Alignment 16.32% | H-Alignment 0.00%

Routes/Pass Block 4.04 | Contested Catch 57.89% | Drop Rate 5.80%

Targeted on 36.31% of Routes Run | Targeted on 29.11% of Passing Snaps

Open vs. Man 65.0% | Open vs. Zone 67.8% | Tacklers Needed 1.84

Film Review and Fantasy Outlook

Credit: USA Today

One of the more difficult decisions for dynasty managers this off-season will be deciding just how to value Tyler Higbee. In the second half of 2019, Higbee was a force of nature as the LA Rams transitioned from a zone-run scheme from spread alignments to a gap-run scheme from 12 personnel. This midseason adjustment led to decreasing snap rates for Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, and Gerald Everett, but increased snap rates for Higbee and fellow blocking capable TE Johnny Mundt.

Higbee’s production mainly came off of play-action boot concepts designed to get him and QB Jared Goff moving in the same direction. Higbee is more explosive than I expected to find and is tough as nails over the middle of the field. He is very good at sorting through traffic and is rarely rerouted by lineman or linebackers. Higbee’s best route running asset is his power. He effectively uses swim and hand swipe moves to gain leverage and keep defenders off balance.

Higbee was wildly entertaining after the catch. Tyler stiff-armed, stumbled, and clubbed his way through defenders to achieve Physical Graffiti’s second-best tacklers needed score. He was also active in the pass-protection and screen game, another example of the physical attitude he provided this offense.

Despite a perceived lack of athleticism, Higbee is a player that is ideally suited for the scheme that was employed last season. That’s the problem. If the Rams continue down this road, Higbee can be Kittle-lite for dynasty managers. He possesses a rare blend of blocking, power, and after the catch ability. This skill-set was uniquely suited and utilized in the Ram’s 2019 run centric, play-action boot offense. If the Rams revert to more spread-out alignments, I’d expect the more athletically gifted and silkier route runner, Gerald Everett, to be the beneficiary.

Dynasty managers should draft and trade for Higbee at their own risk. This Rams offense could swing in either direction. However, I am fully on-board with his dynasty value because I expect to see this beefier, more physical version of the Rams again in 2020. Higbee is a TE1 in all formats.

Austin Hooper Physicality Reality

Y-Alignment 51.67% | S-Alignment 42.38%

W-Alignment 5.95% | H-Alignment 0.00%

Routes/Pass Block 10.35 | Contested Catch 80.00% | Drop Rate 3.28%

Targeted on 22.68% of Routes Run | Targeted on 20.68% of Passing Snaps

Open vs. Man 38.2% | Open vs. Zone 67.0% | Tacklers Needed 1.67

Film Review and Fantasy Outlook

Hooper’s 2019 breakout season was well-timed with a contract year. His statistical ascension eventually led to a new team and, at the time, the largest contract for a TE in NFL history. Hooper destroyed soft zone-coverages that were more concerned with defending All-Pro Julio Jones and budding sidekick Calvin Ridley. Of Hooper’s 574 yards of charted production, only 80 yards (14%) came against man coverage.

Hooper lacks the agility to make sharp angular cuts. He doesn’t run routes with the punch and power that I would like to see. That said, his ability to recognize zone coverage and the spatial awareness to settle down within the voids is a skill that warrants merit. He is the definition of a safety blanket TE.

Austin served in this role for the Falcons as they tried to compensate for a young and disjointed offensive line. He has incredibly reliable hands and better contested-catch ability than expected. Capable of forcing missed tackles in space and displaying balance and leg drive through contact, Austin also rated above-average in the tacklers needed metric.

The newly signed Brown answers most of the essential questions asked of TEs. As we look forward to Hooper’s 2020 season, I think there are a few parallels we can draw from his previous home. Cleveland employs a pair of star WRs in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry that can dictate coverage away from less dangerous players, like Hooper. The team has a gelling (even if improved) offensive line that may force QB Baker Mayfield to check the ball down. Additionally, under new HC Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland’s offensive scheme is trending towards a more 12 personnel heavy approach. All of these factors potentially serve to keep Hooper’s efficiency high in 2020.

Despite his lack of gusto, Hooper’s guile does leave him clinging to TE1 production, despite some uncertainty surrounding his role. He landed in the right situation to attempt to replicate last season’s production, but I would happily trade him for TEs going behind him in ADP. A wise investment in the 2019 offseason, now is the time to turn the profit on Hooper.

Nearing Greatness

Evan Engram Physicality Reality

Y-Alignment 61.92% | S-Alignment 28.08%

W-Alignment 10.00% | H-Alignment 0.00%

Routes/Pass Block 11.82 | Contested Catch 40.91% | Drop Rate 13.24%

Targeted on 26.15% of Routes Run | Targeted on 24.11% of Passing Snaps

Open vs. Man 57.0% | Open vs. Zone 59.5% | Tacklers Needed 1.55

Film Review and Dynasty Outlook

Credit: USAToday.com

There is no question Evan Engram is an insanely gifted athlete. Effortless speed, oily hips, and ankle-breaking lateral agility, Engram is the most pronounced version of a hybrid TE we currently have in the NFL. Engram runs sharp routes on a complete route tree. However, he lacks the size and strength to harness all the weapons in his arsenal.

A finesse player by trait, Engram struggles to consistently get open downfield when defenders play with the appropriate leverage. He was rerouted by defenders too often, occasionally by cornerbacks on the boundary. Without utilizing power or punch, Engram does have an excellent release off the line. His suddenness and the multitude of take-offs he has make-up for this power deficiency. He was highly productive on crossing routes where his speed and release can gain him separation and RAC.

Engram needs to show more toughness in contested catch situations. Leaping ability and strong hands allow him to high-point balls over defenders, but far too many hits over the middle jarred the ball loose.

Regardless of his apparent status as a hybrid playmaker, it was shocking to see Engram’s alignment and route statistics. Engram aligned at Y over 60% of the time. Additionally, he ran simple quick-outs, frequently combined with a chip block, on 31.54% of his routes.

I’ll admit, it can be challenging to build an offense that caters to a unique player profile like Engram’s. This issue becomes further complicated when considering Engram has missed 14 of a possible 48 games over three years. Regardless, this is unacceptable mismanagement of one of the most talented players on the Giant’s roster. With all due respect to Rhett Ellison and Kaden Smith, the NYG backup TEs could’ve run all of these quick-outs, and nothing about New York’s season would have been different.

Engram may never be an imposing, bruising TE. Yet, an emphasis on route aggression and hand technique will be necessary to take a step forward. Newly appointed HC Joe Judge and OC Jason Garrett will be tasked with drawing these skills out of Engram. Additionally, they must find more creative ways to utilize the already apparent skills.

Physicality is paramount at TE. I have serious concerns Engram will ever develop into more than he is now, an oversized WR playing TE. Furthermore, as a hybrid TE, if he continues to be utilized as an inline-Y, he will never reach the ceiling dynasty managers expect. His salivating athletic profile still carries weight within the fantasy community. If managers can move down the TE totem pole while acquiring value for Engram, or move up to Kittle or Andrews with a secondary piece, I’d recommend it.

Hunter Henry Physicality Reality

Y-Alignment 33.07% | S-Alignment 45.53%

W-Alignment 21.40% | H-Alignment 0.00%

Routes/Pass Block 25.70 | Contested Catch 70.00% | Drop Rate 4.92%

Targeted on 23.74% of Routes Run | Targeted on 22.85% of Passing Snaps

Open vs. Man 66.3% | Open vs. Zone 57.9% | Tacklers Needed 1.50

Film Review and Dynasty Outlook

2019’s campaign got off to a delayed start for Hunter Henry, as he suffered a knee fracture in Week 1 versus the Colts. Healthy again in week 6, Henry continues to show the promise that has made dynasty managers bullish on the Arkansas product since his 8 TD rookie season.

Henry lacks upper-echelon athleticism but was one of the more successful vertical and out-breaking route runners amongst charted TEs. He accomplishes this with clean, efficient routes and has an excellent push-pull move that allows him to separate vertically. Henry showed an ability to track the ball over either shoulder and to high-point passes over defenders.

Henry is not the most violent route runner. However, he does show proper hand placement at the top of routes and rarely lets defenders maintain contact when exiting cuts. Henry must do a better job of sorting through traffic on crossing routes and needs to become more physical with his releases, especially on slant routes. Without much of a blocking profile and a lack of involvement in 2019’s screen and short passing game, Henry became a chunk play specialist.

As we look toward 2020, I have concerns with this offense’s efficiency, led by either veteran Tyrod Taylor or rookie Justin Herbert. LA’s weapons seem to indicate a pass-first, ask questions later, approach. Melvin Gordon has departed for Denver, and receiving maven Austin Ekeler has emerged. Route running specialist Keenan Allen and big-play threat Mike Williams, along with Hunter Henry, make-up a versatile receiving core. It will be fascinating to see that dynamic juxtaposed against a pair of off-script QB’s who have yet to prove an ability to stand in the pocket and consistently deliver the ball.

I could see this potential drop in overall passing efficiency being offset by some of the easier to run play-action and Y-screen concepts. The problem is, Henry’s 2019 profile didn’t show positively in those areas. Henry never recorded a screen target and averaged over 25 routes per pass block attempt. His production tree shows his reliance on deeper patterns. As much as I like the talent of Hunter Henry, I am concerned with the offense’s 2020 viability and his fit within it. Assuming he signs a new deal with Los Angeles, Henry could become a trade target for dynasty managers as Herbert matures as a passer.

Dallas Goedert Physicality Reality

Y-Alignment 46.30% | S-Alignment 41.67%

W-Alignment 9.72% | H-Alignment 2.31%

Routes/Pass Block 6.97 | Contested Catch 55.56% | Drop Rate 7.14%

Targeted on 25.92% of Routes Run | Targeted on 22.67% of Passing Snaps

Open vs. Man 65.5% | Open vs. Zone 65.0% | Tacklers Needed 1.72

Film Review and Dynasty Outlook

Dallas Goedert is amongst my favorite players in the league. Why? Could it be my Midwest bias wanting to root for a guy from South Dakota State? That’s possible. Could it be because of the troll-like nature with which the Eagles jumped ahead of the Cowboys to draft a man named Dallas (at the 2018 NFL Draft in Dallas, TX)? Sure, that was fun.

But the real answer is, I love Dallas Goedert because he is an imposing physical force on the field. There is no TE I tracked who is more violent without the ball in his hands. Showing the power of a caravan of oxen, Goedert tramples any farm hands foolish enough to get in the way.

Goedert also has deceptive athleticism. He proved this in Week 7 versus the Dallas Cowboys, outrunning Leighton Vander Esch to the post for a 28-yard TD. Goedert displays an excellent swim move on in-breaking and crossing routes. The former Jackrabbit was trustworthy in pass protection, and this skill facilitated exceptional screen usage and production.

Once becoming a runner, Goedert rarely makes defenders miss in open space. Despite this, he has consistent leg drive, breaks arm tackles, and fights for every yard. Goedert fumbled twice in charted games, primarily due to this never-go-down mindset.

Goedert must improve his coverage recognition skills. He and Wentz never were able to get on the same page, especially as it related to converting slant/drag routes into hitch/stop routes. He also had several concentration-drops over the middle of the field.

Mental errors are within a player’s control. I expect Goedert, still only going into his third NFL season, to improve in these areas. Dynasty managers must remain patient. While I can envision a path to another top-12 TE season in 2020 (with or without an Ertz injury), I think Goedert is still waiting one more year before his NFL value and fantasy production more appropriately correlate.

OJ Howard Physicality Reality

Y-Alignment 76.35% | S-Alignment 20.20%

W-Alignment 2.96% | H-Alignment 0.49%

Routes/Pass Block 4.14 | Contested Catch 55.00% | Drop Rate 4.65%

Targeted on 21.18% of Routes Run | Targeted on 17.06% of Passing Snaps

Open vs. Man 59.5% | Open vs. Zone 56.6% | Tacklers Needed 1.50

Film Review and Dynasty Outlook

Credit: AP Photo/Rich Barnes)

OJ Howard, a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, has underwhelmed in his three years in Tampa Bay. Never having surpassed 600 yards in a single season, 2019 was supposed to be a fresh start for Howard.

Unfortunately for Howard, the season got off to a rocky start. Any currency OJ had earned with new HC Bruce Arians in training camp was quickly lost in Week 1. OJ was responsible for two turnovers (1 fumble, 1 drop resulting in an interception) Week 1 versus SF. In Week 11, he was publicly criticized by his head coach after another bone-headed (behind the back) drop, resulting in another interception.

These ball control issues allowed Buccaneers veteran Cameron Brate to carve out a modest snap share in the pass-heavy TB offense. Brate also became the preferred option in the red-zone. The more dynamic and talented Howard was used frequently as a blocker. Possessing proper knee bend, strong hands, and a long, sturdy frame, Howard moves defenders at will. In the final stretch of 2019, OJ began to gain more trust. He was able to find a niche in the TB offense, contributing as a downfield weapon in some creative ways, such as drag-wheels.

OJ must clean up some mental mistakes, but as a route runner can consistently create separation. Howard aggressively stems his pattern at defenders and actively seeks contact at the top of his route. He drops his weight and gets in and out of breaks efficiently.

2020 will be a different season for every Buccaneer. The arrival of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski brings energy and, more importantly, accountability to a young and talented TB team. After studying Gronk’s final eight games of 2018, I believe that there will be room in this offense for two TEs.

Similar to Arians last season, I expect Tom Brady to give a player with OJ’s athleticism and pass-protection potential a clean slate. You only get one chance to impress Tom Brady. If he can, OJ becomes the definition of a post-hype sleeper. Dynasty managers should hold Howard in all but the shallowest of leagues and target OJ in trades wherever possible.

Coming Soon

Be on the lookout for part 3 coming soon. We will look at the most promising youngsters from the 2019 NFL season. We will also take a look at a few of the more underappreciated veterans.

Until then, give me a follow on Twitter. Are you a member of the Nerd Herd? For the cost of a cup of coffee each month you get access to exclusive rankings, extra podcasts, and more. Bundle the Nerd Herd with the DynastyGM tool for just $4.99/month.

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