We can give thanks to the likes of Bill Belichick and Sean Payton for making the tight end a more relevant position in fantasy football. I recall when Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both came to the Patriots in 2010 and both were ranked fairly low in their first two years because nobody knew which one would produce more fantasy points. Turns out, in today's NFL, that more than one TE can be a fantasy star on one team. Belichick knows more than anybody that the NFL game is all about matchups. When you have multiple athletic giants as passing targets, the defense, filled with mostly less than six foot defensive backs, will have a very difficult time matching up with them. Currently, there are very few TE "superstars" available in fantasy football, but with the rest of the league catching up to the trend of having a dynamic playmaker at the position, there will soon be much more to choose from. I will highlight a few that could be coming into the league with this rookie class.
Tier 1 - This is the elite tier for prospects that have the talent to be ranked around the top five TEs throughout most of their careers. In my pre-draft rankings, I had one player deserving of this rank, and that continues with these rankings after the draft.
1. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 1
If we are searching for the next Jimmy Graham, who better than the athletic, "move" prospect that enters an offense that will be run by Joe Lombardi, who served as the offensive assistant for Graham's Saints. Although not as strong and dynamic as Graham, Ebron will be utilized in the same way and should see plenty of targets as teams still place major focus on shutting down Calvin Johnson.
Tier 2 - This tier is designated for the prospects that have the talent to be ranked consistently in the mid- to lower-TE1 rankings during the prime years of their career.
2. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 3
ASJ enters an amazing situation where he should be able to start immediately with only Brandon Myers, Tom Crabtree, and Tim Wright as the only other prominent TEs on the roster. With Josh McCown at QB, I can see ASJ putting up similar numbers to what Martellus Bennett produced in Chicago last year with McCown under center. He will by no means dominate in targets with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans in the fold, but he should score a lot of touchdowns as a major threat in the red zone.
3. Jace Amaro, New York Jets -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 4
Amaro also lands in a very favorable situation as he should be the #2 receiving option behind Eric Decker starting week 1. When healthy last year, the 6'5 David Nelson was the security blanket for Geno Smith. If Geno is the starter, I can see Amaro taking over that role and receive plenty of targets from the young QB. Even if Vick is named the starter, the Jets are still fairly weak at the WR similar to Vick's situation in Atlanta where TE Algae Crumpler was his favorite target. With a roster overflowing with smaller WRs such as Jeremy Kerley, Clyde Gates, Greg Salas, Jacoby Ford, Jalen Saunders, and Shaq Evans, Amaro should also benefit with more touchdowns as being the most suitable red zone threat currently on the roster.
Tier 3 - This tier contains the group of players that will likely not be drafted in any redraft leagues but possess skills that could merit a mid-season pickup. They will likely be ranked in the TE2 range for the majority of their careers.
4. CJ Fiedorowicz, Houston Texans -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 7
Bill O'Brien wants to run a similar offense to what he had in New England when he was the offensive coordinator. He wants players that are versatile so that they can be used in many different ways. Fiedorowicz will play the Gronk role as the in-line starting TE in the Houston offense. He is a much better blocker than Ryan Griffin and Garrett Graham will be the "move" TE. If the Texans can fortify their right tackle position, CJF will not have to stay in-line blocking as much and can get out in passing routes. No matter who the starting QB ends up being in Houston, the TEs should be heavily utilized in the game plans every week.
5. Troy Niklas, Arizona Cardinals -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 5
Niklas, with some development, should be exactly what Bruce Arians is looking for in a TE. They've tried to fill that void, bringing in Jake Ballard and John Carlson, but none are as potentially dynamic as Niklas. He is very raw since he started his career at Notre Dame as a defensive end before converting to TE. His elite trait will be his physicality. He knows how to use his body to separate from defenders and should be an asset in blocking. If he can develop quickly enough to get on the field this year, he could flourish with Carson Palmer if he's not strictly relegated to staying in-line blocking.
6. Jake Murphy, Oakland Raiders -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 6
I said in the pre-draft rankings article that Murphy was one of my favorite sleepers of this class. Oakland drafted both Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa in last year's draft. Rivera is the more athletic, "move" TE and Kasa is strictly a blocking TE. Murphy could see the field plenty because of his versatility. He can block and is athletic enough to work in an H-back role. He his a perfect fit for Matt Schaub, who has been infatuated with heavily targeting tight ends throughout his career.
7. Colt Lyerla, Unsigned -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 2
Currently, there has been no team that has made the leap of faith to bring Lyerla in for a tryout. I still assume that someone will give him an opportunity, and when that happens, he will rocket back up toward the top of the rankings. He is the most dynamic athlete of this class. It would be a shame if we witness an immensely talented player not get to display that talent at the highest level because of maturity issues, but he wouldn't be the first and certainly not the last.
8. Joe Don Duncan, Unsigned -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 8
Duncan going undrafted was a surprise, but still being unsigned to a UDFA contract has me extremely confused. I assume that the hamstring injury is still holding him back. He is a good athlete that worked mainly in the slot at Dixie State. Shortly after the draft, he was negotiating with the Patriots but fell through. According to a report, he is now headed to Indianapolis to try out and might get signed to a contract soon. If that ends up being his landing spot, look for Duncan to start pushing Coby Fleener for the "move" TE role in the next few years.
Tier 4 - This tier is comprised of the deep prospects that have the abilities to make a roster but would need quick development or unforeseen circumstances, like injuries, to occur to get significant playing time.
9. Rob Blanchflower, Pittsburgh Steelers -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 10
Blanchflower enters Pittsburgh with only David Paulson to battle for the utility TE role. This role has not been used much in the more traditional Pittsburgh offense, but after losing Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders in consecutive years, the Steelers may be forced to implement the utility TE to get enough legitimate receiving threats on the field.
10. Crockett Gillmore, Baltimore Ravens -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 9
I should've seen this fit coming once Kubiak got hired as the new Ravens' Offensive Coordinator. He loves his TEs from Colorado State or Wisconsin. Gillmore looks to take the Garrett Graham route of developing for a couple years under Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels before he will get his opportunity. He does not possess any elite traits but is solid in all areas and will be a great fit in Kubiak's offense.
11. Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 13
The Packers went into the draft needing a TE. They drafted Rodgers, but I don't thing he is the answer just yet. Rodgers is a good athlete, but he needs time to develop. He will likely be behind Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick on the depth chart, and the Packers are still clinging to hope that Jermichael Finley will be able to return. It should take a few years for Rodgers to become fantasy relevant.
12. Justin Jones, New England Patriots -- Pre-Draft Ranking - Honorable Mention
Jones is a project that is worth monitoring because of where he landed. The Patriots TE position is fairly weak behind Gronk. They were expected to draft another TE but instead, waited until the undrafted free agent process to find their guy. They should've been very confident that Jones would still be there after being ruled academically ineligible to play his senior year and had to sit out the whole year. He is a height/weight/speed project that is worth monitoring if he gets on the field into this potent offense.
13. Arthur Lynch, Miami Dolphins -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 11
Lynch enters a Miami offense whose starting TE is a also a fullback. Charles Clay was thrust into the starting TE position because of the inability of any of the other young TEs to step up. Lynch could get that opportunity to take that role but will likely be relegated to blocking in-line, for the most part. He has receiving skills but still needs development in that area.
14. Xavier Grimble, New York Giants -- Pre-Draft Ranking - Honorable Mention
Grimble was signed as a UDFA to the Giants who currently have no clear starter at TE. They have been excited to get Adrien Robinson on the field, but due to injuries, he has not played much at all. They signed Kellen Davis as a free agent, but that doesn't bring much excitement either. If Grimble can develop his skills to be a more willing and effective blocker, he could see plenty of playing time later in the year.
15. AC Leonard, Minnesota Vikings -- Pre-Draft Ranking - # 14
Leonard is a good athlete. He was the fastest TE in the class at the Combine. He should be competing with Rhett Ellison as the second TE behind Kyle Rudolph. Leonard could be a dynamic weapon in the Norv Turner offense, but there are questions about his work ethic that might prevent him from developing his skills to the point needed to play at this level.
This isn't necessarily a deep class at the TE position this year, but the few at the top have a great chance of making an immediate impact to your dynasty teams. The others have skills that should translate well to the league and land them on a roster but are only worth monitoring for now until the next Jordan Reed or even a Ryan Griffin comes to the surface to become solid pickups as reinforcements for your fantasy roster later in the season.