Welcome to the Stock Watch. While the picture above might make you worried you’ve stumbled into a financial advice column, have no fear, this is about our fantasy football stock. Each year in dynasty leagues we look forward to rookie drafts, snatching up all the prospects we know will lead to glory. But it doesn’t always happen right away. Over the next few pieces, as this off-season draws to a close, I’ll be taking stock of prospects at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 draft class. This isn’t about the stars that we already know are great, it’s about the players taken in the first three rounds that haven’t hit yet—and might never hit.
It’s almost time to leave the Class of 2019 behind, but before we do we’ll make a quick stop with tight ends. During the 2019 draft, a couple good ones went in the first round in T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. Both have established themselves as starters and strong fantasy options in their first two seasons. But what about some of the other TEs in the Class of 2019? Let’s look at five picked in the first three rounds who have yet to solidify their stock. Off the list is Josh Oliver, a Third-Round selection of the Jaguars in 2019 who never found his way to the field and was traded this off-season to the crowded TE room of the Ravens. It seems doubtful he’s ever going to realize the potential some saw draft day.
Irv Smith, Jr.
Drafted: No. 50 overall by the Minnesota Vikings
Situation: In some ways, Smith has been remarkably consistent his first two seasons. He’s had 40-plus targets and at least 30 receptions each year. He was largely taken as the third TE in rookie drafts, with many hoping he could be the third start in this class. But for his first two seasons, he’s had veteran Kyle Rudolph blocking his path toward being The Guy for the Vikings. He saw 47 targets, catching 36 passes for 311 yards and 2 TDs as a rookie, then saw 43 targets for 30 receptions and 365 yards with 5 TDs in 2020.
This off-season Rudolph moved on, signing with the New York Giants. The Vikings have a couple of young tight ends in Tyler Conklin and Zach Davidson, but it appears Smith is poised to be the No. 1 TE. That coupled with his stronger yards per catch and increase in touchdowns in 2020 has some excited that he can become a TE1 in 2021.
Stock Value: Rising. I liked Smith coming out and have thought it was a matter of time before he got his chance. That appears to be coming in 2021. He had a strong surge to finish the 2020 season and I think he can jump into the Top 12 in 2021 after a TE22 season last year.
Drafted: No. 52 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals
Situation: Sample was a high draft pick that went to a good situation in Cincinnati. Yet, in two seasons, he hasn’t really established himself. As a rookie, he saw just six targets, catching five passes for 30 yards. In 2020, with C.J. Uzomah injured early, Sample was the starter at tight end. He started 13 games and saw 53 targets, catching 40 passes for 349 yards and a TD. That was good enough to be TE30. The Bengals didn’t add any competition to the position, but can Sample top his 2020 effort?
Stock Value: Fading. A lot of people talk about the Bengals’ pass offense with excitement. Young receivers Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase along with veteran Tyler Boyd are poised for a strong season with second-year quarterback Joe Burrow. But none of that excitement seems to spill over to TE. Uzomah should be back to share snaps, and it’s quite possible that from a fantasy standpoint we saw Sample’s best possible output in 2020.
Drafted: No. 75 overall by the Green Bay Packers
Situation: There was plenty of buzz when Sternberger was drafted, but he came into a situation where he was sitting behind veteran Jimmy Graham. When Graham left for Chicago the last off-season, the buzz started again. It seemed clear a tight end would break out for the Packers, and one did—just not Sternberger. Robert Tonyan saw 56 targets, catching 52 for 586 yards and 11 TDs. He finished as TE3. Sternberger, meanwhile, has seen 16 career targets, catching just 12 passes for 114 yards and a TD.
Things aren’t buzzing in the right direction for Sternberger in season three, either. He’s been issued a suspension that will keep him off the field for the first two weeks, and the team still has Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, and second-year man Josiah Deguara all competing for snaps at the position. Sternberger’s spot on the roster, let alone his role, is hardly certain.
Stock Value: Fading. Sternberger was a trendy grab later in drafts in 2019 but it hasn’t panned out. The Packers quarterback situation is a mystery, but at best he seems like the No. 3 TE on his own team. That’s not promising for those hoping to see a breakout in 2021 or any time soon.
Drafted: No. 86 overall by the Houston Texans
Situation: Warring was another trendy sleeper at tight end in 2019 rookie drafts. He went to the Texans, a team that lacked an established tight end. As a rookie, Warring suffered a concussion in Training Camp and ended up on IR for the season. In 2020, he injured his hamstring and missed a chunk of the season. He ended up appearing in just seven games in 2020, catching three passes for 35 yards. The Texans are a mess heading into 2021 with questions at just about every position and new coaching staff. Warring could still be in the mix, but the team also spent a Fifth-Round pick on pass-catching tight end Brevin Jordan in the 2021 NFL Draft, suggesting a different vision of the future.
Stock Value: Null. Warring remains little more than a possibility at this point in time. He’s only seen the field in a limited fashion in two years giving fantasy players no idea what he might be capable of producing. The team has plenty of offensive questions, with veteran Jordan Akins back atop the TE depth chart and Jordan now in the mix. Warring is little more than a deep stash that could be a big swing.
Drafted: No. 96 overall by the Buffalo Bills
Situation: Knox is the final of the trendy TE sleepers from the Class of 2019, a player many stashed after he was taken by the Bills. Knox had 28 receptions for 388 yards and two TDs in his rookie year, providing some excitement heading into year two. While the Bills’ pass offense took off in 2020, Knox saw his value dip a bit. He missed some time, appearing in just 12 games and caught only 24 passes for 288 yards and 3 TDs. Still, he caught 11 passes for 79 yards and two TDs in the post-season, reviving hope he could be a bigger part of the team’s offense.
This off-season has dampened that a little. The Bills added another wide receiver in Emmanuel Sanders and another tight end in Jacob Hollister, who was Josh Allen’s college teammate at Wyoming. That makes the passing game even more crowded for the Bills, which limits Knox’s potential targets and upside. Now, there are persistent rumors the Bills will add veteran Zach Ertz before the season, which would essentially squelch Knox’s 2021 value.
Stock Value: Sell. If you can find someone who is still a believer and get something in return, I’d do it. I liked Knox coming out and have held on to him as a TE3 on a few teams thanks to the possible upside, but it doesn’t seem like he’s in the long-term plan for the team. Even if Ertz doesn’t land in Buffalo, it seems like any upside for Knox will be limited.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.