Welcome to the 2019 fantasy football preseason! It’s exciting and awesome and I know I can’t wait for the season to start.
As the preseason goes on, we’ve been doing various rankings. Check out our quarterback, running back, and wide receiver rankings if you haven’t! Here, I’ll be ranking the top 25 tight ends for fantasy this year. So let’s get into it!
Also, just for fun, I’ve named the four tiers after The Smiths’ four albums, in the order that I prefer them (and I’m not including Hatful of Hollow or Louder Than Bombs since they’re compilation albums).
Tier 1: Strangeways, Here We Come
1. Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs) – It’s hard not to rank Travis Kelce as the top tight end given how consistently excellent he’s been over the years. Last year, he had one of the best seasons you could’ve possibly asked for out of the tight end position, with 103 catches for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns, ultimately ranking 10th in the NFL in catches and receiving yards. Kelce also had the second-best receiving score, per Pro Football Focus, of 90.3, and had the second-highest Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) at 196. Now, I know plenty of people are expecting Patrick Mahomes to regress some this year, and I don’t blame them, but even if he does, Kelce will still almost certainly put up elite tight end numbers. Will he have the year he had last year? No, I don’t think so. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility, and regardless, Kelce is an elite fantasy option.
2. Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles) – I really really danced between putting Ertz second and putting George Kittle second, because I’m a big Kittle fan this year (and I’ll explain why soon), but I ended up going with Ertz because I think he’s the safer play of the two. Why? Because he is so heavily involved in the Eagles’ offense. Last year, Ertz saw 154 targets, which was the most of any tight end in football, and that translated into 116 catches for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns. If there’s anyone in these tight end rankings that has a really high floor, it’s Ertz. That involvement in the offense meant he finished outside the top 12 of tight ends just once last year. Now, I don’t think he’s as good of a receiver as someone like Kittle or Kelce (his PFF receiving score was 79.1, eighth-best in the league, and his 93 DYAR was also eighth-best in the league), but there’s something to be said for heavy volume.
3. George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers) – Speaking of George Kittle, I’m a big fan of this guy because he flashed some supreme skills last year, finishing the season with 88 catches for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns. Now, his season last year was a bit of a rollercoaster, with 11 top-10 finishes and four weeks finishing outside the top-13 (including two weeks finishing outside the top-20), but the skills are undeniable. He led the position in DYAR with 207, and had a 90.4 PFF receiving score, also top in the NFL among tight ends. It’s also important to remember that Kittle didn’t have Jimmy Garoppolo for a large portion of the year, and he’ll have him back this season, which could mean Kittle could be in for an even better season. The skills are definitely there, we’ll just have to see if they translate into fantasy production.
Tier 2: The Queen is Dead
4. Evan Engram (New York Giants) – I’m actually a pretty big Evan Engram fan, and have been for a long time. I was hyped about him in his rookie season and last season, though last season was a pretty big disappointment given his injuries. However, he’s healthy now, and the Giants are quickly running out of receiving options, having lost Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns, and losing Corey Coleman to an ACL tear and Sterling Shepard to a fractured thumb. Not to mention Golden Tate received a four-game suspension, though he’s appealing that, and based on his statement, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s successful. Still, Engram is quickly looking like the Giants’ best receiving option (or maybe their only receiving option), and while Eli Manning isn’t exactly an incredible quarterback, I could easily see Engram getting a good amount of volume, as he did in his rookie season.
5. O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – O.J. Howard is an impressive talent, and I loved him coming out of the draft. He didn’t do much of anything in his rookie season, and missed six games last season, but when he was out there, he was good. Considering he only played 10 games last year, a five-touchdown season is very respectable. Howard recorded the third-highest PFF receiving score among tight ends last year with 90 and the third-best DYAR among tight ends with 169. A full season of Howard could easily produce good TE1 value, especially considering he also saw the third-highest average depth of target last season among tight ends. Health is obviously a concern, but I’m hopeful he can stick around and show off his talent.
6. Hunter Henry (Los Angeles Chargers) – I’m kind of low on Hunter Henry compared to others. I worry about his risk because we really don’t know what he’s going to look like in a full season. He’s coming back from a torn ACL (and fortunately has had a lot of time to recover), but between that last year and Antonio Gates sapping value from him in previous years, it’s hard to know exactly what Henry will bring. Now, there’s no doubt he’s talented, and he showed that in 2017, with seven top-12 finishes, including four top-10 finishes. Plus, Gates is finally gone, so Henry has the job to himself. There’s no doubt his ceiling is quite high, but I tend to be a more conservative fantasy player, and I do worry about the risk associated with Henry. If you want to take him over someone like Howard or Engram, I don’t blame you.
7. Jared Cook (New Orleans Saints) – Jared Cook just keeps on ticking man, and he continues to be relatively useful (although somewhat volatile) in fantasy. Last year was one of the most consistent years Cook has posted in a long time, with 68 catches for 896 yards and six touchdowns. He also finished the year with the fifth-best PFF receiving rating of the position at 81.4, and the fifth-best DYAR among tight ends at 146. He’s still got skills, and now he’s in a better offense on the Saints. While the Saints don’t pass as much as they used to, having Drew Brees as your quarterback is undeniably better than having Derek Carr under center. One of the downsides to the Saints’ offense, however, is the abundance of offensive options. Cook isn’t going to unseat Michael Thomas or Alvin Kamara as one of the Saints’ top offensive options, so there’s a bit of risk for Cook, but given what he did last year and the new situation he’s in, he’s got some good potential.
8. Vance McDonald (Pittsburgh Steelers) – With Jesse James finally gone, we may actually get to see a full season of Vance McDonald, and given that McDonald showed some upside last year with four top-10 finishes at the position, that could be exciting. Not to mention that the departure of Antonio Brown could mean some more targets are heading McDonald’s way. I do have some concerns about McDonald’s receiving skills, considering he finished 17th in the position in DYAR with 51 and finished 29th in PFF’s receiving score among tight ends with 69.6. Still, given he’s the top option in Pittsburgh and could see a decent number of targets, he could definitely be a low-end TE1 this year.
9. Eric Ebron (Indianapolis Colts) – Every year since he was drafted everyone was talking about how this was gonna be Eric Ebron’s year. And it never was. Until last year when he joined the Colts and finished the season with 66 catches on 108 targets for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns. Ebron became one of the top red zone targets for Andrew Luck and also benefitted from Jack Doyle missing time with injury. Now, there’s definitely plenty of risk to Ebron, because Doyle is back and healthy, and the Colts have added Devin Funchess who could snag some red zone targets from Ebron. But the guy is still likely to be one of Luck’s favorite red zone targets, and that’s a good thing for any receiver to be. However, that could mean Ebron’s season could be pretty volatile and touchdown-dependent, but there’s no doubt that he can be a top-10 tight end.
10. Austin Hooper (Atlanta Falcons) – Austin Hooper has a ton of upside, and he’s shown that plenty of times, with seven top-10 finishes last year, including four in the top-five. However, his floor is pretty low too, as he had five finishes outside the top-20 last year. Still, the Falcons have a good offense, and if you need a tight end, you could do a lot worse than Hooper. There’s going to be ups and downs, but the highs are likely to be pretty high, and with some luck, he might be able to maintain a little consistency this year.
11. David Njoku (Cleveland Browns) – I’ve always kind of liked David Njoku, but last season was a bit of a rollercoaster, as he had five top-10 finishes and six weeks finishing outside the top-25. He also had a fairly disappointing 65.3 PFF receiving score (44th at the position) and -63 DYAR (sixth-worst at the position). However, Njoku is in a completely revamped and heavily hyped Cleveland Browns offense, with Baker Mayfield entering his sophomore season and new additions Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt (eventually), not to mention Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb, both of whom were excellent last year. Now, that’s both a good and bad thing, because a talented offense means Njoku could see defenses focus heavily on guys like Beckham and Landry, but it also means there could be fewer opportunities for Njoku to produce. Clearly there’s some upside here, as he showed last season, but the floor could be pretty low too.
12. Trey Burton (Chicago Bears) – Burton had a nice little breakout last season, finishing the year with 54 catches for 569 yards and six touchdowns in a season that saw four top-10 finishes including a number one finish in Week 7. The Bears offense is getting better, as is Mitchell Trubisky, and as a result, I could see Burton having a similar season this year to the one he had last year (which saw him finish as the eighth-best tight end in PPR scoring). If you need a tight end late in drafts, you could do worse than Burton.
Tier 3: The Smiths
13. Delanie Walker (Tennessee Titans) – He’s 35-years-old, but he just keeps on going. Last year was a lost year for Delanie Walker, as he suffered a pretty rough leg injury, but similar to the guy I’m ranking next, Walker strikes me as an interesting high-floor, low-ceiling kind of guy. The Titans have improved their offense some, and I don’t think Marcus Mariota is going to have to target Walker as much as he has in the past (he saw 104 targets in 2017 and 96 in 2016), however Walker is still a good tight end, and could be an interesting TE2 if you need it.
14. Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota Vikings) – While Kyle Rudolph’s upside is a bit limited, he’s safe, and I like that (if that’s what you’re looking for in a tight end). He’s finished as a top-10 tight end each of the last three seasons, and while I don’t think he’ll be a top-10 tight end this year (just because there’s a good bit of emerging talent at the position), I think he could be an interesting high-floor option. If your team is full of high-ceiling, low-floor guys, he might be able to balance our team a bit late in drafts.
15. Jack Doyle (Indianapolis Colts) – If Jack Doyle had the tight end job to himself, he’d absolutely be a TE1 for me, but he’s sharing the gig with Eric Ebron, who had quite the emergence last year. Not to mention Doyle missed the vast majority of the season (all but seven games) due to injury. However, as Doyle showed in 2017, he’s got top-10 upside, but I think a good number of his targets are going to be going to Ebron (especially red zone targets) and that limits Doyle’s upside a bit. However, if Ebron goes down, Doyle’s stock goes way up.
16. Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers) – At age 34, Greg Olsen isn’t quite the top-tier tight end he used to be, and considering he’s missed good chunks of both last year and the year before with injury, he’s a bit of a risky play. His ceiling is fairly low, but it’s worth noting that he had two top-10 finishes last year, so there’s some value to be had.
17. Jordan Reed (Washington Redskins) – I have been fooled by Jordan Reed over and over and over again, and this year, I’m not buying it. Reed has immense talent, if you came from the future and told me Jordan Reed played a full season this year and was 100% healthy, I’d probably rank him as a top-10 tight end, almost certainly, but that’s just not happened with him. He’s worth paying attention to, given his upside, and if you want to draft him in a deeper league as a second tight end option, I don’t blame you, but I’m going to have to see it to believe it first.
18. Jimmy Graham (Green Bay Packers) – Jimmy Graham isn’t what he once was, and it seems like he’s just not a very good tight end anymore. Last year, he was tied at the position for the 69th-worst PFF receiving grade at 59.6 and also posted a measly 4 DYAR, good for 28th-best among tight ends. Sure, he can produce, he did have five top-10 finishes after all, but he also saw seven finishes outside the top-20, including four outside the top-35. It’s great being on the Packers’ offense, obviously, and you can’t ask for a much better quarterback to throw you the ball than Aaron Rodgers, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much here for Graham.
19. Mark Andrews (Baltimore Ravens) – Mark Andrews is an interesting dart throw this year. It looks like the Ravens are going to put Nick Boyle at the fullback position, which means Andrews will probably have most of the tight end targets (unless the Ravens actually decide to use Hayden Hurst, which would be nice). Andrews posted the 11th-best PFF receiving score among tight ends at 78, and posted the fourth-best DYAR among tight ends at 159, both of which are really intriguing. However, who knows what this Ravens offense is going to look like. Lamar Jackson showed he’s going to run the ball a ton, and I think the Ravens offense is also going to run the ball a ton, whether with Jackson or Mark Ingram, but if the Ravens decide to pass the ball more, Andrews could see some targets. Given that the top receiver on the Ravens will likely be Willie Snead since John Brown and Michael Crabtree are gone, Andrews could easily emerge as an interesting option if the Ravens decide to throw more. But that’s a big if. And that’s not even mentioning the risk that Hurst shows up and supplants Andrews. I’m not saying that’s likely, but it could happen.
20. Chris Herndon (New York Jets) – I’d typically have Chris Herndon higher in these rankings if he wasn’t spending the first four games of the seasons suspended, because I’m a fan of his talent. He had the ninth-best PFF receiving score among tight ends at 78.7, and flashed some upside last year with four top-10 finishes. Now with Adam Gase and the addition of Le’Veon Bell, the Jets’ offense will hopefully look better (and so will Sam Darnold), but with a four-game suspension and the uncertainty of the Jets’ offense, it’s hard to trust Herndon. Keep an eye on him though.
Tier 4: Meat is Murder
21. Noah Fant (Denver Broncos) – Fant was a talented tight end during his time at Iowa, and now with the Denver Broncos, he has a shot to produce. Rookie tight ends rarely end up being fantasy assets, but as a flier, Fant is interesting. Joe Flacco has shown in the past that he loves throwing to his tight end, so Fant could see a good bit of work. Fant also showed he could be a bit of a tough matchup for defenders, posting a solid 4.50 40-yard dash time to go along with his 6’4″, 249-pound frame. All that being said, I’m not anticipating the Broncos’ offense exactly being a high-flying offense, so there’s definitely plenty of risk here.
22. T.J. Hockenson (Detroit Lions) – Speaking of rookie tight ends, T.J. Hockenson is another guy who’s kind of interesting. He’s a similar build to Fant, though not quite as fast, and proved to be a pretty solid receiver during his time at Iowa. Depending on how the Lions’ offense looks without Jim Bob Cooter, we’ll see how much of a workload Hockenson gets. On the one hand, I could see Matthew Stafford dumping all kinds of short passes to him, but on the other hand, we all remember the four years of Eric Ebron disappointment we had in Detroit. This is a different team and a different offense than when Ebron was in Detroit, but still. Hockenson has a decent bit of upside, but that will all depend on how he’s used.
23. Gerald Everett (Los Angeles Rams) – When you’re down this low in the rankings, you’re looking for opportunity, and looking towards a starting tight end in a high-octane offense isn’t a bad idea. Everett is exactly that, likely the primary tight end over Tyler Higbee (I think), Everett surprisingly ended up with a pretty high PFF receiving grade of 79.7 last year, good for seventh-best in the position. The Rams are certainly a great offense, but that does mean there are plenty of mouths to feed, which could work against Everett. However, the Rams will be in the red zone a lot, and Everett did end up with three touchdowns last year.
24. Mike Gesicki (Miami Dolphins) – If you’re drafting Mike Gesicki, you’re probably in a deep two-tight end league. Gesicki has the job at the tight end position, and there’s something to be said for that in fantasy, but as he showed last year, he’s not the best receiver, posting a -70 DYAR, tied for the third-worst in the league, and a pretty sad 54 PFF receiving grade. Still, there’s opportunity here, plus the potential he could improve in his second season. He’ll get you something, which, this low in the rankings, is about all you can hope for.
25. Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals) – Eifert is another guy who has shown solid fantasy potential over the years but has had all kinds of trouble staying healthy, only playing in 16 games over the past three seasons. If he were fully healthy, he’d be a pretty interesting tight end option, but the odds of that are slim. This low in the tight end rankings, you’re just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping it sticks, and that’s exactly what you’d be doing with Eifert.
(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)