Welcome to championship week, ladies and gentlemen. If you’re reading this, odds are you find yourself embroiled in your league’s version of the fantasy football playoffs...so congratulations! Football can be a cruel and fickle beast, so besting your competitors is always an achievement—no matter what sort of stakes you play for.
There’s plenty of injury news among tight ends. Some of it lingering (Austin Hooper, Evan Engram) and some of it recent (Greg Olsen, Gerald Everett). I’ll discuss those situations as we go.
In general, this week is looking rough for tight ends. Most of our elite options have ugly matchups, as will be discussed. Odds are you may be tempted to sit your typical starter for a streamer in an excellent matchup. I’ll discuss some of these scenarios as they arise. In general, though, I prefer to lean on my studs. That’s just the way I play fantasy football. And generally, you aren’t carrying more than one of these guys on any fake team, so the typical situation is probably easy to decipher—i.e. you aren’t benching Travis Kelce for Vance McDonald, even if the #FLOWCHART tells you to do the Vance Dance this week. Let’s get to it.
1 Travis Kelce @ NE - It’s folly to rank him lower, though this would be the week to do so if you were so inclined. The Patriots are an elite pass defense. They rank 2nd best in the NFL at 4.5 NY/A allowed, have only allowed 8 passing scores overall (fewest in the NFL), and have allowed the 2nd fewest passing yards in the NFL. Against tight ends, it’s not much better. The Patriots have allowed the 8th fewest receptions (45), 4th fewest yards (482), and the 13th most scores (4). Working in Kelce’s favor is that the Chiefs are projected to be chasing, that he is wed to Patrick Mahomes, and that the Chiefs are struggling to run the ball given their injuries right now. This is a narrow passing tree, as it’s only Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce producing on a consistent basis. Kelce has been under 50 yards receiving just once on the season, a 30-6 drubbing of the Broncos...when he still posted a 6-44 line. Bench this stud at your own risk.
2 George Kittle @ NO - I’ll give him runner-up honors this week. The Saints are a stout defense, but this reads like a game the Niners will be chasing in. Plus, it’s played in a dome. Plus, the Saints are likely down two linebackers this week, in A.J. Klein and Kiko Alonso (both injured in last week’s game). Kittle leads all tight ends with 18 red zone looks despite missing some time and being a little banged up recently. He only has two scores to show for all of that red zone opportunity. He could definitely experience a scoring spike here at the end of the season given all of his opportunity thus far. I like his matchup better than the next guy...
3 Mark Andrews @ BUF - Andrews came through against the Niners last week, which was a brutal matchup. He posted a 3-50-1 line on 6 targets. His 23.0% target share is tied for the 3rd highest mark among NFL tight ends. He ranks third among tight ends with 804 air yards, mostly on the strength of his 10.2 aDOT—which is the 2nd best mark among tight ends with more than 20 targets on the season (only Hunter Henry’s 10.3 aDOT is higher). The bad news is the Bills, who allow the 2nd lowest yardage to tight ends (361). The Bills have only allowed two passing scores to tight ends, too (2nd lowest). Lastly, the Bills allow the 2nd fewest receptions (40) to enemy tight ends. Buffalo’s 5.1 NY/A ranks 3rd best in the league, while the 9 passing scores allowed overall ranks 2nd best. However, the Bills can be had a bit on the ground. Buffalo’s 4.5 Y/A ranks 22nd in the NFL, and the 11 rushing scores is tied for the 8th highest mark in the league. Expect a heavy dose of the ground game by the Ravens, who are built to attack Buffalo in that way. This may be a week where the game plan is very much ground-and-pound. Andrews is still a beast and a target-hog, but the plan may dictate he has fewer opportunities...and the matchup means that when he does have opportunities, it will be harder to capitalize. Still, he’s shown the ability to come through despite tough matchups, and he belongs in this elite tier.
4 Darren Waller vs. TEN - The Raiders are home underdogs against the piping hot Titans offense, and I love this spot for Waller. Slot receiver Hunter Renfrow is no longer siphoning away targets, and Waller saw 9 looks in last week’s loss to Kansas City. The Titans rank 7th in the NFL with a mere 4.0 Y/A allowed on the ground, but rank 17th with 6.3 NY/A allowed thus far...i.e. they are easier to pass on. Tennessee has allowed the 6th most passing yardage in the NFL, the 9th most yardage to tight ends, and the 6th most scores to tight ends. Waller’s 23% target share is tied for 3rd highest among tight ends. Ding him in standard format a tad if you wish, but in PPR formats this is a very strong play given the matchup and Waller’s YAC ability (most YAC among tight ends). And in standard leagues, I still think he belongs right here, one tick below the elite group.
5 Jack Doyle @ TB - Tampa Bay has allowed the 2nd most fantasy points to tight ends. Eric Ebron is on injured reserve. T.Y. Hilton is “week-to-week” with a calf injury. Don’t overthink it. Sometimes it’s simple. Doyle posted a 6-73-1 line on 11 targets last week, and a whopping FOUR of those looks were in the red zone. Doyle’s 10 red zone looks already ranks 12th among all NFL tight ends, and that’s despite Ebron’s 11 red zone looks from his time this year. Doyle is getting volume and is in a great matchup. You can’t ask for anything more. If you played him over Waller, I wouldn’t fault you.
6 Zach Ertz vs. NYG - Alshon Jeffery announced his presence with authority last week, but there’s room for two against this Giants defense. Ertz dropped two potential scores last week, so if you’re just perusing the box score you might think he was a total zero. I expect him to bounce back in game where the Eagles are projected to score 27+ points as strong home favorites. The Giants have allowed the fewest number of receptions to tight ends on the season, at 38—but that isn’t a massive concern for me given the plethora of weapons at Carson Wentz’s disposal (now that the receiving group is healthy). Ertz could easily make hay with a score (or two) in the red zone, where he has 14 looks so far—tied for second most among all NFL tight ends.
7 Hunter Henry @ JAC - The Jaguars just allowed 5-61 to the pale specter of O.J. Howard, so what could Hunter Henry do to them? Unholy things, to be sure. The issue is the crowded array of weaponry at Rivers’ disposal. Mike Williams had himself a game last week. Keenan Allen. Melvin Gordon. Austin Ekeler. This is a crowded group, and it makes the most sense for the Chargers to pound the rock, as the Jags allow 5.1 Y/A on the ground—the 2nd worst mark in the NFL (only Carolina’s 5.3 Y/A is worse). Given the general struggles of a declining Phillip Rivers, and heavy dose of Gordon wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Henry could still pop off decent chunks of yardage, but this isn’t a prime matchup.
8 Evan Engram @ PHI - It’s a bad matchup on paper, but Engram is athletic enough to do some damage here. Mike Gesicki totaled 5-79-1 against this defense last week, for instance. Engram has missed the last three games with a foot injury, but he is expected to play this week and is still tied for 2nd in the NFL among tight ends with 14 red zone looks. He’s also tied for 5th with 73 targets, a three-way tie with George Kittle and Greg Olsen. Only Travis Kelce (113), Zach Ertz (110), Darren Waller (88), and Mark Andrews (80) have seen more targets. Engram’s 22.0% market share ranks 6th among all tight ends, and he still ranks 6th among the big guys with 252 yards after the catch. He’s a stud, and the Giants are down one Golden Tate right now. He’s immediately a low-end TE1 option in his return. Kaden Smith is the insurance policy, just in case.
9 Tyler Higbee vs. SEA - I’m ranking him as though Gerald Everett is out. Everett missed practice on Wednesday. Higbee destroyed the Cardinals last week, and gets another plus matchup in Week 14. The Seahawks allow the 4th most point to tight ends, and this defense funnels targets to the tight end as much as any other team in the NFL (111 targets). Only the Chiefs (118) have allowed more tight end targets. The Seahawks have allowed the 2nd most receptions (77), 3rd most yardage (802), and 4th most scores (6) to enemy tight ends. If Everett is out, Higbee remains a TE1 option. If Everett returns to muck up the waters, I think neither guy is in play.
10 Vance McDonald @ ARI - JuJu Smith-Schuster is expected to be out, and this is the premier matchup for tight ends. The Cards have allowed the 4th most targets (101), 2nd most receptions (77), the most yardage (953), and the most scores (13) by a country mile. The next closest is 8 scores allowed, by the Oakland Raiders. With James Conner banged up and JuJu out, if McDonald doesn’t come through in this spot you can never consider him again (at least not with the current QB play).
11 Jacob Hollister @ LAR - In Week 10, it was D.K. Metcalf (10) and Hollister (9) leading Seattle in targets. This is the game Tyler Lockett was injured in, then the Seahawks entered a Week 11 bye. In Weeks 12 and 13, it has continued to be Metcalf and Hollister atop the target leaderboard for Seattle. Metcalf (14) and Hollister (12) have seen more looks over the last two weeks than Lockett (6) or Josh Gordon (4). It’s easily arguable that Hollister has the better matchup than a boundary receiver like Metcalf this week, too.
12 Dallas Goedert vs. NYG - The numbers say this isn’t a great matchup, but I’m leaning on Goedert’s recent performances and the healthy 27+ implied point total for the Eagles. Goedert hasn’t seen fewer than 5 targets in a game since all the way back in Week 7, so he’s a safer bet for volume than you might believe.
13 Ryan Griffin vs. MIA - He isn’t getting a ton of passing volume, but it’s a solid matchup and he’s always a good bet for a score.
14 Kyle Rudolph vs. DET - He just keeps producing, and he’s a safe bet as a streamer so long as Adam Thielen remains out this weekend.
15 Mike Gesicki @ NYJ - The Dolphins keep getting him involved, and this matchup has been hit-or-miss on the season. Gesicki has target counts of 6, 6, 6, 7, and 7 since Week 9. He has also scored a touchdown in each of his last two games.
16 Jared Cook vs. SF - I’m down on Cook this week due to the rough matchup. You could slot him up to the TE13 spot if you wanted, ahead of Griffin. But I wouldn’t move him any higher, and I prefer using the three guys I have ahead of Cook who have better matchups (Griffin, Rudolph, Gesicki).
After Cook, you can chase touchdowns from Jason Witten (@ CHI) or Darren Fells (vs. DEN). If Greg Olsen is out, you can consider Ian Thomas in a decent matchup at Atlanta. O.J. Howard (vs. IND) and Jonnu Smith (@ OAK) are also in good spots, but are both difficult to trust. I view them as low-end TE2 options. Of this group, I’d be most enthused about Thomas, if Olsen missed this game.
Lastly, if Austin Hooper is able to play this weekend, I think you put him in that TE9 to TE12 range, depending on how strongly we feel about Hooper’s health come the weekend. If Hooper is out, Jaeden Graham would make for a viable TE2 candidate, around the high teens IMO. And to round it all out, in a PPR setting you could chase some volume with Noah Fant...while in a standard format you could chase a score with Jimmy Graham. No, I’m not excited for either of those options. So good luck to you if you are digging that deep...
I think that about covers it for Week 14, at least here in the first pass. Feel free to find me on Twitter @HeathCapps if there are tight end (or general fantasy football) related questions heading into your playoff matchups. Thanks for following along this year, and come back all the way through Week 17 for more tight end rankings!