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Value Plays: Tight Ends

The Footballguys staff finds value at the tight end position

A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look through the top 150 players and identify players that should outperform their draft position.

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Player Receiving 6 Votes

Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis

Holloway: Allen has failed to match his rookie success and has been frequently injured. He made 45 catches for 521 yards, back in 2012, but has only caught 46 passes in the three years since. He is a solid blocking and receiving tight end and should get more opportunity in 2016, with Fleener moving on to New Orleans and the Colts getting Andrew Luck back. Two seasons ago, Allen scored 8 touchdowns on only 29 receptions so he can be an effective red zone option.

Howe: Allen is still available far too deep into fantasy drafts. The current TE17, Allen sits comfortably atop a barren Colts depth chart with Coby Fleener out of town. And this is an offense that should easily improve upon its pitiful, injury-wrecked 2015. Allen is a double-duty TE, ensuring his role on the field when healthy, and we're just two years removed from his 29-catch, 8-touchdown breakout. Andrew Luck's red zone love for his tight ends dates all the way back to Stanford, so another 8-10 touchdown season seems well within Allen's range of outcomes.

Kuczynski: No longer in the shadow of Coby Fleener, Allen will have every opportunity to carve out a spot in the Colts offense and compete for targets with the other young receivers behind T.Y. Hilton. With Andrew Luck back to full health and likely returning to top 5 form, along with little improvement in the back field behind 33 year old Frank Gore, the Colts will be throwing a lot. Allen should be able to give owners solid enough production based on volume alone, especially in the redzone. He can be had very late in the draft once most teams already have their starting TE.

Magaw: Allen's fantasy value and dynasty fate has been inextricably linked with and suppressed by former Colts teammate and fellow day two TE Coby Fleener. With the departure of Fleener to the Saints, their respective value has been mutually unlocked through the separation. While Allen isn't as dynamic a downfield threat, he has a more complete, superior overall game, and is a more rugged presence in traffic and over the middle. If the coaching staff fixes the OL woes and star QB Andrew Luck stays healthy and returns to his stellar 2014 form, there should be ample opportunity for Allen to assert himself. In the absence of a strong run game, health permitting, he seems destined to crash the top 10 scorers at his position.

Pasquino: Everyone loves Coby Fleener in New Orleans right now, but what about his former teammate, Dwayne Allen? For years these two talented tight ends had to split time in Indianapolis. It has been proven that when one of these two gets the bulk of the targets from Andrew Luck, TE1 numbers are well within reach. Allen is available late in drafts (ADP 142, TE17) and offers high upside – exactly what you want from a second tight end in your draft this season.

Simpkins: Injuries and a horrific 2016 for the Colts offense are the main reasons drafters are shying away from Dwayne Allen. When Allen was healthy, Coby Fleener was also doing just enough to cut into Allen's production. With Fleener removed to the Saints, Allen will finally have the chance to be Andrew Luck's primary tight end. Luck's offensive line has improved, but there will be times that he will need his tight end to bail him out of pass rush trouble. Luck also has a history of looking his way in the red zone. In that offense and with a stretch of good health, Allen has the chance to be a top-five option.

Player Receiving 5 Votes

Martellus Bennett

Bloom: If the Patriots had signed an outside wide receiver with the fantasy pedigree and good play left of Bennett, then we would be all over that player in 2016 drafts. Because of a false perception that an offense can't support two top five fantasy tight ends (which the Patriots actually have before), Bennett isn't being seen as a core piece of the offense. Bill Belichick likes to run multi-tight end sets as much as coach in the league, so Bennett will see starter snaps, including the red zone, and he'll make fantasy starter numbers out of that sizeable role. If Rob Gronkowski goes down, Bennett could contend for TE1.

Feery: A poor culture fit in Chicago allowed the New England Patriots to swoop in and acquire Martellus Bennett's services for a song, and opposing defensive coordinators that have the Patriots on the docket in 2016 may find themselves with some sleepless nights during Patriots week. Bennett is expected to be a big factor in the Patriots passing game, and he'll allow them to efficiently run the two tight end offense that they terrorized the league with in years past. Early reports indicate that Tom Brady has been spending extensive time with Bennett to integrate him into the offense quickly, and that Bennett may see a solid amount of red zone targets in 2016. If Bennett quickly buys into the ‘Patriot Way' of doing business, he will easily exceed the production that would be expected from his current draft position.

Haseley: Let me preface this by saying I don't believe Bennett should be your first tight end choice in drafts, but he's an excellent second tight end for your roster. The Patriots have experience with two capable tight ends from the Aaron Hernandez era, if you want to call it an era. It's entirely possible that Bennett will be a key contributor on offense. He has the talent and experience to be heavily involved in the game plan and New England is just the team to exploit weaknesses that lead to his involvement. Take a flier on Bennett, but I recommend doing so after grabbing a higher ranked tight end with a more certain outlook - but not Zach Miller or Tyler Eifert. They share the same Week 9 bye.

Ingel: I'm buying what my man Sigmund Bloom is selling. While Bennett may not have the same run after the catch ability as Aaron Hernandez, I can see the Patriots using a two tight-end set as their base offense for much of this season. He worked with Tom Brady a lot one-on-one in OTAs and ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss thinks that Bennett will be a "big factor" in the Patriots' offense. Still only 29, there is no reason Bennett can't catch 10 TDs and finish the season as a Top 5 tight end.

Waldman: Bill Belichick, a former college tight end, has been in love with the idea of two-tight end formations as his base offensive set since he was a receivers coach with the Lions in the late 1970s. He finally enacted his grand plan in 2010 with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the Patriots' base offense. Both tight ends earned top-10 fantasy production that year. Although Julian Edelman has been a productive option, he's more of a slot receiver than a true perimeter receiver and past precedent with Wes Welker indicates that Edelman could lose targets to Bennett. Wes Welker, was a fantasy WR1 in 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2012 but when New England went with this scheme, Welker's 15-game production diminished to his fantasy production to WR23. Bennett has mid-range TE1 skill without the benefit of Rob Gronkowski in the lineup. With Gronkowski, Bennett will earn plum match-ups that are more akin to a fantasy WR2/TE1 than a TE2.

Player Receiving 4 Votes

Antonio Gates, San Diego

Bloom: Gates was TE7 after he returned from a suspension last year, which alone would be enough to justify spending he 10th-11th round pick it takes to land him. When you add in Ladarius Green signing in Pittsburgh and leaving his 63 targets up for grabs, Gates provides significant upside to go with his high floor. He's a perfect TE to ride shotgun in a TEBC approach.

Hester: Gates is a proven commodity on an offense that should still lean on its passing game in 2016. Naysayers will point to his age and injury history. And while he is old and oft-injured, it's worth noting that he entered 2011 with plantar fasciitis – an injury that can make even an in-his-prime player look like he's a broken-down veteran – he still finished that year with 64 catches, 778 yards, and seven touchdowns in 13 games (good for TE7). And even if Gates really falls off the cliff and can't run between the 20s, he'll still be able to use his basketball box-out skills to score touchdowns. I prefer him to Martellus Bennett, Eric Ebron, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins among players being drafted in the same neighborhood.

Holloway: For about the past four seasons I have expected Gates' effectiveness to diminish. A year ago, he did fall to TE11, but he missed five games. As long as he is playing, he is targeted and continues to be a decent red zone option for Rivers. Gates has scored 104 touchdowns for the Chargers including 17 over the past two seasons. The Chargers drafted Hunter Henry to eventually replace Gates in the offense, but probably not this year.

Waldman: If Ladarius Green was as good as the potential ascribed to him, the Chargers would have re-signed him with the knowledge that the end of Gates' career is imminent. But Green has issues getting open against zone coverage and he doesn't respond well to physical play at the line. Gates remains the superior player in both respects and the Chargers opted to draft a tight end and let that young option develop than pay a premium for Green, who had ample opportunity to replace Gates and failed. Route running against zone requires rapport with the QB and knowledge of defenses more than it does great athletic skill. It's why Tony Gonzalez remained a top-5 fantasy option at the end of his career and his athletic ability diminished more than Gates while paired with a less skilled quarterback than Philip Rivers. Expect TE1 production from Gates once again.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

Eric Ebron, Detroit

Hicks: The departure of Calvin Johnson leaves a giant hole in the Lions offense and the best man to probably fill that hole is the 6'4", 265-pound, 3rd-year man Eric Ebron. He is nowhere near the all-round threat that Johnson was, but he improved significantly in his 2nd year. Any improvement this year and he easily moves into starting fantasy Tight End territory. Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Jeremy Kerley are all that the Lions have apart from Ebron, so after investing a top 10 pick in the 2014 draft on him, this is the year I expect Ebron to return a dividend to Detroit and his fantasy owners.

Kuczynski: The unexpected retirement of Calvin Johnson has left a massive hole in the offense for Detroit and well over 100 targets up for grabs. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones might be 1a and 1b, but we are unsure what either can do without Johnson/AJ Green. The 3rd option is absolutely up for grabs, and Ebron should prove to be a great redzone target. He is being drafted as a TE2, but his atheticism and lower level of competition in the offense's pecking order could yield solid enough TE1 numbers if you pass on the handful of elite options.

Magaw: While Ebron has generally been viewed as failing to play up to his immense potential, it is a rare TE that excels as a rookie, and his second season numbers were boosted from 25-248-1 to 47-537-5. A combo of the passing game void left by Calvin Johnson's departure and a maturing Mathew Stafford capable of better leveraging his athleticism could be the catalyst to a more prominent role in year three. Still just 23, Ebron has elite, blue chip pedigree for a TE (the first at his position to be drafted top 10 overall since Pro Bowler Vernon Davis in 2006). Ebron's nearly 1,000 yards for North Carolina in 2013 eclipsed the ACC record of Davis, and their eerily similar, mirror image FBS career 16+ yard reception averages are among the best ever for first round TEs.

Coby Fleener, New Orleans

Ingel: A lot of people don't trust Fleener as he has dropped far too many passes over the years, but he is a great route runner, knows how to get open and Drew Brees maximizes the talent around him. HC Sean Peyton will use Fleener as a moveable chess piece especially in the redzone where they need to replace departed tight end Ben Watson's 18 red zone targets from last season. It's also worth noting that 11 of Fleener's 18 career touchdowns have come in the red zone and Fleener stands 6'6" while the teams starting wide receivers stand Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead stand 5'10" and 5'11" respectively.

Pasquino: Drew Brees is a fantastic quarterback, and even without Jimmy Graham last season in New Orleans, Brees posted strong passing numbers once again. Last season, Ben Watson was able to turn 134 targets into strong numbers (74-825-6). Fast forward to this coming year and we have a more talented, younger target in Coby Fleener coming from Indianapolis to be the starting tight end for Drew Brees. Fleener no longer has to split time with Dwayne Allen (at least until he gets hurt) and Fleener's numbers with Brees and the Saints could push towards a Top 5 total.

Wood: Coby Fleener has his critics; my buddy Sigmund Bloom among them. He's been a fantasy starter just once in four seasons (TE6 in 2014), so the skeptics have a case. I'm on the other side of the ledger though, now that he's signed a big free agent contract with New Orleans. Last year Ben Watson, Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui combined for 101 receptions, 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns. Fleener is a better player than all three of those guys. Even if the 2nd and 3rd tight ends garner 30-35% of the targets, Fleener is a virtual lock for Top 8 production.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Gary Barnidge, Cleveland

Wimer: Barnidge tied Ozzie Newsome for the Browns' franchise record of TDs scored by a tight end in one season (Barnidge racked up 79/1,043/9 receiving last year). He signed a three-year extension last December, and his main competition for receptions this year is a rookie wide receiver (Corey Coleman). If ANYONE in the league is set up to repeat (or better) his 2015 numbers, Barnidge is that guy. Don't sleep on him because he's on a rebuilding team.

Wood: In his first seven seasons, Gary Barnidge caught 44 passes COMBINED. So it's understandable that no one – and I mean no one – saw last season coming. Barnidge was one of the lone bright spots in a woeful Browns season – 79 receptions for 1,043 yards and 9 touchdowns. While it's POSSIBLE Barnidge was a one-year wonder, I see a guy that established his value last year in his first real opportunity. The Browns upgraded their play-caller (Hue Jackson) and their quarterback (Robert Griffin), so it's hard for me not to like Barnidge to maintain TE1 value.

Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati

Hicks: The offseason ankle injury to Tyler Eifert will put many off taking Eifert early in drafts. Simply put, even if he misses a game or 2, he will be incredible value whenever he gets on the field. The Bengals lost 2 supporting targets from last year and Eifert was phenomenal in the red zone. Eifert is an ascendant talent and the Bengals know that. Even if he does miss a couple of games he should still rank as a top 6 Tight End, at worst by the time the season ends.

Hindery: Eifert's ADP is falling fast and is likely to end up in the seventh round by August. His injury presents an opportunity to scoop up a guy who should return fourth round value at a big discount. The Bengals seem optimistic that Eifert will only miss a few games (at most). When he returns, the talented young pass catcher should see a nice bump in targets due to the departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. With more targets per game, Eifert should become one of the most prolific tight ends in the game. Some will point to his 13 touchdowns in 13 games and predict regression, but Eifert has proven to be a major mismatch in the red zone and projects for double-digit scores again. He could be a league-winner in December.

Julius Thomas, Jacksonville

Haseley: The 2015 Jaguars were the year of the Allen's. Both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns topped 1,000 yards receiving, which was the first time since Jimmy Smith that the team accomplished that milestone. Jacksonville is an evolving unit, which can definitely help Julius Thomas's stock. Last year, he was limited in training camp and the first few games of the season with a thumb injury. At one point in the second half of the season, Thomas had four straight games with a touchdown. The needle is pointing up with the Jaguars offense and Thomas has the opportunity to benefit.

Hester: Thomas had a disappointing first season in Jacksonville, though much of that was due to injury rather than performance. Now presumably healthy, Thomas could return to being a red zone monster on a team that passed for plenty of touchdowns last season. Even if the seemingly unstoppable "Jacksonville Passing Game Regression" hype train is correct, Thomas as an individual should see some positive regression. He only saw nine red zone targets in 2015, fourth on the team. I'm willing to bet that if Thomas is healthy, he won't be out-targeted by Bryan Walters again. He's already receiving plenty of buzz in minicamps as a matchup nightmare. I prefer him to Zach Ertz (less pace and volume this season), Gary Barnidge (still a horrible situation), and Ladarius Green (new team, unknown role) – all players being drafted ahead or right near Thomas.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Ladarius Green, Pittsburgh

Alexander: Fantasy owners must be burned out on Ladarius Green after years of broken promises. There's no other way to explain him coming off the board as the TE11 now that he's finally escaped Antonio Gates' shadow and landed in Pittsburgh. By now you've surely heard about Green's unnatural size/speed combination (6'6'', 240 pounds, 4.53 40-yard dash at the 2012 combine), but it may not be apparent just how good of a situation he's stepping into. The Steelers ranked 10th in plays ran from inside their opponent's red zone last season. Heath Miller's retirement and Martavis Bryant's suspension leave behind 35% of Pittsburgh's red zone targets from a year ago. Green may end up a more volatile week-to-week option than some of the tight ends being drafted ahead of him, but his multi-touchdown potential in any given game is rivaled only by Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, and a healthy Tyler Eifert.

Rob Gronkowski, New England

Fahey: For Rob Gronkowski to outperform his draft position he will need to beat one of the top receivers or one of the top running backs. Gronkowski hasn't crossed 1,200 yards or 13 touchdowns since his second season, 2011, but his production has been consistent when healthy and he is at his theoretical prime as a 28-year old. Gronkowski's skill set makes him a safe pick, while the tight end-inclined offense the Patriots are set to turn to should put him in position to produce similar numbers to those he managed in 2011. At worst, he's the safest pick in the draft with huge upside.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay

Simpkins: Lately, the news regarding Austin Seferian-Jenkins has not been very good. He missed a good portion of last year with injury. In June, he was dismissed from a practice because "he didn't know what he was doing." Then he got into it with a few followers on Twitter. There has even been a report by a local newscaster that Seferian-Jenkins is close to being cut or traded. This bad publicity has pushed his draft stock down into the middle of the eleventh round. Despite all the concerns, Seferian-Jenkins is one of the few options you can get incredibly late that offers top-six upside at his position if he hits. He is comparable to Tyler Eifert in that he is a physical freak and a mismatch nightmare when being covered by a linebacker in space. His quarterback, Jameis Winston, tends to target tight ends heavily (especially in the red zone) and is poised to progress in year two. If Austin Seferian-Jenkins fails to put it together, the investment was minimal. His backup, Cameron Brate, played well in relief of Jenkins last year and will be readily available on most waiver wires.

Delanie Walker, Tennessee

Wimer: Given the dearth of quality wide receivers among the Titans, Walker should once again be the top target for sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota. Even in this run-centric scheme Walker will score enough to wind up among the top five at his position by year's end.