Since the start of August, here at Fake Teams we have been covering a position a week to help get you ready for the upcoming NFL season. Fantasy drafts are in full swing as we approach the last week of August, and the mark of NFL close to beginning in September. After covering three positions so far, we are now to the Tight End position. This article is my personal rankings of the position, with a little bit of commentary on the players. Ranks are not always enough, so these players will also be broken down into tiers. Seeing the rank of a guy from 3 to 4, Rob Gronkowski to Jordan Cameron, doesn’t justify the big gap that there truly is between them, so that is how tiers can help you understand each player’s value relative to others at the position.
General philosophy I have for the Tight End position is to either grab one of the elite three guys, or wait until only one or two of the middle tier of TE’s are left on the board. By grabbing one of the top three guys at the position, you will have a positional advantage over your opponent, unless they have one of the other two. When waiting on a TE you can load up on the other three positions, as they have more lottery ticket options in the middle rounds, and those are the rounds where some of the good, but not elite Tight Ends are going.
Without further ado, I present my TE rankings, with a short blurb on each guy.
Tier One: The elite talents who can give you a distinct advantage over your opponents.
1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints – Finished as the highest scoring TE in the last two years, and should be drafted as such. He will always get his share of targets from Drew Brees, and nothing short of an injury will keep Graham from performing at his best
2. Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos – Exploded on the scene last season with the help of Peyton Manning’s 55 TD passes. That number will go down, but no Eric Decker to poach redzone scores either so he should still be considered a threat to post near 900 yards and 10+ TD’s
3. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots – If we could be guaranteed he would play all 16 games, he would be ranked first, but that is not how this works. Projecting Gronk to play in even 12 games seems risky, but the weekly upside he can give you keeps his rank up here.
Tier Two: Good, but not great, and will rarely take one in a draft as they are being taken too early.
4. Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns – Had a great season last year, yet still only finished as the sixth highest scoring TE. He will have Brian Hoyer, and at some point Johnny Manziel, throwing him the football. No Josh Gordon for at least 8 games we will say bumps up his targets to allow him the chance at a higher fantasy point total.
5. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys – Not a high upside play like the other Tight Ends he is listed around, but something should be said about consistency. His floor is higher than most players at his position, and when you draft him, you know exactly what you are getting.
6. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers – Probably overrated going into this season after performing above expectations a season ago. Michael Crabtree is fully healthy now, and the addition of Steve Johnson will severely limit the amount of targets Davis will see in this conservative offense
Tier Three: If you waited on Tight End, you are all set to take one of these guys in the later rounds as they will provide a better value for your fantasy team
7. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers – The top target that Cam Newton will have, and is a lot like Jason Witten. As with Witten, when you draft him, you know exactly what you are getting, and sometimes peace of mind is good to have on a roster.
8. Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens – Was out for a good portion of last season because of injury, now is fully healthy and ready to pick up where he left off in 2012. Gary Kubiak helped out Owen Daniels in Houston, and now gets the chance to work his magic on Dennis Pitta.
9. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings – As with Pitta, a change in coaching should help boost his value. Norv Turner has been known to constantly get his TE’s involved in the passing game, like Jordan Cameron and Antonio Gates. Has already had one great fantasy season in 2012, a return to the top five is possible no matter who is throwing him the football this season.
10. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins – Develop a strong connection with Robert Griffin III last year, and would have done better if he didn’t have a concussion. Would have been higher in the ranks if the Redskins didn’t sign DeSean Jackson or Andre Roberts in the offseason, but should still be viewed as a solid starter in all formats.
11. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles – Had an ok season in 2013, as he was hampered by the presence of Brent Celek. A year in the NFL is now under his belt, as he looks to take the leading role from Celek, and get a lot of the production that comes with it.
12. Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler needs to stay healthy this year for Bennett to be successful. He was a better player last year with Cutler under center than McCown was, so expect his numbers to take a slight uptick over last season.
13. Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins – Finished as the seventh highest scorer at the position a season ago, and looking to continue his big role in the offense. A nice checkdown option for Tannehill last year, but the addition of Knowshon Moreno may takeaway a few of those dump off passes.
14. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals – As with Zach Ertz, he had to share the TE role last season with a veteran. Eifert has supplanted Jermaine Gresham as far as we know this preseason, so his upside should still be viewed as it was going into last year. Andy Dalton continues to prove critics wrong, and he needs to find another target besides Green to keep defenses honest.
15. Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers – High upside play, and should start to take more and more playing time from Antonio Gates again. Whisenhunt is no longer calling the shots in San Diego, which helps Green’s value as that offense was not conducive to great TE performances.
16. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers – If Greg Olsen was a poor man’s Jason Witten, then Heath Miller is a poor man’s Greg Olsen. What you see is what you get, and if he scores 8 TD’s he may end up on the same level of Olsen.
Tier Four: Time to go for an upside pick as this is your backup, unless you’re in a deep 16 team league where an owner took two guys already. If you still haven’t taken a TE, you need to take two of these guys and see which one can be a serviceable starter for you.
17. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions – Rookies rarely perform great at the Tight End position, but if one were to do so, it would be Eric Ebron. He is going to play in an offense that is similar to the one that Jimmy Graham has been a monster in over the last few seasons. Temper expectations, but his upside does warrant a selection if picking a backup.
18. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans – Has the aforementioned Whisenhunt as his coach, but his talent is enough to keep tabs on what he may do this season. Locker is healthy, at the moment, so his QB play should be better than last season with Fitzpatrick.
19. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Has some upside, but Josh McCown doesn’t target the Tight End too much when playing. Has the size necessary to become an immediate redzone threat, but other than that he may go through some learning curves this year.
20. Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams – Losing Sam Bradford for the season hurts, as he was better with Bradford than Clemons. Now he is lower on draft boards and seems to disappoint each year, but his measurables are great for a TE, so he is worth monitoring.
21. Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts – Dwayne Allen has taken time away from him when healthy as he is a better pass blocker than Fleener, but lacks the receiving upside. Expect this to be a frustrating season yet again, but if one of these two guys gets hurt, the other leaps up into starter territory.
22. Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts – See Fleener, Coby
23. Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers – As of now he is the starting TE in an Aaron Rodgers led offense, so it is worth monitoring. He may not produce much this year, but as was seen with Jermichael Finley, the TE for the Green Bay Packers is interesting to fantasy owners.
24. Ryan Griffin, Houston Texans – Has more upside than Garrett Graham, but the two will continue to poach from each other’s values that neither will be startable in a fantasy league till an injury occurs.
25. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs – Was out all of last season with a knee injury, but is now ready to perform. Alex Smith is his QB, so his upside may be limited, but his size and speed make him an interesting guy to watch and see if he can explode in the first few weeks.
Tier Five: Hopefully it doesn’t come to this, but if you are in a league where two Tight Ends are required to start, here are some guys who will put up some points each week.
26. Garrett Graham, Houston Texans
27. Owen Daniels, Baltimore Ravens
28. Antonio Gates, San Diego
29. Jace Amaro, New York Jets
30. Mychal Rivera, Oakland Raiders
That does it for my personal Tight End rankings. Stay tuned as later in the week as we will be posting our staff sleepers, busts, and a consensus rankings for the position. Any questions about the rankings, keeper decisions, or general draft questions, leave a comment and it will be answered.