(Photo by Alan Schaefer/Icon Sportswire)
As the preseason gets underway and everyone gets hyped for the start of the 2018 NFL season, we’re ranking each and every position for you as you get ready for your drafts. Next up is the tight ends, a position like closers in baseball that can divide fantasy owners. Some choose to go in early for one of the elite tight ends, while others choose to wait until way later in the draft, picking up a mid or low tier option or even using the waiver wire on a week-to-week basis. Here I have ranked the Top 30 tight ends, and divided them up into tiers. The tiers are named after classic football movies (s/0 to Ben Palmer for the idea to have a theme when naming the tiers).
Here are our top 30 tight ends for 2018:
Tier 1: Remember the Titans
1. Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots) – Gronk has been the highest scoring fantasy tight end in three of the last four seasons, even with injuries preventing him from ever suiting up for all 16 games. Gronk’s injury history is a risk, but as long as Tom Brady is still feeding him the ball he should be the No. 1 tight end off the board.
2. Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles) – Ertz has more receptions than Gronk in each of the last three seasons. He also gets a full season from Carson Wentz next year, and won’t have to compete with Trey Burton for catches. I fully expect Ertz to match or exceed the 78 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns that he had last season, which could easily make him the No. 1 tight end when all is said and done.
3. Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs) – Kelce, unlike Gronk, has been a beacon of health over the last four seasons. However, Gronk has the reliability of a quarterback like Tom Brady, whereas Kelce will be relying on Patrick Mahomes and his one career start. Alex Smith, love him or hate him, was very very good last season. Mahomes is likely going to represent a step backward, which makes for caution around Kelce. Still, his body of work is elite enough that he’s a top three tight end unless Johnny Manziel is his QB.
Tier 2: The Blind Side
4. Delanie Walker (Tennessee Titans) – Walker has put up over 800 yards in each of the last three seasons. He’s in his mid-30’s now, but three consecutive Pro Bowls show that he hasn’t slowed down even one bit. His schedule is the fourth easiest among tight ends, and I’d expect Walker to once again eclipse 70 receptions and 800 passing yards. His three touchdowns last season was a disappointment, but an easier schedule and a strong rapport with QB Marcus Mariota should make Walker a high-end TE1, and one worth grabbing once the big three are gone.
5. Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers) – Olsen is coming off a season where he only played in seven games thanks to injury. Additionally, he only caught 17-of-38 passes, a career-low 44.7% completion rate. Olsen is a great bounce-back candidate, as he has never been injured prior to last season. However, he’s 33 years old and doesn’t seem likely to return to his 80-reception, 1,000 yard ways. I’d still venture that aging Greg Olsen is still a top-five tight end, and his injury from last season shouldn’t scare people off too much.
6. Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota Vikings) – Let’s take a two-time Pro Bowl tight end and give him a quarterback who has a reputation for making his (remarkably average) tight ends look like superstars. Then, let’s add in rumors that he might be used out of the slot more often, a la Zach Ertz. What you get is Kyle Rudolph, who has the potential to come close to his monstrous 2016 numbers: 83 receptions, 840 yards and seven touchdowns. Rudolph may carry a bit more risk than some of the names below him, but I believe his upside is high enough to warrant a spot at No. 6 among tight ends.
7. Jimmy Graham (Green Bay Packers) – On one hand, Jimmy Graham joining a Packers team that lost primary red zone target Jordy Nelson is a great thing. After all, Graham is a notorious red zone aficianado, having hauled in 10 touchdowns last year in a Seattle offense that seems to think using a tight end is as offensive as drinking Folger’s coffee. However, Green Bay has seen high-profile tight ends come in and bust before, and I’d be wary about expecting Graham to return anywhere near his elite levels in New Orleans. I think he’s probably more of a 700 yard, 6-7 touchdown kind of guy. That’s not bad at the tight end spot, but not worth breaking the bank for either.
8. Evan Engram (New York Giants) – Engram was able to haul in 64 catches for 722 yards in his first season thanks to an obscene 115 targets. With Odell Beckham back and Saquon Barkley in the fold, it’s unlikely that Engram will have that kind of usage once again. Factoring in Engram’s pedestrian 55.7% completion percentage, and you have a player who might disappoint a lot of owners next season. The raw talent is still there, and I could still see him pulling a top-ten season. I just won’t be buying him over many other safer options.
9. Jordan Reed (Washington Redskins) – Reed has only played in 18 games in the last two seasons, and while his production has been solid it’s hard to burn an early draft pick on a player with such an injury history. Alex Smith is a solid quarterback, but Cousins was excellent at finding his tight ends. Still, if Reed is healthy he’s a top 10 tight end very easily. If you’re willing to gamble on his health, he’s worth a look around pick #100 or so.
10. Trey Burton (Chicago Bears) – The hype train for Trey Burton has already left the station, after the Eagles No. 2 tight end went ahead and signed with the Bears. There’s little doubt that Burton will be a big target in Chicago, but going from Carson Wentz to Mitch Trubisky is less than ideal. Plus, Burton has never demonstrated that he can hold up for an entire season. I think he fits right around the low-end of TE1 status. If I don’t have a tight end at around pick No. 90, I’m willing to gamble on Burton’s upside. Just make sure to have a backup plan, because the floor here is fairly low.
Tier 3: Invincible
11. Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jacksonville Jaguars) – I’ll gladly admit to being bullish on ASJ, who has only played more than ten games once in his four-year career. Still, Jacksonville needed a big target up the middle, and ASJ gives them that. He is a big target in the red zone, and has the potential to score 8-10 touchdowns next season which should easily rank him in the top ten among TE. His floor is outrageously low, but a healthy ASJ is a borderline top ten TE, and I think he’s worth grabbing as a very high-end TE2.
12. Vance McDonald (Pittsburgh Steelers) – As I was writing this, the Steelers released a depth chart listing McDonald as their No. 1 tight end. That gives the veteran a huge boost on this list. He has the athleticism to excel in the open field and in the red zone in Big Ben’s offense. He carries considerable risk, but Mcdonald no doubt has top-ten upside and should be targeted as such.
13. Charles Clay (Buffalo Bills) – When it gets down to TE2’s, the single most important thing is targets. Charles Clay is an average tight end, but the Bills don’t have a ton of playmakers. Clay received a ton of targets early on last season, but his injury midseason hurt his season line. I expect Clay to get peppered with targets again this season, and although his touchdown totals may not be great his floor is high enough that I’m okay with him as a high-end TE2.
14. Jack Doyle (Indianapolis Colts) – Doyle has long played well with other tight ends, so Indy’s addition of Eric Ebron may not hinder the veteran too much. Doyle’s issue is a lack of red zone targets, which has capped him at a career-high of five touchdowns. Doyle is unlikely to see 108 targets again next season, but his steady hands should give him a high floor as a quality TE2.
15. George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers) – Kittle hauled in 43 receptions for 515 yards and a pair of touchdowns his rookie season, leaving many to salivate over his future potential. He struggled to mesh with star QB Jimmy Garoppolo however, which is worth monitoring in preseason. If the two have gelled, he could be a low-end TE1. I’m more comfortable with him squarely in the TE2 category, at least for now.
16. Jared Cook (Las Vegas Raiders) – Cook’s perceived value says a lot about a person psychologically. Optimists will say that the offseason acquisitions of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant will allow Cook to face more coverage from linebackers, which will allow Derek Carr to target him as much or possibly even more than in years past. Pessimists will say that having additional playmakers, particularly ones who are adept in the red zone, will hurt Cook’s value. I’ll let you determine your thoughts on the manner, but it does seem unlikely that Cook will see enough targets to be a TE1 next season.
Tier 4: Any Given Sunday
17. Mike Gesicki (Miami Dolphins) – Gesicki is a rookie tight end, which inherently makes him risky. He is the clear-cut No. 1 in Miami however, and they have plenty of targets to go around with Jarvis Landry and Julius Thomas both gone. Gesicki is an excellent receiver, although his blocking may hurt his playing time. He’s the epitome of high-risk, high-reward and I wouldn’t want to have to rely on him this season. He’s a nice dart-throw as a TE2 though.
18. Hayden Hurst (Baltimore Ravens) – Hurst, like Gesicki, is a high-risk simply by being a rookie tight end. However, Hurst is fortunate to be in an offense that has long favored tight ends, even pulling productive seasons out of Dennis Pitta and Ben Watson. Hurst’s freak athleticism and size make him an excellent tight end prototype, and he has the potential to be a low-end TE1 if all goes well this year. You could do worse for your TE2.
19. Jake Butt (Denver Broncos) – Butt has fully healed from the ACL injury that cost him all of 2017. Now, he has made quite the impression on his coaches in training camp, particularly in the red zone. Butt has virtually no competition for the tight end job, and Case Keenum was a big fan of finding Kyle Rudolph in the red zone last year. That adds up to a pretty tasty combination for Butt, and he’s worth a look as a TE2.
20. David Njoku (Cleveland Browns) – Njoku did a lot with 60 targets last season, earning 386 yards and four touchdowns. The problem is that Cleveland’s offense will need to incorporate Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon in the passing game, while being run-heavy. Factor in tenuous quarterback play and you have a player with a mid-level ceiling and a very, very low floor. I’ll pass on him at his current ADP.
21. Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals) – Eifert was an absolute monster back in 2015, but since then he has only played in 10 games and caught just 31 passes. He was targeted by exactly nobody in free agency this year, and limps back to a Cincinnati offense that will revolve primarily around the running game. I wouldn’t want Eifert and his injury-riddled past as anything more than a dart-throw TE2. Even then, there are more appealing options.
22. Eric Ebron (Indianapolis Colts) – The Colts use two tight end sets at the second-highest rate in the league, which means that even with Jack Doyle in the fold Ebron could hold some fantasy relevance. He was a bust in Detroit, but Ebron is just 25 and still holds some fantasy upside. He’s a high-risk, high-reward TE that I’d be willing to snap up as a TE2, particularly if I had a safe TE1.
23. and 24. Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – If either of these players were the clear-cut No.1 one on their team, they would almost certainly be a TE1. However, as long as they are battling for touches they’ll be low-end TE2’s on my list. If either of them were to go down with an injury, the other would be elevated to around 9-12. Keep that in mind heading into draft day, but right now I’d rather take a TE with a job all to himself than one splitting duties.
Tier 5: The Replacements (heh)
25. Ben Watson (New Orleans Saints) – Watson has been reunited with QB Drew Brees, where he posted an excellent 74-825-6 line in 2015. Of course, he missed all of 2016 with an injury and is almost 38 years old. Watson is the front-runner for the No. 1 tight end job over Coby Fleener, but his age and injury history make him a risky option.
26. Rico Gathers (Dallas Cowboys) – The Cowboys have virtually no depth at tight end, which gives Gathers the upper hand at the position despite his lack of experience. Gathers is huge and has soft hands, which make him an appealing option to catch passes from Dak Prescott. His lack of experience makes him extremely risky however, and he’s not worth a roster spot in standard formats. He is a name worth keeping an eye on, however.
27. Gerald Everett (Los Angeles Rams) – Everett is the No. 1 tight end in a high-octane offense, which gives him some intrigue. However, the Rams spread the ball around a bunch, which makes his floor on any given week extremely low. He is a former second round pick, giving him more upside than most of the tight ends outside of the top 20.
28. Austin Hooper (Atlanta Falcons) – Hooper had 49 receptions for 526 yards and three touchdowns last season. He doesn’t seem likely to acquire any more targets next season, especially now that they’ve added Calvin Ridley. Hooper has a higher floor than most of the high-risk tight ends outside of the top 20, so if you are looking for stability at the end of the draft he might be your guy.
29. Luke Willson (Detroit Lions) – The Lions replaced the disappointing Eric Ebron with hometown hero Luke Willson. Willson, who grew up a Lions fan, is the clear-cut No. 1 in Detroit. However, the Lions have struggled to incorporate tight ends into their offense, and Willson doesn’t have the skillset to be anything more than a bye week plug-in.
30. Stephen Anderson (Houston Texans) – The Texans have a schedule built for success against tight ends this year, but there is not a clear-cut starter at the position yet. If Anderson wins the job, which he seems like the most likely candidate, he could have value in deeper formats. Still, even if he is the top dog in Houston he’s a TE2 at best.