The Power of Versatility: Top 30 Fantasy Tight Ends 2018
In today’s article, we’ll step away from the more personal introductions seen in the RB and WR rankings. Instead, as the title may have suggested, we’ll be talking about versatility. Versatility is all the rage in the NFL these days whether it’s quarterbacks that can run, running backs that can catch, receivers that can run like running backs after the catch, or linebackers that can cover like a safety and rush the QB from the edge. And then there’s one of my favorite positions in the sport, the tight end.
Tight ends are some of the top, if not the top, athletes on the football field. These men are traditionally tasked with being both a wide receiver and an offensive lineman. As such, there are no 5’10”, 185-pound TEs. No, these guys are 6’5”, 250 pounds, can run 4.6-second 40-yard dashes (or better) and have the physicality, range, and leaping ability to make life hell for unfortunate smaller linebackers and safeties tasked with covering them. They’re cheat codes, that severely overpowered player you used to create in Madden when you were younger to run roughshod over the computer with.
After moving the chains with yet another first down grab, the tight end is asked to come back on the very next play to shove that same linebacker or safety to the dirt while blocking for his running back. It’s unfair, honestly, possessing that ability. Don’t underestimate a blocking tight end’s value as a receiver either. Their ability to block keeps them on the field on all downs, granting more opportunities for receptions. This is especially true if a play breaks down because once that happens, a good QB is looking for his tight end.
Most of the best TEs in the game are experts in both blocking and receiving. They’re receivers and they’re offensive linemen. However, some aren’t tasked with very much blocking, instead serving basically as wide receivers, but bigger. As the game has evolved, we have seen the rise of the deadly red-zone threat tight end. These guys tend to be faster and have greater leaping ability, like the Jimmy Grahams of the world. Whatever the archetype, tight ends are required to be good at a little bit of everything. Well-rounded. Versatile. And a little toughness goes a real long way too, of course.
You know, this “child’s game” we all gather to watch each Sunday from September to February and feverishly await from February to September is not just an escape or a convenient distraction from the ‘bigger picture’ or whatever else football’s detractors may have to say about the sport. Football is, and has always been, a great teacher. It preaches hard work, toughness, the maintenance of old skills, the development of new ones, and to constantly continue improving, to never grow complacent, and most importantly, to strive for greatness. Go get it.
My top 30 fantasy tight ends for 2018 in 288 characters or less… set… hut!
Tight ends I see as most likely to have 1000-yard seasons with 8+ TDs.
1. Travis Kelce, KC – This is just a matter of preference. The number one and two tight ends are basically interchangeable in my opinion as far as fantasy value goes. Kelce will be fed often as the safety blanket for a young, developing QB. Bye 12
2. Rob Gronkowski, NE – Gronk takes a backseat to Kelce here because I can always safely bet on him missing games for some reason at some point during the season. Bye 11
3. Zach Ertz, PHI – I predicted a big year from Ertz last season, and him to become a favorite go-to for QB Carson Wentz. Turns out I was correct on both. This guy is a big-time player. Scored a crucial TD in the Super Bowl. Clutch. I’m predicting more of the same. Bye 9
I see this next group as being TE1s, or at least borderline TE1s. They’re solid options to go into the season with and, if healthy, are likely to be consistent weekly starters.
4. Evan Engram, NYG – A surprise first-round draft selection, Engram put up stupid numbers by rookie tight end standards. The stats were actually solid for a tight end in general, and his performance came during a down year for the Giants. He’s only going to get better. Bye 9
5. Greg Olsen, CAR – Despite missing most of 2017 with a foot injury, Olsen is still one of this generation’s best tight ends and Cam Newton’s best receiver. I have no doubt he still has a few strong seasons left in him. Gates and Witten got it done well into their late-30s. Bye 4
6. Delanie Walker, TEN – This is a guy who continues to be one of the league’s most steady TEs with four consecutive seasons of 800+ yards. He’s one of my favorite value picks. A reliable TE1 that you probably won’t have to spend even a round 6 selection on. Bye 8
7. Kyle Rudolph, MIN – Kirk Cousins loves throwing to his tight ends (check out Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis’ numbers the last few years). Rudolph is also coming off an 8-TD performance in 2017. I expect a similar stat line in 2018. Bye 10
8. Jimmy Graham, GB – While Graham is a better player than some of the guys listed ahead of him, I don’t trust Green Bay tight ends. Remember, people were pretty high on a similarly-aged Martellus Bennett last season too. Different situation, I know. Still approaching with caution. Bye 7
9. Jordan Reed, WAS – Always an injury risk, Reed is also one of the best TEs in the game when on the field. Draft him and hope he can stay healthy but be sure to have a backup plan. Bye 4
10. Tyler Eifert, CIN – What I said about Reed… apply that to Eifert. Bye 9
11. Jack Doyle, IND – The presence of Eric Ebron hurts Doyle’s stock a little bit. If Andrew Luck is back to his old self, I could see this TE duo being a wrecking crew. If not, the offense’s numbers as a whole suffer (see last season). Even in that down year, Doyle put up respectable numbers. Bye 9
Here, we see a list of young players, unproven ones, and former starters who will likely be the TE2 on their own teams. Drafting two players from this tier would be a solid TE strategy to go into the regular season with. Just be sure to watch matchups.
12. David Njoku, CLE – This might be a little high but Njoku’s incredibly athletic and showed promise during his rookie year on an 0-16 Browns team. I’m taking a shot on him as becoming the safety blanket for whoever starts at QB in Cleveland. Bye 11
13. Greg Kittle, SF – He had some pretty solid games as a rookie TE despite only scoring two TDs. The QB situation in San Fran was a mess until Jimmy G took over too. I can see him being a possible top 10 tight end, but can also see that not happening. Bye 11
14. Trey Burton, CHI – I’ve seen some experts hyping up Burton as a Top 10 fantasy tight end. Why? Because he threw a touchdown in the Super Bowl, leading the Bears to drastically overpay him? What has he done as a tight end thus far? Bye 5
15. OJ Howard, TB – I’d be a lot more bullish on Howard if it weren’t for the presence of another talented tight end on the roster in Cameron Brate. To follow up a decent rookie season, I think Howard develops into the better player by year’s end. Bye 5
16. Cameron Brate, TB – And I’d be a lot more bullish on Brate if it weren’t for the presence of Howard on the roster. This is a player who has put together strong seasons from the TE position in 2016 and 2017. And Tampa paid him a lot of money. He’ll get his reps in. Bye 5
17. Eric Ebron, IND – Best known to me as the player my Detroit Lions selected over Odell Beckham Jr. and Aaron Donald – don’t get me started. He managed decent numbers, just disappointing in comparison. Now in Indy, he will serve as the TE2 in a potentially strong offense. Bye 9
18. Austin Hooper, ATL – It was a not-so-great year for Atlanta’s offense in 2017 but Hooper improved upon his rookie year, going for over 500 yards. He should continue to improve. Plus, he’s a starter. Bye 8
19. Mike Gesicki, MIA – While this feels high for a rookie tight end, he’s my pick to be this year’s Evan Engram. Keep in mind, I mean the top rookie performer at this position, not necessarily a performance of the same caliber. Bye 11
The final tier I have for tight ends. The top of the order consists of players who will have spot-starter value, descending into players I view more as sleepers. If your strategy is to stream tight ends, these could be players to pick up from the free agent pool if they have a good matchup. I see none of them being viable as consistent starting fantasy TEs this year, however.
20. Jared Cook, OAK – He racked up a respectable number of yards in a down year for the Raiders, nearly reaching 700. But, he only scored two TDs. The players listed above him are younger and have more upside. Bye 7
21. Benjamin Watson, NO – This dude has been around forever, but can still play. After losing all of 2016 to an injury, he returned in 2017 to go for over 500 yards on a putrid Ravens offense. He’s now back with the Saints where he caught over 800 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2015. Bye 6
22. Charles Clay, BUF – Here is a solid tight end who is nothing if not consistent, going for over 525 yards five consecutive seasons. The touchdown numbers are lacking over the last four, however. Bye 11
23. Hayden Hurst, BAL – After flaming out of minor league baseball due to a case of the yips, the granddaddy of all rookies (a dig at his age, not a declaration of his greatness) just might end up being Joe Flacco’s (or Lamar Jackson’s) best tight end. Bye 10
24. Luke Willson, DET – I guess he’s the starter in Detroit? The position is incredibly thin after the team jettisoned Eric Ebron. Willson lived in Jimmy Graham's shadow in Seattle and his career numbers don't inspire much confidence but, maybe he just needed a real chance. Bye 6
25. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, JAX – He’s talented but tends to miss a ton of games for whatever reasons. Availability is sometimes the best ability. And Blake Bortles is his QB. I’m looking elsewhere, personally. Bye 9
26. Vernon Davis, WAS – This feels disrespectful since Davis is a good player and has filled in just fine for the oft-injured Jordan Reed. In 2017, he had nearly 650 receiving yards! When Reed gets hurt, this ranking shoots up. Bye 4
27. Tyler Kroft, CIN – When Eifert inevitably gets sent to the IR, Kroft will hold down the TE position in Cincy. He caught seven TDs in 2017. Bye 9
28. Gerald Everett, LAR – The Rams have two tight ends vying to start, Tyler Higbee being the other. Everett, a former second-round pick, is my bet to emerge as the more targeted player. Bye 12
29. Ryan Griffin, HOU – He missed 9 games in 2017 but returns to the top of the depth chart to start 2018. I'm unsure how secure this job is, however, as the Texans also have rookies Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas on the roster. Bye 10
30. Jesse James, PIT – Honestly, I flipped a coin to decide whether to include James or Vance McDonald here. A tight end that Ben Roethlisberger throws to needed to be included on this list. Bye 7
**The above rankings represent my personal draft strategy and this is simply where I value each player to begin 2018.