Fantasy Football: 3 TE1 breakout candidates for 2024 (2024)

Seattle Seahawks tight end Noah Fant: Hehas yet to break out as a positional top-12 fantasy option. Still, his developing data profile suggests he is ready to step up with contributing tight ends Colby Parkinson (69 targets in 2022-2023) and Will Dissly (57 targets in 2022-2023) no longer on the team.

Green Bay Packers tight end Luke Musgrave: He offers fantasy managers a TE1 receiving profile, albeit facing stiff in-house competition. As a 6-foot-6 and 253-pound 2023 rookie, Musgrave proved himself a reliable first-read target

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Weekly contributors are extremely difficult to find at the tight end position and prior top-12 finishes typically demand a high-cost average draft position (ADP) the following year. Identifying a potential top-12 breakout tight end allows fantasy managers to aggressively draft wide receivers, quarterbacks and running backs in the middle rounds, giving them a scoring advantage over opponents who spend unreasonably high draft capital on moderate tight end contributors.

The article below identifies three NFL tight ends who will contend for a top-12 positional finish after finishing outside the TE1 2023 ranks in both half-points-per-receptoin (half-PPR) and PPR scoring formats.

TE Noah Fant, Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks sixth-year tight end Noah Fant is primed for a TE1 breakout season playing in a high-volume passing offense, in a fantasy-friendly role, carrying a promising two-year pass-catching profile in tow. His 64.6 PFF offense grade ranks 19th among 33 NFL tight ends with at least 535 offensive snaps.

Seattle’s new head coach Mike MacDonald held defensive coaching positions with the Baltimore Ravens for five of tight end Mark Andrews’ six NFL seasons, most recently holding the team’s defensive coordinator role. Andrews’ successes as a featured pass-catching weapon no doubt influenced MacDonald, who was forced to scheme against Andrews in daily practice while operating as Baltimore’s linebackers coach from 2018-2020. Andrews’ 39.6% blocking rate and 60.0% receiving snap rate over the last two years closely mirrors Fant’s respective 41.4% and 58.6% 2022-2023 rates in Seattle. Andrews 26.8% receiving snap rate and 2.97 YPRR on play-action dropbacks bode positively for the less-used but more-successful Fant’s respective 20.6% and 3.20-yard rates. Fant’s successes should catch MacDonald’s eye.

Fant’s prospects are also enhanced by Seattle’s incoming offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, who operated as Washington’s assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2022-2023, leading his 2023 squad to the College Football Playoff Championship. During Grubb’s tenure, Washington tight ends totaled the seventh-most first-read targets (131) via the 25th-highest deep-target rate (12.2%), producing two top-four marks in expected points added (EPA) per play (0.427) and positive EPA rate (55.4%), ranked among 70 Power Five teams during that span.

Grubb’s regular season offense totaled the third-most regular season passing attempts (965) among 70 Power Teams over the last two seasons. Including the playoffs, the unit averaged the 13th-most plays per drive (6.5), which helps protect Seattle’s passing volume, should the defensive-minded MacDonald occasionally instruct Grubb to employ a more run-heavy approach.

Fant has yet to break out as a positional top-12 fantasy option. Still, his developing data profile suggests he is ready to step up with contributing tight ends Colby Parkinson (69 targets in 2022-2023) and Will Dissly (57 targets in 2022-2023) no longer on the team. Parkinson’s 60.7 PFF receiving grade and Dissly’s 68.2 PFF receiving grade rank and tie for 38th and 23rd, respectively, among 48 NFL tight ends with at least 55 targets.

Fant’s 2022-2023 receiving data among 31 NFL tight ends with at least 99 targets during that span:
NFL TE ReceivingNoah Fant
PFF Receiving Grade67.5 (T-No. 20)
Target Rate15.5% (No. 26)
YPRR1.32 (No. 21)
Catch Rate77.6% (No. 6)
Catchable Pass Catch Rate95.4% (No. 2)
Drop Rate2.3% (No. 1)
Deep-Target Rate8.4% (No. 11)
NFL Passer Rating110.7 (No. 6)
aDot7.2 (No. 19)
Yards After Catch/Rec.5.0 (No. 13)
Yards/Rec.11.0 (T-No. 11)
Explosive Pass-Play Rate25.3% (No. 9)

Fant is primed for a breakout TE1 fantasy football season.

TE Luke Musgrave, Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers second-year tight end Luke Musgrave offers fantasy managers a TE1 receiving profile, albeit facing stiff in-house competition. As a 6-foot-6 and 253-pound 2023 rookie, Musgrave proved himself a reliable first-read target, demonstrating efficient field-stretching ability, sure hands and post-catch talents while thriving in head coach Matt LaFleur’s smartly schemed offense. His 69.6 PFF receiving grade ranks 17th among 31 NFL tight ends with at least 45 targets.

Musgrave’s 2023 rookie classmate and teammate Tucker Kraft earned a respectable 65.1 PFF receiving grade but is unable to meaningfully challenge Musgrave for the starting role after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle in May. LaFleur waivered when offering Kraft’s expected return-to-play date, stating Kraft “is going to be out until training camp… And then hopefully he’s back by training camp, and if not, it should be early on.” Meanwhile, Musgrave continues honing his craft.

Among 16 NFL rookie tight ends with at least 25 rookie-season, first-read targets earned from 2020-2023, Musgrave ranks and/or ties for top six in catch rate (72.2%), average depth of target (aDot, 10.3), yards per reception (12.5) and explosive pass-play rate (26.9%).

Among 18 NFL rookie tight ends with at least 25 rookie-season targets earned from 2020-2023, Musgrave ranks eighth in target rate (17.6%), seventh in aDot (7.4), yards per reception (10.4) and explosive pass-play rate (20.0%), sixth in YPRR (1.41), fifth in yards after the catch per reception (5.1), fourth in catch rate (76.9%) and second in catchable-pass catch rate (95.2%), drop rate (2.4%) and deep-target rate (15.4%).

As detailed in “Best Values in Rounds 11-20 on Underdog Fantasy,” LaFleur’s scheme funnels targets to the field’s center due to the pass catcher’s improved maneuverability in the open field. The tactic yields explosive pass plays at a higher rate than targets thrown to the field’s boundary. Per Hayden Winks’ 2019 Rotoworld study, noticeable fantasy-point gains begin to occur within five yards downfield, with targets thrown between the painted numbers averaging nearly 1.75 PPR points per target while targets thrown to the boundary remain temporarily plateaued at 1.50 PPR points when thrown 0-to-10 yards downfield.

Among 17 NFL rookie tight ends with at least 10 rookie-season targets thrown at least five yards downfield, between the painted numbers earned from 2020-2023, Musgrave ranks ninth in explosive pass-play rate (25.0%), seventh in missed tackles forced per reception (0.13) and yards per reception (13.3), fourth in aDot (11.4) and third in yards after the catch per reception (5.0).

Musgrave offers fantasy managers a TE1 receiving profile, primed for a potential top-12 leap.

TE Jonnu Smith, Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins tight end Jonnu Smith is quietly in play as a season-long TE1 thanks to his explosive skillset, offensive environment and dreamy defensive matchups. Smith’s 63.5 PFF offense grade ranks 24th among 33 NFL tight ends with at least 535 offensive snaps.

As detailed in “Best Values in Rounds 11-20 on Underdog Fantasy,” Smith is a perfect fit for Miami head coach Mike McDaniel’s centerfield passing attack. “Among 13 NFL tight ends to earn at least 12 targets thrown 10-plus yards downfield, between the painted numbers, Smith ranks second and first, respectively, in yards per reception (21.4) and yards after the catch per reception (9.0), turning all five of his qualifying receptions into explosive 15-plus-yard gains.

He had an excellent age-28 season overall, tying for 11th in yards per route run (1.55) and ranking ninth in explosive pass play rate (24.0%), seventh in yards per reception (11.6), third in missed tackles forced per reception (0.28) and first in yards after the catch per reception (7.3), ranked among 36 NFL tight ends with at least 40 targets.

Smith returns to a starting role in Miami after vying for looks behind the Atlanta Falcons’ No. 1 tight end Kyle Pitts, whose 72.7 PFF receiving grade ranks 10th among 33 NFL tight ends with at least 535 offensive snaps.

Miami’s Weeks 1-4 schedule features matchups against the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks' new and unimposing safety groups, bookended by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans beatable linebackers. Among 63 NFL linebackers with at least 50 tight end coverage snaps, Jacksonville linebackers Devin Lloyd (2.48 and 6.3%) and Foyesade Oluokun (91.7%) rank bottom six in yards allowed per coverage snap, explosive pass plays allowed rate and catch rate, respectively. Tennessee linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. ranks bottom eight in both catch rate allowed (88.9%) and explosive pass plays allowed rate (6.0%). Seattle safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and K’Von Wallace likewise respectively rank bottom seven in targeted rate (27.4% and 27.3%) and yards allowed per coverage snap (2.01 and 2.05) among 68 NFL safeties with at least 60 tight end coverage snaps. Jenkins and Tennessee safety Amani Hooker respectively rank bottom six in explosive pass plays allowed rate (5.7% and 4.6%) as well.

Miami’s schedule is littered with winnable matchups from start to finish but three more units make this list perhaps the most tight end-friendly NFL schedule. Arizona Cardinals linebacker Kyzir White ties for eighth in explosive pass plays allowed rate (5.9%) while ranking bottom three in targeted rate (33.3%) and yards allowed per coverage snap (2.61). The Los Angeles Rams can no longer hide linebacker Christian Rozeboom with free agent signee Kamren Curl and third-round rookie Kamren Kinchens now operating behind him. Among their respective, qualifying position groups, Rozeboom ranks bottom 12 in targeted rate (29.6%) yards allowed per coverage snap (2.57) and explosive pass plays allowed rate (5.6%) while Curl ranks 10th-worst in targeted rate (23.7%). Among 74 Power Five safeties with at least 45 tight end coverage snaps, Kinchens’ 85.7% cate rate ties for seventh worst.

Houston Texans linebackers Henry To’oTo’o and Christian Harris form the league’s worst 4-3 outside linebacker coverage duo. To’oTo’o ranks dead last in catch rate allowed (100.0%), yards allowed per coverage snap (3.33) and explosive pass plays allowed rate (10.0%). Harris ranks bottom five in the latter two categories (2.50 and 7.3%, respectively), plus the 11th-worst in targeted rate (27.1%).

Smith’s talent profile and offensive environment alone should frequently yield TE1 best ball results but his 2024 defensive matchups should make him a re-draft TE1 mainstay for at least 10 games.

Fantasy Football: 3 TE1 breakout candidates for 2024 (2024)

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