2018 Fantasy Football | Top 10 (Early) Tight End Rankings

by Nick Ercolano May 12, 2018

2018 Fantasy Football | Top 10 (Early) Tight End Rankings

I like when people say the tight end situation is similar to that of the QB position in fantasy football because you can stream both roster spots. While I guess that's true, they're on opposite ends of the spectrum, and it's all relative. The reason you can stream these spots is because 1) You only need to start one of them in your lineup, so naturally there are more options available on the waiver wire, and 2) most of the time, the TE5 and the TE14 are separated by about 0.8 FPPGs on the szn, so there's really no reason to use heavy draft capital on a mid-range TE when you can wait 10 rounds and grab basically the same thing. End of the day, it's because all of the TEs suck. The reason you can do the same thing with QBs is not because all of them suck, but because there are so many good options.

So, you have to make sure, that if you don't grab a top-tier guy, you hit on the sleepers, thus I'm digging into my top-10 tight end rankings.

1. Rob Gronkowski - New England Patriots

Current ADP: OVR20 | TE1

No surprises here. Not sure why he keeps creeping down the ADP here. YoY he's the TE1 on a PPG basis. He's not retiring. He's so byke. 

2. Travis Kelce - Kansas City Chiefs

Current ADP: OVR23 | TE2

Luh me some Kelce. But not at pick 23. I think the fact that Kelce and Ertz are going so close to Gronk makes him that much more valuable. Because we know what we're getting from Gronk as long as he's healthy. I'm not sure we know that with any other TE this year. Yes, Kelce is fantastic, he was my favorite tight end going into last year, but this season brings upon a lot of changes to the Chiefs. They get rid of Alex Smith in favor of unproven sophomore QB Patrick Mahomes, and they bring in Sammy Watkins who will undoubtedly make the target share situation a nightmare on a weekly basis. I do think Kelce is the safest play in KC in terms of volume, but there are far too many questions here to even think about TK at pick 23. If you're going to invest a 3rd rounder into him, or late 2nd for 12-teamers, you're 100% sure Mahomes is at minimum what Smith was last year and Watkins will barely, if at all, affect Kelce's league-leading 122 tight end targets. 

3. Zach Ertz - Philadelphia Eagles

Current ADP: OVR31 | TE3

Let me make this clear, Ertz is my number 3 TE, but I absolutely hate him at 31 overall. People don't really understand that last year wasn't a breakout year, his reception and yardage totals have been almost identical to a tee for the last three years, but this was the first szn that his touchdown total soared, going from 2 in 2015, 4 in 2016 to 8 last year. I guess you could look at that as a positive because he gives you consistency at a position that sorely lacks it, but you're looking at the numbers over the past 3 seasons:

Targets: 112, 106, 110

Receptions: 75, 78, 74

Yards: 853, 816, 824

So you're willing (according to the current ADP) to take Ertz and his 830 yards over Joe Mixon, Doug Baldwin, Josh Gordon, Stefon Diggs, etc.

In the wise words of Randy Jackson, that's gonna be a no for me dawg.

Still TE3, Wentz is hopeful to be back for Week 1 which is great, we see the connection there. They lose Trey Burton and Brent Celek but they grab Dallas Goedert in the draft, so I sort of consider it a wash. 

The touchdowns are what get me. He scored 8 touchdowns last year, all 8 of them were on RZ targets. He had 18 RZ targets in total. In 2016, he scored 4 touchdowns, all 4 of them were on RZ targets. He had 17 RZ targets in total. So, nearly identical redzone numbers, it's not as if his usage has been jumping up YoY, which is what makes me pull back. And it's likely that numbers falls to the norm. Maybe 5-6 TDs in 2018. 

4. Hunter Henry - Los Angeles Chargers

Current ADP: OVR71 | TE7

LOVE me some HH this year. In the worst way. He's a guy I might have on every team of mine. I think he's as likely to put up the numbers Ertz has been putting up over the last 3 years, if not more so. And you can get him 40 picks later. 

With the news of Antonio Gates' official era coming to an end for the Chargers, Henry finds himself in a gorgeous position to break out. Gates was a shell of himself last year, but what people don't realize is just how much opportunity he still took from Henry, and the rest of the pass catchers in LA. Despite playing on less than 47% of the Charger's snaps, he was the second most tenzone targeted (10) TE in the entire NFL behind only Jimmy Graham (16). That's a LOT of opportunities for Henry to score down there.

From Noah Pires (GO FOLLOW HIM YO @NOAHPIRES KIDS A BEAST) "Last year, Hunter Henry lined up as a blocker on 49.6% (296/597) of his snaps (per pff). Antonio Gates on the other hand only did so on 32% (160/499) of his snaps. Virgil Green blocked on 72.6% (386/532) of his snaps, showing he is a willing blocker and will be used heavily in that aspect of the game

This isn't even a question, Henry was TE6 on a PPG basis last year, with Gates. Now he's getting picked as TE7. Y'all never seize to blow my mind.

5. Evan Engram - New York Giants

Current ADP: OVR55 | TE5

Engram is a really tough one to get a read on for 2018.

He had a fantastic rookie year, one of the best ever actually. You'll have to fact check this, but I believe his 64 catches and 722 yards were the 2nd most ever for a rookie TE. But I also might be lying so. 

My immediate reaction was that it's going to be VERY hard to repeat those numbers. He saw 115 targets, 2nd most at the position behind just Kelce. You say, well, OBJ was gone, B-Marsh got hurt, Shepard missed time, they had nothing but Engram, which will be far from the case in 2018. While true, Engram only had a 20% target share in the offense, which wasn't a crazy number. It was 6th most among tight ends. 20% is repeatable but is going to be much harder when OBJ is back, as well as Barkley coming in here as an elite pass-catching back.

What I think is the biggest piece of analysis to take away here is this. The five TEs that finished with a higher market share of their team's targets than Engram were: Kelce, Jack Doyle, Gronk, Delanie Walker and Zach Ertz. Not only did they all lead their respective teams in target market share, but none of them had a player on their team with more than 22% of the targets, TY with Doyle. Problem is, OBJ has never had a season with less than 27% of the team's targets.

I'm wrestling with the idea that Engram's piece of the pie is reasonable, but in reality it's probably not. I think he's a very good tight end, but I'm siding with the fact that he's likely going to be overrated in fantasy football this year.

6. Greg Olsen - Carolina Panthers

Current ADP: OVR54 | TE4

Never thought I'd see the day G-reg who gets head falls off from fantasy greatness, but it happened in 2017. Having not missed a single game (9 straight 16-game szns) since his rookie szn, Greggy O broke his foot and was only able to participate in 7 of Carolina's games last year. He missed weeks 3-10, came back for Week 12, reinjured it but was able to play from Week 14 through their wildcard playoff loss @ NO. It's really hard to analyze what happened for him in 2017. Of the four final games he came back and played in, he had two games where he exploded, 9-116-1, 8-107-1 and two games where he did absolutely nothing, 3-27, 1-10. The big games were a great sign, and all reports from the man himself say the foot is 100% healed, and Panthers matching those words with a two-year extension for Olsen through 2020.

This is (ADP54) exactly where he was going off boards last year, so the fantasy world seems to agree that he's fine. I'm okay with Olsen as mid-round TE, not super pumped about it given the additions of D.J. Moore, Jarius Wright and Torrey Smith but Idt those guys will have much of an effect on Olsen.

If he's healthy than this is a good spot for the Panthers TE.

7. Delanie Walker - Tennessee Titans

Current ADP: OVR75 | TE8

2017 marked the 4th consecutive year that Delanie Walker finished inside the positions top-7 fantasy rankings, leading the Titans in targets, receptions and yards on his way to a TE6 finish with a 74-807-3 statline. It's also the the fourth time in as many years that Walker has 800+ receiving yards.

Despite turning 34 in August, you could easily argue Walker should have performed well beyond his stat line in 2017. Mariota took a step back last year, it's hard to tell whether it was due to injury, or the coaching staff in general and their lack of knowing wtf at all they were doing in terms of play calling. The Tennessee QB finished with less than 220 passing yards in 9-of-15 games, 5 of them with less than 185 passing yards. But Walker was still HEAVILY involved in the passing attack, seeing a team-high 24% of targets. Over the last 4 years, he's never seen less than a 21% share, which on its own would've been top 5 for tight ends in 2017, and the 4-year averages about 23.5% which is among the top's in the league.

I get that Corey Davis was a ridiculously high draft pick, but unless you're projecting his target share to dramatically increase, then I'm not too worried about Walker, especially since Decker is gone who commanded a 17% target share.

The other thing we need to consider is the coaching changes here in Tennessee. They bring in former Texans DC Mike Vrabel which won't tell us much about the offense, but the hiring of Matt LaFleur, former LAR OC, probably will since he'll be calling plays. If there's anyone that can make this offense head in the right direction, it should be LaFleur, at least on paper. He worked under Kyle Shanahan in Washington and Atlanta, before moving to LA under Sean McVay, two of the brightest young offensive minds in football. Admittedly, neither offenses utilized the tight end much. But, neither offense had much of anything at the position. Plus, their other weapons outside of their TEs are stacked between the Falcons and Rams.

Plus in an uptempo offense, Walker fits well as a guy who has great speed for the position and can move after the catch. I like this offense to have a bounce back, and I think Walker is a fantastic value at TE8, where he hasn't finished at or below in fantasy since 2013.

8. George Kittle - San Francisco 49ers

Current ADP: OVR119 | TE15

Kittle is my favorite, non-obvious (Hunter Henry) TE for 2018 fantasy football that should return value unquestionably. 

Coupled with Jimmy GQ as the starter in San Fran, Kittle ended the 2017 szn on a tear, rattling off 4-52, 3-42-1 and 4-100 games consecutively to close out. 

If Kittle is just a name to you at this point, take a look at his metrics.George Kittle 40-Yard Dash

Kittle is an absolute specimen for a tight end. He didn't finish with eye-popping numbers (43-515-2) but the receptions and yards ranked 2nd among all rookie TEs, only behind Evan Engram. His 2 touchdowns weren't fun for owners, but the RZ (16) and ten-zone (7) targets were definitely encouraging to see as a piece of this offense going forward. Digging deeper, there were 30 tight ends in 2017 with at least 40 targets. Among the 30 TEs, Kittle ranked 4th in YAC (6.2), 7th in YPT (8.4) and 12th in YPR (12).

They're going to throw a ton, only 3 QBs threw more passes over the last 5 weeks of the szn than Jimmy GQ, and I expect the trend to continue with Shanny running the show.

9. Kyle Rudolph - Minnesota Vikings

Current ADP: OVR79 | TE9

Rudolph is another tough one to get a read on, but I think I have a pretty solid analysis on him. He finished last year with a 57-532-8 stat-line. In 2016, he had his career-szn where he went 84-840-7. The year prior, 2015, it was much more like 2017, 49-495-5. 

So, I wanted to look at what was the main cause of the jump and what should we expect. Unsurprisingly, in 2016, his big year, his target share in Minnesota jumped to 23%. In 2015, it was just 16%, in 2017 just 15% because of the jumps both Stefon Diggs and especially Adam Thielen made. And what about their offense as a whole, in 2015 they only threw the ball 454 times, dead last in the NFL. 2016, that number jumped up to 588, 12th, last year, leaning on the run game they ranked 21st in the NFL. So, in 2016, not only did the teams pass attempt volume rank highly among the rest of the league, but Rudolph saw a very high target market share. Both things are unlikely. So, I'm not arguing that Rudolph can't repeat his 2017 performance, but that he probably will, and I wouldn't expect his 2016. I think we know what we're getting with Rudolph, a very reliable pass-catcher, especially in the EZ and doesn't move well after the catch.

Bringing in Kirk as the QB here is the big change, of course. And we saw how well Kirk played with Jordan Reed in the lineup. Reed had that monster 2015 szn where he racked up an 87-952-11 line. Reed is a much better athlete than Rudolph obviously, but the good part is that Reed scored 7-of-11 TDs in the tenzone, and 10-of-11 in the RZ, so Kirk obviously likes his TE in that area of the field.

I think it's way more likely Rudolph finished as TE7-9 again than it is that he doesn't. I think Rudolph is almost Jimmy Graham, with less ceiling.

10. Jimmy Graham - Green Bay Packers

Current ADP: OVR63 | TE6

Speaking of Jimmy Graham, here we have him as my 10th ranked TE entering 2018. I am not only leading the anti-Graham hype train, but I'm hosting the mfing cookout when we get off the train.

If I leave you with anything from this entire video, it's don't be the person in your league that takes Jimmy Graham in the 4th or 5th round. There will be one person in every league that does it. Friends don't let friends skip leg day, but friends also don't let friends draft Jimmy Graham, and I'm your friends guys.

Arguments for Jimmy Graham: he is w/ Aaron Rodgers & is tall therefore he must score 12 TDs in 2018. This POV is understandable, coming off of a 10-TD szn in Seattle, but he's not going to lead the NFL in RZ & EZ targets in 2018, like he did in 2017.

Since Graham entered the league in 2010, his per szn averages = 19.5 RZ targets, 10 Tenzone targets & 7 RZ TDs. In that same time span, the most productive GB tight end's per szn averages = 10.5 RZ targets, 5.5 Tenzone targets & 3 RZ touchdowns.

How many consecutive szns can y'all preach "THIS IS BY FAR THE BEST TE THAT AARON RODGERS HAS EVER HAD TO THROW THE BALL TO" without realizing you sound like a moron. Jimmy Graham ain't shit anymore, he can barely move.

He finished last year as TE5 in 0.5 PPR while leading TEs with 10 TDs. 1st in TDs, 10th in RECs, 17th in yards. That's hard to do at a position where fantasy success relies SO heavily on scoring TDs. His YPR dipped more than 5 full yards from '16 (14.2) to '17 (9.1). His YAC (3.5) ranked 57th among 68 NFL TE's last year. He'll rely solely on TDs in 2018, w/ a QB that has NEVER leaned on TEs near the EZ. Sure, 8 TDs is possible, maybe even matching last szn's 10, but that's best case scenario & he'll need that best case to return any value at his current ADP.

 

If you liked what you read you can check us out on:

YouTube - https://bit.ly/2rZZK5X | Nick Ercolano

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Nick Ercolano
Nick Ercolano

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