Patrick Willis is a human missile.
Linebackers like Willis standing 6-foot-1, weighing 240 pounds, and running a 4.5 40-yard dash now make it difficult for any running back to play a full sixteen-game NFL season. Through three games, more than ten starting fantasy backs have missed one or more games or have been declared out for upcoming contests. For this reason, RB stashing and handcuffing is as critical as ever.
While running back injuries are rampant, another offensive position has also been devastated by head-on collisions with weaponized NFL linebackers: tight ends.
Though three games, Vernon Davis, Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert, Jordan Reed, Jordan Cameron, and Dennis Pitta, have already missed time or are declared out for upcoming games. Fantasy owners are now frequently scrambling to fill voids at both running back and tight end.
Through the wreckage, one specific type of tight end has become a fantasy factor — the converted skill position player. As spread offenses become more popular, NFL teams have largely phased out the traditional fullback role opting to roster more versatile tight ends in their place. This changeover began impacting the fantasy world in 2013 when former college running back, Charles Clay, and former college wide receiver, Timothy Wright, rose to prominence. Clay and Wright proved to be godsends for fantasy owners who lost Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, Owen Daniels, Kyle Rudolph, and Dwayne Allen last season.
While Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates famously established the college basketball player-turned-tight end paradigm, former wide receivers and running backs offer both athleticism and established football skills out of the box. This season, three recently converted tight ends have either risen to fantasy TE1 status or may be on the verge of becoming fantasy relevant.
Niles Paul played wide receiver at the University of Nebraska where he racked up close to 800 yards receiving as a junior, and per PlayerProfiler.com, posted a 22.8% Dominator Rating (67th percentile amongst NFL tight ends). His workout metrics are also impressive:
40-time: 4.51 (94th percentile)
Burst Score: 117.6 (49th percentile)
Agility Score: 11.04 (94th percentile)
Click here to see measurables definitions.
Kirk Cousins loves Niles Paul. In week 2, Paul garnered 11 targets on his way to posting eight receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown, leading Washington in all receiving categories. Then in week 3, he gobbled up another six receptions on nine targets. Most fantasy owners who snatched him have been pleasantly surprised by his production, but given his role as every-down tight and his athletic profile, Paul’s week 2-3 statistics should have been expected.
MarQueis Gray was a quarterback turned wide receiver turned quarterback at the University of Minnesota. His athleticism and versatility made such an impression on Norv Turner that he signed him away from the Cleveland Browns this off-season. Here are his PlayerProfiler workout metrics:
40-time: 4.73 (56th percentile)
Burst Score: 108.0 (5th percentile)
Agility Score: 11.55 (50th percentile)
While Marqueis Gray’s is not as explosive as Niles Paul, with the Vikings losing Kyle Rudolph, he is now the team’s most dynamic playmaker at the tight end position. It is possible that Norv Turner and Teddy Bridgewater could utilize Gray in the same fashion that Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins have employed Niles Paul.
Derek Carrier played wide receiver at Beloit College where he was the big man on a little campus. While at Beloit he posted an astounding 66.4% Dominator Rating (100th percentile amongst NFL tight ends). His on-field productivity, even at a non-BSC school, demonstrated high-end route running prowess and ball skills. His workout profile on PlayerProfiler is as follows:
40-time: 4.55 (91st percentile)
Burst Score: 123.5 (75th percentile)
Agility Score: 10.73 (100th percentile)
While Vernon Davis is tentatively expected to play through a high ankle sprain in week 4, his status may change in the days ahead, or he could aggravate the injury this Sunday. If Davis suffers a setback, Derek Carrier would instantly become Colin Kaepernick‘s fourth option in the passing game, making Carrier a stream-worthy fantasy option.
Fantasy gamers who may have missed out on Niles Paul should monitor the snap share of Marqueis Gray and Derek Carrier who possess the dynamism and versatility to make a significant fantasy impact when called upon.
Matt Kelley (@fantasy_mansion) is an XN Sports contributor and founder of RotoUnderworld (@rotounderworld) and PlayerProfiler.com, which distills a wide range of advanced metrics into a single player snapshot.