Fantasy football season is just around the corner, which means drafts have begun, mock drafts are in full effect, and degenerates everywhere are preparing for the season. Every year, there are a few rookies that have fantasy value, not just in dynasty leagues, but in redraft as well. Last year, we saw Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and even guys like Cordarrelle Patterson and DeAndre Hopkins contribute in year one. Who will it be this year?
This is part one of a 32-part series, where one offensive rookie from each team will be analyzed, and their fantasy value will be determined. Each player’s ADP, college statistics, depth chart status, and more will be broken down, and a proper value will be placed on each player.
Without further ado, part one of Rookie Profiles, starting with the Arizona Cardinals’ second round pick, tight end Troy Niklas.
Weight: 270 pounds
First and foremost, Niklas was, by far, the best blocking tight end in the country last season. That does not help us in terms of his fantasy relevance though, although it may help Andre Ellington. The real question for fantasy football players is simple, what can he do offensively?
Niklas is a red zone monster. At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, he is nearly impossible to defend in small spaces, which is exactly what the red zone is. Despite his size, he is a very agile human being as a top performer in the 60-yard shuttle at the combine, along with an impressive 32-inch vertical. At Notre Dame, he was not used as often as you would like, but that was simply due to the fact that he was such a good blocker.
Bruce Arians, as we all know, is an advocate of the vertical passing game. He also loves to protect and throw the ball down the field. Does this hurt Niklas? In a way, yes. He is such a good blocker, that it could take away from his snaps as a route runner.
Last year, the Cardinals had four tight ends play at least one snap. Jim Dray, Rob Housler, Jake Ballard, Kory Sperry, and D.C. Jefferson combined for 1466 snaps. Dray and Housler were the only two to play over 25 percent of snaps, which the two of them combined for 1229. In these snaps, Housler and Dray ran a combined 503 routes and saw 87 targets, and the two of them only caught 65 balls for 670 yards and three touchdowns. 87 targets in 503 routes is a target percentage of 17.3 percent, to two tight ends. By comparison, Jared Cook ran 401 routes and was targeted 79 times for a percentage of 19.7.
Is Niklas an improvement over both Housler and Dray? Yes. But, will he see the amount of action to make him a fantasy relevant tight end? That question remains to be seen.
When a tight end is drafted in the second round, it’s doubtful that he was drafted simply to block. Carson Palmer threw for 24 touchdowns last season, but the Cardinals only scored a touchdown in 52 percent of their red zone opportunities which was 20th in the NFL. Niklas will certainly have a positive effect in the red zone for the Cardinals, but Arians will need to call his number for him to be fantasy relevant right away.
Niklas had 32 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns last year for Notre Dame, which are not eye-popping numbers, but considering the Fighting Irish only had one player catch over 50 balls and have more than 750 yards, that is not bad for a tight end that was used more as a blocker.
If Niklas is given the opportunity to accrue statistics, he will prosper. But considering the numbers before us, it is not likely that he becomes a starting tight end in fantasy football in year one. Niklas’ current ADP is undrafted in most redraft leagues, but he may be a good streaming option later in the season should be become a target for Carson Palmer and the Cardinals. Currently, Niklas is third on the Cardinals depth chart, but he will likely be the starter when the season begins.
Projection: 36 catches, 480 yards, six touchdowns.
Statistics via ProFootballFocus, College Football Reference, NFL.com