By Chet Gresham – @ChetGresham
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The tight end position was absolutely awful last season, with only Travis Kelce topping 70 receptions and 1,000 yards. His 233 fantasy points would have landed him as the 10th-best fantasy wide receiver, while the tenth-best tight end, Cameron Brate, would have been the 42nd-best wide receiver in terms of fantasy points. At one point with Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham putting up top wide receiver numbers, we thought the position had taken a decided turn into more and more fantasy points, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. There will always be a few studs at the position, but consistency is always going to be trouble from a position that is often asked to block instead of run routes.
There is the idea that with only a couple stud tight ends like Gronkowski and Kelce this season, that we should covet them, paying a premium so we don’t have to worry about the diminishing returns after them. To some extent, that thinking is probably correct, but like quarterbacks, most fantasy leagues only require that you start one tight end and no matter who that tight end turns out to be, they likely won’t be as valuable to your team as a running back or wide receiver drafted in the same spot who will score fantasy points more consistently and have more starting positions attributed to them, thus thinning out the player pool quickly.
My caveats here are if a player like Kelce or Gronkowski drops, they are of course targets and if your personal projections have a player hitting fantasy numbers that we aren’t used to over the last couple seasons, then take your shot. But for me, I’ll look to find value and always be ready to play the waiver-wire game when tough matchups present themselves.
Delanie Walker, Titans
Walker is currently the seventh tight end and 69th-overall player off the board. That spot is still a little steep for where I want to take a tight end usually, but Walker is one of the steadiest fantasy tight ends in the game. In each of the last four seasons, he’s topped 100 targets and 800 receiving yards, and has played better than his ADP in each of those seasons. His upside isn’t “Gronkian”, but he makes up for it in consistency and draft capital, while his team should be in store for a more prolific passing game under its new offensive coordinator.
Jordan Reed, Redskins
Unfortunately, Reed’s ADP has been moving in the wrong direction, but it’s still around his value at double-digit games played, which he accomplished in his three seasons before last year. I’m getting more risk averse as I get older, so I can tell you that I haven’t been drafting Reed so far this season, but there are times when I wish I had, due to how far he dropped in drafts. His upside is top-three without much argument, and if we can get a 12- to 14-game season out of him, a top-10 fantasy season is well within his range, considering he ranked as the third-best tight end in 2015 with 14 total games played. If he falls, grab him.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jaguars
Currently going off the boards as the 16th tight end and the 153rd-overall player, Austin Seferian-Jenkins has value now that he’s on a better offensive team in Jacksonville. Last season, Seferian-Jenkins missed the first two games due to suspension, but then put together a good stretch of work, plus also got randomly jobbed by the referees on at least two touchdown calls. After being released by Tampa Bay two years ago and getting a DUI, Seferian-Jenkins lost 25 pounds and seemingly got back on track both mentally and physically. His year with the Jets wasn’t a fantasy fest, but he showed enough to take over the starting tight end job in Jacksonville, where a strong defense and good run game will give him more chances in the red zone.
Vance McDonald, Steelers
I have written about McDonald a few times now. He looked like a top tight end when healthy and sharing time with Jesse James last season. This year, McDonald is atop the depth chart, and if he can stay healthy, he will do well in fantasy. The trouble is, he isn’t healthy all that often. Thankfully, he is also still in value range as the 19th tight end and the 179th-overall player drafted in fantasy at the moment.
Eric Ebron, Colts
Eric Ebron was demoted early in the season but managed to come on strong to finish the year and continue to give us fantasy footballers hope. He now moves to Indianapolis where he’ll be teamed up with the more reliable, but less dynamic, Jack Doyle. The good news is that Ebron will be in a tight end-friendly offense run by Frank Reich, who calls Ebron an elite tight end who he can move all over the formation. Reich did that with Zach Ertz in Philadelphia, and I don’t see Doyle being the guy he uses in that way, as Ebron is not a blocker. Ebron’s upside will be cut into by Doyle, of course, but as the 23rd tight end and 173rd-overall player, he won’t break the bank.
Jared Cook, Raiders
Jared Cook’s 687 yards last season ranked seventh out of all tight ends, which is decent, but his touchdown numbers were indecent with just two. Now with Michael Crabtree gone, Oakland’d leading red-zone target, I expect Cook sees a boost in those looks and become a more reliable touchdown-maker. As the 23rd tight end and 181st-overall player off draft boards, he holds good value this year.
Ben Watson, Saints
Watson amazingly was a starting fantasy tight end last season, as he finished with the 11th-most fantasy points at the position. He now returns to New Orleans where he had one of his best seasons three years ago. He won’t be a top target in an offense full of top targets, but he’ll rise with the tide and easily beat his ADP as the 25th tight end and 190th-overall fantasy player drafted.
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