Tight end is very similar to quarterback for fantasy purposes this season. There are three big names at the top and then a solid 7-9 similar options with very little projected point differential. Obviously some of that second group will outperform their peers and group themselves into a clear second tier, but on paper they all project to within a few points per week of each other. Strategy wise you can either pony up for one of the top 3 or sit back and wait a bit to take whichever of the 2nd tier TEs drop. If you believe one of the 2nd or 3rd tier TEs is going to break out, then obviously go and get him a round before you think he might be drafted. If you aren’t sold on any of the 2nd tier breaking out, then you have the luxury of filling some other positions first while waiting until are only a few 2nd/3rd tier TEs left.
If you don’t end up with Graham, Gronk, or Thomas it doesn’t make much sense to use an early-ish pick on a TE when there are 7-9 similar guys still available. There are a few players outside the top 3 that I think have clear breakout potential which I will get to below, but you only need one of them, so wait until there are only 2-3 of your favorite targets left before pulling the trigger. I’ve utilized this strategy lately and ended up with Reed, Rudolph (twice) and Ertz in my last four drafts. For those of you in deep leagues or multi-TE formats, I threw in an extra 10-12 TEs that won’t be relevant in most leagues.
These rankings are based on the Yahoo default scoring settings with the addition of .5 PPR. The advanced stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders. If you have any problems with my rankings or I forgot somebody, feel free to let me know in the comments.
Tier 1: Elite
The cream of the crop at the position. If you end up with any of these three then you are set at the TE position. Graham is the clear #1, but the other two could get close assuming good health.
Jimmy Graham, Saints – Over the last three years Graham has more receiving TDs (36) than any other player in the NFL. What else do you need to know? He’s the #1 option on one of the top 3 passing offenses in the NFL. Graham is the best tight end by far and worthy of a late 1st round pick and $50ish in PPR leagues. For you cretins out there in non-PPR leagues, drop him no more than a round or $10.
Julius Thomas, Broncos – Talent wise, Thomas is a clear third to Graham and Gronk, but the brilliance of Peyton Manning raises him up to the top-tier. Thomas became one of Manning’s go-to guys and has the speed to outrun linebackers and the size to box-out DBs. As long as Manning is healthy, Thomas will be hard to stop and should be a fantasy beast again this year.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots – If he can stay healthy for 16 games, Gronk could give Graham a run for the #1 TD. That’s a big if though, the Pats already traded for Tim Wright from the Bucs which makes me think they may be worried about Gronk’s health. He’s had three different injuries in the last 12 months, so counting on Gronk to stay healthy is kind of ridiculous. The only stress-free way to roster Gronk is to use another pick within the top 10 rounds to grab one of the cheaper breakout candidates like Ertz, Rudolph, Green, or Reed. Two TE picks in the top ten rounds is painful but if one of the TEs I mentioned breakouts you can always move Gronk to flex or trade one of them. When healthy, Gronk is worth it.