As we head into the 2018 fantasy football season, it is a time of uncertainty and there is a changing of the guard starting to take place among tight ends.
Rob Gronkowski, while still great, can no longer be looked at as the easy choice to finish the season as fantasy’s No. 1 tight end and is no longer worth a first- or even second-round pick.
But who else could challenge Gronkowski to be fantasy’s No. 1 tight end? This is where the uncertainty kicks in.
Travis Kelce has a new, inexperienced quarterback and more competition for the ball. Zac Ertz isn’t sure who his Week 1 QB will be. Jimmy Graham has an amazing new quarterback, but can’t seem to get downfield anymore.
Evan Engram might be the third or fourth option on the Giants now with the addition of Saquon Barkley and the return of Odell Beckham Jr. Delanie Walker and Greg Olsen aren’t getting any younger.
Perhaps the only sure thing this year was going to be Hunter Henry, but he tore his ACL before the preseason even started.
Of course, you still need to draft and start a tight end every week on your fantasy team, so choosing the right one might be more important this year than ever before. Use these rankings and tiers as a guide to make the right choice come draft day.
And don’t forget to pick up your copy of Athlon Sports’ 2018 Fantasy Football magazine, available for purchase online and at newsstands everywhere.
1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce posted his second straight 1,000-yard season and remains a key part in the Chiefs offense. He ranked first among tight ends in receptions, second in yards and second in standard scoring fantasy points and first in PPR scoring. He also set a career high with eight touchdowns last year and even with a new QB this year in Patrick Mahomes, Kelce has become more reliable than Rob Gronkowski and deserves to be ranked as the TE1 in 2018.
2. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
There was a lot of drama surrounding the Patriots this offseason, including whether or not Gronkowski would be back as a Patriot and if Tom Brady would be back as well. Well, thankfully for fantasy owners, both Gronk and Brady are back and should once again form a formidable duo in 2018. Gronkowski could get off to a big start this season with Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension, but as always, be wary of his injury history. Gronk has missed 26 of 96 games over the past six seasons.
3. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Over the past three seasons Ertz (above, right) has been very consistent when it comes to targets, receptions and yards and consistency is a good thing at a position that is so inconsistent. However, the knock against Ertz being among the elite tight ends has always been his lack of touchdowns. That all changed last year with new head coach Doug Pederson calling plays, as Ertz tied both Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski with eight scores. Even though the Eagles do love to spread the ball around, you can look for Ertz to once again catch around 70 balls for about 800 yards and roughly the same number of touchdowns. That’s great value at a way better draft cost than Kelce or Gronkowski.
4. Evan Engram, New York Giants
Rookie tight ends are supposed to have the kind of fantasy season that Engram (right) had last year. It’s said that playing the position is too dynamic, too tricky, too complicated and often it’s tied to a lot of blocking and learning the nuances. Apparently, no one told Engram as he produced the seventh-best fantasy season in history by a rookie tight end. Even with the return of Odell Beckham Jr., who might cut into Engram’s target share, he still has a top-three ceiling.
5. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
After an amazing streak of nine consecutive seasons without missing a game, Olsen broke his foot last year and missed nine games. The Panthers still do not have a true WR1, so there is no real threat to Olsen’s target share. While he is getting up there in age, he has the track record and trust of Cam Newton to once again post a 1,000-yard season.
6. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
It’s true that Graham is no longer the dominating fantasy performer he was earlier in his career, but he did lead the position in touchdowns last year with 10 playing for Seattle, a team that wasn't exactly known for producing high-scoring fantasy TEs. Now Graham is getting paid like an elite tight end by Green Bay. Similar to the Seahawks, the Packers aren’t known for massive production from the tight end position, but with Jordy Nelson gone, there will be plenty of red-zone targets coming Graham’s way.
7. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Walker has been fantasy gold since arriving in Tennessee back in 2013. Over the past four seasons, Walker has finished as the TE8, TE4, TE5 and TE6 in PPR leagues -- talk about consistent. Even at age 33, he is coming off his third straight Pro Bowl and even with a healthy Corey Davis, Walker could once again lead the Titans in receptions as Marcus Mariota’s most trustworthy target.
8. Trey Burton, Chicago Bears
After three seasons as Zac Ertz’s backup in Philadelphia, Burton will get his first shot at a starting gig in Chicago. Burton screams upside and has huge breakout potential given his skill set and the emphasis on the tight end in new head coach Matt Nagy’s offense. Burton can be a sneaky steal near the end of fantasy drafts, especially for those with love to wait to draft their tight end.
9. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
Considering he was a fifth-round pick coming out of Iowa, Kittle had an impressive rookie season. Once Jimmy Garopplo took over, Kittle (above, right) was fantasy’s No. 10 tight end. The presence of veteran Garrett Celek could be a limiting factor, but the fact that Kittle finally clicked with Garoppolo for 100 yards in the season finale is promising.
10. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
If the Colts didn’t sign Eric Ebron, Doyle would be three or four spots higher. Even with Ebron’s presence, Doyle is still the tight end to own in Indianapolis, and one of Andrew Luck’s favorite targets. Believe it or not it was Doyle, not T.Y. Hilton who led the Colts in receptions (80) in 2017, making him a tight end to target in PPR leagues.
11. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Rudolph was a popular breakout tight end heading into last season, but with the emergence of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Rudolph’s production took a major hit. He went from 132 targets, 83 receptions and 840 yards in 2016 to just 81 targets, 57 receptions and 532 yards. His only saving grace is that he's still a major red-zone threat (8 TDs in 2017). He is a fringe TE1 heading into 2018.
12. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Reed (right) falls to the back end of starting tight ends this year, not because of his talent but because he simply can’t stay healthy. If you believe that Reed is going to play at least 12 games this year (remember he missed nine games last year), then you will have a draft day steal on your hands. He’s definitely a gamble, but at his current draft stock, he’s worth it.
13. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While the Buccaneers were somewhat cautious in how they used Howard last year, he produced when called upon. He had an amazing 16.6 yards per reception and somehow scored six times on just 26 catches. The Bucs did sign counterpart Cameron Brate to a new four-year deal, but Howard simply has too many positives in his favor -- talent, blocking ability, bigger and more explosive, wider catch radius – for the Bucs to keep ignoring him.
14. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Eifert is very similar to Jordan Reed. An excellent tight end who can really produce elite fantasy numbers when he is healthy, but he just can't stay on the field. What Eifert really does well is score touchdowns. Back in 2015 he scored 13 in 13 games. A healthy Eifert would be a great boost for Andy Dalton's numbers and fantasy appeal, but it’s hard to draft him with confidence. If he ends up on the waiver wire and is healthy, grab him before it's too late.
15. Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers
While counterpart Jesse James is still around, he has never really been a focal point of the Steelers' passing game. McDonald joined the team last year and struggled early with shoulder, back and ankle injuries but started to show promise at the end of year. In Weeks 14 and 16 (he missed Week 15), McDonald saw 11 targets and totaled 104 yards. It appears that McDonald in on track to take over as the Steelers primary tight end this year, a position that Heath Miller thrived in for years.
16. David Njoku, Cleveland Browns
Njoku was another first-round pick just like O.J. Howard and just like Howard and the Bucs, Njoku really wasn’t used that much by the Browns. A lot of Njoku’s struggles as a rookie can be attributed to playing in a terrible offense. This offseason the Browns rebuilt that side of the ball, and Njoku remains a big part of their plans, so if the offense improves, Njoku’s numbers could double to around 50 catches for 700 yards and a handful of touchdowns.
17. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons
Hooper didn’t quite have the breakout year a lot of fantasy owners were hoping for in 2017. He only had two games of 50 or more yards all season. The Falcons are hoping to get Hooper more involved this season, but first he has to regain the confidence of quarterback Matt Ryan and until Hooper can string together at least a couple fantasy relevant games, he’s best suited as a bye week fill-in.
18. Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brate (right) has 14 touchdowns the last two years, third among tight ends and that is only on 158 targets. Brate might not be the most athletically gifted tight end, but he has solid rapport with Jameis Winston and scores touchdowns. His ceiling is limited with O.J. Howard around, but Brate always finds a way to produce TE1 numbers.
19. Ricky Seals-Jones, Arizona Cardinals
Sealy-Jones went on a three-touchdown run across two games last November that put his name on the fantasy radar, then he didn’t do much for the rest of the season. The Cardinals now have a new coaching staff, new quarterbacks and zero depth at tight end, so Sealy-Jones has a great opportunity to see a bunch of targets coming his way.
20. Benjamin Watson, New Orleans Saints
Watson was surprisingly effective last season at age 35, catching 61 balls for 522 yards to go along with four touchdowns. Now he returns to New Orleans where he had his best season in 2015 where he posted 74 receptions for 825 yards and six touchdowns. While he won’t match those numbers, 700 yards and six touchdowns aren’t out of the question.
21. Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders
Cook finally seemed to put it all together last season after teasing the fantasy world for so many years. Last season he ranked 11th among tight ends in receptions (54) and he was seventh in yards (688), but he only scored two touchdowns and he is still too inconsistent to rely upon as a weekly starter for your fantasy team.
22. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jacksonville Jaguars
Seferian-Jenkins came out of nowhere last year to become fantasy relevant, as he set career highs in receptions (50), yards (357) and targets (74), and that was with the lowly Jets. Now with the Jaguars a lot of his value hinges on Blake Bortles, but with no true No. 1 wide receiver on the Jaguars, Seferian-Jenkins could once again be a fantasy surprise.
23. Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts
There’s no questioning that Ebron was a total bust for the Detroit Lions. For whatever reason he and Matthew Stafford could not get on the same page. Ebron now finds himself in Indianapolis with Andrew Luck, but will also have to battle Jack Doyle for targets. The Colts will try to find creative ways to use both Ebron and Doyle, but Doyle figures to be the favored TE.
24. Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams
There was a point in the offseason that Everett looked like he might be given the opportunity to be a top-10 tight end this year, but that changed with the arrival of Brandin Cooks. Obviously Everett is still the starter, but with Cooks, Todd Gurley, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, how many targets Everett get?
25. Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills
Who is going to catch passes for the Bills this year? It’s a mess and Clay (right) might just be the team's best receiving option and at least he’s reliable. He will definitely miss Tyrod Taylor, who looked his way often when he was under pressure, and with the Bills' uncertain future at QB, Clay shouldn’t be on the fantasy radar this season.
26. Vernon Davis, Washington Redskins
Davis is really only draftable if Jordan Reed is hurt heading into the season, if Reed is healthy to start the season, you can forget about Davis, until Reed gets hurt again. That’s been Davis’s story for the past few seasons in Washington. When given the chance he can actually still produce as a borderline TE1.
27. Ed Dickson, Seattle Seahawks
Dickson lands in a great spot in Seattle taking over for Jimmy Graham who scored 10 touchdowns and led the league in red zone looks last season. This is Dickson’s first shot at being a true No. 1 tight end since 2011 and he could surprise because of the opportunity.
28. Luke Willson, Detroit Lions
Wilson will be the Lions' new starting tight end after the team decided to let Eric Ebron go in the offseason. This will be his first real shot at showing what he can do as an every-down player, so there is some upside based on the opportunity, but in many ways Willson is an unknown fantasy commodity.
29. Hayden Hurst, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are one of those teams that are desperate for playmakers so they snagged Hurst with the 25th pick in this year’s draft. He’ll get every opportunity to start, but the list of rookie tight ends to make a fantasy impact is short.
30. Jake Butt, Denver Broncos
Butt missed all of last season recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered in his last game of his college career at Michigan. He heads into training camp battling Jeff Heuerman for the starting job, but the Broncos have high hopes for what Butt can do on the field. There is a lot of sleeper potential here.
31. Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
The good news is that Gesicki should start right away for the Dolphins, the bad news is that this offense remains a work in progress, and the rookie's role will probably be limited for at least the first half of the season.
32. Stephen Anderson, Houston Texans
Anderson’s battling Ryan Griffin for the Texans' starting tight end job, and if Griffin wins the battle, you can insert his name here. Regardless of who wins the job out of camp, Deshaun Watson isn’t known for targeting his tight ends and while there is a lot of fantasy potential with this offense, Houston tight ends probably won’t be worth rostering.
33. Rico Gathers, Dallas Cowboys
Gathers is a former Baylor basketball standout who didn’t play a down of football in high school or college and is now set to take the torch from future Hall of Famer Jason Witten. Gathers has the ability to be a big-time playmaker and should be on the fantasy radar, but not on your fantasy roster -- yet.
-- Tiers 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.