Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Tight End Tiers and Rankings 2017
Ah, tight ends. Perhaps the least exciting pick in the entire fantasy football draft. This is the first year in a while where there is really no clear cut, must-have tight end.
Gronk is still #1, but can you trust him to stay healthy?
Maybe Travis Kelce, at least he stays healthy, but he has Alex Smith as his QB.
Jordan Reed? His injury history is just as bad as Gronk’s.
So, Greg Olsen?
See what I mean? Drafting a tight end isn’t exciting, but it is important, especially in PPR leagues.
If you can draft a tight end in the late rounds that turns out to be a top-five producer, you’ve hit fantasy gold, and there are lots of options this year that fit the mold.
Check out this year’s tight end tiers and rankings and use them as a guide to find one that can help you win each and every week.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Gronkowski was limited to eight games due to injuries last year, and he was no more than a decoy in two of those. In the five games he was fully healthy, however, Gronk piled up 14.18 points per game in standard leagues. Just a reminder that he’s still the game’s top tight end, even if his days as a first-rounder are over.
2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Often compared to Rob Gronkowski early in his career, Kelce shined as the top fantasy tight end last season. Like Gronkowski, Kelce was an extreme matchup problem for opposing defenses and was incredible after the catch. Kelce had a career-best 13.2 yards per reception and led all tight ends with 1,125 receiving yards. However, he still isn’t a huge red-zone threat, with the Chiefs often turning to the run game when they’re near the end zone. If you value durability, Kelce is the top tight end available.
3. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
If it were guaranteed that Reed would play at least 12 games, he could challenge Gronk for the top spot. The fifth-year man has had concussion issues over the past couple of seasons, but when he was on the field last year, he finished second in points per game among TEs. That production should remain the same or even increase, with the Redskins experiencing so much turnover at wide receiver.
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4. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Olsen was Cam Newton’s most targeted receiver for the second straight season in 2016, and reached 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. Unfortunately, with the struggles of the Panthers’ offense, Olsen only scored three touchdowns. Olsen has only missed two games during his NFL career and has shown remarkable consistency with more than 120 targets and at least 77 receptions in each of the last three seasons.
5. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
Coming off of a gruesome knee injury, much wasn’t expected from Graham last year. But he proved he was healthy with a career high 14.2 yards per reception and the third-most receiving yards (923) among TEs. It’s possible his involvement in the Seattle offense grows this season, but he’ll never have the role that he did in New Orleans.
6. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Eifert’s 2016 campaign was set to get off to a late start after ankle surgery, but it was a back injury during his rehab that kept him out for longer than anticipated. He ended up playing only eight games and had offseason back surgery. He has been a serious touchdown machine in the red zone over the last two seasons, scoring 18 total, but now has missed 26 games over the last three years.
7. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Rudolph had the best season of his six-year career in 2016, setting highs in receptions (83), yards (840) and targets (132), which made him easily the most targeted player on the team. Minnesota’s potentially limited offense and reliance on its running game could be a problem for him, but he’ll still make a fantasy impact because of his targets and red-zone potential.
8. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Ertz’s 2016 season followed a similar script. He started slowly but finished with a bang; giving him a line at the end of the season that looked more impactful than it actually was from a fantasy standpoint, although he did lead the team in receptions and receiving yards. Ertz’s targets could decrease this year after Philadelphia’s offseason additions at wide receiver, but it’s clear the TE will remain a significant part of the passing game.
9. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
Last season, Ebron finally started to show the ability Detroit saw when the team made him the 10th overall pick in the 2014 draft. He didn’t produce much in the red zone, but Ebron easily set career highs in receptions (61) and receiving yards (711). He also was consistent, recording at least five targets in 13 of the 14 games he played. His value could increase if he can score more than the one touchdown he managed last year.
10. Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers
This offseason no tight end was a bigger winner than Bennett, who landed in Green Bay. After earning a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots, Bennett goes from Tom Brady to Aaron Rodgers. Remember what Rodgers did for Jared Cook last season? Bennett might be able to top his 12.7 yards per reception and seven touchdowns he scored last year.
11. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
Many expected Dwayne Allen to step up and be the No. 1 tight end for the Colts last year. Instead, it was Doyle, a little-used, fourth-year player out of Western Kentucky. He finished second on the team in targets and receptions, and was a decent option in the red zone (5 TDs). The Colts let Allen go in the offseason, and chose to sign Doyle to an extension, meaning he is in an excellent position to succeed in 2017.
12. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Walker regressed statistically last season, but he was still fifth among tight ends in total points and points per game in standard leagues. He is a reliable weapon, and if you’re bullish on Marcus Mariota and the Titans’ offense, then you have to be bullish on Walker, who enters the season as the primary red zone threat.
13. Hunter Henry, San Diego Chargers
Henry would be way higher on this list had Antonio Gates decided to retire. Even with Gates back, Henry should take over primary tight end duties for the Chargers. He’s a true game-changer at the position and is one the team’s best downfield weapons. Philip Rivers will throw the ball enough to keep both Henry and Gates happy.
14. Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints
There’s no doubt that Fleener was a bust in his first season with the Saints, as he ranked 12th among tight ends in fantasy points, was 23rd in points per game and failed to find a rhythm in the offense. The trade of Brandin Cooks to the Patriots could result in increased targets for Fleener, but it’s hard to get excited about him as a TE1.
15. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons
There is reason for optimism with Hooper, given that he’s the starting tight end for one of the league’s most explosive offenses. The tight end position has been a missing element in the Atlanta offense since Tony Gonzalez retired, and even though Hooper was inconsistent as a rookie, the Falcons did let Jacob Tamme go in the offseason. Hooper will be a TE2 this year, but there’s TE1 upside in this great offense.
16. Julius Thomas, Miami Dolphins
Thomas was a huge bust in Jacksonville. He struggled to stay healthy and hasn’t been much more than a red-zone threat, but that’s all the Dolphins are hoping for from him. If nothing else, he’s familiar with head coach Adam Gase’s offense from his days in Denver. Thomas still has TE2 potential because of his ability to be effective and productive in the red zone.
17. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston Texans
The tight end is an important part of head coach Bill O’Brien’s offense, and Fiedorowicz started to feast with more opportunities last season. It helped that Brock Osweiler struggles so much throwing downfield, allowing Fiedorowicz to get looks on shorter routes. His ceiling isn’t very high, but Fiedorowicz should continue to be a TE2 option.
18. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Witten remains a crucial piece of Dallas’ offense, but that has as much to do with his blocking as his presence in the passing game. He’s half-tight end, half-offensive lineman as this stage of his career, given the strengths of the Cowboys’ attack. He’s a bye-week spot starter and nothing more.
19. Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
All the optimism surrounding Brate’s fantasy value disappeared when Tampa Bay took O.J. Howard with the 19th overall pick in the draft. Brate will still have a role in the offense, but it’s hard to envision him being a viable fantasy starting option. He’ll likely be no better than the fourth option in the Bucs’ passing game.
20. Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders
After pretty much being a bust the previous three seasons in St. Louis, Cook really came on for Aaron Rodgers late in 2016. He was particularly difficult to cover during the playoffs, getting 32 targets in three games. He was able to cash in on that performance with Oakland this offseason, hoping to add another element to an offense that’s been lacking production from the tight end.
21. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
Gates still shows flashes of his old self, as he did during a three-game touchdown streak last year, but he’s far from his days as a consistent fantasy weapon. With Hunter Henry likely to take on a larger role in the Chargers’ offense, Gates is clearly the second option as his targets should continue to decline.
22. Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills
The well-paid Clay was a disappointment again in his second season with Buffalo, though he did lead the team in receptions with Sammy Watkins injured for much of the year. Teams have noticed that Clay isn’t much of a downfield threat, and he lacks the height to be a serious concern in the red zone. He’s got TE2 written all over him.
23. Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers’ surprising decision to cut Ladarius Green in May pushed James to the top of the depth chart. While the nature of Pittsburgh’s offense makes every starter intriguing, James failed to reach fantasy relevance last year, and that was with Martavis Bryant serving a season-long suspension. James might see a spike in touchdowns, but he’s no better than a bye-week flier.
24. Benjamin Watson, Baltimore Ravens
After a career year in New Olreans in 2015, Watson didn’t play last season due to a torn Achilles. Now healthy and at the age of 36, he finds himself at the top of the depth chart with the Ravens thanks to injuries to Dennis Pitta (who was cut in June) and Crockett Gillmore (placed on IR). Watson has the opportunity to be a sneaky pick in deeper leagues, but expect the Ravens to use all of their tight ends – Maxx Williams, Ryan Malleck and Larry Donnell – so it’s anyone’s guess as to how many targets Watson will see.
25. David Njoku, Cleveland Browns
Head coach Hue Jackson stressed the need for a tight end before the draft and Cleveland got its man in Njoku. He had an incredible 16.6 yards per reception the last two seasons at Miami, and should contribute immediately after the Browns cut Gary Barnidge. Keep in mind though that he is still a rookie.
26. Evan Engram, New York Giants
The Giants went all in on offense this offseason, signing Brandon Marshall and drafting Engram in the first round. His blocking ability leaves much to be desired, but Engram had 65 receptions for 926 yards at Ole Miss last year. He’s a glorified wide receiver who should at least be a red zone target for Eli Manning.
27. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay was generally happy with Cameron Brate last year, but his talent doesn’t even compare to Howard. Teams gushed over Howard during the draft process, yet he still fell to the Bucs at No. 19 overall. He has a chance to immediately step in as the starter and be a major threat in the red zone.
28. Zach Miller, Chicago Bears
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
With Alshon Jeffrey gone, Miller is the unlikely longest-tenured member of Chicago’s receiving corps. While the Bears’ target share is one of the hardest in the league to predict, Miller should have a sizeable role. Jeffrey’s departure also makes him the team’s most physical pass catcher, and thus a option in the red zone.
29. Dwayne Allen, New England Patriots
After five years with the Colts, Allen signed with New England, where he’ll replace the departed Martellus Bennett, who put up impressive numbers while filling in for Rob Gronkowski. With Gronk’s injury history, Allen could find himself with a larger-than-expected workload and turn into a meaningful fantasy player.
30. Vance MacDonald, San Francisco 49ers
McDonald is likely to end the season ranked higher than some of the players ahead of him. But at this stage of his career and as part of one of the worst offenses in the league, the fantasy world knows what he is. Unfortunately, that’s nothing more than a bye-week or injury replacement.
31. Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
Higbee didn’t get much of a chance as a rookie last year, netting only 29 targets while playing a little more than 40 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. He should have a larger role this season, but on an uninspiring offense, he shouldn’t be under consideration on draft day.
32. Virgil Green, Denver Broncos
Green stepped up for Denver, setting career highs in receptions, yards and targets last season. That didn’t amount to much, however, with Green finishing 43rd in scoring among TEs in standard leagues. With Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch at the helm of the offense, Green’s ceiling doesn’t appear to be much higher this season.