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STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Tight Ends

By: Andy Cooper

Back at it for Round 4 of our position tiers. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out where I ranked quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers in my previous articles.

Although the tight end position doesn’t hold the weight of the other three skill spots, nabbing one of these monsters who is a consistent red zone target could add some much-needed fantasy points and throw your team over the top a couple of weeks.

Tier 1 

Rob Gronkowski – Patriots

Gronk always deserves the top tier all to himself. In order to pay off he simply needs to stay healthy. It’s becoming increasingly apparent, however, that we can never feel “safe” about investing an early pick on him. I will typically pass on Gronk and test my luck in drafting a good TE combo later in the draft instead.

Tier 2 

Travis Kelce – Chiefs
Greg Olsen – Panthers

I almost considered giving Kelce his own tier but made the call to include Olsen. Truth is, as talented as Kelce is, I never feel 100 percent safe investing in any of Alex Smith’s pass catchers. It can be truly infuriating at times rooting for him to generate passing stats. Having Tyreek Hill will help keep defenses from giving Kelce too much attention, though. Kelce is just about the only TE in the top-5 I will ever actively target in a draft as of now. Olsen is still a fairly safe selection and offers a little value if he’s the fourth TE off of the board.

Tier 3 

Jimmy Graham – Seahawks
Jordan Reed – Redskins

I just can’t make myself draft Jordan Reed this year. He is unquestionably one of the better “per game” TEs in the league, and I certainly never want to see him on my opponent’s team. However, his health is always going to be a concern with me, especially with his concussion history. I fear he is someone that would need to seriously consider retirement if he were to ever have another one.

Tier 4 

Tyler Eifert – Bengals
Kyle Rudolph – Vikings
Delanie Walker – Titans

Kyle Rudolph is a TE I look to target if he happens to slip a bit. He pretty much checks every box you are looking for in your TE1 and can easily be overlooked, while others bank on getting 2015 Eifert or wanting a piece of the Titans’ potentially dynamic offense with Walker.

Tier 5 

Hunter Henry – Chargers

The market seems to be a bit timid about selecting Henry as a top-10 TE, but I’m here to tell you it’s not foolish. What makes Henry’s big rookie campaign even more impressive is that TEs usually start their careers off slow. But we’ve seen with first-ballot HOF teammate Antonio Gates is that Philip Rivers relies on his tight end. The receiving corps is going to be a bit more crowded than usual to start, so Henry’s ceiling is a bit capped initially, but I still like him as a high-floor, low-end TE1.

Tier 6

Martellus Bennett – Packers
Zach Ertz – Eagles
Eric Ebron – Lions
Jack Doyle – Colts

This may seem like a bit of a bland tier, but I think it’s a critical one. You ideally want to have at least one TE before this tier is finished. Depending on how the draft goes, it’s a sneaky move to lock up two of these guys and plan on playing matchups during the season. Each one of these TE’s offers some blow up weeks where they dominate their team in targets and/or red zone chances. The departure of Jordan Matthews from Philadelphia certainly helps provide Ertz with a great week-to-week ceiling/floor combo. He’s trending up.

Tier 7 

Coby Fleener – Saints
Austin Hooper – Falcons

Do not sleep on Fleener this year. He may not be the most gifted receiving TE in the league, but he certainly plays in one of the best offenses. There is a chance that he just needed a season to get on the same page with Drew Brees and could put up big numbers this season. He’s a great TE2 to have as a dynamic backup, but I wouldn’t want to go into the season relying on him as my TE1.

Once Hooper took over for Jacob Tamme after Week 8 last season, I was one of the experts who was quick to rank him highly in the weekly rankings – and he didn’t disappoint with a 3-46-1 line. Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep that momentum going and completely flopped in the next four games to close out the fantasy season. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s typical for rookie TE’s to struggle, so we have to give him the benefit of the doubt on talent alone and the fact he plays in one of the league’s premier passing attacks.

Tier 8 

Cameron Brate – Buccaneers
Julius Thomas – Dolphins
CJ Fiedorowicz – Texans
Jason Witten – Cowboys

The Bucs drafted a highly talented TE in O.J. Howard this year, which normally would all but eliminate Brate’s fantasy value going forward. Lee Corso voice: “Not so fast my friend!” The Bucs figure to ease Howard in as rookie TEs take a bit of time to develop (a recurring theme of these tiers). He’s likely to play much more of a blocking role to start, while Brate can remain the primary pass-catching TE in the offense. I wouldn’t draft Brate as a TE1, but he makes a fine depth pick super late in most drafts.

Fiedorowicz is likely rooting for extreme game-manager Tom Savage to be the Texans opening day starter. The more games Mr. Savage starts this year, the more positive CJ’s fantasy outlook. I don’t see Deshaun Watson relying on his big TE as much since he has the skill set to air it out a bit more, which would be more ideal for DeAndre Hopkins.

Tier 9 

Charles Clay – Bills
Antonio Gates – Chargers
Jared Cook – Raiders

This kind of is the batch of ol’ creaky veteran TEs who serve as last-ditch backups at the end of a draft. I like Cook the most as far as upside. Playing with Derek Carr could possibly reignite his career considering Carr seems to favor his TEs (even if they are named Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford) and Seth Roberts in the red zone. I could see Cook being a sleeper pick for six-plus TDs.

Tier 10

O.J. Howard – Buccaneers
David Njoku – Browns
Evan Engram – Giants
Jesse James – Steelers
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Jets
Dwayne Allen – Patriots

I have been urging caution with rookie TEs the entire time and here we are – the three top rookie TEs in the same tier. Any one of them can surprise us and burst onto the scene a la Hunter Henry last year. Njoku is the one I’m most willing to take a flier on. He’s the only one that seems to fall this far in most drafts, and although he might be the rawest of the three, he’s on a rebuilding team with less competition for targets.

James could provide sneaky TD numbers if Big Ben really does make him a go-to option in the red zone. ASJ could soak up a lot of the targets Enunwa/Decker opened up, but keep in mind he is suspended for the first two games of the season. Dwayne Allen could have his share of random big games on New England this year but will be the odd man out most weeks if everyone stays healthy.