Welcome to Breakouts and Busts where I highlight one breakout candidate and one bust candidate for the 2021 fantasy season. In this edition, I'll be taking a look at a Tight End from each conference.
BREAKOUT - Mike Gesicki (TE - MIA)
2020 Season Overview
(stats from ESPN.com)
Despite missing one game in 2020, Mike Gesicki still had a career year. While it wasn’t necessarily a breakout campaign for the 2nd-round pick from 2018, Gesicki showed a lot of promise last season. He made the most out of his opportunities and, at times, showed his potential as one of the best young receiving TEs in the league. When things were going right for Gesicki, he looked elite, but when things weren’t going his way - which was more often than not - he would disappear in games.
The Miami Dolphins’ TE hauled in 53 of his 85 targets last season for 703 yards and 6 TDs, averaging 13.3 yards per reception. Those are some pretty good numbers, but Gesicki lacked consistency. In 9 of the 15 games he appeared in, Gesicki either accumulated less than 50 yards or had 5 or less targets. Late in the season, when the Dolphins’ WR group was decimated by injuries, Gesicki saw a huge uptick in targets and started to finally shine in fantasy. In the final 4 games of the season, he caught 23 of his 34 targets for 254 yards and 3 TDs, finishing as 2020’s TE7 in half PPR scoring.
What Went Wrong In 2020?
The Miami Dolphins QB carousel.
It’s hard for a player to get things going when the QB is constantly changing each and every week, sometimes even mid-game! On top of that, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a righty and Tua Tagovailoa is a lefty so the ball is also moving differently depending on who’s throwing it. It must’ve been frustrating for all Dolphins pass catchers, not just Gesicki. For this reason, I decided to take a look at how Gesicki did with Fitz versus how he did with Tua, just to see if there was a big difference between the two. As it turns out, there certainly was a difference.
In 7 games with Fitzpatrick as the starting QB, Gesicki caught 20 of 35 targets for 316 yards and 3 TDs, averaging 15.8 yards per reception. Over the course of a full 16 game season, that would have averaged out to 46 receptions on 80 targets for 722 yards and 7 TDs.
In 8 games with Tua as the starting QB, Gesicki caught 33 of 50 targets for 387 yards and 3 TDs, averaging 11.7 yards per reception. Over the course of a full 16 game season, that would have averaged out to 66 receptions on 100 targets for 774 yards and 6 TDs.
As you can see, Gesicki had more big plays with Fitzpatrick under center, but saw higher volume with Tua at the helm. Fitz and Tua were complete polar opposites last season. Fitzpatrick loved to sling the ball around and Gesicki was a big beneficiary of that. He saw a higher yards per reception average with Fitz at QB and found the endzone more consistently, which is huge for those playing in standard fantasy leagues. Tua was much more conservative and didn’t throw the deep ball very often, so Gesicki saw a higher number of targets, making him more appealing in half and full PPR leagues.
What Will Change In 2021?
No more QB carousel.
It’s widely expected that Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to retire at some point before the 2021 season, which means the Dolphins will be committed to Tua as their starter moving forward. There won’t be anymore QB controversy. Unless he’s out due to injury, Tua will be starting week in and week out. I don’t believe any of the rumors out there about how the Dolphins are unhappy with Tua and are looking to replace him in the draft. That being said, I could realistically see them trade Tua in a package for Deshaun Watson, which would be nothing but good news for Gesicki.
But assuming Tua is going to be the Dolphins’ starting QB next year, I still think it’s all good news for Gesicki. The Dolphins TE shined with Tua under center late in the season. Sure, those stats are a little inflated due to all of the injuries the Dolphins had at WR, but Gesicki and Tua definitely seemed to have formed a good rapport by the end of the season. If Gesicki continues to be one of Tua’s favorite targets in 2021, he could break out in a big way as a high volume TE. Those are very rare in fantasy football.
Now, I fully expect the Dolphins to add a solid WR - either in the draft or through free agency - to play alongside DeVante Parker since Preston Williams clearly isn’t the answer. Doing so would open things up for Gesicki. Since the defense will have their top 2 CBs on the top 2 Dolphins’ WRs, that could allow Miami to move Gesicki around. He will most likely either be covered by the opposing team’s linebacker in the middle of the field or their slot CB in the slot. Gesicki is such a versatile pass catching TE that adding an extra offensive weapon for Tua shouldn’t be a detriment to him. If anything, it will allow the Dolphins to use Gesicki in an Evan Engram-esque way and take advantage of any mismatches they see on the field.
As of writing this article, according to FantasyPros, Mike Gesicki is their 10th-ranked TE and 96th overall in their Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR scoring. He’s currently being drafted anywhere between the 10th and 12th rounds in 12 team mock drafts. That could be an absolute steal considering he’s going around the same time as other TEs like Logan Thomas (WAS), Evan Engram (NYG), Hunter Henry (LAC), Hayden Hurst (ATL) and Robert Tonyan (GB). While I think Logan Thomas and Evan Engram are also good options in this range, I definitely like Gesicki more than Henry, Hurst and Tonyan. If you missed out on any of the Tier 1 TEs, you can’t go wrong taking a flier on Gesicki in the 10th round.
With Tua as the Dolphins’ starting QB, I can see Gesicki getting over 100 targets next season. If he can improve even a little bit on his career average catch rate of 62.4%, then I can see a 70 reception, 900 yard and 8 TD season for Mikey G. That would make the Dolphins TE a steal in fantasy drafts at his current ADP. Gesicki could easily finish as a top 5 TE in 2021.
BUST - Robert Tonyan (TE - GB)
2020 Season Overview
(stats from ESPN.com)
Seemingly out of nowhere, Robert Tonyan was instrumental to the Green Bay Packers’ success in 2020. The former Detroit Lions practice squad TE quickly gained the trust of MVP winner Aaron Rodgers and established himself as Green Bay’s TE1. His 3 TD performance against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4 put him firmly on the fantasy map and his managers never looked back.
Tonyan ended the year with 52 receptions on 59 targets for 586 yards and 11 TDs, averaging 11.3 yards per catch. That’s right, he had 11 TDs last season, which was the same amount as 2020’s fantasy TE1, Travis Kelce. He also had an outstanding 88.1% catch rate, which is the highest of all TEs with at least 50 targets by a wide margin. Other than a bad dry spell between weeks 5 and 9 where Tonyan didn’t find the endzone once, he was a consistent fantasy performer and may have helped you win a title with his TD in the championship week. Tonyan finished the 2020 season as fantasy’s TE3 in half PPR scoring.
What Went Right In 2020?
Tonyan scored way too many TDs in 2020. It’s actually ridiculous. The Packers’ TE scored a TD in 9 different games with his only multi-touchdown game coming in Week 4. That kind of consistency is incredibly rare and the main reason why he’s widely considered to be one of the top TEs heading into 2021 fantasy drafts.
(stats from playerprofiler.com)
Taking a look at Tonyan’s opportunity and productivity, we see that his production far exceeded what was expected of him last season. He was middle of the pack or bottom tier in almost all opportunity statistics, most notably snap share and targets. Yet, he turned all of that into the 5th most fantasy points per game for TEs and was tied for the most TDs in the league at his position. It’s very impressive to see Tonyan turn his minor opportunities into major production and it’s one of the better stories of the 2020 fantasy season, but this all just screams unsustainable.
What Will Change In 2021?
Tonyan’s stats will regress to the mean.
Up to this point in his career, nothing has indicated that Tonyan is an 88% catch rate and 10+ TDs per year player. I believe that, other than Davante Adams, Tonyan was the main beneficiary of Rodgers’ MVP campaign. When Aaron Rodgers is hot, he can make anyone look good and he did exactly that with Tonyan in 2020. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Tonyan is a bad player or anything like that. I actually think he has the potential to be one of the better TEs in the NFL. I just believe that Tonyan’s catch rate and TD totals from last year are unsustainable and were inflated by the game against Atlanta in Week 4 where he took full advantage of Davate Adams’ injury.
The Green Bay Packers ran a balanced offense last season - passing about 55% of the time and rushing about 45% of the time - but it felt like almost all of their TD drives ended with a pass as opposed to a run. I expect to see more rushing TDs from the team this season, meaning Rodgers will likely take a little bit of a step back in 2021. He could still throw for over 40 TDs again, but I expect it to be closer to the high 30s or low 40s than 50.
On top of that, I fully expect the Packers to finally add a true WR2 to play alongside Davante Adams, which could take some targets away from Tonyan, but I don’t necessarily think it will. Another WR could take targets away from Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but Tonyan and his 59 targets seem safe to me.
As of writing this article, according to FantasyPros, Robert Tonyan is their 9th-ranked TE and 95th overall in their Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR scoring. He’s currently being drafted anywhere between the 10th and 12th rounds in 12 team mock drafts. Considering he’s going around the same time as other TEs like Mike Gesicki (MIA), Logan Thomas (WAS), Evan Engram (NYG), Hunter Henry (LAC) and Hayden Hurst (ATL), he’s not a horrible option, but not a good one either. I’d rather have Logan Thomas, Evan Engram or, of course, Mike Gesicki than Robert Tonyan.
I can see Tonyan getting the same amount of targets in 2021 as last season, but I think his catch rate will drop significantly from 88.1% to around 70%. 60 targets with a 70% catch rate translates to roughly 42 receptions and I can’t see Tonyan scoring a TD every 4 catches, so his TD totals should also regress significantly to about 6 TDs. Taking Tonyan’s yards per reception average of 11.3 from last season into account, I project he will catch 42 of 60 targets for 475 yards and 6 TDs. Those yardage totals aren’t good at all and, if Tonyan’s TD totals regress as much as I expect, he’s going to be a TE to avoid in 2021 fantasy football drafts.