Injury Reports: Tight End

O.J. Howard
TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A 6’6” 250 lb. monster, the former 1st-round pick out of Alabama, O.J. Howard had some really solid games in 2018 despite inconsistent QB play and constant competition with fellow Bucs TE Cameron Brate.

54, 96, 72, 0, 62, 67, 68, 53, 15, 78. Those are Howard’s receiving yard totals in the games he played last season. Impressive. Only 2 games under 53 yards.

Howard has a pretty clean injury history prior to his NFL career, only missing a game with an ankle injury in 2013 (as a freshman), but managed to play all 27 of Alabama’s games over his final 2 years there. Over the past 2 years, Howard has a history of right ankle injuries. He suffered a grade 3 high-ankle sprain in mid-December 2017, landing him on the IR for the final 2 games of 2017. Then last year he suffered a significant right foot and ankle, unknown specifics, in Week 11 and missed the final 8 weeks of the season, unfortunately when his fantasy owners needed him the most. I think we are sensing a pattern here: right ankle injuries late in the season. Hopefully Howard can break this pattern because he has the tools and athleticism to be the #1 tight end in fantasy in 2019. Underrated. Love me some O.J. Howard this year.

2019 Injury Risk Rating: Low | 3/10

Eric Ebron
TE, Indianapolis Colts

Ebron was a 3-star recruit by Rivals.com, rated as the 21st best tight end prospect in his class when he elected to go to UNC in 2011. Playing 3 years at UNC, Ebron ran the 2nd fastest time at the combine for TEs at 4.60 seconds. Scouts were always concerned about drops with Ebron, but even with that he was expected to be the top TE in his draft class, and he was, drafted 10th overall by the Lions in 2014. Ebron missed 3 games his rookie season with a hamstring injury, starting 7 games catching 25 passes for 248 yards and a TD. Slated to start behind Brandon Pettigrew during the 2015 season, Ebron again sustained a hamstring injury and missed the next 2 games. Ebron was better that season, 47 catches for 537 yards and 5 TDs. Plagued by injuries again during the 2016 season, this time with knee and ankle injuries, but still managed to have a solid season: 61 catches, 711 yards, 1 TD in 13 games. Surprisingly healthy throughout the entire 2017 season, Ebron took at step back, catching 53 passes for 574 yards and 4 TDs, but playing in all 16 games. After the 2017 season, Ebron’s tenure with the Lions was over and he joined the Colts and formed a nice duo-TE tandem with Jack Doyle. Mostly due to Doyle’s injuries, Ebron continued to defy odds and had a monster season. He recorded career-highs in receptions (66), receiving yards (750), and TDs (13!). His 13 TDs was tied for 2nd in the NFL (with Packers’ Davante Adams) only behind Steelers’ Antonio Brown. The other good news is that Ebron has managed to go 2 full seasons without suffering (a big enough) injury to cause him to miss any games.

So the question is what should we expect from Ebron in 2019? Well, first off, we found out that Ebron was actually dealing with a groin injury last season but he played through it. He underwent groin surgery this offseason and I don’t expect this to bother him at all going forward, as groin injuries do quite well after surgery. The bigger question is whether or not Jack Doyle will be able to contribute at the start of the season. While he will have his own profile, Ebron’s season will indirectly depend on the health of Doyle. If you look back at the numbers, Ebron was out-snapped and out-targeted by Doyle when both were healthy and on the field together. Luck, who is my #1 QB in 2019, likes throwing to his TEs (as demonstrated by Ebron’s monster 2019 season), so the question is who will he be throwing to: Ebron, Doyle or sleeper Mo Alie-Cox (who is making waves on his own). It’s not clear yet. Unlike last year, when Ebron ended up being a steal in the late 13th rd, you’re not going to get him that late this year. He is currently going in the late 6th, in between Evan Engram and Jared Cook. Based on his 2018 season I think this is an appropriate price for him, the problem is there are too many question marks and variables at this time to draft him this early. I’d personally rather either reach for Kelce, Kittle or wait a little bit for Howard, or Henry, or just settled for a guy like Cook, McDonald or Hooper. Thankfully I am not worried about Ebron’s health and injury risk.

2019 Injury Risk Rating: Low | 3/10

Hunter Henry
TE, Los Angeles Chargers

First off, Hunter Henry is a big man, like 6’5” 250 lbs. Perfect size for an NFL tight end. Henry was the first TE selected in the 2016 draft, and in his rookie season Henry scored the 2nd most TDs by a rookie TE in the past decade (only behind Gronk), the 5th most by a rookie TE in NFL history with 8. In his next season, Henry disappointed as he only caught 45 passes for 579 yards and 4 TDs, which was only a mild step forward from his rookie season. One thing of note, at the end of his 2017 season, Henry lacerated his kidney. This usually occurs secondary to a broken rib, which in turn injure near-by objects, which depending on the location of the rib, can mean our kidneys. Depending the severity this could be serious, but it sounds like it wasn’t for Henry. Just as everyone started to get excited that Hunter Henry was finally going to replace future HOF Antonio Gates heading into the 2018 season, who had announced his retirement, who has been with the Chargers organization since 2003 (!), Henry unfortunately suffered a torn ACL at Chargers OTAs in mid-May. What a devastating blow to a player with loads of potential. There was some early rumblings that Henry was trying to return mid-2018 season, but thankfully (for his own future health risk) he did not. Simple (not complicated) ACL tears (not including any other ligaments and only minor meniscus damage) take on average 9-12 months to return to play, yes even for NFL players. So best case scenario, that would mean February 2019. Well, Henry’s rehab must have gone quite well, because he returned ahead of schedule, joining the Chargers in mid-December. Henry managed to return to play 14 snaps in the Chargers Divisional round loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Patriots on January 13, just about 8 months after his ACL tear.

The good news is that Henry was able to return, get back on the field, and do so without suffering a re-injury or a setback (unlike say Derrius Guice). So as you may have heard me say before about players returning from ACL reconstruction, the player really isn’t 100% (mentally or physically) for almost 2 years after the injury (assuming no setbacks). Now some positions ask the ACL to do different things and put different forms of stress on it, like RBs vs. WRs vs. TEs vs. CBs. The hardest position to return back from after suffering an ACL (in football at least), IMO is at RB. Next hardest would be WR. Then there is TE. These guys are usually much larger, less nimble than RBs and WRs, and don’t have to stop and go, cut as much these other positions. In the long run, that’s likely going to result in a smoother return-to-player for a tight end coming off an ACL injury versus a RB or WR.

We know Philip Rivers LOVES throwing to his tight ends, he made Antonio Gates a household name for over a decade. You’re definitely going to want a piece of the Chargers offense, is 2019, as they were tied for the 6th most points in the NFL in 2018 and that was without Henry. While the Melvin Gordon situation is currently up in the air, Rivers still has a ton of weapons to throw to, including Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin in addition to Henry. Henry does have some competition, but honestly I’m not overly concerned with any of them. Virgil Green is a blocking tight end, and there’s 5 other guys on the roster than personally I’ve never even heard of before. The competition will be good for him. Good chance this is the beginning of Henry’s dominance as a top 5 NFL tight end. While he will be more confident in his knee in the 2020 NFL season, but I believe he will feel pretty good about it in 2019 as well. Currently going as the 5th TE off the board, at a notoriously shallow position, as the 63rd pick. I think Henry is safely in the bottom of that second tier of TEs, along with Evan Engram, O.J. Howard and Zach Ertz, behind only Travis Kelce and George Kittle. I would personally love to draft him in this area, and I am not overly concerned about his knee.

2019 Injury Risk Rating: Medium | 4/10

Travis Kelce
TE, Kansas City Chiefs

Man was this guy a monster last year. Chew on this stat line: 150 targets, 103 receptions, 1,336 yards, 10 TDs. Woah, very impressive numbers, especially for a tight end! Well that’s what happens when you’re 6’5”260 lbs. and have Mahomes’ cannon throwing to you. He was drafted as the 2nd TE off the board last year at 3.04, and did not disappoint. Only considered a two-star recruit by Rivals.com coming out of high school, man has he proved them wrong! Hailing from the Cleveland, Ohio area as a 3-sport athlete (football, basketball, and baseball), Kelce committed to the University of Cincinnati, joining his brother Jason (who now plays for the Eagles). In his 2012 season he won the College Football Performance Awards Tight End of the Year after catching 45 passes for 722 yards and 8 TDs. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 Draft by the Chiefs. Kelce’s rookie season didn’t exactly go as planned, as he suffered a pretty significant knee injury where he had cartilage issues which eventually led to something called a ‘microfracture’ procedure (used to restore cartilage). Overall, microfracture surgery success rates are not pretty, and many athletes never even return to the field. So the fact that we are still talking about Kelce 6 years later is not only surprising but to see what he has become is very impressive.

Kelce has had his share of injuries after recovering from the knee surgery, including a rib injury in 2014, a minor ankle sprain in 2015, and a shoulder injury in 2017 that required surgery after the season. Another injury that Kelce has suffered from is concussions. Kelce has suffered at least 2 concussions (that we are aware of) over the past 2 years. One in October of 2017 that he was able to clear by the next game, and another one in an important playoff game in January of 2018, where he missed the 2nd half in a Wild Card round loss to the Titans. Thankfully Kelce managed to play all 16 games in a dominating 2018 season. Is Kelce technically at an increased risk of sustaining another concussion (compared to someone who hasn’t sustained one before)? Yes. Is his risk so high that it should deter you from drafting him? No. The fact that he made it through the entire 2018 season while sustaining countless blows and (presumably) not sustaining another concussion is promising. He will always be at higher risk than someone who has never sustained one, but at this point I’m not overly concerned.

With how dominant he was in 2018, and since Rob Gronkowski has retired (at least we think he has), I think Kelce is the TE1. After all, he did just post one of the greatest seasons for a tight end ever. The second-most yards (1,336), marking his 3rd straight 1,000+ yard season, and I think there’s a good chance he makes it 4 straight. The Chiefs are arguably expected to be equally as good this year this upcoming year as they were last year – possibly better. Mahomes has room to grow (which is scary), Hill is back, Damien Williams, Carlos Hyde & Dawrin Thompson will man the backfield, and then add in additional receiving options Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, and sneaky-rookie Mecole Hardman. Likely the fastest receiving corps as well. There’s one thing that we haven’t discussed yet, it’s the offseason ankle surgery that Kelce had. It sounds like Kelce underwent an elective ‘cleanup’ procedure on his ankle which usually entails an arthroscopic procedure (think similar to knee ‘scope’) to address some nerve impingement (compression of nerve causing pain) or possibly some loose bodies. Most players wear a boot for a couple weeks and then start rehabilitating the ankle. Realistic timeline for return-to-play is 6 weeks. Since this procedure was in March, he will have plenty of time to recover back to 100% before training camp rolls around. Kelce is currently the top TE being drafted, and in some leagues, usually due to unique scoring situations (Scott Fish Bowl), he has been drafted late in the 1st round. In a more traditional draft I think that’s a bit too early, but to each his/her own. He definitely deserves to be the top TE off the board, before Kittle. Health-wise I have very limited concerns for Kelce. Draft him without any injury concerns!

2019 Injury Risk Rating: Low | 2/10

Jack Doyle
TE, Indianapolis Colts

I already wrote about Doyle’s partner in crime, Eric Ebron, and if you haven’t read his profile, be sure to check that one out too. Doyle has an interesting path on how he got to the NFL (compared to Ebron). Unlike Ebron, who was a 1st round pick, Doyle played at Western Kentucky and was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Titans. Ebron was a highly-scouted national product coming out of high school, whereas WKU was the only school to offer Doyle an athletic scholarship. After signing a 3 year, $1.49M contract as an undrafted free agent on August 29, 2013, he was cut a mere 3 days later, and the Colts claimed him off waivers and added him to their active roster. Doyle actually managed to play in at least 15 games for the first 5 years of his career (2013-2017), very impressive. He wasn’t really ever featured until 2016, when he completed the season with 59 receptions for 584 yards and 5 TDs in 16 games. The following season the Colts’ other main TE, Dwayne Allen, was traded to the New England Patriots, and it was Doyle’s time to shine, and he did just so. He played in 15 games, caught 80 passes for 690 yards (8.6 YPC) and 4 TDs. The one game he missed was due to a concussion.

Come 2018, the Colts brought in another pass-catching tight end in Eric Ebron to form a nice dual-TE threat for Andrew Luck. The season started off strong, with Doyle getting 10 targets in Week 1, catching 7 passes for 60 yards. But that was the most targets he would get in a game the rest of the season. He suffered a hip strain in Week 2 which really impacted his ability to move. Hip strains are particularly uncomfortable because you need your hips to stop/go, turn out of a route, push off (to start running), and jump for passes. Typically these take about 4-6 weeks to fully heal (if non-surgical), depending on the severity. Doyle missed 5 games (6 weeks). Returning after the bye, Doyle caught everything that was thrown to him (11 for 11), but simply wasn’t a feature in the offense. In a Week 12 game vs. the Dolphins, Doyle exited the 3rd quarter with an abdominal injury. We come to find out that Doyle actually lacerated his kidney and required a surgical procedure, likely to stabilize the bleeding. This caused Doyle to miss the remainder of the season.

So let’s talk about how Doyle likely suffered this kidney injury, and how important this organ is to us living. The most common way to injure a kidney (in football) is secondary to fracturing a rib and the sharp edge of the rib cuts into the nearby kidney. Now there’s really 4 main organs that we can’t live without (to keep it simple), those include the brain, the heart, the liver and the kidney. Why? Well those are the processing centers for our body and the blood flowing through it. Want to know what happens when the kidney’s stop working? Ever hear of dialysis? Ya, those are essentially artificial kidneys. The kidneys filter our blood, pulling out all the water, salt and controlling our body’s ability to concentrate the blood as well as our blood pressure. Uncontrolled blood pressure? That leads to either a stroke or a heart attack very quickly. The kidneys are vital to say the least. Large, deep cuts to the kidneys don’t heal too quickly, and will need to be ‘tested’ as the athlete ramps up their heart rate, and asks the kidney to work harder concentrating the blood faster than it does when you’re just laying on the couch. Without personally looking at his lab work, seeing the results of recent tests, and seeing how his body is reacting to the vigors of training, it is hard to really gauge where he is at in his recovery.

Not only did Doyle require surgery on his kidney, but he also required surgery on his hip as well. My suspicion is that he suffered a tear in the cartilage of his hip, also called the labrum (similar to the shoulder). These take a good 3-6 months to fully heal after surgery, in the respect to what Doyle will be asking his body to do. He began cutting/running in late May, and was able to run full speed in mid-June; both great signs. Reports have surfaced stating that Doyle is completely recovered from his hip surgery, and that is a fair assumption. My primary concern with Doyle for the 2019 NFL season is with his kidney. The Colts are appropriately allowing Doyle to slowly acclimate his body to this ‘repaired’ kidney. He reportedly lost 24 lbs. as a result of the deconditioning from surgeries, and as of early July Doyle was ‘not rushing’ his recovery. Honestly, at this time its hard to give a fair medical evaluation for Doyle for the upcoming season. When on the field in 2018, Doyle out-snapped and out-targeted Ebron. Would that be the same case in 2019 given how impressive Ebron was down the stretch (in 2018)? Maybe, don’t know. My recommendation is that you avoid Doyle and draft a safer tight end this upcoming season, at least as your TE1. He is currently going in the late 13th rd, right after Trey Burton, Jimmy Graham, and Kyle Rudolph, and before the oft-injured Jordan Reed, and the popular sleeper-pick Mark Andrews. As a bench stash? Sure, but don’t draft Doyle as your primary tight end due the uncertainty with his kidney.

2019 Injury Risk Rating: High | 7/10

Delanie Walker
TE, Tennessee Titans

Hubert Delanie Walker will be playing in his 35 year old season in 2019. Originally drafted by the 49ers in 2006 after playing his college ball at University of Central Missouri. In high school he not only excelled in football but also in track and field where he won a 100-meter title at a local meet in California. Initially attending a small junior college, Walker made a name for himself and transferred to the University of Central Missouri where he set several different receiving records. Invited to the NFL combine, he ran a 4.54 second 40-yard dash and was drafted in the 6th round by the San Francisco 49ers.

Over his 1st 7 years in the NFL, Walker played in the majority of the games for San Francisco but he was never properly utilized. At his peak he caught 29 passes for 331 yards. In 2013, Walker signed with the Tennessee Titans and this signified his break out, as he finished his 1st season with Titans with 60 catches for 571 yards and 6 TDs. From 2013 to 2017 Walker caught at least 60 passes each year. From 2007 to 2017, 11 seasons, a period of 176 games, Walker missed a total of 8 games. He played in at least 14 games every year, and 15 games in 10 of the 11 seasons, he was the model of health. This is not to say that Walker did not sustain any injuries over this time, quite the contrary. In 2011 he fractured his jaw, in 2013 he sprained his knee and required arthroscopic surgery. Walker has suffered 2 different concussions, one in 2013 and a second in 2014. Then in preseason of 2015 he had a laceration on his left thumb that required 12 stitches and a missed the 1st preseason games. A couple weeks later he sprained his right wrist causing him to miss a week. In 2016 Walker suffered a hamstring strain, but it was only a grade 1 as returned to play in less than 2 weeks.

Heading into the 2018 season as you can see Walker had a history of small injuries that never really kept him out of many games. Walker suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle in the 1st game of the 2018 season. The majority of the time these are season ending and require surgery. The good news is that overall this should not impact him much going forward. It was reported in early June that Walker estimated he was approximately 85%. His age (soon to be 35) has hindered his recovery and that if someone was dealing with the same injury that was 10 years younger than him, they probably would have been 100% percent by now. At this point I expect Walker to be ready for Week 1. It so where should Walker be drafted? Before his season-ending freak injury in 2018, Walker had 100+ targets and 800+ yards in the 4 straight seasons prior. Not many tight ends can say that. Since his season ending injury will likely not affect him in 2019, Walker could surprise as the offense is not expected to change much under new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. There is a good chance that Walker can finish as a top 10 tight end. He is currently being drafted as the 13th TE off the board in the middle of the 12th around. Personally, I would rather have Walker than Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed and Jimmy Graham.

2019 Injury Risk Rating: Medium | 4/10

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