No one has ever questioned the athletic ability of David Njoku. He has the speed, agility, and size of an elite tight end in the NFL. His top comp over at PlayerProfiler is Travis Kelce. He was a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and it sure looked like he could be on that star path when he earned 88 targets as a 22-year-old and finished as TE9 in 2018. It's been a rocky road since then.
Over the past three seasons Njoku has earned 92 targets in 33 games, averaging 22 yards per game over that stretch. Last year was his best in the past three and he finished TE23 with 36 catches for 475 yards and four touchdowns. But Austin Hooper and Jarvis Landry left in the offseason and the Browns gave Njoku a big contract extension as opposed to letting him walk. He's still just 26 years old and there's talk about him being the No. 2 option in the passing game.
The question now is how good can the passing game be with Jacoby Brissett.
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Njoku backers will tell you Brissett loves targeting tight ends, and he has targeted them at a very high rate in his last three years as a starter. In 2019, that didn't seem to matter much as Eric Ebron followed up his breakout campaign by averaging just 7.9 FPPG before he got hurt. That's a pretty common theme if you look at those Colts players from 2019 when virtually every pass catcher took an enormous step back with Brissett under center.
At first glance, last year looks more encouraging. Mike Gesicki was on a 90-catch, 1,000-yard pace in the four complete games he played with Brissett. But Brissett averaged 40 passes per game in those four games. Kevin Stefanski's teams have been closer to 30 pass attempts per game historically, and I wouldn't expect the pass volume to increase until Deshaun Watson is eligible to play.
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I like Njoku most as a potential league-winner in the final six weeks after Watson has returned. But there is a chance he earns six targets a game and produces as a streamer before then. I'd rather roster him as a bench stash than I do a Week 1 starter, but I'm alone in that assessment at CBS. There are multiple waiver-wire adds I'd start over Njoku below.
Here's everything else you need to know about tight end in Week 1:
Week 1 TE Preview
The following players are not being projected to play Week 1 at this time. Here's what it means:
Logan Thomas TE
WAS Washington • #82
Age: 32 • Experience: 9 yrs.
We are not interested in a Washington tight end this week, but John Bates is likely the best one.
CHI Chicago • #18
Age: 29 • Experience: 6 yrs.
We don't expect any Packers' tight end to be relevant this week.
Greg Dulcich TE
DEN Denver • #80
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Dulcich begins the year on IR, which gives Albert Okwuegbunam a chance to shine.
Numbers to Know
- 28% - The career tight end target rate for Marcus Mariota, which would've been third-highest in the NFL last season.
- 28.9% - Jacoby Brissett's career tight end target rate. If David Njoku can earn a large share of those and Brissett can be passable, Njoku could have a big year.
- 2015 -- Last year was the first since 2015 that Travis Kelce didn't finish as TE1.
- 9 -- Hunter Henry was tied with the second-most touchdowns by a tight end in 2021, but finished 13th in tight end PPR points per game.
- 32.8% -- Doug Pederson's teams threw nearly a third of their passes to tight ends when he was in Philadelphia.
- 11.6% -- More than 10% of Pat Freiermuth's catches went for scores last year. That makes him one of the top regression candidates in football.
- 18.4% -- Dawson Knox scored at an even higher rate than Freiermuth.
- 1 -- Kyle Pitts and Cole Kmet combined for one touchdown on a combined 128 receptions last year. Expect both to get a big boost in the opposite direction of Freiermuth and Knox.
Matchups that matter
Waiver Wire Targets
The matchup is the only thing that gives me any reason for pause here. Higbee sees 5-6 targets per game when everyone is healthy, and right now we're unsure about the status of Van Jefferson. Higbee is someone I'm drafting as a TE1 for the season, but he's also my highest projected player available on the waiver wire.
Evan Engram TE
JAC Jacksonville • #17
Age: 29 • Experience: 7 yrs.
This game will be the first hint as to how much Doug Pederson's new offense looks like his old offense. Engram looks like the clear No. 1 tight end on a team without a target-dominating No. 1 wide receiver. It's possible a month from now we view him as a must-start tight end.
The Chargers are one of the highest projected scoring offenses in Week 1, the Raiders have historically not been good against tight ends, and Donald Parham has battled injuries in camp and may be slow to ramp up for the regular season.
PHI Philadelphia • #88
Age: 28 • Experience: 6 yrs.
The Eagles are the clear top stack this week, with Jalen Hurts ranking as my No. 1 quarterback regardless of cost. Last year Goedert dominated targets and air yards once Zach Ertz was traded to Arizona. While we do expect A.J. Brown to impact that target share, we also expect the team's total pass attempts to increase enough to offset the loss in share. Goedert has TE1 upside this week in a good matchup against the Lions.
MIN Minnesota • #87
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Hockenson has fallen out of favor due to his disappointing 2021, but he still has as much target upside as any tight end in football and his Lions should be chasing the score against the Eagles. He saw eight or more targets in seven of his 12 games last year, including Week 1 when he scored 25.7 PPR Fantasy points against the 49ers. That type of upside can be a tournament-winner, especially at a low roster rate.