It was like clockwork. For about a five year stretch, I could bank on my brother uttering the following phrase during our fantasy draft.
“Well, everyone’s gotta have one, so I might as well have the best one.”
It started out with Tony Gonzalez and shifted to Antonio Gates. This was back in the mid-to-late 2000s when the first tight end wouldn’t come off the board until Round 4 or 5.
The game has changed. Getting “the best one” now is going to cost a first round pick. With more tight ends showing the ability to produce elite level statistics, owners will have to carefully weigh the positional advantage that Gronk provides. Before we get to Gronk, let’s examine this year’s tight end class.
Just missed the top 20
Charles Clay – Bills: If this was a ranking based on best contracts Clay would hold the top spot. As is, he plays in a run heavy offense and is the 2nd or 3rd option in the passing attack.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Buccaneers: Has all the talent in the world, something gets lost in translation though.
Clive Walford – Raiders: I expect the entire Raiders passing game to make a leap, Walford should benefit.
Jace Amaro – Jets: The Jets liked Amaro enough to spend a second round pick on him back in 2014. He showed some promise as a rookie, but missed the entire 2015 season. With Marshall and Decker working the outside, Amaro should have all the room in the world to work the middle.
20. Ben Watson – Ravens
Reader’s thoughts: What are you, drunk? Watson had 74/825/6 and he is number 20 on your list! (closes window)
What Watson doesn’t have this year is a Saints jersey. The Ravens tight end group is crowded. Watson will work as the vertical threat, but could lose snaps in the red zone to the bigger Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore. A line of 500/3 sounds about right for Watson in 16′.
19. Eric Ebron – Lions
Ebron suffered a scare earlier in the week with an injury. Originally, there was some concern that it could be an Achilles. However, the outlook doesn’t appear to be serious and he is listed as week to week with the expectation that he will be ready to go for the regular season.
Ebron saw his receptions and yards double from his rookie year to second season. Calvin Johnson retiring could open up some red zone targets for him. With his size and speed Ebron has the tools, but for now he is too inconsistent to be a starter on your fantasy roster.
18. Jason Witten – Cowboys
Witten scored two touchdowns in Week 1 and posted 18 fantasy points. It was the last time he would visit the end zone until Week 17. At this stage in his career he can’t make up for the lack of touchdown production with big yardage days either. During that touchdown drought, he posted 15 straight week of scoring less than eight fantasy points. In 10 of those weeks it was less than five points. The return of Romo should give him a boost, but even so the multitude of 5/50 weeks that Witten will churn out this year isn’t what I want from my TE1. In PPR leagues give him a bump.
17. Jared Cook – Packers
Let me throw a blast from the past name at you.
Jermichael Finley: 6-4 / 243lbs / 4.66 speed
Jared Cook: 6-5 / 254lbs / 4.50 speed (eight years ago, but he still runs very well for a tight end)
The reason I put that comparison up is because Cook will be the first tight end that Rodgers has played with that possessed similar physical attributes of Finley with a touch more speed.
Finley’s best season was 2011. He put up 55/767/8. He averaged just under 14 yards per reception. Cook has posted three consecutive years of 12+ yards per reception with quarterback play that (hmm…how can I put this nicely) was at a lower quality than what Rodgers will bring to the table. I am not saying he is a lock to have a big year, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he went for 800/7.
16. Zach Miller – Bears
Miller has my interest going into 2016. Take a quick look at his game logs from the final three games of the season in which Bennett didn’t play.
18 receptions on 20 targets.
With Jeffery and White drawing the attention of the defense, I could see Miller ending up in some favorable matchups. As the 19th tight end off the board and 177 overall, I would be more than happy to roster him at that price.
15. Dwayne Allen – Colts
Just two short years ago Fleener and Allen combined for 1150 and 16 touchdowns. With Fleener out of the picture Allen could make a push at having a top 10 season. Staying healthy has been an issue for Allen, but if he can play 16 games and the offense gets rolling similar to how it did in 14′ he will be a draft day bargain.
14. Ladarius Green – Steelers
Green is hard to rank because there are some questions about his health in the immediate and long-term future. He has yet to suit up. Many assumed it was due to the offseason ankle surgery had; however, recent reports have indicated that Green is now sitting out due to recurring headaches. Green has a history of concussions and the “R” word has even began to pop up.
With his athletic ability he could give this already lethal offense a vertical threat from the tight end position. This is a situation to monitor closely.
13. Jimmy Graham – Seahawks
Here is another guy that my heart wants to rank higher but my head is telling me no. The skill-set and potential are there, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out last year. It is hard to imagine he would bounce back and hit is stride now after a serious knee injury. With that said, someone will reach a bit for him based on the upside and that person just might be me.
I would never want him as my TE1 coming out of the draft, but if you are able to secure a consistent top tier option, Graham would be the ideal candidate for a high upside backup.
12. Martellus Bennett – Patriots
It is hard to imagine two tight ends from the same team finishing with top 12 seasons, but that is exactly what I am predicting here. The size that Bennett and Gronk possess combined with the quickness of the receiving corp/backs is going to keep defensive coordinators up at night.
Some might view the suspension of Brady as a major negative for Bennett and Gronk, but there could be a silver-lining. I mean don’t get it twisted, I would obviously prefer one of the best quarterback to ever play the game throwing the ball to my targets, but with Garoppolo doing his best to avoid the big mistake I could see him utilizing these big bodies as security blankets for those first four weeks.
11. Julius Thomas – Jaguars
Between Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns some will question if there are enough balls to go around in this offense. Thomas had no problem securing his fair share of targets last year. He received eight or more targets in five of his 12 games. Having a full preseason to work with Bortles should only help his development. With this offense on the rise, Thomas is an interesting option especially at his dirt cheap ADP (104).
10. Zach Ertz – Eagles
Ertz had a monster finish to the 2015 season. Over his final four games he posted yardage totals of 98/78/122/152. Bradford was really locked onto him and looked his way 46 times over that stretch of games. The only thing holding Ertz back from elite level production was only scoring two touchdowns. Touchdowns are a fluky stat at the tight end position, if Ertz gets another 112 targets in 2016 I feel pretty confident he will improve on the one touchdown per every 56 targets he had last year.
9. Tyler Eifert – Bengals
On the opposite end of the spectrum Tyler Eifert caught one touchdown per every 5.5 targets last year. That is almost impossible to sustain, but with Jones and Sanu out of the picture he should see his yardage numbers get a boost which will help out when the regression in the touchdown department hits.
There is still some mystery to when Eifert’s 2016 campaign will begin. It is doubtful that he will be ready for Week 1 though…thanks Pro Bowl.
8. Travis Kelce – Chiefs
Kelce has been super consistent in his previous two seasons posting almost identical stat lines.
Some people expect him to breakout and make the statistical leap, but I don’t see it. He plays in a conservative passing attack and what we have seen from Kelce the past two years is what I expect to see going forward. There could be worse things than penciling in 870/5 from your tight end.
7. Antonio Gates – Chargers
Most won’t have Gates ranked this high, but my reason for doing so is simple. He is eight touchdowns away from passing Gonzalez for the most receiving touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history. Rivers already loves Gates in the red zone and with this record looming he might force it even more.
Gates carries the injury prone tag, but aside from his four game suspension last year he only missed one game and played in all 16 the previous two years. He is another year older, but even if he gets 13-14 games he is going to lock down that record.
6. Gary Barnidge – Browns
If you had Gary Barnidge pegged for 79/1043/9 coming into 2015 get in touch with me. I want to borrow you for a weekend in Las Vegas. Now the question is can he repeat that magical 2015 season? With offensive guru Hue Jackson pushing the buttons I see no reason why he can’t.
Don’t look now but the Browns actually have some weapons. Gordon will serve his four game suspension, but upon his return he and rookie speedster Corey Coleman will draw the attention of the defense opening things up for Barnidge.
5. Coby Fleener – Saints
Welcome to the fantasy gold mine Mr. Fleener. Everyone knows about Jimmy Graham, but when journeyman Benjamin Watson shows up and posts career highs, I start to think it is more about the situation and not the player. With having a little more juice left in the tank than what Watson had, if Fleener can get 100+ targets his floor will be 800/6.
4. Delanie Walker – Titans
Which tight end led the league in targets and receptions?
Ding. Ding. Ding. The answer is Delanie Walker, who oh by the way even missed a game. Mariota developed some good chemistry with Walker in year one. It is yet to be seen what the identity of the offense will be in 2016. If they emphasize the ground and pound with Murray and Henry, Walker’s numbers could take a slight hit. Even so, he is a safe bet for 900/6.
3. Jordan Reed – Redskins
If you told me that Jordan Reed was going to play in all 16 games this year, I would seriously have to consider him for the top tight end spot. With that said injuries have played a big role in preventing Reed from being a premiere tight end. He has missed 14 games through three seasons. Even with missing two games last year he exploded for 87/952/11. With an ADP of 38 he is a high risk high reward selection.
2. Greg Olsen – Panthers
Olsen may not posses the flash that Jordan Reed does, but he is extremely consistent. He has played in all 16 games for eight consecutive seasons. In each of the past two seasons he has surpassed 1000 yards and has scored a minimum of five touchdowns in each season going all the way back to 2008.
For those of you that are worried that the return of Kelvin Benjamin will eat into Olsen’s target total, I hope this stat will give some reassurance.
2014: Targets: 122 (with Benjamin)
2015: Targets: 123 (without Benajamin)
1. Rob Gronkowski – Patriots
So how expensive is Gronk going to be this year? According to Fantasypros his ADP is currently checking in at 9th overall. He is the supreme talent at the tight end position. He has scored double digit touchdowns in each year except the 2013 season in which he only played seven games.
Brady missing four games is obviously going to stunt Gronk’s bottom line, but all I know is if I was Jimmy Garoppolo, I would be leaning heavily on Gronk.
There is no right or wrong strategy in selecting a fantasy tight end. Some people will do whatever they can to secure one of the top four tight ends off the board while others will wait. With Olsen, Reed, and Walker’s potential to post 1000/8+, Gronk’s positional advantage has shrunk. With that said, if he plays 16 games he is one of the safest players to own.
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Major League Fantasy Football Radio: Join Ej Garr, Corey D Roberts, and Coach Jeff Nelson live Sunday August 14th from 7-9pm EST for episode #66 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. This is a live broadcast and we take callers at 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the hosts. This week we will break down the NFC West from an NFL and fantasy perspective.
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