Fantasy Football 2020 Projections: Let’s Pump The Brakes On Tyler Higbee

by Alex Kurpeski (@3COAK)

 

In our final installment of this series focused upon players with high chances of regressing in 2020, we have a player who Fantasy Football Twitter has been entangled with for the last few months, tight end Tyler Higbee of the Rams. A second half superstar for Los Angeles last season, Higbee managed to break free from the platoon that he had been locked into alongside Gerald Everett following a small schematic switch up made by the team’s coaching staff in the middle of last season. From Week 10 to the end of the season Higbee caught 51 of his 69 total receptions for 501 yards and a pair of touchdowns, seeing double digit targets in each of his final four contests and breaking 100 yards receiving in three of those games. If we were to stretch Higbee’s averages from that final four game stretch across a 16 game sample size, then here’s what we could expect (hint: this is the reason why so many people are in on Higbee as a potential top-five tight end this season). 

  • 144 receptions (would easily be a new record for tight ends)
  • 192 targets
  • 1,260 receiving yards
  • 4 receiving touchdowns
  • 294 fantasy points (easy TE1 finish)

With a potential statline like that how could anyone argue against Higbee’s upside? Well, here I am to do exactly that, thus today’s article will be a case of me attempting to crush the rose tinted glasses that many of us (myself included) have been seeing Higbee through. 

For what it’s worth, Higbee’s 27.7% target share during the four game stretch where he earned his reputation as the top breakout tight end candidate for 2020 was the result of the Rams throwing the ball 173 total times, an average of just over 43 passing attempts per-game. While Los Angeles has been known to chuck the ball when necessary in the past, it’s hard to imagine the team remaining so prolific over the course of a full season. When you consider the fact that 38% of QB Jared Goff’s passing attempts came either during this stretch of games or in the team’s Week 4 matchup with Tampa Bay (when he threw 68 passes), it’s hard to imagine this volume remaining. 

With Robert Woods (average of 132 expected targets per-season since joining the team) and Cooper Kupp (average of 117 expected targets per-season) due to get their fill, it may be hard for Higbee to produce TE1 numbers consistently as the third option in the passing game. While the team did move on from disgruntled deep threat Brandin Cooks, there are a couple of viable replacements for him in the form of rookie Van Jefferson and longtime fourth-string receiver Josh Reynolds. Likewise, the presence of Everett is worth noting, as the duo split reps at the position until Everett’s injury in Week 12 knocked him out of commission. Even if Everett remains the backup to Higbee, one has to think that some percentage of Higbee’s targets will be ceded to him. 

 

When we look for potential TE1 candidates, there are usually a couple of prerequisites that need to be met. The first of these obviously being talent, which Higbee has in bunches. The second however, is something that the former Western Kentucky star may be lacking: prolonged opportunity as a primary target in the passing game. As we’ve seen with guys like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Zach Ertz, Mark Andrews, and Austin Hooper, volume at the tight end position is often a result of a depleted receiving core (note: Kelce’s volume is more a result of his performance carrying the once depleted receiving core of the Chiefs from the days before Tyreek Hill). Last season, these five tight ends led the position in hog rate, with Andrews (23.4) leading the pack by a wide margin, followed by Hooper (15.9), Kittle (15.5), Kelce (15.2), and Ertz (15). With the exception of Hooper (due to injury), the rest of these tight ends lead their respective teams in target share, something that I doubt Higbee is capable of. While I do think Higbee has the ability to be on the level of these players, his road to fantasy football superstardom is blocked by Woods and Kupp. 

Tyler Higbee

  • 63 receptions (-6 from last season)
  • 90 targets (+1 from last season)
  • 706 receiving yards (-28 from last season)
  • 3 receiving touchdowns 
  • 152.6 fantasy points ~TE10 (-3 spots from last season)

While I see Higbee remaining a viable option in the Rams passing attack, he will come nowhere near his per-game stats from the second half of 2019, instead filling a pseudo slot receiver role as a checkdown for Jared Goff.

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