Fantasy Football: Tight End Tiers

Now we come to the grunts of the fantasy football universe. Much like in real life, tight ends are the overlooked position in fantasy, always coming off the board as the last position players taken before the run on defenses. The reason is pretty self-evident, they simply aren’t likely to fill up a stat sheet like the other positions and with so few high-end, quality options, most are replaceable talents.

Maybe it’s time to change how we see the position? There’s quietly been a youth movement at the tight end position and the result has thrust some new faces into the earlier rounds of drafts at the tight end position. While you still can’t target these guys in the first three rounds, snatching up some of the top tier bruisers can be a difference maker for you at the right pick.

TIER 1 – The Elites

Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce

Yep, it’s a small group of two guys who you can seriously contemplate scooping up in the first three rounds. When he’s on the field, Gronk is as productive as any player in the game, a true difference maker, but of course, he’s not always on the field. Age is also a consideration for the Patriots big man as is his true commitment to the game at this stage. Gronk has made several indications that he’s considering leaving the NFL after all the abuse his body has been through, but until he hangs them up, he’s too good to leave off your draft board.

Kelce would be my #1 overall TE if Alex Smith hadn’t left town placing control of the Chief’s passing game in the hands of 2nd year QB Pat Mahomes. Mahomes isn’t afraid to throw the ball but it remains to be seen if he can get on the same page as Kelce. Kelce has 80+ catches and 1000+ yards in back to back seasons, so he has to be taken seriously. He remains one of two tight ends who can be a complete game changer at the tight end position for you.

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PROJECTIONS:

NAME TEAM RU TD REC  REC YD REC TD FUM POINTS
Travis Kelce KC 80 1015 8 229.5
Rob Gronkowski NE 65 1025 10 227.5

 

TIER 2 – The Supremes

Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker, Zach Ertz

All three of these guys should come off the board before the end of the 6th round in all leagues. Olsen is coming off an injury that cost him significant time in 2017 and is a year older at 33, but he remains a volume monster in Carolina as Cam Newton’s favorite target. Prior to last year, Olsen was among the Elites and he remains one of the few talents who can defy age.

Walker is perhaps the most unheralded asset in fantasy. The Titans tight end has had 60+ catches and 800+ yards while averaging 5 TD’s a year over the past four seasons making him one of the most reliable guys at the position. Coming in as the 6th TE off the board in the 6th round that’s a solid return.

Since breaking out in 2015, Ertz has averaged 76 catches, 831 yards, and 5 TD’s over three campaigns. Durability is always a concern for the Eagle’s super-star, but his emergence as a red zone threat last year makes the risk worth the investment. I’m probably not springing for his current borderline 3rd round price tag, but anywhere after the 4th round is go time here.

PROJECTIONS:

NAME TEAM RU TD REC  REC YD REC TD FUM POINTS
Greg Olsen CAR 80 995 5 209.5
Zach Ertz PHI 75 815 8 204.5
Delanie Walker TEN 75 815 5 186.5

 

TIER 3 – The Greats

Jimmy Graham, Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph

Truly, very little separates this group from the Supremes and I’m sure several folks are rolling their eyes at Graham’s appearance on this list with his move to Green Bay. The fact of the matter is, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t really utilize his tight ends much which certainly could change given that Graham is a significant upgrade over Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers, but is still a concern. What isn’t a concern is Graham’s red zone prowess and that likely will play a large role in his fantasy value this year as he proves me wrong and returns to the land of Elites.

Engram is a rising star at the position who simply ripped off 64 catches for 722 yards and 6 TD’s as a rookie for the Giants. Part of that was volume with Odell Beckham, Jr. sidelined and the G-Men desperate for pass catchers, but Engram is a match-up nightmare at the position. There is no reason to expect anything but growth from the second year man and he could move up these lists quickly.

Kyle Rudolph may be a stretch for a spot in this group, but he’s a touchdown threat on a weekly basis and with Kirk Cousins coming to town I’ll plant a flag here. Rudolph has failed to ever really “break out” at the position. He’s eclipsed 60 catches and 550 yards only once in his career but he has 15 TD’s over his last two campaigns. He’s not someone you reach on, but he’s a guy you’re happy to have if he falls to you after you’ve lined up your starters.

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PROJECTIONS:

NAME TEAM RU TD REC  REC YD REC TD FUM POINTS
Evan Engram NYG 75 815 7 198.5
Kyle Rudolph MIN 65 750 8 188
Jimmy Graham GB 60 715 8 179.5

 

TIER 4 – Best of the Rest

Eric Ebron, Jared Cook, Ben Watson, Tyler Eifert, Jordan Reed

This isn’t a group to stand on a table for and claim they are superior to the Wild Bunch in the next tier, they may not be when it’s all said and done.

Ebron and Cook are unfulfilled talents on their second and third chances trying to take that next step. Both men have the potential and talent to be difference makers at the position, and both are in premium spots as the starters with QB’s who like to throw the rock around. But both men have also been in great spots before and come up lacking.

Watson is an ageless wonder who will become old at some point. After missing 2016, Watson came back for 61 catches and 522 yards in Baltimore which earned him a ticket back to New Orleans to play catch with Drew Brees. New Orleans was where Watson had his best NFL season – at age 35 – in 2015 so you can’t ignore the upside.

That leaves Reed and Eifert who by all rights should be Greats but are simply too injury prone to be counted on. Both guys are as talented as any in the game and when they are on the field, it’s a fantasy boon. These two are draftable as your starters before almost anyone in these last two tiers, but you HAVE to roster two tight ends if you own them and that’s an extra cost.

PROJECTIONS:

NAME TEAM RU TD REC  REC YD REC TD FUM POINTS
Jared Cook OAK 55 645 4 143.5
Tyler Eifert CIN 45 500 5 125
Jordan Reed WAS 40 495 5 119.5
Ben Watson NO 45 500 4 119
Eric Ebron IND 45 460 4 115

 

TIER 5 – The Wild Bunch

Adam Shaheen, David Njoku, OJ Howard, Hayden Hurst, Austin Hooper, George Kittle, Mike Gesicki, Gerald Everett, Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Now we come to the youth movement I mentioned.

Shaheen, Njoku, Howard lead this group as uber-athletic second-year breakout candidates who have flashed big-play upside. Njoku is the most likely to emerge as a dependable starter but all three offer the rare upside of catches, yards, and touchdowns. All three can stretch the field and will get the chance to carve out the starting role as their QB’s safety blanket.

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Hurst and Gesicki are high talent rookie prospects who enter teams desperate for production at the tight end position. Baltimore has been a veritable wasteland of former highly touted TE prospects and Hurst is the latest. That said, Hurst has looked good so far and is emerging as a trusted weapon for Flacco, Gesicki enters an uncontested path to targets in Miami and no real other weapons in the passing game. He could emerge as a sheer volume play if he wins the starting job as he is likely to do.

Kittle and Everett are also second-year breakout candidates though slightly less flashy than the other three. That’s a good thing because they’re more productive as blockers which will help keep them on the field. Kittle may be a sneaky bet to turn into Jimmy Garoppolo’s version of Jason Witten and is a great sleeper play in 2018. Everett is a little more of a longshot but can do it all as well and should get plenty of looks as the starter in LA.

Hooper is a man unto himself and perhaps he should be higher in these tiers. He has flashed possession tight end upside and Atlanta desperately wants him to take that next step, but consistency has been a major challenge. The third-year tight end has been a feast or famine type but if he figures out how to stay engaged on a week to week basis, he’s a breakout candidate.

ASJ is very similar to Ebron and Cook in that he hasn’t exactly made good on his talent. The big man flamed out in Tampa Bay before landing with the Jets and making lemonade out of those lemons when he hauled in 50 catches on 74 targets. He’s now in Jacksonville and has some solid upside as a potential check down monster for Blake Bortles.

PROJECTIONS:

NAME TEAM RU TD REC  REC YD REC TD FUM POINTS
Mike Gesicki MIA 45 530 5 128
Austin Hooper ATL 50 590 3 127
George Kittle SF 50 555 3 123.5
Hayden Hurst BAL 45 525 4 121.5
OJ Howard TB 45 505 4 119.5
David Njoku CLE 35 400 5 105
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins JAX 40 485 2 100.5
Gerald Everett LAR 35 460 3 99
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Ben Stecker

Ben Stecker

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Writer, sports connoisseur, Pacific Northwesterner. Rarely met a sport I couldn't be great friends with. Follow me on twitter @Softball_Guy
Ben Stecker