Positive: Hunter Henry, Chargers
(v ATL, @ LV, v DEN, @ KC)
The Chargers are expected to be more conservative with Tyrod Taylor under center, but Justin Herbert may be in the lineup by December, and the playoff slate looks like it could feature at least a couple of shootouts. While Henry has been a bit volatile against the AFC West, he had a couple of strong games last season (the first without Antonio Gates), and staying healthy all year would help him become a bigger factor in what could be a new-look offense.
Positive: Jonnu Smith, Titans
(@ JAX, v DET, @ GB, @ HOU)
Smith will end the seasons with four middle-of-the-road defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to tight ends, and he should benefit on play-action passes as Tennessee features Derrick Henry down the stretch again. Before being held without a catch in the season finale last year (because Henry ran for 211 yards), Smith had fantasy point totals of 10.4, 14.2, 13.8 from Week 14 to Week 16 as he became a key contributor.
Negative: Zach Ertz, Eagles
(v NO, @ ARI, @ DAL, v WAS)
Many don’t play in Week 17, so if that’s the case, Ertz has arguably the toughest schedule imaginable for a tight end. First, Demario Davis—an All-Pro linebacker with elite cover ability—will look to contain him, then he will finish things off against rookie phenom Isaiah Simmons followed by the young Dallas linebacker duo (plus, potentially, Jamal Adams) of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. The schedule is certainly something to keep in mind for those looking to spend an early pick on the position.
Negative: Irv Smith Jr., Vikings
(@ TB, v CHI, @ NO, @ DET)
Irv Smith Jr. should see an increased role this season for a Minnesota offense that will rely on more 12 personnel, but his December matchups will be almost as difficult as the aforementioned Ertz. The Buccaneers (Devin White/Lavonte David) and Bears (Roquan Smith/Danny Trevathan) both have a couple of stud linebackers, and I just discussed the Saints—who also added Malcolm Jenkins at safety and should see a leap from second-year player Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Any breakout by Smith Jr. could be stalled to close things out.