clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tight ends: Tiered rankings and draft strategy

Heath groups your tight ends into tiers.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Jacksonville Jaguars Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

It is tight ends week here at Fake Teams, and yours truly kicked off the festivities with his Top 32 options at the position on Monday. I was going to spend this time at the back end of the week hyping up Eric Ebron, but the emergence of Kenny Golladay and Ebron’s lingering hamstring injury have me tempering my expectations. This is extremely regrettable.

Anyway, let’s group these guys into tiers and discuss who you should be drafting and when you should be doing so.

Tier One

1. Rob Gronkowski

Gronk remains the undisputed top option in the fake game, as his ceiling is unmatched in fake football. He is risky due to his injury history, but he also offers the single greatest advantage in the fake game if he can remain healthy for all (or even most) of the season. Consider: Travis Kelce was tops among all tight ends last season with 138 points in 16 games. Gronk only played in eight games and amassed 72 points...over a full slate of games last year that would have been a cool 144 points (or the best tight end). Don’t believe in extrapolation? In 2015 Gronkowski logged 15 games and generated a whopping 183.60 points—25.3 points ahead of the second-place finisher (Gary Barnidge) and 45.6 more than Kelce’s 2016. The gap between Gronk’s 2015 and Kelce’s 2016 comes out to 2.85 points-per-game on average. Now think about how many of your head-to-head matchups have been decided by one point or less. Gronk is giving you almost a three-point advantage by himself? That is nuts. I will pay for that potential in the second round of any format.

Tier Two

2. Travis Kelce
3. Greg Olsen
4. Jordan Reed
5. Jimmy Graham

For my part, if I miss out on Gronk I will not be drafting Travis Kelce in the third round. Yes, Kelce was the top option last year, but he only finished about 11 points ahead of Greg Olsen. In fact, there were four tight ends within 15 points of Kelce, and one of them (Delanie Walker) only played in 15 games. The other two were Kyle Rudolph and Jimmy Graham. I just can’t buy Kelce in Round 3 when similar production exists in Round 7 (Rudolph).

Tier Three

6. Kyle Rudolph
7. Zach Ertz
8. Tyler Eifert
9. Martellus Bennett
10. Hunter Henry
11. Eric Ebron
12. Delanie Walker

Ertz vs. Eifert is shades of Olsen vs. Reed. This is another crossroads where you will be forced to choose between safety (Ertz) and upside (Eifert). For me, it all depends on how my roster looks so far, but in general I like Ertz more than Eifert. I value “floor” picks, and Ertz has that floor plus a range of outcomes that includes an Alshon Jeffery injury...if that happened in Philadelphia Ertz would likely become “the guy.” I have him as the TE7, but he can be had as the TE11 in most places. I’ll probably own him in quite a few leagues this year.

I am not ready to anoint Kenny Golladay as the second coming of Calvin Johnson, but his presence does ding Ebron’s scoring outlook and Ebron still hasn’t recovered from a lingering hamstring injury. I want to believe, but Ebron is making it difficult for me. I still believe in his talent and situation, though, so it’s a push for me as I rank him at his current ECR of TE11 on FantasyPros.

Delanie Walker is my departure from most major fantasy football outlets. He is the TE8 in most spaces. I still like him to produce as a starting-caliber tight end, but the Titans have invested heavily in the passing game by adding Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Jonnu Smith, and Eric Decker...and we know they want to pound the rock with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. All of that competition and Walker’s age (33) is concerning.

Tier Four

13. Jack Doyle
14. Austin Hooper
15. Cameron Brate
16. Coby Fleener

This tier represents the last of the relative safety in the tight end ranks. Each guy here is tied to a quality signal-caller and is arguably on an ascendant path (i.e. they aren’t nearing retirement or anything). Brate would seem to be a concern since the Buccaneers drafted O.J. Howard, but rookie tight ends don’t generally produce much and Brate was tops in the NFL among tight ends in yards per route run in 2016. Brate has also played on 46 of Jameis Winston’s 66 snaps so far this preseason, compared to Howard’s 36 with Winston (shouts to Adam Levitan for the statistic). The Bucs might use a lot of sets with two tight ends this year, but Brate isn’t going to disappear. He is probably going to be selected as the TE20 or so in your fake draft, so I think he is a fine depth play or backup tight end for your squad.

Tier Five

17. Charles Clay
18. C.J. Fiedorowicz
19. Antonio Gates
20. Jason Witten
21. Julius Thomas
22. Zach Miller
23. Austin Seferian-Jenkins
24. Evan Engram

We are officially throwing darts at this juncture, ladies and gents. I happen to like Clay quite a bit this year, but if the Bills get rid of Tyrod Taylor my “like” is going to dissipate very quickly. Fiedorowicz is unsexy and plays on a run-first team that has a solid defense and a bad quarterback (i.e. they aren’t going to throw it much). Gates and Witten are both cooked, in my opinion. Julius can’t stay healthy. Miller can’t stay healthy. “ASJ” hasn’t been able to stay sober, historically—but he has been for seven months now and makes for a quality backup tight end on your fake squad.

Tier Six

25. David Njoku
26. O.J. Howard
27. Dwayne Allen
28. Jared Cook
29. Benjamin Watson
30. Jesse James
31. Vernon Davis
32. Tyler Higbee

I love Njoku’s athletic ability, but I hate his team context (read: his inevitable quarterback carousel). Allen is interesting because he is a handcuff that actually makes the event of a Gronkowski injury he would immediately assume Top 10 upside every single week at the tight position. Vernon Davis is the same sort of deal in Washington in the event of a Jordan Reed injury. If I were looking for upside in this group, Allen and Davis are the two guys I would target.

Who is your favorite tight end value aside from Gronk? Tell me in the poll below or hit me up the comments section. Good luck out there.


Your favorite tight end value is...

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Travis Kelce
    (10 votes)
  • 9%
    Jordan Reed
    (7 votes)
  • 16%
    Kyle Rudolph
    (12 votes)
  • 39%
    Zach Ertz
    (29 votes)
  • 13%
    Hunter Henry
    (10 votes)
  • 8%
    Other (feel free to share in comments)
    (6 votes)
74 votes total Vote Now