The 2021 NFL Draft class of tight ends isn't ready to rival the 2018 class that has produced such key fantasy TE1s as Mark Andrews, Mike Gesicki, Dalton Schultz, Dallas Goedert and Tyler Conklin.
But it's looking pretty solid at the top, with Atlanta's Kyle Pitts and Pittsburgh's Pat Freiermuth playing major roles for their respective teams.
After a relatively slow start Pitts pushed expectations through the roof with consecutive 100-yard games, the first time a rookie tight end had done that since Raymond Chester in 1970 with the Raiders. Since those two games Pitts has had two clunkers (five receptions, 13 targets, 75 yards), and ESPN fantasy sports researcher Kyle Soppe, who generates the fantasy questions herein, would like to know what's going on with Pitts.
He also has seen the uptick in Freiermuth's production (16 receptions, 20 targets, 145 yards, three TDs in the past three games) and asks if that will be close to the norm going forward. He also has questions about another rookie, receiver Elijah Moore in New York, as well as James Conner, Conklin and more.
On byes this week and thus not included below are Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston and the New York Giants. Away we go.
Consecutive underwhelming offensive performances out of the bye: Any reason to worry, or just a blip on the radar?
Oh, there's reason to worry. An offense that scored 30-plus points in five of the first six games of the year has struggled to put any points on the board in consecutive first halves and only scored two field goals against a bad Jacksonville Jaguars team. The running game has been the biggest issue, partly due to the play of the offensive line. Buffalo may get some help this week with rookie starting right tackle Spencer Brown and tight end Dawson Knox back on the practice field and by going up against the worst defense in the NFL in terms of points (31.4) and yards allowed (408.1). This could be a chance to fix some of the recent woes and get things trending in the right direction. -- Alaina Getzenberg
We've now seen back-to-back inefficient efforts from Mike Gesicki: Should we worry about that continuing?
Take note of who was at quarterback during these dips in production. With all due respect to Jacoby Brissett, Gesicki is at his best with Tua Tagovailoa throwing him the ball. Thursday night's goose egg was an anomaly -- a combination of Brissett starting and an injured Tagovailoa coming on in relief but as Tagovailoa heals, so should Gesicki's fantasy value. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques
New England Patriots
Do you think preseason star Rhamondre Stevenson will see his role increase to a fantasy-viable one in the second half of the season?
Be careful this week, as he has been out of practice because he is in concussion protocol. In the end, it will just be how comfortable one feels investing in a running back whose snaps might not top 20 in a game as the top backup. But given how productive Stevenson has been in limited snaps, he still will have some level of fantasy value. -- Mike Reiss
New York Jets
Elijah Moore has at least six targets in each game following the bye: Focused effort by the team to see what they have (and, therefore, something we can bank on the rest of the way)?
Three reasons why Moore is getting more chances: He's healthier than early in the season. QB Mike White sees the field better than Zach Wilson. Fellow WR Corey Davis missed the last two games. Davis returns this week, but that shouldn't impact Moore's targets. He's hot, and White will feed him. -- Rich Cimini
That's two tough offensive performances in the past three games: Should fantasy managers be concerned?
Definitely. The struggles with the Ravens offense has been season-long issues. Their comebacks have overshadowed the fact that they have had trouble with pass protection, third downs and slow starts. Plus, the they are just getting to the toughest part of their schedule. Baltimore plays its final seven games against defenses that rank in the top 12 in fewest points allowed. -- Jamison Hensley
Will Donovan Peoples-Jones see more targets moving forward, or will he continue to be used primarily as a deep threat only?
Peoples-Jones will see more targets than he had before the Odell Beckham Jr. release. But Cleveland's offense will be predicated on spreading the ball around. DPJ will have opportunities for the big play, like the 60-yard TD in Cincinnati. But otherwise, he probably won't put up fantasy-relevant numbers. -- Jake Trotter
Is it safe to call Pat Freiermuth's volume here to stay after a third straight productive game?
Absolutely. Especially with Chase Claypool's availability in question because of a toe injury, Freiermuth figures to be even more involved in the offense. He's a red zone machine and is quickly developing into a safety blanket for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He may not have a high volume of targets, but he gets them in the weighty situations, making him a valuable fantasy asset. -- Brooke Pryor
Carson Wentz has been fantasy viable six weeks running. Can he keep producing at this level?
Wentz has been effective since Week 4. He has thrown 14 touchdowns with only two interceptions over the past five games. What has helped Wentz during this stretch is that defenses have to respect what the Colts are doing in the running game, which they're fifth in the NFL in at 137.3 yards a game. The passing game should get a boost if receiver T.Y. Hilton clears the concussion protocol. Hilton has played less than two full games this season due to injuries. -- Mike Wells
Safe to call this for the most part a one-back offense (regardless of who the healthy player is atop the depth chart)?
Pretty much. Carlos Hyde hadn't had more than nine carries in a game until he had 21 against the Bills last week with James Robinson out. Dare Ogunbowale has only five carries -- and had only one last Sunday against the Bills. -- Michael DiRocco
From backfield splits to target shares, what did you find most interesting in the first game AH (After Henry)?
The carries will continue to be distributed among the three backs. They each have roles with Adrian Peterson being the short-yardage back while Jeremy McNichols is the third-down back. Judging from the Rams game, D'Onta Foreman may not have a defined role. But he had the most juice as shown by his 5.8 yards per carry average. -- Turron Davenport
Why hasn't Courtland Sutton been able to produce in the three games in which Jerry Jeudy has played?
Some of it is defenses are still playing Sutton as WR1 when Jeudy has been in the lineup. It's at least some of the reason Sutton has had three, four and two targets in the three games Jeudy has played. And it's at least some of the reason Tim Patrick has had two of his longest receptions for the season, including his longest touchdown play since Jeudy's return as well. Defenses are playing Sutton with help, especially in the intermediate areas and then taking their chances with Jeudy and Patrick much of the time. Sutton will get some work moving forward, but it will be when Jeudy punishes defenses a little more in the weeks ahead. -- Jeff Legwold
Kansas City Chiefs
In your eyes, what is the most glaring change from 2020 to 2021 in this offense, and can it be fixed over the second half of the season?
Turnovers are the easy answer and they are certainly part of the Chiefs' problem, but that's fixable. But the Chiefs have just 27 pass plays of 20 yards (16th in the league) compared to 38 through nine games last year (No. 1). That problem won't be as simple for the Chiefs to repair. Their offense has lost its way without its usual ability to get the frequent quick strike and until that's back, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs might continue to struggle. -- Adam Teicher
Las Vegas Raiders
Josh Jacobs has been pretty involved in the pass game since returning. Can we count on 4-6 targets to complement his 14-16 carries weekly?
As long as he stays healthy, yes. But that's a pretty big ask of late. Only once in the past two years has Jacobs said he felt completely healthy during a game week -- before this season's bye -- and still, he got banged up and came off the field for a stretch late in Sunday's loss at the Giants. Enter Kenyan Drake. And Jalen Richard. To Jacobs' credit, he did return for the Raiders' final drive. But for him to get those targets, he obviously needs to be on the field. -- Paul Gutierrez
Los Angeles Chargers
Where has early season Mike Williams gone, and do you think we get him back any time soon?
Williams had one of the biggest and best receptions of the season vs. Philadelphia on a monster cross-field throw from Justin Herbert. The team believes in him and his ability to go after 50-50 balls. -- Shelley Smith
The Cowboys' defense is one we should target with RBs: Overreaction to Week 9, or a sound strategy?
Seems like a sound strategy. They have allowed more than 100 yards in three straight games and could not stop Denver last week. Six of their last eight opponents have running games ranked in the top half of the league. The run defense has been aided by how well the Cowboys' offense has played this year. It is easier to defend the run with leads, especially when teams look to pass. This was always going to be an issue for the Cowboys if the offense was stopped the way the Broncos stopped them. They do not possess an overly large or big-name front, especially up the middle. They rely more on speed and quickness than strength. Overall, they have played the run well enough, except for the Broncos' game. -- Todd Archer
Are you buying this as a breakout DeVonta Smith game or simply a spike week for a receiver who will continue to be inconsistent?
Very few rookie seasons are models of consistency. There will be dips, particularly in an offense that has become more run-heavy. But the arrow is definitely pointing up for Smith. I'm expecting a strong finish. Jalen Hurts and the Eagles are certainly believers: Smith leads the team with 62 targets; Dallas Goedert is next with 37. -- Tim McManus
Washington Football Team
How many touches per game do you expect for Antonio Gibson the rest of the way?
He has been between 14 and 20 in six of the past seven games, so I'll stick with that number. His shin remains a question, but Gibson said Wednesday that he is starting to feel more like himself after some early-season struggles because of the injury. That could lead to more touches, but not substantially more. J.D. McKissic will always be a factor as a third-down back, and undrafted rookie Jaret Patterson could also receive more work as Washington aims to keep Gibson healthy for the stretch run. But keep this in mind down the stretch: Washington plays six teams who are currently ranked 19th or worse in rushing yards allowed per game. -- John Keim
The WR target distribution seems to be a moving target. Who do you think leads the WRs in targets the rest of the way?
Kalif Raymond. While tight end T.J. Hockenson leads the team in receiving yards as the most reliable and trusted option for quarterback Jared Goff, Raymond hasn't been fully consistent, but he has proven to be the most productive of the Lions' receiving corps. However, rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown has shown flashes of his ability and coach Dan Campbell said before the bye that the team will look long and hard at ways that they can use him better, notably at the outside receiver spot. -- Eric Woodyard
Green Bay Packers
AJ Dillon out-produces Aaron Jones: Is this a committee moving forward, or should we still consider Jones a locked-in top-10 running back?
It's almost as if the Packers are still figuring out how to use both of them, so it's hard to tell which way they're going to go not just from game to game but from series to series within a game. They clearly have packages they like for Dillon and packages more suited to Jones, but there doesn't seem to be a detectable pattern of use -- which is probably just how coach Matt LaFleur wants it. -- Rob Demovsky
Tyler Conklin paced the Vikings in both catches (5) and targets (7) last week: Consistent role that fantasy managers can count on?
It's beyond apparent that Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are underutilized in the Vikings' offense, so I don't expect the number of targets to be that high for tight end Conklin (or fullback C.J. Ham, for that matter) against the Chargers. The Vikings need to get the ball to their top two receivers and run the ball a lot against the league's worst run defense. Baltimore has routinely struggled to cover tight ends and the Vikings took advantage of that in a Week 9 loss. A stat line like that for Conklin seems more likely on a situational, not routine basis. -- Courtney Cronin
Cordarrelle Patterson, Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus all had more value in Week 9 to fantasy managers than Kyle Pitts. Will the rookie be better in the second half of the season, or should we be ready for more ups and downs?
Like we've been saying from the beginning with Pitts, he's a rookie tight end in an offense that wants to spread the ball around to whoever has the most favorable matchup. There have been -- and will continue to be -- really good games along with the occasional one that's not as productive. Pitts was still targeted seven times and had 62 yards receiving (and it would have been more had it not been for an early-game drop). He's going to be productive and, other than Patterson, is the most consistent fantasy option in the Atlanta offense. -- Michael Rothstein
How did you think Christian McCaffrey looked in his return to action?
It wasn't so much how he looked. He always looks good when healthy, and he had 106 yards from scrimmage. This was about how the Panthers managed his snaps in order to make sure he didn't overload in his return. McCaffrey played only 49%. Look for that to jump to around 60% this week, and for him to have continued success against an Arizona defense ranked 18th against the run. -- David Newton
New Orleans Saints
If I told you one receiver would hold fantasy value in this post-Jameis Winston world, your answer would be ...
I'd still go with Marquez Callaway, who has flashed big-play ability at times this season. But Tre'Quan Smith and Deonte Harris probably offer more value at cheaper prices in daily leagues. Smith, especially, probably slipped the furthest under the radar when he missed the first six weeks with a hamstring injury. Sean Payton singled him out this week for the way he has started to get back into the mix with six catches for 86 yards and a TD over the past two games. And his experience and blocking ability will keep him on the field for a ton of snaps. -- Mike Triplett
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Two massive games for Chris Godwin heading into the bye (albeit with Antonio Brown out): Can we lock him in as WR1 in this offense?
Nope! Not this week at least. Despite being incredibly durable this season, and a rock for Tom Brady, he has been dealing with an ankle injury and did not practice Monday, Wednesday or Thursday of this week. It's too risky. Mike Evans or Tyler Johnson are safer options, and tight end Cam Brate had 80 receiving yards against Washington last season. -- Jenna Laine
Zero receiving yards in three straight games for James Conner and then 77 (and a touchdown) in Week 9. Is that role real?
It's real as long as Chase Edmonds is injured. Conner knew he had the skills to be a receiver and all he needed was an opportunity to show it. Edmonds' injury gave him that. He'll continue to have a significant role in the Cardinals' passing game as long as Edmonds is out and when Edmonds returns, he'll still have a role but it'll definitely change a bit. -- Josh Weinfuss
Los Angeles Rams
Another viable week from Robert Woods. Safe to say fantasy managers can count on him weekly after the slow start to the season?
Yes. Although the game plan didn't consistently utilize Woods early in the season, Woods remains -- along with Cooper Kupp -- a consistent, dependable threat. His versatility remains among his strongest assets as he can make plays in the short, intermediate and deep passing game and also has the capability to create a spark out of the backfield. Another reason to think Woods role has stabilized? Matthew Stafford's starting targets are strong, but the Rams' bench isn't exactly deep, and after cutting DeSean Jackson after the trade deadline they no longer have an experienced pass catcher beyond the starting lineup. -- Lindsey Thiry
San Francisco 49ers
George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk dominate (12-189-2 combined). Who are you more confident in staying healthy and producing the rest of the way?
Can I say option C, Deebo Samuel? No? OK, well, I'm more confident in Kittle producing but in Aiyuk's ability to stay healthy. The good news is the the Niners at least are starting to involve all three of those guys in the offense consistently and this is a question that is difficult to answer. Aiyuk has come on strong the past two weeks and Kittle looked good in his return from a calf injury. With Samuel a bit banged up as well, Aiyuk and Kittle should both be focal points, though if forced to choose, I'd probably err on the side of Kittle simply because of his longer track record of getting the job done. -- Nick Wagoner
Tyler Lockett with a 142-yard game heading into the bye after five straight under 60. Should we be confident in him this week and moving forward?
The production of Lockett and DK Metcalf is so hard to predict because they're effectively co-No. 1 receivers, each capable of being the primary option in a given week while the other takes a backseat. And you can't simply point to Geno Smith as the reason for Lockett's down stretch because half of it was before Russell Wilson went down and his big game vs. Jacksonville was with Smith at quarterback. Wilson's return should help, but you can't expect every game for Lockett to look like his last one. -- Brady Henderson