We’ve done quarterbacks, we’ve done running backs, wide receivers, and now its all about tight ends. Wow, without context that statement makes us seem a bit slutty, which would just be… well, never mind.
After a brief delay in the content machine, we’re back to review the fantasy potential of the tight end position in 2017. And not like the fantasies y’all have had about former Gronk “friend” and porn starlet Bibi Jones.
We’ve got 30 tight ends to keep an eye on this year, and the next few years.
GROUP ONE: (This is a large group, so try and keep track)
Travis Kelce: Far and away the best, and most established of the guys most likely to catch a football from Alex Smith this season. It is expected that Kelce will be the focus of the Chiefs’ passing game. The primary issue is that if that is known by me and you, its a pretty solid bet D-Coordinators have it figured out too.
Greg Olsen: Much like Kelce, Olsen is not only a capable and talented player, he’s all that with an abundance of opportunity due to the lack of surrounding skills players. Olsen has been, and will continue to be Cam Newton’s most reliable target. He provides the best combination of production and reliability of any tight end available.
GROUP ONE-A: (These guys on a per game basis are probably the top 3 tight ends in the league, but they’re history, or lack there of, of staying on the field to produce is a bit lacking. Absolutely snatch one of these guys up, but make sure to either handcuff him, or make sure you use one of your top bench slots to have a quality option behind them)
Tyler Eifert: Was it Eifert’s injury, Marvin Jones leaving, or Mohamed Sanu heading south that led to the demise of the Bengals’ passing game last season? The likely answer is that it was a combination of the three, but Eifert is the only symptom that can be directly corrected. When healthy Eifert has emerged as a superb Robin to A.J. Green’s Batman. Unfortunately, Eifert and health have always been a concern. His handcuff would be Tyler Kroft, but I’d recommend having a quality plan B that doesn’t reside in Cincinnati.
Rob Gronkowski: When healthy Gronk is pretty universally accepted as the best tight end in the game, fantasy or otherwise. If the Patriots are mounting up like Wyatt Earp and his immortals for one last ride (“make no mistake about it, its not revenge he’s after, its a reckoning”), then Gronk is the Doc Holliday to Brady’s Earp. When available he is an absolute touchdown machine, but its fairly inevitable that Gronkowski will miss time, the only questions are when, and how much. He does have a viable handcuff in the form of talent former Colt, Dwayne Allen.
Jordan Reed: When healthy fantasy owners would be chomping at the bit to get this former Gator. He plays tight end, but performs and moves like a slot receiver. Like Gronk, the question with Reed isn’t IF he’ll get injured, its when, for how long, and how often. The difference is that when Gronk gets hurt, he’s usually out for the season. Reed likes to tease with short half game comebacks before being out of commission again. If you’re a gambling man, Reed is your guy. A real boom or bust. His handcuff is long time NFL vet Vernon Davis.
GROUP TWO: (These guys will occasionally put up numbers that can carry your squad, but they don’t do it with the consistency of Group One options. They also have a stronger likelihood of tossing in a stinker game. These are guys you won’t be super excited about drafting, but that will help your squad compete)
Martellus Bennett: For a guy as talented as Bennett is, its tough to imagine that this will be his fifth NFL franchise by the ripe old age of 30. After a one year trip to the AFC East, Bennett decided it is easy being cheesy, and took his talents to the Bay, Green Bay. Not as athletic as former Packer TE Jared Cook, Aaron Rodgers will likely find that Bennett can be a stud with his advanced skills.
Jared Cook: I’m very interested to see what Derek Carr can do with a tight end as athletic and talented as Jared Cook. I’ve got a gutt feeling (and I’ve got a big ole gutt) that Cook meshes well with the Raider offense and emerges as the #2 target behind only Amari Cooper
Zach Ertz: The addition of Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffrey to the Eagles offense I think will really provide dividends to the production of Ertz and Matthews. With Smith and Jeffrey lengthening the field, Ertz will have some real opportunities to cause some havoc underneath. He and Wentz will likely emerge as the latest QB-Security blanket combo in the NFL this season.
Antonio Gates: I’ve wanted to write Gates off for about 3 seasons now, and every season he puts me in my place. First I thought it’d be Ladarius Green to supplant him, now Hunter Henry. Gates will likely be a productive player when I’m retired sitting on my front porch yelling at the neighborhood kids. I’m not personally endorsing the selection of Gates, but I’m also not stupid enough to discredit him completely at this point.
Jimmy Graham: After coming onto the NFL scene like a hurricane, Graham was traded to Seattle and started to stink like yesterday’s fish. About a third of the way through last season though he began to re-emerge. Chemistry was forming with Russell Wilson, and he was returning to full health. He has the best upside of anyone in group 2.
Hunter Henry: Poised to make the often talked about 2nd year leap, the only thing standing in his way is the presence of Antonio Gates. He’ll be a solid fantasy producer even if Gates is around, but if Gates were to miss time with an injury, make sure you’re ready to pounce on the talented and youthful Henry.
Julius Thomas: Poor guy went from being one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets to catching balls from Blake Bortles, and now Jay Cutler?! (side note, with the Tannehill injury, and subsequent signing of Jay Cutler, I still think Matt Moore emerges as the Fins’ quarterback, in spite of paying Cutler $10 million). Thomas is an athlete capable of putting up big numbers when healthy and supported by a halfway decent QB.
Delanie Walker: Walker has really developed a nice rapport with Mariota. With all the new faces, like Davis, and Decker surrounding him the young QB should look to his familiar target Walker often, especially in the early going. My advice would be to ride Walker early, but maybe draft a quality 2nd TE as the Titans diversify their offense.
Jason Witten: Doesn’t it seem like Witten came up with Troy Aikman or is it just me? All he does is very quietly (which is Really Really tough to do playing for the Cowgirls) produce at a hall of fame level for Dallas. Romo, Prescott, doesn’t matter, Witten is the consummate pro who can be counted on for solid, consistent production, week after week, year after year.
GROUP THREE (These guys are your back ups, your bye week options, and insurance plans, if you come out of the draft with one of these guys slated to start, you’ve failed).
Cameron Brate: Brate emerged as a viable fantasy option for Tampa Bay, but that was before they used a first round pick on prodigal Bama tight end O.J. Howard. He’s still the veteran and known quantity though for Winston.
Charles Clay: Clay being in tier 3 instead of tier 2 speaks as much to my disdain of Tyrod Taylor as a fantasy QB as it does to anything Clay has or hasn’t done. In spite of my belief that Buffalo will be playing from behind fairly often, I just don’t see solid production from their passing game.
Jack Doyle: With Dwayne Allen shipped off to New England for a draft choice, the tight end job is now Doyle’s to lose. I don’t believe he’ll grab the job and just run away with it, but if Luck is healthy Doyle should emerge as a viable fantasy option.
Eric Ebron: Perpetually optimistic Lions fans will tell you that THIS is the year that Ebron breaks out. Its not that Ebron isn’t talented, he is, its not that he isn’t athletic, he is, he just isn’t always focused. That is something that can just click for a guy leading to a break out year. I just wouldn’t count on it.
Coby Fleener: Fleener got the big bucks to be the receiving replacement for Graham when Graham was sent to Seattle. To say he’s been a disappointment for New Orleans would be a fair statement. But he’s still a part of the Saints offense, and when you’re talking fantasy football, passing, and the Saints, its always an intriguing conversation.
Tyler Higbee: New Rams coach Sean McVay was the offensive coordinator who made Jordan Reed a star in his offense. The hope and belief is that he will find a similar role for Higbee to latch onto on the west coast. Of group three, Higbee has the best chance to be an absolute dud for you. He also has the best chance of breaking out for you.
Kyle Rudolph: Rudolph is a metaphor for the Vikings offense as a whole, solid, unexciting, and just blah. Rudolph is not a guy who you draft, he’s a guy you grab off the waiver wire in week 5 for a week when your guy is on a bye week.
Maxx Williams: Bitten by the injury bug thus far in his short NFL career, this former high draft pick has an opportunity to emerge for the Ravens as their top tight end. Ben Watson has been around forever and is best served being a veteran leader and playing limited snaps. If healthy Williams can emerge as a viable fantasy starter.
Group Four: (These guys are all rookies. I wouldn’t personally recommend using a rookie as your every week tight end, regardless of how talented they may or may not be, but if you’re looking to catch lightening in a bottle for one or two weeks, or if you’re in a keeper league, these guys all look to have bright futures).
Evan Engram: He could emerge as a starter for the Giants, but he’ll still be down on Eli’s list of targets.
Gerald Everett: Everything I said about Tyler Higbee could apply to rookie Gerald Everett. I’m of the personal belief that Higbee will be the guy, but honestly it likely comes down to who develops the best chemistry with Jared Goff
Bucky Hodges: The young tight end from Virginia Tech will look to move past his off field issues in Minnesota. He is likely the tight end of the future, but I don’t see him pushing Rudolph for snaps too much this year.
OJ Howard: The Winston-Howard combo should be a fun one to watch for the next 10 years or so. Howard should be a productive fantasy option this season, just not as productive as he will be. But make no mistake, he will show flashes this year of what he will become.
Jordan Leggett: Leggett should take the Jets’ starting gig as its fairly clear they’re looking to tank this season, even if its not publically admitted. And they’ll be down often, but their offense just looks so putrid on paper it’d be tough to say Leggett will consistently produce, even with abundant opportunities.
David Njoku: An athletic freak, Njoku has a lot of raw skills. In Cleveland though he’ll have the chance to refine his skills on the game field, not just in practice. Not exactly bursting with talent at the receiver position, Hue Jackson will likely look to incorporate Njoku into the passing offense early and let him grow with whomever emerges as the starting QB.
Eric Saubert: Coming from a small school, this year will likely amount to a red-shirt year for Saubert in Atlanta as they’re not in a position as superbowl contenders to let the youngins grow on the field. But he could be a valuable keeper stash guy in the last round of your draft.
Adam Shaheen: Much like Saubert, he’ll be making a big leap in the level of play, and would be best served by a “red shirt” type year. Unlike the Falcons though, the Bears suck, and Shaheen may be given the chance to grow while receiving consistent playing time. I still wouldn’t count on anything out of him this year. But again, in a keeper league, he’s a guy to keep in mind when drafting late.
- Jason Sullivan
- Find me on twitter at @TopDucker