Fantasy Football 2015: Time to Take a Tight End?

NFL.com
NFL.com

Tight Ends were once an afterthought when it came to fantasy football, but today’s NFL is built for the pass and these part time blockers have more size, more speed and better hands than many of the predecessors. But when should you take a TE in your draft? Use of Fantasy Football guide to help you through draft day:

1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots – Dare we say it? A Tight End in the first round? It’s rare that a TE ever even sniffs the first round, but after recovering from successive years of health issues, Gronk returned to his dominating self and proved to be the ultimate weapon and goal line threat in New England. In an 8 or 10 team league, the first round might be a stretch, but in some leagues it’s possible that Gronk could slip into the late first.
Draft zone: Late first round to second round.
Strategy: It’s a risky move to take a TE in the first round (and perhaps even the second), but in a fantasy year more unsettled than most, anything is possible. The numbers he tends to put up are on par with a topline No. 1 WR, so if you want to take him in the midst of all the second round receivers, no one should bat an eyelash.

2. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks – Make no bones about it, Jimmy Graham is one of the elite TEs in the game. But the thing that’s different this year is that Graham is no longer with the Saints where you knew what to expect. Instead he’s with the Seahawks, who aren’t exactly known for their passing game. So at present, the fear of the unknown is causing him to slip a little. But don’t let him fall too far.
Draft zone: Late second round to mid third round.
Strategy: In this year’s draft, the tight end class features two studs, then a big drop off. If you want to gain a competitive advantage at the position while sacrificing depth elsewhere, grab Graham in the third. Someone might snag him in the second but that would be a stretch.

3. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers – See, we told you there’d be a drop off. Olsen quietly had a monster year last year in Carolina and with Kelvin Benjamin done for the year, he becomes Cam Newton’s most reliable receiver. He’ll get plenty of looks and is capable of putting up some big weeks.
Draft zone: Fifth to seventh round.
Strategy: Once someone pulls the trigger on Olsen, there might be a couple more TE’s that follow. Make careful use of your players chart and gauge the talk of your fellow owners to see who is on the board before pulling the trigger. In some leagues, a late fifth round choice could make sense. In others, you could see runs on certain positions that allow Olsen and the other TE’s to fall, perhaps all the way to the seventh round.

4. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs – After missing his rookie season due to injury, Kelce returned in 2014 as a sleeper pick and performed way above his projects. He’s a pass catching TE who actually was limited a bit by the fact that he wasn’t the team’s best blocker. With his first full season under his belt, look for his blocking to improve, for him to be on the field more frequently and for a repeat and improvement on last year’s stats.
Draft zone: Sixth the eighth round.
Strategy: Once Olsen goes, Kelce should not be far behind. There should be a run of three, with Martellus Bennett being the third, all taken within a round of each other.

5. Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears – You can argue that no Brandon Marshall and some indecision on the other WR slot should make Bennett a bigger target. You can argue that a new offense which may involve throwing to Matt Forte less should also make Bennett a bigger target. And you can look at statistics and see that Bennett was pretty damn good in 2014 on an otherwise underperforming Bears offense.
Draft zone: Sixth to eighth round.
Strategy: If you miss on Olsen or Kelce and don’t have an immediate other need, take Bennett if he falls to you. But if you pass, know that he won’t make it back to you.

6. Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars – He took the money and ran … from a Hall of Fame QB to a second year QB thrown to the wolves behind a fairly young offensive line. He also ran into injury issues in Denver and has yet to complete a season unscathed in his brief career. Thomas is highly talented and capable of putting up big numbers. Bortles looks pretty steady and the Jacksonville offense shows greater potential. It’s a risk, but it could pay off big if the team takes the next step.
Draft zone: Eighth to ninth round
Strategy: Bank on Thomas, but draft a solid backup not soon after you take him. Look at it like this. If Jacksonville’s offense is good, he’ll likely be a big target. If Jacksonville’s offense is bad, the best friend of a young QB under fire is the TE. But you have to worry about his health holding up. He seems like the biggest upside option of the next tier.

7. Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts – Who? If you had him on your fantasy team last year, you know who? He’s not necessarily a primary target, but like Cris Carter back in the day, all he does is catch TDs. When healthy, he’s shown signs of brilliance and has outperformed the higher drafted Coby Fleener.
Draft zone: Ninth to tenth round
Strategy: He’s a big target and while he’s not targeted much, Luck looks to him at the goal line and for third down conversions. Even when he doesn’t score, he’s usually good for 50-70 yards.

8. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys – He’s not the player he once was, but Tony Romo always knows where he’s at and you can pretty consistently count on him to put up catches, even if the yardage doesn’t follow.
Draft zone: Tenth to eleventh round
Strategy: If you’re looking for a TE at this point, you better have drafted well at your other key offensive positions. Because TE’s are devalued after the Top 2, he’s as good as any of the remaining options, especially if your drafting in a double digit round.

9. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers – The reason he falls to here is because of his first month suspension. Gates found the Fountain of Youth in 2014 and became fantasy relevant again. Given the lack of major options at TE, why not draft Gates this late and bite the bullet with your backup until he returns.
Draft zone: Tenth to eleventh round.
Strategy: Had Gates started the season without the suspension, he probably would have been ranked between Olsen and Kelce. It’s a nice value here, especially if you draft your backup TE within the next two rounds.

10. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans – Like Thomas, Walker has a young QB. But unlike Thomas, he’s got a bit more proven offensive line. Tennessee doesn’t necessarily have a big play offense regardless, so look for Walker to be a favorite target of Mariota, especially early in the year.
Draft zone: Eleventh to twelfth round
Strategy: There may be bigger names on the board, but this looks like a safer pick.

11. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles – He’s part of the Philadelphia offense and was a favorite goal line target in his rookie year. But 2014 found Ertz taking a step backward, suffering a case of the drops and struggling to stay on the field in blocking situations. Given that the fast-paced Eagles offense will throw it around, he could have some big games and some not so big games.
Draft zone: Twelfth round to thirteenth round
Strategy: This is a potential pick. If you haven’t drafted a TE at this point, there’s some good upside here as a low end starter. But his inconsistency will drive you nuts. Best in a “play the matchups” rotation or a bye week sub.

12. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings – He’s healthy after a lost 2014. How quickly will he gel with Bridgewater? It’s scary how much of an improvement the Vikings could make this year with the additions of Wallace, Peterson and Rudolph to Bridgewater’s arsenal.
Draft zone: Twelfth to thirteenth round.
Strategy: He could easily outperform this draft position or he could be the least popular option on a high powered offense — it all depends on how well he connects with Bridgewater. It should also be noted that the Vikings have some young TE’s that could push for playing time if Rudolph falters. It’s the make or break year for the vet in Minnesota.

13. Owen Daniels, Denver Broncos – He won’t replicate Julius Thomas’ numbers, but he did play in coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense in Baltimore last year and starred in Houston when Kubiak was his head coach. Now he has future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning throwing to him and with Kubiak at the helm in Denver.
Draft zone: Twelfth to thirteenth round.
Strategy: He will be underdrafted in most leagues as many owners think his best days are behind him. But put him in the Denver offense and you could see his stat totals go back up.

14. Jordan Cameron, Miami Dolphins – His talent tells you he should go higher. The fact that he’s in Miami’s offense and not Cleveland’s tells you he should go higher. But he lands in this spot because of the serious concussion issues he suffered last year. It’s a risk, but if healthy, he would be ranked around No. 8 on this list.
Draft zone: Thirteenth round.
Strategy: If you draft him, you better have another capable TE because it’s doubtful he makes it through the year healthy.

15. Larry Donnell, New York Giants – He quietly put up solid numbers after being overlooked by nearly everyone going into 2014. The Giants are a much improved offense, but it’s yet to be determined how much having Cruz and Jennings back and Vereen stealing 3rd Down looks will impact Donnell’s opportunities.
Draft zone: Fourteenth to fifteenth round.
Strategy: Probably the last in line of the TE’s you feel comfortable drafting. Everyone left has a reason why they’ve fallen this far. Donnell will put up decent but probably not spectacular states.

Best of the Rest
16. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers – How bad was Vernon Davis in 2014? Bad enough that he went from Top 5 TE to pretty much on everyone’s “Do Not Draft” list. Most want to forget about him, but if ever there was a “rebound” candidate, it’s this guy. He can’t be worse that last year, can he?
17. Josh Hill, New Orleans Saints – He will be drafted up because he’s the heir to Jimmy Graham’s job in New Orleans, but he’s not Graham, nor will he be used like Graham was.
18. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers – Rarely a fantasy stud. Usually drafted around this point every year. He’s good for clutch catches and may have a couple of multi-TD games, but you never know when it will happen.
19. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Bucs – Showed promise as a rookie, but still a little inconsistent and now has a rookie QB throwing to him.
20. Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts – He’ll have some big games, but is definitely the second option behind Dwayne Allen.
21. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals – With no Gresham in the way and entering the season healthy, Eifert becomes a factor for the Bengals.
22. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions – Has shown signs of being an emerging offensive threat. Could outperform this ranking.
23. Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens – Two years of injuries have dropped him from a Top 10 TE to this slot. Is this the year he makes it through the year unscathed?
24. Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams – The Rams are built to run and with a very young offensive line, Cook could once again find himself as the main receiving threat.
25. Mychal Rivera, Oakland Raiders – Had some big games last year as a relative unknown. With the Raiders offense improving, it’s worth monitoring how much he progresses.
26. Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills – Sorry Bills fans, you’re ineptitude at QB is killing every other skill player’s rankings. But as has been repeated, the TE might benefit the most from a bad or rushed QB.
27. Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers – Was a sleeper pick after his 2013 season, but Gates’ re-emergence rendered him invisible in 2014. He’ll get a shot for the first four games of 2014 to show he deserves more playing time.
28. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins – The de facto starter in Washington after their other two TE’s already went down for the year. Injuries and inconsistency caused him to lose his job last year. With no other viable options, he’ll get every chance to show what he’s got.
29. Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers – Showed promise last year splitting time at TE. Now, as the main guy, in a Jordy Nelson-less offense, there are more balls to go around.
30. Scott Chandler, New England Patriots – The longtime Bill moves to the conference rivals and could benefit from everyone looking Gronk’s way.

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