Tom Brady talks with tight end Dwayne Allen during training camp in Foxborough, Mass. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

There might not be a tougher position to get a read on in fantasy football than tight end. Every year there is a player that seemingly comes out of nowhere to rocket up the leader board for fantasy points scored. Select him on draft day and you are one step closer to winning your league’s championship trophy.

Easier said than done? Perhaps, but success leaves clues, and like the wide receiver position, volume is key to discovering these up-and-coming stalwarts.

Look no further than Kyle Rudolph’s performance for the Minnesota Vikings last season. The six-year veteran was targeted 132 times, setting career highs in catches (83), receiving yards (840) and touchdowns (seven). Not only was that the most targets among tight ends, it was 16th among all pass catchers, illustrating how valuable a tight end can be if he is treated like just another receiver — over the past three seasons, tight ends getting 101 or more targets during the season averaged 211.1 PPR points, more than double the production of those seeing between 50 and 75 (103).


So it stands to reason, then, that we are looking for highly targeted tight ends, with priority given to those expected to be used in the red zone.

Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints, 13.09 ADP

Fleener was expected last season to step into the role of Jimmy Graham — one of the most prolific fantasy football tight ends in recent memory — but it wasn’t to be. Fleener, who admittedly struggled with a new playbook, caught just 50 passes for 631 yards with three touchdowns. Don’t despair — he remains in a target-rich environment that could bear fruit now that he is more familiar with the offense.

When Graham was at his peak, he was getting between 19 and 22 percent of the team’s targets overall and as many as 31 percent of the targets inside the red zone. Fleener, by comparison, saw target shares of 12 and 16 percent, respectively. But now that one of quarterback Drew Brees’ main targets, Brandin Cooks (117 targets), is with the New England Patriots, Fleener has an opportunity to see an uptick in volume in 2017.

If he gets just 20 more targets, that would be enough to push his end-of-season ranking into the top 10. If he gets an additional 40 or more, it could mean a top-3 finish.

Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons, 14.03 ADP

Hooper rose to No. 1 on the depth chart following Jacob Tamme’s release, giving the third-round pick of the 2016 draft a great opportunity to improve in his second NFL season.

In 14 games last season, the Stanford alum caught 19 of 27 targets for 271 yards and three touchdowns. It’s possible Hooper, who got just 5 percent of the team’s targets last season, will inherit all of Tamme’s workload (31 targets), which would include 11 red-zone targets, the fourth-most on the team in 2016.

Player Red-zone targets Targets between 6 and 10 yard line Targets inside 5-yard line
Devonta Freeman 17 5 2
Mohamed Sanu 13 5 4
Jacob Tamme 11 2 4
Tevin Coleman 11 3 1
Justin Hardy 10 3 6
Julio Jones 9 1 5
Taylor Gabriel 6 1 1
Austin Hooper 5 1 2

Hooper showed he could be a deep threat as well, catching four of six passes traveling 15 or more yards in the air for 148 yards and a score last season, an above-average success rate.


(sharpfootballstats.com)

Dwayne Allen, New England Patriots, 14.05 ADP

When it comes to tight ends, New England’s Rob Gronkowski is at the top of everyone’s list, including Tom Brady’s. However, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reports that Brady has thrown Allen a “ton of targets in the red zone” during training camp, perhaps signaling improved production ahead.

Allen caught six of nine red-zone targets, four in the end zone, for the Indianapolis Colts last season and appears to be a solid replacement for the departed Martellus Bennett in two tight end sets, a formation from which the Patriots passed an above average amount of the time last season (106 attempts compared to 86.1 around the league).

And with both Gronkowski and Bennett in the lineup, Brady actually targeted Bennett more often in “12” personnel last season, an encouraging sign for anyone who thinks the mere presence of Gronkowski renders any other Patriots tight end null and void.

TE Targets Recs Yards TD
Martellus Bennett 19 15 180 2
Rob Gronkowski 12 8 188 2