Who will be the most productive rookies this season? Great question. I will address this question position by position starting with the tight ends. There is a rule about rookie tight ends in redraft leagues: “Don’t draft them.” It takes time for rookie tight ends to adjust to the NFL, so selecting one is usually frowned upon. Will any of this year’s rookies make at least a noticeable impact at the tight end position? Let’s dive in and find out!
1) Nick Vannett (Seattle Seahawks)
Even though he was the third tight end drafted, he may make the biggest impact in 2016. Due to the circumstances of the Seattle Seahawks, he could play a significant role as a move tight end type in the Seahawks offense. Jimmy Graham’s injury may keep him out of the lineup to start the season and who knows what kind of recovery he will need to be ready to play again. Luke Willson is a decent tight end, but Vannett could be a nice safety blanket for Russell Wilson as a slot tight end. An important thing to keep in mind is the revamped offensive line that may struggle. This means quicker routes and shorter passes for Wilson in the offense, which in turn makes Vannett an important and versatile player in the offense. I will have an eye on him during training camp to see where he is lining up and where he could contribute in 2016.
2) Hunter Henry (San Diego Chargers)
Dynasty league wise, he is a no-brainer as the best tight end, but for 2016, he is still behind Antonio Gates on the depth chart. This will likely be the last year we see Antonio Gates in a Chargers’ uniform and maybe the NFL, but he is still their guy due to the chemistry he has with Philip Rivers. Hunter Henry will likely get some looks as a rookie, but not enough to be fantasy relevant unless Gates gets hurt at some point this season.
3) Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles Rams)
If he didn’t have any off-field issues, he may be #1 on this list. Due to things that have yet to be determined, he has to slip in the rankings. He has a chance to make an impact as a matchup option throughout the season. He only has Lance Kendricks currently ahead of him on the depth chart and Kendricks isn’t the dynamic pass catcher that Tyler Higbee could become for the Rams. If he can get on the field and stay on the field, he will be an interesting player to watch as a bye week play at some point this season.
4) Thomas Duarte (Miami Dolphins)
The situation that Thomas Duarte may be stepping into warrants at least a ranking position. Jordan Cameron is injury prone and may be a cap casualty heading into the season. Dion Sims is the only other noteworthy tight end that could be higher on the depth chart that Duarte. The reason he is on the list is because of the notion that the NFL is a “copy-cat” league. We all noticed the rise of Jordan Reed as a slot tight end and the production that came with that. Duarte has a skill set similar to Reed which could open up some snaps for the rookie. And Adam Gase sure loves to utilize his tight ends.
5) Austin Hooper (Atlanta Falcons)
He is the future at tight end for the Falcons and may be their guy as soon as 2017, but not this season. As the learning curve is hitting Austin Hooper this season he will find himself behind Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo on the depth chart. He is undraftable for 2016 unless injuries hit both Tamme and Toilolo, which is very unlikely.