Step up Sophomore – The TE Edition

A player’s second season, also known as their sophomore year can be a tricky time. Especially for the TE. Get it right and you are more likely to stick around in the league a little longer.

In this piece, I look at 3 Tight Ends who have just finished their rookie season and will be looking to do just that. In the systems they are in, stepping up is what’s needed. Knowing this could help you find some fantasy help during your drafts or at least some sleepers to keep an eye on.

Irv Smith – Minnesota Vikings.

2019 showed some promise for the young Tight End. Smith finished the season with 36 receptions and 311 yards whilst pulling in two TDs. Not a bad showing considering he was behind veteran TE Kyle Rudolph.

Throughout the season, Rudolph was part of 78% of the Vikings offensive snaps, compared to Smith who played in 60%. That’s 181 snaps more than Smith. With those extra snaps, Rudolph only caught the ball 3 more times than Smith for the season.

2020 onwards.

Rudolph is 30 and not getting younger. We don’t know how long he has left playing in front of Smith on the depth chart, but that’s where this helps us. It’s time for Smith to step up and show the Vikings what he’s got.

With 2019 being Smith’s first season in the NFL he was getting used to the playbook and how to go against NFL defensive systems. This shows up in his season splits.

When you look at the first half of the season, games 1-8 Smith caught 21 passes for 137 yards. That’s an average of 6.5 yards per catch which is on the low side. However, looking at games 9-16 he was starting to get to grips with everything. He only caught 15 passes but went for more yardage, Picking up 174 yards giving him a much better average of 11.6 yards per catch.

Going into 2020, Smith will have that first year under his belt and understand the NFL a whole lot more, which can only mean more progress as he enters his sophomore year. The Vikings should see the progression from those first 8 games compared to the last 8 and build on that.

2020 ADP.

Building on that productivity with plenty more snaps and opportunities to receive the ball plus an ageing Rudolph, this can only mean good news for us.

Right now Irv Smith is going off the board all the way down at 194 overall as the TE 26. This is just one position behind Rudolph going 193 overall and the TE 25. You possibly won’t be drafting a Tight End that is ranked down past 12 however Smith is one to watch on the waivers with good potential.

Noah Fant – Denver Broncos.

Fant had to deal with a turbulent Broncos season as a rookie. Not only was he dealing with a Broncos team that was up and down all year but he also had to deal with his QB changing throughout the season too. The Broncos ended up having 3 different QBs start games for them, each bringing a different aspect for Fant to learn and deal with.

Even with the crazy QB carousel, Fant ended the season with 40 receptions for 572 Yards. Giving him an average of 14.1 yards per reception. To deal with working out a rhythm with 3 different QBs in your rookie season and still get an average of 14.1 is pretty darn good.

Moving into 2020.

The Broncos look set to roll with just one starting QB this season and hope that Drew Lock is their man of the future. This will give stability to the system and therefore give the receivers a better chance at upping their game and creating chemistry.

Lock is going into his Sophomore season too (spoiler alert! he will feature in step-up sophomore-QBs) he has been given a lot of weapons to upgrade this Broncos offence. With Lock needing to step up he will also need some players to do the same

Step up, Noah Fant. Knowing that everything is riding on Lock to be the guy in Denver, Fant will look to be that guy to help Lock out and up his game too.

A slight curve ball to all of this is Denver added a TE in this year’s draft. Albert O who consistently was the TE for Lock in college. But this can only be a good thing if we want Fant to make the move and step up to be the No1 TE in Denver.

Don’t forget the Broncos drafted Fant in the First round in 2019 so they need to make sure Fant is the guy and get back the investment they put in to get him.

2020 ADP.

Right now Fant is going off the board as the 107th overall pick and as the TE 12. At this position in the draft, he’s amongst rookies and backups. Getting a TE1 in this point of the draft is a nice value pick. The TE going just before him as the TE 11 is Austin Hooper coming off the board as the 95th pick.

Hooper is going into a new offence, landing with the Browns in free agency who have Njoku already in the system. Both the Browns and Broncos are teams with many mouths to feed. The fantasy draft is all about building your roster with the best value.

Being able to wait for one more round to pick up Fant could give you the opportunity to get Mike Williams instead of Hooper and still get Fant with your next pick. Value picks with great upside.

T.J. Hockenson – Detroit Lions.

Wowzers did T.J.s rookie season get off to a flyer. 6 receptions for 131 yards and a TD. You couldn’t ask for much more to start the season off like that. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite progress as well for the rest of the season. Finally ending it on IR after playing in 12 games and only starting 7.

Hockenson finished the season with 32 receptions for 367 yards and 2 TDs. Not quite the stats you would expect after such a hyped start to the season. His yards per reception (YPR) average was a steady 11.5. It wasn’t just the first game of the season that padded those stats.

After that first game, his average was reduced up until week 7 when he went on a 4 game stretch of over 10 yards per catch. Averaging 10.7 YPR in week 7, 21 YPR in week 8, 18.7 YPR in week 9 and in week 10 before injuries started to hamper things T.J. managed an average of 15.7 YPR.

Time to step up.

Hockenson was drafted with the 8th overall pick in 2019. That’s a lot of draft capital used on a Tight End and to be fair, he showed a glimpse of his potential with his first game antics.

Coming out of college, Hockenson was billed as having the same type of upside as Travis Kelce had when he was drafted. If you are new to fantasy Football, Kelce is sitting pretty at the top of pretty much everyone’s TE rankings.

His final year at college saw him only go under 10 yards per reception in 3 games. In 4 games he was averaging over 20 yards per reception, per game and smashing an average of 41 yards per reception in one of those.

2020 ADP.

Right now Hockenson is coming off the board as the 127th overall pick and TE 15. When you know he has the potential to be a Kelce type Tight End but can pick Hockenson up 100 picks later than Kelce, it gives you the opportunity to grab plenty of talent before grabbing a useful TE later on.

On top of that, the Lions offence is starting to take shape. They added the highly-rated RB D’Andre Swift to help out the injury-plagued Kerryon Johnson. They should be getting back a healthy QB in Matt Stafford. He features in my QB Bust to Lust Series.

Getting all the pieces in place will create a balanced offence. This then causes issues for the opponent’s defense as they will find it hard to cover every option Stafford has. In turn opening up the field for the receivers to exploit, including a particular Tight End named T.J. Hockenson.

There you have it Rush Nation, these are my three Sophomore TEs needing to step up in 2020. To finish the series I end on the Sophomore Qbs. Until then, Keep Rushing.

Pittsy – @PittsyNFL

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