Summary: As tight end is a “onesie” position in most leagues – like at quarterback, you’re only required to start one each week – production expectations must be especially elevated for tight ends to be worth early-round fantasy picks. Gronk, Kelce, and to a lesser extent Ertz are the only tight ends who meet this criteria, forming a small first tier. Gronk hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2011, yet he 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 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 Gronk and Kelce, Ertz’s floor is ultimately high enough that I think he belongs.
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Summary: This is the tier I’ve targeted most in early best-ball drafts, ideally emerging with two members of this group. 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 TD upside. 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 weak Carolina pass-catcher corps. The Chargers appear to have moved on from Antonio Gates, positioning Henry for a breakout season. Engram probably 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. Engram could jump into tier one if Beckham gets dealt. Walker has been a model of consistency, topping 800 yards in four straight years. I expect the Titans’ offense to take a big 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 unit.
Summary: These are risky tight ends with high-end TE1 upside but concerning health or target volume. 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. 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 deal, so Howard and Brate will likely limit each other’s target ceilings. Doyle’s target ceiling could be limited by Eric Ebron’s addition.
Trey Burton (TE15) > George Kittle (TE16) > Jared Cook (TE17) > Jason Witten (TE18) > Charles Clay (TE19) > Austin Hooper (TE20) > Vance McDonald (TE21) > Eric Ebron (TE22) > Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE23) > David Njoku (TE24) > Ricky Seals-Jones (TE25)
Summary: These tight ends are capable of flirting with TE1 value but are best approached as TE2s. Burton, Kittle, Seferian-Jenkins, and Njoku are young tight ends who need to overcome timeshare threats in Adam Shaheen, Garrett Celek, Niles Paul, and Seth DeValve, respectively. Cook is a big-play threat and set a career high with 54 receptions in his first year as a Raider, but he has never scored touchdowns. Clay and Witten are boring vets with low ceilings whose fantasy value largely stems from their job security. After a slow sophomore year, Hooper is a third-year leap candidate who can be had cheaply in drafts. 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 the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Converted WR Seals-Jones flashed big-play chops as an undrafted rookie and is expected to play an expanded role in Arizona’s thin pass-catcher corps.
Coby Fleener (TE26) > Vernon Davis (TE27) > Adam Shaheen (TE28) > Luke Willson (TE29) > Tyler Kroft (TE30) > Gerald Everett (TE31) > Mike Gesicki (TE32) > Mark Andrews (TE33) > Dallas Goedert (TE34) > Stephen Anderson (TE35) > Martellus Bennett (TE36) > Ed Dickson (TE37) > Michael Roberts (TE38) > MarQueis Gray (TE39) > Antonio Gates (TE40) > Julius Thomas (TE41) > Tyler Higbee (TE42) > Seth DeValve (TE43) > Maxx Williams (TE44) > Jake Butt (TE45) > Jonnu Smith (TE46) > Ryan Griffin (TE47) > Niles Paul (TE48) > Nick Boyle (TE49) > Nick Vannett (TE50) > Jesse James (TE51) > Lance Kendricks (TE52) > Rico Gathers (TE53) > Erik Swoope (TE54)
Summary: The rest of the tight ends worth monitoring, most of whom would likely need an injury to a teammate to truly become relevant.