It's time to take a stand. Make a call on a tight end. Who will surprise - either good or bad? Why?
Chad Parsons: In terms of bang for the buck, my go-to tight end play this season is Ben Watson. Baltimore has a large chunk of targets available from 2016 and the tight end position is wide open. Watson's biggest hurdle is his own health as a healthy Watson runs circles around Nick Boyle and likely Maxx Williams as well. Watson is valued in throw-in territory and is one of the few legitimate early waiver wire names with TE1 upside for the season.
Ryan Hester: Similar to Chad, my favorite value at tight end comes basically free in drafts. Even before the Sammy Watkins trade, Buffalo was missing 164 targets from 2016, fifth-most in the NFL. Secondary receivers like Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin are gone, leaving the door open for Clay to have some stream-able value.
With Watkins gone, the amount of available volume is through the roof. Sure, Jordan Matthews and Anquan Boldin will grab some of it (and some left behind by Woods), but there will still be plenty of targets available for Clay. He's a great name to keep in mind if you're employing a late-round tight end strategy or simply end up on the wrong end of a position run in your draft.
Jeff Haseley: I'm also on the Ben Watson bandwagon, but since Chad covered that, I'll say Erik Swoope. The Colts are a known two-tight end set offense that often can yield positive results for both of their key tight ends. We saw it with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and also with Allen and Jack Doyle. I would be surprised and shocked if the Colts don't continue to utilize both tight ends, thus giving Swoope a boost in fantasy appeal. His recent knee scope may slow his ascent, but the writing is on the wall for him to have fantasy value this year.
David Dodds: Last year, wide receiver Jordan Matthews missed two games. And in those two games, Zach Ertz had 31 targets, 22 catches, 218 yards and 3 touchdowns. This is the new Philadelphia offense and it includes a lot of Zach Ertz. He and Carson Wentz seemed to have a special connection last year, and I am betting on that dynamic continuing now that Jordan Matthews is elsewhere. Zach Ertz is the tight end I am targeting in every league.
Andy Hicks: Like David, I love Zach Ertz this year, but I'll talk about another guy that will go much later in drafts and could even go undrafted.
This year all the stars are aligning for Jared Cook to be truly utilized as a pass catcher. The offensive line is elite, leaving him to be used more as a receiver. The Raiders will use Marshawn Lynch, freeing up the Tight End slot, while Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree give this offense the star receivers. All this leaves Cook as a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, one that the Raiders will exploit for fantasy owners benefit. It should be noted that Derek Carr has frequently targeted Cook in the off season and although Cook isn't the most reliable type, he has been miscast in offenses that don't suit his skill set. That all changes this year.
Stephen Holloway: I will plant my tight end value flag on Kyle Rudolph. He has stayed healthy the past two seasons and really exploded last year in his first season with Sam Bradford. Rudolph finished as TE3 a year ago and has a current ADP of TE7 in PPR and TE8 in standard scoring. Rudolph was a great fit for Bradford, known to prefer short routes. Rudolph only had three games a year ago with four or fewer targets and was a target and production monster down the stretch. In the teams’ final six games, Rudolph had 64 targets, 44 catches, 436 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Vikings wide receivers do not demand a high target volume and Rudolph should again lead the team.
Ryan Hester: I know I hyped Charles Clay above, but if you are looking for a true TE1 type of impact from someone going later than that, look at Coby Fleener in New Orleans. Fleener's situation is what inspired me to write this entire article. The whole case is laid out there, but the summary is this: New Orleans had a top-six tight end every year from 2011-2015; Brandin Cooks (and his 117 targets) left town and were replaced only by non-target hog Ted Ginn; Willie Snead isn't a prolific touchdown scorer.
Fleener had the profile and situation to be drafted as a top-six tight end last season. The only impactful changes to his situation actually benefit him. Why not take a chance?
Phil Alexander: There have been some great answers here so far. Ertz received a huge bump in my rankings following the departure of Matthews. Watson appears to be the last tight end standing in a potential high-volume role in Baltimore -- albeit on one surgically repaired, 36-year old leg. Swoope posted Gronkian downfield numbers on an extremely small sample last year, and now Dwayne Allen is out of his way. And Clay has managed six top-5 weekly tight end performances since 2015, which trails only seven other players.
But upon examination of my 2017 portfolio, it appears my favorite tight end is Martellus Bennett. You have to pay a premium (TE7) to find out if playing with Aaron Rodgers will lead to a career year from Bennett, but it's worth bucking up a bit to grab the player whose job it will be to stretch the seam while defenses focus on Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb, all while Rodgers is placing the ball exactly where it needs to go.
Jared Cook provides a recent reminder of what a big, fast, athletic tight end can accomplish in Green Bay's offense. Cook wasn't healthy for most of 2016, but had a huge impact in the playoffs, combining for 8 catches, 230 yards, and 2 touchdowns in the Packers' three post-season games. Bennett is unquestionably an upgrade on Cook, which puts him in the catbird seat.
Sometimes fantasy football is easy. Aaron Rodgers + perennial top-10 fantasy tight end = profit.
Jason Wood: I love the diverse set of opinions, and must admit -- I'm not a fan of some of my colleagues' choices. I'll pass on the 36-year old tight end coming off an Achilles injury and asked to take a pay cut to remain on the roster (Ben Watson). I'll also pass on the converted basketball player who just had arthroscopic surgery last week on his knee and is the clear #2 on an offense with a franchise quarterback who has his own injury concerns (Erik Swoope). And I'll definitely pass on the overpaid remnant from a bygone coaching staff who never lived up to his contract and now has to contend with a new system, coaches and supporting personnel (Charles Clay).
David is one the money. Zach Ertz is the guy. I've moved him up to TE4 in my projections and see almost no way he's not Top 5 this year if he stays healthy. If you look at the history of ELITE fantasy tight ends, almost all of them benefit from an inordinately high target share born out of a substandard receiving corps. Ertz is right alongside Travis Kelce in that vein this year (whereas Delanie Walker lost that status this offseason).
If I'm digging in the crates this year, it's for an oldie and a goodie. The oldie is Antonio Gates. I have ZERO interest in him as my Week One starter or generally in PPR formats. I do, however, think he's worth having in standard leagues. Hunter Henry is the new top dog in town, but Gates and Rivers haven't lost their rapport. Gates could have 8 touchdowns this year on 35-40 catches. The goodies is Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. What's great about Sefarian-Jenkins is he'll be a forgotten man for two reasons: 1) he's suspended for the first two games of the season and 2) he's playing for the Jets. Jets camp reports have been effusive in praise for the young tight end. No other player on the roster has received as much positive feedback. He's on a team where the best receiver is probably Robby Anderson. Gulp. The Jets are going to have to throw a lot because they're awful, and the quarterbacks on the roster aren't gun-slingers. Sefarian-Jenkins is the only player on the roster with an ability to catch a pass near the line of scrimmage and go the distance.
Chris Feery: Hunter Henry will take a huge leap forward in 2017. In 2016, Henry saw 54 targets in comparison to the 92 that sailed in the direction of Antonio Gates. While Gates is still hanging around, it’s not too hard to envision that gap closing substantially. On those 54 targets, Henry produced a line of 36/478/8 - an impressive output for a rookie tight end, as there’s typically a steep learning curve at the position. A big increase in production is coming for Henry this season, as the Chargers offense as a whole is in line to make some noise in 2017.
Devin Knotts: Jordan Reed is a player that I have taken almost completely off of my draft board and will not be drafting him this year as I believe injuries and increased competition will make him have a poor season this year. Reed is currently being drafted as the 4th highest tight end this season, which I believe is way too high. Reed has been in the league for four seasons and has only finished in the top five once in those four seasons. He is already dealing with a toe injury which is causing him to miss time in preseason camp, and it seems as if it is one injury after another for Jordan Reed. He has never played more than 14 games in a season and has averaged 11.5 games per year in his four seasons in the league. For context, Rob Gronkowski has averaged 12.5 games per year.
Complicating matters is the increase in competition that Reed will have heading into this season. While the Redskins lost Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson in the offseason, neither of these players were threats in the Red Zone to take away some of Reed's volume. The Redskins added Terrelle Pryor and Brian Quick along with former first-round pick Josh Doctson who is entering his second season and should be looking for a larger role after a disappointing rookie season. All three of these receivers are six foot four inches tall and should give the Redskins plenty of options when it comes to the Red Zone.