With tight ends, the idea of positional scarcity comes up a lot – meaning, the idea that there aren’t very many viable options at this one position, especially compared to other positions like WR or QB, where value can be had later in the draft.
Even in this list, you’ll see that after the top seven, it is a veritable wasteland out there, so be sure to pick up one of those guys, otherwise your TE slot will read ‘revolving door’.
- Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Gronk, soon-to-be cover star for this year’s iteration of the popular video game series ‘Madden NFL’, is far and away the best tight end in the NFL. This will be just his sixth year in the league, and he already holds some all-time records at his position. Even with the suspension to Brady, backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s playbook probably reads as follows:
1st Down: Throw to Gronk
2nd Down: Throw to Gronk
3rd Down: Pump fake to Edelman, throw to Gronk
4th Down: See Gronk is quadruple covered, throw to him anyway
2. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Olsen, i.e. Michael C. Hall’s doppelganger (or maybe Hall is Olsen’s?), has been a target for Panthers QBs since he was drafted in 2007. With Cam Newton in the picture, Olsen has gobbled up targets and touchdowns: he has 161 catches, 2112 yards, and 13 touchdowns since 2014. Even with Kelvin Benjamin’s return to the lineup, Olsen’s skillset will demand passes being thrown his way, to the delight of fantasy owners.
3. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce is a special talent – he is athletically gifted, and is a crisp route runner. The only knock on him is simply the run-oriented offence he plays in, and that combined with Alex Smith’s propensity to check down to Jamaal Charles every other play, lowers his fantasy output slightly. Even so, when he gets going he is unstoppable, and is a massive target that is difficult to defend in the middle of the field.
4. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
The big news surrounding Eifert is he had a minor surgery to clean up his left ankle, which he injured at the Pro Bowl in January. Without the injury, Eifert would probably be #3 on the list above Kelce, considering the loss of Mohamed Sanu means more targets for the big guy. AJ Green will always demand attention from any quarterback, and Dalton has a good rapport with his receivers, but Eifert gives that offence another dimension.
5. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
With Kirk Cousins having a big year in 2015, all of his receivers benefited – and no one more than Reed. He had his best season, with 952 yards and 11 TDs, despite some injuries. If he can stay on the field, which has proven to be an issue for him over his career (he was drafted in 2013), he has the talent to be very, very good.
6. Gary Barnidge, Cleveland Browns
Barnidge is an interesting case – he could be very good, or he could be non-existent. From his draft year in 2008 to 2014, he accumulated 603 yards and 3 TDs…over six seasons! In his seventh year, 2015, he eclipsed all of his previous career stats in one swoop, garnering 1043 yards and 9 TDs from Josh McCown and Johnny Football (albeit briefly). With RG3 coming to Cleveland, it remains to be seen if Barnidge will recapture that 2015 magic, or fall back off the radar.
7. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Walker, somehow, has flown incredibly far under the radar – perhaps because he plays for the Titans, whether that is fair or not. Since coming over from the 49ers, Walker has never seen under 60 catches and 500 yards – and in a world where tight end production is minimal at best without Gronk or Olsen on your team, that is an enviable result. Even with the supposed emergence of Dorial Green-Beckham and Tajae Sharpe in Tennessee, Walker is the closest thing QB Marcus Mariota has to an ‘old reliable’.
8. Ladarius Green, Pittsburgh Steelers
When it comes to Green, the word that is most often used is ‘potential’. Drafted by the Chargers in 2012, he has sat behind Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates for his entire career, mostly filling in for Gates during injuries or suspensions. 2015, his most productive year, still only saw him catching 37 passes, 429 yards, and 4 TDs. Now that he is in Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown and company will demand enough attention to leave Green in single coverage – if he can make the most of it, he has the ‘potential’ to be great.
9. Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints
Drafted by the Colts to be Luck’s favourite target (they were teammates at Stanford), Fleener has taken his talents to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. They have a gaping hole at the tight end position, and Drew Brees loves his TEs, as evidenced by the production begot by Jimmy Graham and later Benjamin Watson. With a signal caller who regularly throws for 4000+ yards and 30+ TDs, there will be production to be had from Fleener in his new digs.
10. Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars
In his first year as a Jacksonville Jaguar, Thomas missed the first four games, and then came back…and, well, had kind of a mediocre year (46 REC, 455 yds, 5 TDs). Having said that, we know he has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success (12 TDs each of the two seasons he was relevant in Denver) previously in his career, and that has come playing in a system with two other very talented receivers. He can thrive with both Robinson and Hurns in that passing offence, which gets him in for that last TE spot.
Honourable Mentions: Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles; Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys; Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks