What category does your go-to tight end belong in?
Tight ends are oftentimes the forgotten men on fantasy rosters, but the right option at the position can win you a title. Whether you go for consistency or upside, who you select can either set you back or propel you forward. For this upcoming season, viable options at the tight end position have worked their way into five distinct categories. Last article, we looked at the first two. Now, here’s a look at the remaining three.
(Disclaimer: These are not preseason TE rankings, merely classifications. All positional rankings and point totals are per ESPN Standard Scoring).
Category #3: The Wild Cards
Members of this club had unprecedented breakout seasons in 2016 (to varying degrees), but the jury is out on whether that foreshadows prolonged success. Draft them if you believe last year can be repeated.
Yes, Rudolph finished last season the third-ranked tight end, so his inclusion in the wild card category seems odd. However, that level of production from the Viking was rather unprecedented. Since coming into the league in 2011, Rudolph had yet to top 500 receiving yards until last season, and he had zero top-10 seasons to his name. He seems to have developed a strong rapport with Sam Bradford, which bodes well for future success. However, the offseason additions of Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook could make this a run-heavy offense. That, coupled with his rocky track record, makes him a risk.
Undrafted out of Western Kentucky in 2013, Doyle came out of nowhere last year to finish as the 13th ranked tight end. He finished with 59 receptions, 584 yards, and five TDs, totals that bested his previous three seasons combined. The Colts’ trade of Dwayne Allen should signify their confidence in Doyle, but it’s really anyone’s guess if he can improve, or even repeat, his production from last year.
Another undrafted tight end, Brate also came out of nowhere last season, finishing as the position’s sixth-ranked player. His eight receiving touchdowns paced all tight ends, as he did his best work in the red zone. On the downside, the Buccaneers drafted O. J. Howard in the first round this year, which could limit Brate’s production going forward. But the passing offense has a chance to be prolific enough to feature two fantasy-relevant tight ends.
Category #4: The Upside Fliers
Members of this club came into the league, or are coming into the league, with high expectations. They’ve shown flashes of excellence, but haven’t been able to put things together over a full season. Draft them in hopes of a potential breakout, but have a solid Plan B on your roster.
Ertz has been a regular on fantasy sleeper lists since he was drafted early in the second round in 2013. Each season, he teases his potential but never fully lives up to it. He has proven himself to be a poor man’s Jimmy Graham, capable of putting up huge performances (see Week 17 against the Cowboys), but also prone to duds. This past season saw the Eagles’ tight end put up six sub-five-point performances. With an improved offense and an emerging quarterback, Ertz will most likely be found on sleeper lists once again. But just know we’ve been down this road before.
Ebron was drafted 10th overall in 2014, making him the highest drafted tight end since Vernon Davis went sixth overall in 2006. He has had a solid career thus far, but solid isn’t what you’re looking for when you take a skill player in the top 10. Although he has underwhelmed, the Lions’ tight end has gradually improved in each of his three seasons in the league. His lack of red zone activity (just one touchdown) and inconsistent targets kept him from cracking the top 10 last year, but Ebron is trending in the right direction.
Henry, an early second round pick in 2016, has taken on Ladarius Green’s former role as the heir to Antonio Gates. Fortunately for fantasy owners and Chargers fans alike, Henry looks much more likely to live up to that billing. His eight receiving touchdowns last year were tied for the most among tight ends, as he was perhaps Philip Rivers’ favorite target in the red zone. As Gates continues into the twilight of his career, look for Henry to take on an even bigger role in the offense.
This year’s draft saw three tight ends selected in the first round, the most since 2002 and as many as the past seven years combined. O. J. Howard, Evan Engram, and David Njoku are entering the league will all sorts of expectations. Howard will join one of the best passing attacks in the league, but with so many offensive weapons, targets may be inconsistent. The same goes for Engram. The release of Gary Barnidge shows the faith the Browns have in Njoku, but the offense as a whole remains a question mark. All three have the talent to immediately become fantasy relevant, but as is the case with all rookies, they come with significant risk.
Category #5: Average Joes
Member of this club are those aforementioned Plan B’s. They’re consistent, unspectacular options who are on the wrong side of 30. Draft them if you want a good bye week replacement, or if you’re taking a high-risk, high-reward starter.
The term “average” should never be used to describe Antonio Gates; the longtime Charger has been one of the best to ever play the position, and he is almost certainly headed for the Hall of Fame when he decides to hang up his cleats. Alas, these days Gates is nothing more than an average fantasy option. Expect roughly 600 yards and five scores in what could be the former star’s last go-round.
Witten has the same narrative as Gates — one of the best to ever play, but currently nothing more than a low upside fantasy option. Witten topped 60 receiving yards just twice last season, as his role was mostly limited to Zeke’s blocker and Dak’s security blanket. The Cowboy is as dependable as they come, having not missed a regular season game since 2003. Just don’t expect many huge performances.
Much of last season, Bennett had the enviable position of being the starting tight end for the New England Patriots. The results were over 700 yards and seven TDs, a top-10 season. He now joins another dominant offense, but it is worth noting that Rodgers and the Packers haven’t had a top-10 tight end since Jermichael Finley in 2011. As Bennett enters his age-30 season, he looks like a low-tier option who will most likely struggle to match last year’s production.
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