Written By: Alexander Amir
1) Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Gronk has been the consensus #1 tight end coming into both the fantasy and NFL seasons essentially since the beginning of his career. While he has struggled with a host of injuries throughout his career, there is no denying his productivity. Since 2012, amongst tight ends, he has ranked #1 three times and #2 once, while missing half the season in 2013 and 2016 (standard scoring). Even in those seasons, in the games in which he was healthy he was ultra productive, averaging a TD every other game and around 88 yards per contest. While it’s never smart to draft a tight end too early, Gronk should be the first one off the board in every draft.
2) Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Ertz has steadily risen up the ranks of fantasy football, creeping higher and higher in the top ten to a #3 overall tight end finish last year. His numbers speak for themselves, as he scored 8 or more fantasy points in 11 of 13 healthy games. 3rd year QB Carson Wentz has taken a strong liking to Ertz, and the tight end was even productive when backup QB Nick Foles took over. He has seen a decent amount of injury with two concussions and various leg ailments in the past few seasons, but he’s no more injury prone than any other at his position. Tight end is an integral part of Doug Pederson’s offense, so expect Ertz to continue to thrive as he enters the prime of his career.
3) Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce has been an absolute force as the Chiefs’ leader in receptions for the past two seasons. He was Alex Smith’s favorite target, which helped him become the top PPR tight end for the past two years and rank top 10 two years prior to that. He remains as the primary middle-of-the-field option for the Chiefs, but I knocked him down a bit below Ertz for two reasons: he is slightly more injury prone than Ertz, with two concussions in 2017 and a shoulder injury requiring surgery (though it was labeled as just a “clean-up procedure” by coach Andy Reid). The second reason is that the Chiefs have now handed the QB duties over to rookie Patrick Mahomes. Alex Smith was as friendly to his tight end as any QB could be, and while rookies do tend to rely on their tight ends, Mahomes will likely be looking deep early and often given his canon of an arm. But in the end, it really comes down to personal preference.
4) Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers
After a rough beginning to his career in Seattle, Graham quietly had two very productive seasons, ranking 4th amongst tight ends in standard scoring in 2016 and 2017. While he was in New Orleans with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, Graham was a force, scoring a ridiculous 16 TD with 1,215 yards in 2012 and reaching the end-zone 9 and 11 times, respectively, the two years prior. Graham now joins Aaron Rodgers, another Hall of Famer, on a Packers team that just lost its top receiver Jordy Nelson. Over the past 6 years Nelson averaged over 10 TD per season. Those scores have to go somewhere, and fellow receiver Davante Adams can’t take them all. Graham will be a redzone monster in 2018, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him atop the fantasy leaderboard in 2018.
5) Evan Engram, New York Giants
The Giants’ offense didn’t do much last season, but rookie tight end Evan Engram was one of the few bright spots. He was the 5th ranked tight end, averaging a respectable 7.8 fantasy points per game and 6 double-digit weeks. He struggled a bit with drops, but an offseason of work with Eli and new coach Pat Shurmur should cure his woes. With the addition of Saquon Barkley and the return of Odell Beckham, Engram may see less balls thrown his way than last year. However, the Giants sorely lack a big bodied pass catcher. I expect them to use Engram all over the field and put him in much more productive situations than he was last year. Team’s will almost inevitably double cover Odell and be forced to respect Barkley’s ability, so Engram should see plenty of mismatches. Look for him to be taken early in the second wave of tight ends.
6) Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Despite struggling with injuries all of last year, Greg Olsen has actually been remarkably consistent throughout his 11 year career. He played in all 16 games from 2008 to 2016, and had almost a perfectly linear increase in yardage totals and receptions in that period. His TD totals have also hovered around the 5–7 per season mark, with a down year in 2016 with 3. He’s never been remarkable like Gronk or Graham, but assuming good health, Olsen should be a consistent play throughout the season in 2018.
7) Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Like a young Olsen, Kyle Rudolph has been a 16 game starter for the past 3 seasons and a top 10 fantasy tight end for the past 2. The Vikings offense has gone through some major upgrades recently, featuring two great receivers and a young, star running back, but Rudolph still had the 2nd highest TD total of his career last year. Now, with new QB Kirk Cousins, I expect to see a much more pass-happy offense. Cousins made Jordan Reed a beast (when he was healthy), so Rudolph should see great productivity in this offense. Despite the big scorers at the top of this list, sometimes all you need in fantasy from the tight end position is mid-level consistency. Rudolph will get you that.
8) Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Speaking of consistency, Walker is a prototypical low ceiling, relatively high floor for fantasy purposes. He’s ranked as a top 10 tight end for 4 seasons in a row, with a pretty impressive year in 2015 with 1,088 yards and 6 TDs. He’s getting up there in age at 33, and the Tennessee Titans have retooled their offense with young, dynamic skill position players since then. But Walker will be reliable as always and will get enough opportunity to be a low-end starting tight end. As ESPN’s fantasy football page says, “There’s not much to say about Walker other than this: the guy simply gets the job done.”
9) Trey Burton, Chicago Bears
Here we have a significant departure from the rest of the pack, as Burton arguably has the biggest upside of the second half of this list. At 26 years old Burton is just entering the prime of his career, and is set to be the top tight end and number 2 receiving option for 2nd year QB Mitchell Trubisky in Chicago. He had a great year in Philly last year when he filled in for starter Zach Ertz, but never got enough opportunity to truly make an impact. He has displayed great receiving ability (including a nifty trick pass in the Super Bowl) and will become an excellent weapon for Chicago. His success will be tied to how well Trubisky can perform, but I expect the young QB to rely on Burton early and often as his safety blanket.
10) Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Reed is always going to be one of the highest risk, highest reward players in fantasy. He’s never played all 16 games in a season, and last year had his lowest amount of games played with 6. But when he’s on the field, he is ultra productive. From 2014–2016 he averaged 8.8, 17.7, and 14.2 PPR points per game, respectively, and averaged 10 per game in his short 2017 season. His severe history of concussions, suffering 6 since 2010, and numerous hamstring and foot injuries. However, his upside this year should be even higher than usual with TE-friendly QB Alex Smith now taking over. Injuries will always be an issue with Reed, but if you’re feeling lucky and have a contingency plan in place, Reed could pay off in a huge way.