Since the end of the 2019 season, Tyler Higbee has remained one of the most polarizing fantasy football topics. I find myself in the camp who has Tyler Higbee among the fantasy targets I will be avoiding in 2020. Between his inconsistencies and his current ADP, I believe there are better targets who also provide the upside your fantasy team needs.
Tyler Higbee was lost in relative obscurity for most of his career
Drafted in 2016 out of Western Kentucky, Tyler Higbee struggled to find a way to make a splash in the NFL. Through his first three seasons, Higbee saw 108 targets and converted them into 60 receptions for 672 yards and four touchdowns.
The main issue for Higbee is that the tight end position has never been a critical component of the Sean McVay offense. From 2016 to 2018, the Rams targeted the tight end on 17.66% of their passes. During this stretch, they ranked 14th in 2016, 21st in 2017, and 27th in 2018. When you have some of the best offensive talents in the NFL, such as Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Todd Gurley (at the time), it made a lot of sense to target them instead of the tight end position.
In 2018, the Rams had three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back on the field 89% of the time, with the next-closest team using 11 personnel on 77% of their snaps (Packers).
Then, 2019 happened, and the trend was changed entirely for the Rams, and as a result, Tyler Higbee’s fantasy value.
Higbee’s breakout season and the Rams change in philosophy
The 2019 season started like any other season for the Rams as well as Higbee’s fantasy value.
From Week 1 through Week 10, Higbee saw 33 targets and had 26 receptions, 212 yards, and one touchdown. During this time, McVay and the Rams chose to stick with a similar scheme we had seen in previous years. Also, during that stretch, Gerald Everett was the primary tight end target. The snap count reflected this as Everett saw a 69.5% snap share compared to Higbee’s 39.5%. Then Everett suffered an injury, which caused him to miss time.
However, as I mentioned earlier, 2019 was also a tale of two seasons. Suddenly, the Rams switched to 12 personnel, and Higbee’s snap share skyrocketed. From Week 11 through Week 17, Higbee saw a snap share of 76%, 70%, 91%, 97%, 86%, 89%, and 96%. During this stretch, Higbee put up record-breaking numbers.
During this time, Higbee was targeted 56 times for 43 receptions, 522 yards, and two touchdowns. This included a four-game stretch where Higbee went over 100 receiving yards in each game. These four games were nearly enough to double his career totals. Tyler Higbee was winning leagues for fantasy players. During the first part of the season, he was TE36. From Week 11 on, he was TE1 the rest of the way.
The issue now is trying to decide if this is the new normal or an aberration as McVay was trying something different to mask Goff’s struggles.
Will the change in personnel affect the Rams offensive scheme?
We also need to factor in the changes that happened in the offseason. Both Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley are now on other teams, which offers up a few openings for production from new faces.
The team hopes the combination of Darrell Henderson and rookie Cam Akers can take over the load at running back. While they might help in the rushing game, neither are the caliber of passing down back that Todd Gurley was for the team.
Next is the vacated WR3 spot for the Rams as speedster Brandin Cooks is now with the Houston Texans. While the incumbent Josh Reynolds had the leg up entering camp, the consistent glowing reports for rookie Van Jefferson appear that he has edged Raynolds on the depth chart.
Jefferson fills a different role than Cooks. He won’t wow you with speed but does it with his sensational route-running ability. While unlikely to be a stable fantasy asset, Jefferson looks like he can be ready for Week 1. However, the Rams aren’t devoid of talent. They have one of the best 1-2 punches in the NFL with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
All of this brings me back to how Higbee is affected in 2020 for fantasy and what I expect to happen.
Why I am avoiding Tyler Higbee in 2020 fantasy football drafts.
When I am drafting a fantasy player, I have to think about the most likely outcome. When I look at Higbee, I have 58 career games of mediocrity and only five of relevance, albeit at superstar levels.
I believe last year was the perfect storm for Higbee. An injury to Everett and a change in philosophy by McVay led to him being the primary option for Goff in an offense that focused on tight ends. While we will likely see more 12 personnel in 2020, I don’t believe it will be enough to justify the TE8 ADP that Higbee is commanding. I don’t see the reasoning to put someone like Cooper Kupp in a less advantageous spot given how unbelievably efficient he can be when given targets.
I would much rather select Hayden Hurst, who is going after him in drafts, or my fantasy breakout Jonnu Smith and pair him with Dallas Goedert later on than rely on Higbee’s small sample size to return value. When looking at the Rams’ tight ends on their own, Everett’s ADP of TE30 is by far the better value even as a dart throw in super deep leagues.
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