When it comes to orphans, there are a plethora of iconic literary and pop culture examples. Tops on the orphan list is Cinderella. Her name is also synonymous with every sporting underdog as an overused cliché. Making my list would also include the unfortunate events of the Baudelaire children, wedding singer Robbie Hart, the diff’rent strokes brothers Arnold and Willis Jackson, and the original wild child, Tarzan.
The orphan story is a familiar one. Abandoned somehow, alone, unwanted, and usually at their lowest point. In almost every case, someone has to take them in.
Orphans also seem more susceptible to tragedy. Some of these tragedies are on an unprecedented scale of misfortune. Their home planet explodes, or they’re bitten, not just by any spider, but by a radioactive spider! Or perhaps their billionaire parents are murdered.
Even Forbes magazine listed orphan Bruce Wayne’s net worth at 6.5 billion. The fact that I’m not making up the Forbes reference is humorous in itself.
Then there are the fantasy football orphans – the tight end position. A position where only a select few may be truly worth owning. Meanwhile, the majority have only a nominal, unpredictable, fluctuating, pedestrian value. Yet many fantasy leagues force you take them in. For some fantasy owners, drafting a TE is its own tragedy.
It probably doesn’t take a large stretch of the imagination to foresee how the TE position will play out in the redraft leagues for 2019? Travis Kelce and George Kittle will most likely get gobbled up in the early rounds, closely followed by Zach Ertz. When that dust has settled, owners start reluctantly throwing darts at the remaining orphan TE in the middle to late rounds hoping for a sleeper to emerge.
Is April too early to discuss TE sleepers for 2019? In a word, no. First, consider that most rookie TE do not generally make a sustainable fantasy impact in their first season. Second, the 2019 free agency period has presented some deceivingly significant shuffling involving the TE position. If you haven’t noticed, it’s probably because your subconscious has suppressed any news on fantasy TE because even your subconscious views the TE position as orphans.
However, if we examine the targets that were distributed to the TE position along with the free agent moves for each team in 2018, we get a glimpse if a Peter Parker or Clark Kent is secretly waiting to make their presence known. With that, here’s the 2019 TE orphans available for adoption:
Mark Andrews (BAL) – As a rookie last season he led the Ravens with 50 targets, which represented only 39% of the total targets to all 4 Ravens TE. Only 4 NFL teams threw more passes to the TE position than the 127 from the Ravens. If Andrews becomes the primary TE target, he could flirt with 1000 yards. Let’s hope there are no radioactive ravens.
Vance McDonald (PIT) – As it stands now, McDonald, who accounted for 61% of the TE targets, is certain to see an increase now that Jesse James and his 33% of targets has moved on. Add in the loss of Antonio Brown who is always near the top in targets and McDonald could be a “steel” with a career season.
Jared Cook (NO) – All you need to know is that the TE target leader on the Saints was 37 year-old turned-38 year-old Ben Watson last season, seeing 52% of the TE targets. Not even a decade-younger Josh Hill could do better. Meanwhile, Cook had more than twice as many targets with the Raiders. Cook gives Sean Payton another reliable weapon to simmer over on a top-notch offense.
Hunter Henry (LAC) – He was all the hype last off-season. Back and healthy (ACL), he should easily supplant the ageless 38 year-old Antonio Gates in a super-charged offense.
Jesse James (DET) – The Lions only threw 63 passes total to the TE position last season. The Lions also hired Darrell Bevell as their new offensive coordinator. Bevell does have a reputation for utilizing the TE in his offenses from his time in Seattle and Minnesota. Plus it may be part of head coach Matt Patricia’s plan to emulate the style of his former Patriots offensive scheme.
Geoff Swaim (JAX) – The Jaguars have made some major changes to the offense. They brought in the pass-happy coordinator John DeFilippo. They added QB Nick Foles. And they signed Swaim, formerly of Dallas. Admittedly, prior to this, the Jags have not passed much to the TE. In 2018 the TE most targeted was James O’Shaughnessy with only 38 targets. Swaim had nearly as many for the Cowboys (32) in an injury-shortened 9-game season (wrist).
Matt LaCosse (NE) – The Patriots are at a crossroad at TE should Rob Gronkowski indeed stay retired. Already this off-season, the Pats have brought in Austin Seferian-Jenkins, ex-Bronco Matt LaCosse, as well as a long shot from the International German League, Jakob Johnson. This gives the Patriots twice as many TE on their roster along with Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson and Ryan Izzo.
Note that LaCosse was literally forced into action as a Bronco and did very well in a short amount of time. LaCosse was also one of the first 2019 free agent signings by the Patriots and was given a 2-year contract. Some may argue that ASJ is the favorite to start. In a story line similar to ASJ, even Luke Skywalker was orphaned twice, but to me, ASJ has squandered his chances with the Bucs, Jets and Jags. That said, I can’t rule out a resurrection for ASJ in New England given the success rate of the Jedi master Patriots. Based on the attention the Patriots give to the TE position, this is definitely a position battle to keep an eye on.
I’ll end simply with a movie line. The Warriors is a 1979 movie about street gangs in New York. Actor Paul Greco plays the leader of the Orphans. When the Orphans meet up with the Warriors, his character yells, “See what you get when you mess with the orphans!”
See what you get indeed.
Thanks to ProFootball Reference.