Tight end is not a marquee position in MFL10s but because of the scarcity and wide variability in weekly scoring, it is a position that can yield the advantage (or disadvantage) that is the difference between a first and second place finish, which is the difference between a ten times return on your entry or a free entry next year. Because of this, it is a position that should encourage you to overinvest. The worst thing that can happen is that your tight end group contributes a flex score occasionally. The best thing that can happen is that you lap the field by hitting on two or even three picks. But which tight ends you should target to fill those spots?
Mid 2nd-Early 3rd Round Option
Rob Gronkowski, NE
Gronkowski is the still clear #1 tight end option, and his ADP could approach his 1st/2nd round value from 2016 drafts after he looked spry on Red Sox opening day and pronounced that he will be ready to roll for OTAs even though he had his third back surgery after a season-ending back injury. He could lose a bit with the Patriots pass offense stocked to the gills with weapons, but it’s easy to forget that he was far and away the #1 tight end last year during his brief healthy stretch from Week 5 to Week 10. He’s a fine choice to pair with a top three running back around the 2-3 turn.
Fourth Round Options
I am all for using a fourth-round pick on a tight end. The alternatives are flawed or rookie running backs or a wide receiver that isn’t that different from the ones available in the fifth round. Kelce was TE1 last year, but that was mostly because he stayed healthy. His durability and upward career slope entering 2017 makes him a safe pick, but I prefer Reed, who has a higher weekly ceiling and could trend even higher with the new faces at wide receiver for Washington. Reed’s durability record is an issue, but if you draft two tight ends (even two outside of the top 12) behind him, you should be able harvest his peaks without being hurt by his valleys. Kelce is much safer, but Reed maximizes upside at the position.
Fifth Round Option
Greg Olsen, CAR
Olsen is my favorite TE pick at ADP and ending up on a lot of my teams. He was a top three option last year even with Cam Newton’s second half struggles, and his three touchdown total from 2016 should bounce back a more typical six or seven this year. He has been amazingly durable and consistent at a brutal position, which allows you to go with only two tight ends if you can land him as your TE1 (or TE2 if you take Reed in the fourth).
Sixth Round Option
Tyler Eifert, CIN
Eifert is the discount Reed. He has a high weekly ceiling, but terrible durability record. His offense’s output is likely to drop off a bit with the losses on the offensive line, but like Reed he was quality when healthy last year, putting up TE2 numbers from Week 8-14. If you miss out on the top four, Eifert is a fine anchor, but like Reed, he’ll demand going with a three TE strategy.
7th-8th Round Options
There is a clear dropoff in terms of season-long and weekly upside when you get to this tier, but all is not lost. Graham could take a step back if Tyler Lockett stays healthy, but he could also be even better with another year between him and his patellar tendon injury. Ertz is an avoid with his volume likely taking a big hit now that the Eagles have competent outside receivers. Henry is probably a “year too early” pick with Antonio Gates still on the roster. Walker came back to earth after a stellar 2015, but if he reproduces his 2016 output, he’ll be a major value in this range. Bennett is my favorite from this group, paired with Aaron Rodgers in an offense that took off when Jared Cook was on field and activating the potential of a receiving tight end. Bennett and Walker are fine TE1 options if you miss out on the top five, and great TE2’s to pair with Reed or Eifert.
9th-10th Round Options
If you make it this far without a tight end, there’s no need to panic. Rudolph is a solid high floor option, although his target load could take a step back this year. Ebron is solid option despite the lack of touchdown punch, although he could well be joined by a first-round rookie. Brate is actually very similar to Rudolph in scoring profile with a fraction of the targets and should be a target no matter who your TE1 is. Don’t get caught without a TE1 before this tier dries up.
11th-13th Round Options
This group will contribute at least 3-4 scoring weeks for you, but they might not do much more than that. Doyle isn’t a lock to get a big uptick in targets with the potential emergence of Erik Swoope. Rookie tight ends have a steep learning curve, which could limit Howard’s impact despite the possibility of being a top ten pick. Hooper’s role could grow with Jacob Tamme still unsigned, but there are only so many balls to go around in Atlanta. Fleener has the most appeal of this group with Brandin Cooks’ targets still up for grabs, but he is a perennial disappointment and shouldn’t be counted on as more than a flier.
14th-15th Round Options
Even if you make it to the last third of your draft with only one tight end, you’ll be fine. Witten is a solid high floor option, Cook and Green are high ceiling options with high bust risk, Allen should collect at least a few touchdowns, and Engram is more wide receiver than tight end and could defy the steep curve for rookie tight ends to contribute. I'm not sure Fiedorowicz is a better option than Ryan Griffin in Houston, and Thomas might struggle to purchase in the Dolphins run-first with three quality wide receiver offense.
16th Round and Later Options
Heck, even if you waited until the last five rounds to take your TE2 and TE3, you can still sleep at night. Clay, Gates, and Barnidge will all contribute 4-6 scoring weeks in any event. McDonald and Higbee could blossom with new coaches and pass offenses lacking wide receiver depth. As long as Miller makes the opening day roster, he’ll contribute 4-6 starting weeks. James will if Green’s concussions continue to be an issue. Pitta was a target hog last year and could be again if Ben Watson doesn’t come all the way from an achilles injury. Swoope is the rare big play tight end, and his role could grow. Davis can contribute a few scoring weeks if Jordan Reed healthy, but much more if he can’t. While there is a dropoff after the top 10-12 tight ends, the depth of contributors is good enough that you shouldn’t panic in the 11th-15th round range.
I like the 14th-17th round options at RB/WR/TE enough to reserve the last three rounds for defense. Yes, last three. Unless something goes very wrong with your drafting at RB/WR/TE, that extra pick at the position is less likely to contribute to your bottom line than a third defense. I could make an exception for a rookie that you are sold on (I was taking Michael Thomas, Sterling Shepard, and Devontae Booker a lot in early drafts last year), but in most cases, three defenses are the way to go. Waiting until the 18th means you miss out on the likes of Denver, Houston, Kansas City, and Seattle, all of which could finish in the top 5-10 defenses and would be my preferred targets if you want to go early at DEF, but I am comfortable with the quality of late options.
18th Round Options
Los Angeles Rams - Wade Phillips, Aaron Donald, Tavon Austin returns
Philadelphia - Jim Schwartz front seven was dominant at times last year
Pittsburgh - Blitz happy defense came on in second half of season
Oakland - Winning team, Khalil Mack and Cordarrelle Patterson returns
Los Angeles Chargers - Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram III and a strong pair of CBs
19th Round Options
Tampa Bay - The Bucs defense came on in a big way in the second half of the season
Green Bay - The Packers DEF is usually a strong play at home
Miami - The Dolphins were a top 12 DEF and top 6 after Week 9 in this scoring
Dallas - The Cowboys need to replace most of their secondary, but they often play with the lead
Buffalo - The Bills always seem to find a way to put up 4-6 big DEF games a year
20th Round Options
Tennessee - Good game scripts for a fantasy defense, a weak division, and two first-round picks.
Chicago - John Fox has this defense rounding into shape
Detroit - Competitive team with a few playmakers shouldn’t be one of the last defenses selected