For years, the Chargers have had a strong performer at tight end. For 16 years, from 2003 to 2018, that spot was filled by Antonio Gates, who’ll surely be in the Hall of Fame. He was succeeded by Hunter Henry, who had a career year in 2020 with rookie Justin Herbert. In just 14 games, Henry saw 93 targets, catching 60 passes for 613 yards and four TDs.
But this off-season, Henry left the friendly confines of Los Angeles to join the New England Patriots on a rich free-agent deal. Veteran Virgil Green is also gone, leaving some questions for the Chargers at TE. But after a fruitful off-season, the team has plenty of options at the position. The question is which, if any, is the best target for fantasy.
Let’s consider some of the options.
During the first part of the off-season, a trendy stash at TE was Donald Parham, Jr. Parham was with the Chargers in 2020, making a splash during limited opportunities. He appeared in 13 games, starting five, and saw only 20 targets. But he caught 10 of those targets for 159 yards and three touchdowns. It was a good showing, averaging 15.9 yards per reception, that had fantasy players’ interest piqued. Though it was his first NFL showing, Parham had done the same while starring in the XFL, which is what first caught the attention of NFL teams. With Henry moving on, there was optimism that Parham could step up and seize a larger role in a potentially robust passing offense.
But he didn’t remain the clear option with the Chargers for long.
The Free Agent
During the free agency period, the Chargers bulked up their tight end group by signing veteran Jared Cook. Cook signed a one-year deal worth $4.5 million, but gives the Chargers a veteran who has been a force in the passing game in the past. Cook has played 12 professional seasons for five different NFL teams. He began his career in Tennessee, playing for the Titans for four seasons. Cook transitioned to the Rams, playing with them for three seasons before moving on to Green Bay for a season. Then he spent two seasons with the Raiders, catching 122 passes for 1,584 yards and eight TDs. That landed Cook a deal with the Saints, where he played tight end with Drew Brees and Sean Payton for two seasons.
With the Saints, Cook was a big red zone target. He caught just 80 passes for 1,209 yards in his two seasons but added 16 TDs. That included nine in 2019 and seven last season. That production, especially in the red zone, likely made Cook an attractive weapon for the Chargers to add to the arsenal the team is building around second-year QB Herbert. But Cook wasn’t the only option the Chargers added at TE.
In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Chargers added a couple playmakers on offense. The team added Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer in the third round and Missouri running back Larry Rountree III in the xixth round. But the team also added a TE, Georgia’s Tre McKitty, with a second third round pick. McKitty is a big target, coming in at 6’4” and 246 pounds. He spent his first three college seasons at Florida State, catching 50 passes for 520 yards and two TDs. For his final year, he transferred to Georgia, where he caught six passes for 108 yards and a TD in just four games.
His production and third round draft capital make McKitty an interesting addition to the Chargers’ TE group.
So, despite losing Henry, the Chargers have some options to re-make their TE group. The team returns the promising Parham, signed the veteran in Cook, and drafted a talented option in McKitty. That’s great for a young Chargers’ offense looking to make a step forward, but it leaves fantasy players wondering who to bet on.
I was one of those who stashed Parham. I loved his flashes in the XFL and again in 2020 with the Chargers and I think he has a chance to show more in 2021. But the addition of Cook and McKitty suggest the team wants to give itself other options. Cook is an established veteran with red zone appeal that figures to be the target leader in 2021. I think he ends up with the best finish for the season and is likely the one you want if you need someone to start this season.
Parham is a potential home run that was a great stash late last season and in January. With the Chargers adding to the TE position, his price is coming down again. He and McKitty are both interesting holds at the end of the bench. TE is a difficult position, and one that’s wide open past the top three or four players. Herbert had an exceptional rookie season and demonstrated a great ability to spread the ball around to all his receivers. Both young TEs have a chance to shine in 2021 and possibly in the future.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard football fan and Denver 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.