I’ve been playing in best-ball leagues for years, and began posting tiers specific to best-ball strategy this offseason. These tiers are adjusted for DRAFT’s 0.5 PPR scoring system. Different from season long, your best-ball responsibilities are finished as soon as each draft ends. No trades, no waiver wire, no lineup setting to worry about. You draft deep rosters to compensate for injuries and byes, and your best scores are auto-picked each week. You can sign up at DRAFT here and start playing in some Best Ball Leagues of your own.
Summary: As tight end is a “onesie” position in most leagues – like at quarterback, you’re only required to start one each week – box-score expectations must be especially elevated for tight ends to be worth early-round fantasy picks. (We should be selecting at least two, and ideally three in best-ball drafts.) There are only three tight ends in the league that meet that tier-one criteria. Gronkowski hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2011, yet he’s finished as a top-two tight end in five of the past seven years. Kelce has topped 80 catches in back-to-back seasons. The Chiefs’ quarterback change to Pat Mahomes increases Kelce’s volatility, but he maintains an overall TE1 ceiling on a Kansas City team that looks explosive on offense but has backslid precipitously on defense. Ertz hovered in the 74-78 catch range with 816-853 yards in each of the past three years. He took a big 2017 step via touchdowns (8) after never topping four TDs in a previous season, so it’s fair to wonder if Ertz scored a bit above his head. I went back and forth on Ertz as a true first-tier tight end. Although he lacks the ceiling of Gronkowski and Kelce, Ertz’s floor is ultimately high enough that I think he belongs.
Summary: This is the tier I’ve targeted most in early best-ball drafts, ideally emerging with two members of this group. Olsen is 33 and was up and down after returning from a Jones fracture in his foot last year, but he is set up for heavy volume in a shaky Carolina pass-catcher corps. Graham showed signs of decline in Seattle by averaging 24.0 yards over the final eight games, and he turns 32 late this season. Still, joining an Aaron Rodgers-quarterbacked offense gives Graham immense touchdown upside. Engram won’t see 115 targets again with Odell Beckham back, but he should be more efficient after managing a lowly 55.7% catch rate as a rookie. Walker has been a model of consistency, topping 800 yards in four straight years. I expect the Titans’ offense to take a step forward. Adam Thielen’s 2017 emergence contributed to Rudolph seeing 51 fewer targets than the year before, but Rudolph has been a reliable touchdown scorer, and Kirk Cousins should upgrade Minnesota’s passing game as a whole.
Summary: These are riskier or lower-ceiling tight ends with health or target concerns. Eric Ebron’s addition is a concern for Doyle’s targets, although Doyle remains a safer pick from a health standpoint than the two tight ends behind him, and a high ceiling if Andrew Luck gets healthy. Reed has missed 35% of his career games and could conceivably retire at a moment’s notice considering his concussion history. Albeit for good reason, Reed’s draft cost has fallen into the double-digit rounds. Same goes for Eifert, who missed a frightening 63% of the Bengals’ games in the past four years. Now medically cleared, Eifert re-signed with Cincinnati on a one-year, prove-it deal. Signed for $8 million per year by the Bears, Burton offers breakout appeal as a catch-first slot tight end in Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich’s spread-style attack. Howard scored six TDs as a rookie and looked ready to explode down the stretch before an ankle injury cut his season short. The Bucs re-signed Brate to a six-year, $41 million contract, so Howard and Brate figure to cap each other’s ceilings. Kittle flashed as a rookie and is a sophomore breakout candidate with Jimmy Garoppolo. Clay’s upside is limited in an anemic offense, but he will push to lead Buffalo in targets.
Summary: These tight ends are capable of flirting with low-end TE1 value but are best approached as TE2s. Seam-stretcher Cooks set a career high with 54 receptions in his first year as a Raider, but he has never scored touchdowns and has steep target competition in Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, and Martavis Bryant. Hooper’s third-year breakout candidacy was damaged by the Falcons’ first-round addition of Calvin Ridley. McDonald battled a knee injury in his first season with the Steelers, but he was the team’s primary receiving tight end over Jesse James when healthy and led Pittsburgh with a whopping 16 targets in January’s playoff loss. Converted WR Seals-Jones flashed big-play chops as an undrafted rookie and will play an expanded role in Arizona’s thin pass-catcher corps. Ebron’s usage is as unclear as his new quarterback’s health. Frustratingly underutilized by Hue Jackson as a rookie, Njoku enters year two vying for targets behind Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon in what should be a run-first, Tyrod Taylor-quarterbacked offense. Seferian-Jenkins joined a crowded pass-catcher corps on the run-heavy Jags. Rookie tight ends usually struggle, but Gesicki is a freak athlete with immediate opportunity.
Ben Watson (TE25) > Adam Shaheen (TE26) > Virgil Green (TE27) > Hayden Hurst (TE28) > Vernon Davis (TE29) > Luke Willson (TE30) > Michael Roberts (TE31) > Gerald Everett (TE32) > Ed Dickson (TE33) > Tyler Higbee (TE34) > Tyler Kroft (TE35) > Niles Paul (TE36) > Stephen Anderson (TE37) > Jesse James (TE38) > Jonnu Smith (TE39) > Clive Walford (TE40) > Nick Vannett (TE41) > Rico Gathers (TE42)
Summary: The rest of the tight ends worth monitoring and/or considering as TE3s in the final round of best-ball drafts.