There are plentiful options at tight end with a range of outcomes that includes exceeding ADP in a material way. From the second round on, you should be on alert for falling values, but remain flexible, as there are enough solid options outside of the top 5-6 to allow you pass on tight end early when you’re not feeling it and still do okay at the position.
Rob Gronkowski, NE
Gronkowski is healthy and hasn’t been limited in training camp. When he was healthy last year (yes, it was for only four games), he outscored all but a few wide receivers. The Patriots offense is crowded, but that only stands to make it tougher to shut Gronkowski down. A worthy team cornerstone in the second.
STANDING ON THE VERGE OF GETTING IT ON
Travis Kelce, KC
Kelce was massive when Jeremy Maclin was out last year, (26-380-0 in four games) and the team moved on from Maclin in the offseason. It should would be great if Kelce was used more in the red zone, but even if that doesn’t happen, he’s a lock to be a top three tight end if he doesn’t miss significant time.
Greg Olsen, CAR
Olsen was off to a scalding start last year before Cam Newton’s concussion. He compiled 24 catches for 335 yards and two scores in the first four games and even added 9-181 in the game Newton missed. As Newton’s game eroded, so did Olsen’s numbers. His 35-400 pace in the second half was well below his production over the last three years, and should be considered the outlier. He’s a sneaky pick to outperform ADP this year.
STRONG/ELITE TE1 WITH DURABILITY ISSUES
Reed is coming into the season with a foot issue that required a trip to a specialist and an orthotic in his cleat. He has a weekly ceiling as high as any tight end in the game, but if he is coming in limited, chances are this will come back to haunt drafters who don’t get him at a big discount. Eifert has had a refreshingly quiet summer comparatively and could help anyone who drafts him at a very reasonable ADP if he can stay healthy for most of the season. Eifert’s production rate isn’t that far off of Gronkowski and Reed when healthy.
BOOM/BUST TE1 TRENDING BACK TOWARDS STRONG TE1
Jimmy Graham, SEA
Graham was up and down last year, but if we believe the team, he was being managed and his knee was holding him back. Not so this year. If we see a full-time return to Graham of old instead of just the flashes we saw last year, Graham might be the best pick of the whole tight end class.
This is the cutoff for my comfort zone at TE1. None of this trio are terribly expensive and allow for building strength elsewhere before addressing the position. Rudolph was consistent last year and had as many 15+ point games as Travis Kelce did last year. Bennett has a chance to bring a Packers tight end position back to life that hasn’t seen fantasy relevance since Jermichael Finley. Walker has to share with three good wide receivers instead of just one this year, but some of that loss should be made up by better quality targets. All three are proven producers with quarterbacks that can unlock their value.
LOW CEILING TE
This group can help you get bye at tight end, but their weekly and season-long ceiling is too low to help you keep pace with the top tight ends or otherwise net a large profit on investment. Doyle has the Colts/Luck worries and Erik Swoope to share with, although Swoope just had knee surgery. He is also a limited player that doesn’t add value to his touches/targets. The same goes for Brate, and he is sharing with OJ Howard, although he is much cheaper than Doyle in drafts. Ebron is the most expensive, but his price is coming down with his camp hamstring injury. He can hang with the top tier in terms of targets/receptions, but the touchdowns are sparse and the injury risk remains. Ertz price may go up with the trade of Jordan Matthews. He was a target hog when Matthews was out, but the Eagles have much better outside wide receivers now. I remain unconvinced that he can create consistent value. Brate is the best target of this group as a backup or a Week 1 start against the Dolphins depleted linebackers as a leadoff in a streaming tight end approach.
Henry is being overdrafted because Antonio Gates is being written off too quickly. Still, he will his share of TE1 weeks via touchdowns. Hooper may produce about the same as his fellow second-year tight end, but be viewed as a success because of his lower cost. Neither will be consistent producers. Neither will Coby Fleener, but in his second year with Drew Brees, his big weeks might be more frequent than last year. You can be ok counting on a member of this group if you pick the right weeks.
There will be some scores and a sprinkling of big games, but on the whole the production will be ordinary among this group. Witten and Gates are limited by age, Thomas is a role player, James is a mediocre talent, Clay has a balky knee, Miller and Fiedorowicz will share targets with at least one more tight end, but Miller is more interesting with Cameron Meredith's injury.
WAIVER WIRE SPEED DIAL
Erik Swoope, IND
Jared Cook, OAK
Dwayne Allen, NE
Ben Watson, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, BAL
Xavier Grimble, PIT
Tyler Higbee, LAR
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, NYJ
Seth Devalve, CLE
A.J. Derby, DEN
Vernon Davis, WAS
Lance Kendricks, GB
Things change during the season to create tight end value and we should monitor these players and situations for value spikes. Allen, Davis, and Kendricks can inherit excellent fantasy roles and have demonstrated ability to create value. Swoope, Grimble, Higbee, and Devalve are young talents who could show that they are ready for bigger roles as the season progresses. The Baltimore tight ends and Seferian-Jenkins could get targets by default. Derby might revive the tight end position in Denver with more development. Cook has been known to get hot for short stretches when he avoids injuries. This group can help tight end streamers.
If you choose to go with a streaming tight end approach, Week 1 has no shortage of cheap draft options with good matchups. Brate faces the Dolphins defense that has already lost two linebackers this summer. Witten has had big games three of the last four times he faced the Giants, and their defensive weakness is linebacker. Clay is facing the crumbling Jets and his quarterback will be throwing to a wide receiver corps that no longer features its top four receivers from 2016. Hooper is facing a Bears defense that surrendered big games to the likes of Brate, Dwayne Allen, and Trey Burton last year.