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Critical Tier Drops: Tight Ends

Identifying the key value drop off points in 2017 at the tight end position

Each fantasy football season the landscape of the skill positions change. One year offers more depth, while another turns into a studs and duds feel to the available player pool. Dissecting key drop off points in the position ADP is critical to maximizing draft day value. Here are the key pivot points for 2017 at tight end:

The Big 2

No offense to Greg Olsen and Jordan Reed, but the tight end position's top tier has a clear line between Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce and the rest of the options. Rob Gronkowski has been arguably the greatest force at the position, especially scoring touchdowns, the position (and the NFL) has ever seen. With Brandin Cooks steering more attention to the perimeter, Gronkowski is poised to approach his career touchdown per game pace against this season. With Jeremy Maclin's exit from Kansas City, Travis Kelce has the best combination of talent and lack of target competition in the NFL. The touchdown production has lagged to-date compared to his usage, but Kelce is one of the safest bets for high-level receptions at the position this season.

The Murky Middle

The 2017 landscape has the Big 2 and then a middle zone where most owners will have a favorite or two, but there is tremendous lack of clarity. Jordan Reed is a walking injury report. Jimmy Graham has not been the same since leaving New Orleans. Tyler Eifert remains a 'one big touchdown year' profile to-date, and Delanie Walker faces an uptick in target competition from the 2016 Tennessee offense.

One name to consider between TE3 and TE12 in ADP is Martellus Bennett. Aaron Rodgers is one of the true regression-beaters over the years in terms of doling out touchdowns. The past decade has been a strong stretch for Green Bay wide receivers, but the tight end position has not seen a talent like Bennett on the roster. Jermichael Finley flashed for a 55-767-8 season of note, but no other tight end has surpassed 600 receiving yards in a season in more than 10 years. Bennett is one of the few tight ends in the NFL with double-digit touchdown upside and the best bet to be an impact tight end for the Packers since the days of Jermichael Finley more than five seasons ago.

Buy the Steak, Not the Sizzle

Drafting the steady older veteran at a position is typically not greeted with acclaim in fantasy drafts. However, the tight end position offers later values using the approach. Pairing a younger upside option with a steady veteran provides roster balance, but the right veteran is key.

Jason Witten: His ADP has been rising of late (up to TE15), but the long-time Cowboy's positional ADP is still lower than any of his fantasy finishes dating back to his rookie season in 2003. Yes, Witten has finished as a top-14 tight end for 13 straight seasons. Witten is eroding a la the late-career Tony Gonzalez, but the Dallas passing game is unchanged from 2016 with Terrance Williams a pedestrian No.2 receiver and Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley manning the remaining receiver positions. Witten is a high-floor play when taking an upside shot elsewhere.

Antonio Gates: In the same mold as Jason Witten, Gates has been a top-12 fantasy tight end every year since 2003. Gates at TE23 is a strong fail-safe for a draft plan as a final option. Hunter Henry is the heir to the starting role as soon as this season, but Gates even in his twilight years has been a touchdown maven with 24 scores over his last 41 games.

Charles Clay: The Bills passing game is in disarray with the departure of Sammy Watkins notably this offseason. Not on the Witten or Gates level in terms of production profile, Clay has still been a top-20 option for four straight seasons. AT TE26 in ADP, Clay offers a sturdy floor of usage as an unquestioned Week 1 starter.

Variance is your friend

The final subset includes boom-bust options:

Vernon Davis: Jordan Reed's injury history is long standing and Davis averaged nearly 10 PPR PPG in the four games Reed was out of the lineup in 2016. Davis still has more athleticism than most NFL starting tight ends despite being well into his 30s. At TE32 in ADP, Reed is a strong selection whether owning Jordan Reed or not.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins: The maligned tight end is suspended for two games to start the season. However, the Jets passing game looks like a rag-tag bunch. Seferian-Jenkins is by far the highest pedigree on the roster. At his peak Seferian-Jenkins was on pace for 48-772-9 in 2015 before falling out of favor (plus missing more time with injury) in Tampa Bay by last offseason. With Seferian-Jenkins owners will have clarity on his dedication and role in the offense by the end of September with a minimal TE29 price range if things do not work out.

Ben Watson-Maxx Williams: The Ravens starting job is wide open on an offense among the league leaders in pass attempts last season. Williams has consistently missed time with injury and Watson lost 2016 to an Achilles injury after being a priority signing by Baltimore last offseason. Williams lacks the athleticism to project strong TE1 production, while Watson is a question mark considering his age and unknown injury recovery due to sparse playing time thus far in the preseason. Both are outside the top-30 in positional ADP with the winner of the starting role a strong bet to finish in the top-20.

Vance McDonald: Much like Carlos Hyde, McDonald has been the focus of some tough love from the 49ers coaching staff this offseason. McDonald, however, is the likely Week 1 starter and an overt athlete for the position. With only Pierre Garcon cemented for a strong target share, the tight end positon for the 49ers is an opportunity position in fantasy terms.