Today, I’ll be concluding my series on off-season top 10 rankings with the tight end position. Tight end as a whole is actually fairly deep coming into 2016. No longer is it Gronkowski and then a bunch of players. From exciting player with upside to veterans without the sizzle, owners will have no problem finding a starter on draft day.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots- Gronk continues to be one of the easiest players to rank in fantasy. His role in his offense is secure, he’s an annual threat to lead the NFL in touchdowns and he has Tom Brady as his QB. Brady may still yet have to serve a suspension for his role in DeflateGate, which would bring Gronk closer to the rest of the pack at TE. Even though he is the consensus number one TE, you can read why he is constantly over drafted here.
2. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins- Despite only playing in 14 games, Reed enjoyed a breakout season in 2015. He finished top five among TEs in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He and QB Kirk Cousins have a fantastic connection. WR DeSean Jackson missed a huge chunk of the season and if Jackson can be healthy for 2016, that will open up even more space for Reed to operate. Injuries are always a concern with Reed, but he is more than worth a high pick. A savvy owner would make sure to draft a tight end with upside late as an insurance policy.
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3. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans- Walker was the most reliable weapon on the Titans’ offense in 2015, and that won’t change in 2016. WR Dorial Green-Beckham is most likely one more year away from being a true number one option. Walker led TE in receptions and was third in yards and will continue to be a security blanket for QB Marcus Mariota. He could easily see an uptick in touchdowns, only scoring six last season. Walker is a very strong option at TE for 2016.
4. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers- The Panthers’ passing game looked like it would really struggle when WR Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL in training camp. QB Cam Newton went on to have a career year, with Olsen being a main focus. He was one of four TEs to finish top five in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Carolina has an excellent play action passing game which Olsen thrives on. Even with the return of Benjamin and the hopeful growth of WR Devin Funchess, Olsen will be a safe bet as a top five TE.
5. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals- Eifert led all TEs in touchdowns in 2015. While he most likely will not score 13 TDs again, he is a safe bet to increase his receptions and yardage. The Bengals could lose both WRs Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, which would make Eifert the clear number two target for QB Andy Dalton. He has battled injuries his entire career so far, but at 25 years old he could easily breakout to an even higher level next season.
6. Gary Barnidge, Cleveland Browns- Through six seasons, Barnidge had a total of 44 receptions. He came completely and totally out of left field for 79 receptions and a top five finish among TE. Having this type of season so late in his career makes it hard to predict what kind of production he’ll have next season. Barnidge will once again have QB issues, but two factors do work in his favor. New Head Coach Hue Jackson just had Tyler Eifert last season, and will try to keep Barnidge heavily involved. Secondly, WR Josh Gordon appears to be close to being reinstated from suspension. Barnidge will once again be a top 10 option at TE.
7. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs- The Kansas City passing offense is far from exciting, and Kelce is no exception. Kelce drew 103 targets, or 21.9 percent of all passing attempts. The offense just isn’t set up to force Kelce into a monster year for fantasy purposes. His QB Alex Smith is a steady QB, but does Kelce no favors in fantasy. His ceiling seems to be somewhere around 70 receptions, 850 yards and around 6 TDs. He is definitely a very useful piece, but should be drafted towards the back half of the top 10, not the front half.
8. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers- It’s impressive that Gates had such a good season since he missed five games and the Chargers were ravaged by injuries in the second half. He totaled over 50 receptions and 500+ yards. At 35 years old, he could see a massive drop in production at any time. At this stage of the rankings, every tight end is going to have some major questions. Regardless if Gates is back in San Diego or elsewhere, he can be a nice low end starter if you choose to not draft TE until late.
9. Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars- Thomas suffered a finger injury early in preseason, requiring surgery and really hampering his chemistry with QB Blake Bortles. The Jaguar offense is young and on the rise, and Thomas will be a big piece moving forward. Bortles needs to improve his completion percentage and cut down on his interceptions. Thomas can be a big help on short to intermediate routes while WRs Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns stretch the field deep. Look past his 2015 stats and snag Thomas to be a starter in 2016.
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10. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles- Another example of pre-season surgery having a big effect on a player, Ertz started extremely slow. Through his first seven games, he only totaled 270 yards with zero TDs. He and QB Sam Bradford really clicked in the last four games of the season, where Ertz totaled 450 yards and one TD. The Eagles recently re-signed Bradford, which should benefit Ertz immensely. He also signed a large contract extension, making him the fourth highest paid TE in the NFL. Expect an increase in his two touchdowns from last season, making Ertz another high upside pick for the 2016 season.
The options for a starting tight end are deeper than they have been for a few years, especially in the PPR format. Even if you miss out on one of the top five guys, it is easy to find one later in the draft and load up at other positions.