In the past five years or so, when drafting a tight end in fantasy football, Rob Gronkowski has been the consensus No. 1 pick. And not only has Gronk struggled to live up to his lofty billing, but also trying to identify which of his peers will provide solid TE1 production each week has been tough.
For 2016 drafts, after Gronkowski, Jordan Reed was taken in the fourth round, Greg Olsen in the fifth, and Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker were drafted in the sixth round. However, when looking at total fantasy points (PPR format), Kelce finished first followed by Kyle Rudolph (who went undrafted) and Olsen. Part of the reason for this is relatively simple – target share:
Kyle Rudolph, MIN
Greg Olsen, CAR
Dennis Pitta, BAL
Travis Kelce, KC
Zach Ertz, PHI
Delanie Walker, TEN
Jimmy Graham, SEA
Jason Witten, DAL
Antonio Gates, SD
Jordan Reed, WAS
C.J. Fiedorowicz, HOU
Olsen and Kelce were the only two tight ends with more than 1,000 receiving yards this past season. While the tight end position can be touchdown-dependent, when drafting one, it's best to try to find a TE that will get the ball, and not just provide the occasional touchdown.
Cameron Brate and Hunter Henry led the tight ends with eight touchdown cathces each. Brate finished seventh in terms of total fantasy points; Henry finished 19th.
The key when drafting a tight end is to find a team that will utilize the position as either another wide receiver (such as Olsen with Carolina) or as someone to dump the ball off to (Rudolph with Minnesota). Teams with multiple tight ends (Los Angeles Chargers) or teams that don't really use the tight end (Arizona, New York Jets) should be avoided.
Predicting tight end success is a challenge: how many experts thought that Coby Fleener would have a solid season in New Orleans? This was a team that liked passing the ball, was looking for a solid red-zone threat, and utilized the tight end position in the past. They had a gap to fill and Fleener seemed like a no-brainer TE1. The end result: Fleener had 82 targets (15th among tight ends), 50 receptions (18th), 631 yards (13th) and only three touchdowns. He finished 15th in fantasy scoring, which is not TE1 territory. He didn’t live up to his early seventh-round ADP.
On average, Delanie Walker was drafted about four spots ahead of Fleener. In 2015, Walker led his position in both targets and receptions. He also had the third-most receiving yards as well. Fantasy owners didn't buy in, but in 2016, Walker was sixth in both targets and yards among his peers. He finished as a top-five fantasy tight end for the second straight season. He'll be 33 at the start of the 2017 season, but in each of the past four years (all with Tennessee), Walker has had at least 60 receptions. In the last three years, he's had at least 800 yards. He should have a solid 2017 as well.
At the end of the day, the tight end position is tough for fantasy owners. However, trying to find players that can get you more than two points if they don't get in the end zone is the key. Ignore touchdowns when looking at tight ends. Instead, look at targets when drafting your tight end(s) in 2017.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.