David Njoku Fantasy 2017
What a difference a couple of hours can make…after just a few ticks of the clock, Gary Barnidge went from welcoming a new teammate onto the Cleveland Browns to saying his goodbyes. Professional football is the ultimate zero sum game.
The object of his welcome, David Njoku, was one of three first-round picks made by the Browns in the NFL Draft. It would appear that he is going to be given every opportunity to become the guy in Cleveland. But does this mean that he has any fantasy value for the 2017 season?
Njoku enjoyed a productive college career at the University of Miami, a school with a rich recent history with regards producing NFL-ready tight ends. Since the year 2000, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow Jr, Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham have all gone from the Hurricanes to enjoy success in the pros. In Njoku’s final season at The U, he reeled in 43 receptions for 698 yards and eight touchdowns. From a measurable and production standpoint, he has drawn comparisons with a number of productive recent NFL TEs. These include players like Tyler Eifert, Dustin Keller, Vernon Davis and Travis Kelce. He is a tantalizing talent, with many of the tools needed to succeed in the NFL.
He also finds himself in what appears to be a great landing spot. With Barnidge out of the door, he takes with him 82 targets from the 2016 season. The only real competition for meaningful tight end targets comes from second-year man Seth DeValve, and he hardly wowed anyone after his rookie season. Playing in 12 games, he caught 10 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end has become something of a key part of coach Hue Jackson’s offenses over the last few years. In three season from 2014-2016, the main tight end in coach Jackson’s teams have averaged 15% of the total team targets, so if / when Njoku assumes this role he should get a healthy amount of looks.[the_ad id=”66786″]It is not just at tight end that the Browns have a shortage of proven talent, with questions emerging from nearly all of their wide receivers. Terrelle Pryor did not re-sign with the team, joining the Redskins, meaning that there are a further 140 targets up for grabs. Corey Coleman is expected to be, by the coaches anyway, “the” guy for the Browns. But he caught less than half of the passes sent his way last season, finishing with 33 receptions from 77 targets for 413 yards and averaged just over 41 receiving yards per game as a rookie. Kenny Britt somehow managed to top 1000 yards receiving playing on an awful Rams offense, but he has not exactly demonstrated consistent production over his career. Aside from 2016, his previous career high in terms of yards was 775 back in 2010. So it would appear that Njoku has every chance to become a trusted weapon for whoever happens to be playing quarterback this season, and could make some noise from a fantasy standpoint. Given his current ADP of TE18 in the 14th round according to Fantasy Football Calculator, he could be the steal of the season, right?
But wait, I’m not done yet. It is by no means certain that, even with the above opportunities, Njoku will enjoy success in the “real” game or fantasy games. The Browns unstable QB situation is one. As we prepare for training camp, the media seem to be drawing lots as to which of Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler or Deshone Kizer they will big up on a specific day. Osweiler is the only QB since 1999 to have three games in one season in which he attempted at least forty passes and finished with less than 200 yards passing. Kessler was a pleasant surprise in his eight starts, but suffered two concussions within four weeks last season and is far from durable. While Kizer is a rookie about whom his college coach has not exactly endorsed as being pro ready.
There is also a far from stellar track record rookie tight ends have had of late. Since the dawn of the 21st century, only eight first-year tight ends have topped 500 yards (Jordan Reed of the Redskins did manage 499 in 2013, but I distinctly said 500 yards, didn’t I?). The list can be seen below.
A rookie tight end hasn’t done anything to shout about for the Browns for a lot longer than the last 17 seasons. Only one first-year tight end IN THEIR HISTORY has managed at least 500 yards, and that guy was Ozzie Newsome. I believe he could play a bit. There have been ten instances since the Browns joined the NFL of a rookie TE managing over 100 yards in his first season, and only three instances have occurred this century. Seth Devalve, who we mentioned before, is ninth on the list with the princely 127 that he managed last season.
With these factors weighed up against each other, and given the fact that the Browns are not likely to be a prolific offense in 2017, I would be surprised if at the end of the season Njoku was placed within the upper echelon of fantasy tight ends. Given his opportunities, a solid TE2 season could be within his grasp if everything falls right. But, and you can call me prejudiced on this matter if you like, I tend to avoid trusting players in bad offenses. Njoku is a name to watch for the future, but I would seriously temper expectations for 2017.
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