Tight end continues to be one of the most underappreciated positions in fantasy football. The “TE1” designation doesn’t mean much because there are usually fewer than 10 or 12 consistent options at the position. Spending an early pick on one of the few studs can pay dividends in the fantasy playoffs if you make up the gap surrendered at wide receiver or running back with good drafts, waiver moves, or trades during the season. Finding one of the few players who ascend to consistency from the late rounds or stud status from the mid-rounds is even more profitable. There are compelling options at every level of your draft this year.
There’s one tight end to rule them all this year.
Travis Kelce, KC - Target
With no signs of any problems recovering from offseason ankle surgery, Kelce is primed to stay at or near career highs set in 2018. Better health from Sammy Watkins and contributions from Mecole Hardman might cut into Kelce’s career-high target total, but increased efficiency playing defenses stressed and stretched to the max should compensate for the loss as Kelce is one of the few tight ends who can get vertical and also break tackles to create big plays, and he has Patrick Mahomes II throwing the ball to him.
Elite Last Year, What about this year?
George Kittle, SF - Priced Correctly
Kittle was a good ways off the pace of Ertz and Kelce last year, but his target spike was less dramatic, he gets a big bump in quarterback quality with the return of Jimmy Garoppolo, and he has big-play ability. Like Kelce, seeing better health from 49ers receivers will cut into his target share, but increase his efficiency.
UPDATE: The lack of clarity about wide receiver in San Francisco only makes Kittle more attractive at ADP.
Zach Ertz, PHI - Avoid at ADP
Ertz saw a big boost early in the season when Alshon Jeffery was out or easing back into the lineup and the quarterback was either Nick Foles or a rusty Carson Wentz. Dallas Goedert was a green rookie and the team didn’t have a quality third receiver. He became much more inconsistent in the second half of the year - albeit with very high peaks - but he’ll probably come back down to numbers closer to what he posted in 2017, which would make him top five at the position, but far from elite.
Possible Elite Tier Party crashers
Last year Ertz and Kittle were massive hits because they posted elite numbers at less than elite prices. Who could do that this year?
O.J. Howard, TB - Priced Correctly
Howard was ridiculously efficient last year, posting top-six numbers on a points-per-game basis even though he was getting targeted about half of the rate of the Ertz/Kelce/Kittle tier. That should increase this year with the Bucs losing two of their top four targeted wide receivers and Howard just starting to come into his own at age 24. Don’t sweat Bruce Arians' history with tight ends, he’s never had one like Howard.
Evan Engram, NYG - Priced Correctly
Engram should benefit from Golden Tate’s four-game suspension and his numbers without Odell Beckham Jr hint at bigger things to come. Like Howard, he’s turning 25 this year and should be primed for his best football yet - if he can stay on the field. He’ll also likely be catching passes from Daniel Jones at some point this year, so there’s some risk to go with the potential risk.
UPDATE: The performance of Jones in the preseason reduces the risk factor for Engram.
Not Elite, But Likely Advantage Over The Pack
This group isn’t going make your season like Ertz or Kittle did last year, but they can provide a distinct advantage over the teams that scuffling at tight end because they don’t have a consistent scorer and sometimes post points at the position that you can count on one hand.
Jared Cook, NO - Target
Was it the Raiders lack of reliable wide receivers that made Cook’s career year at 31? Or is peaking with age like fine wine? The Saints seem to think it’s the latter, giving him a two-year, $15 million dollar deal. They are opening up parts of the playbook that have gone dormant since the team traded away Jimmy Graham and that’s exciting.
Hunter Henry, LAC - Avoid at ADP
Henry should be a better player than the one we saw in 2017 who was looking like a future breakout candidate. He might not own the red zone targets now that Mike Williams is growing into his game, and there’s an outside chance Antonio Gates could return for yet another year to take the edge off of his upside. He’ll be one of Philip Rivers' top targets in any event.
Vance McDonald, PIT - Target
McDonald has a chance to be Ben Roethlisberger’s #2 target with the uncertainty and lack of experience at #2 receiver. He might not have as much room to operate with Antonio Brown gone, but the team has some downfield threats at wideout, and we know Roethlisberger and McDonald have established chemistry. He’s a good candidate to take up some of the targets vacated by Brown.
Standing On The Verge of getting it on
Every year we get pulled in by young tight ends who could be a lot better than the version we saw last year. The unknown upside of steep-climbing early career arcs is compelling and chances are at least one of this group will greatly exceed expectations this year.
David Njoku, CLE- Priced Correctly
Njoku oozes physical talent. The addition of Odell Beckham Jr to the wide receiver room and Todd Monken to the coaching staff should create an aggressive pass offense with a lot of room to roam. If anything holds Njoku back, it will be a middling offensive line with some big question marks.
Mark Andrews, BAL - Target
Andrews was ridiculously efficient with Lamar Jackson last year. Most reports are glowing about his progress going into the year, and about the evolution of the Ravens pass offense. If he gets more targets and maintains his 2018 effectiveness, Andrews will be a solid every-week start.
Dallas Goedert, PHI - Target
Goedert has been garnering offseason and preseason hype consistently and should play a larger role in what will be one of the most potent pass offenses in the league. He will likely be more productive with an increased number of targets while regularly creating one of the biggest mismatches on the field.
T.J. Hockenson, DET - Target
Darrell Bevell has been known to maroon good receiving tight ends near the line of scrimmage as blockers, and the Lions run-first plans certainly make that a danger for Hockenson’s outlook this year. If they are willing to use Hockenson as a receiver first and foremost, then he might make the biggest rookie tight end splash since Mike Ditka. Iowa opponents were more concerned about Hockenson than his fellow first-round pick (for Denver) and superior athlete Noah Fant.
Old and/or Broken
If you want to see what playing tight end can do to a player’s body and effectiveness over time, just take a gander at this crew. They still have skills and might generate surprising value if they stay healthy, given some have great chemistry with their quarterback, or great quarterbacks, or a track record of value. Just don’t rely on them to be your starter for the whole season.
Greg Olsen, CAR - Target
He is still Cam Newton’s #1 target. Hopefully, the foot surgery will fix the problem for good and Olsen will remain on the field
Jimmy Graham, GB - Priced Correctly
The Packers were expected to let Graham walk because of five million dollar bonus this offseason, but they kept him. If he and Aaron Rodgers can establish some red-zone chemistry, Graham could pay off despite lacking a second gear at this point in his career.
Tyler Eifert, CIN - Target
Eifert’s injury was a fluke and not a result of his body breaking down. He has a chance to get off to a hot start with AJ Green out and he was getting back to old form both on the field and in the box score before the injury.
Delanie Walker, TEN - Avoid at ADP
Walker has been a consistent fantasy tight end for a long time, but the injuries and years are piling up and the team added two wide receivers this offseason who should spread out a limited target pie even further.
Jason Witten, DAL - Priced Correctly
Witten has reportedly picked up right where he left off before going to the Monday Night Football booth. He won’t be a needle mover in fantasy lineups, but he’ll rarely be a zonk in PPR leagues.
This group might rank as TE1 or near TE1 options in projection-based rankings, but their top-end range of outcomes is flaccid.
Austin Hooper, ATL - Avoid at ADP
Hooper had a few target peak games last year, especially when Matt Ryan was having a long afternoon, but he isn’t going to add value to his targets while the ball in the air or after the catch. He is merely competent.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN - Avoid at ADP
Take away the hail mary game and Rudolph was a non-factor for fantasy last year. His team adding Irv Smith, a solid two-way tight end, in the second round only makes it more certain that Rudolph will be a non-factor in fantasy leagues again this year.
Trey Burton, CHI - Avoid at ADP
It sounds like Burton is going to be treated with kid gloves after he tested his body early in camp and it didn’t go well post-hernia surgery. He was already fading last year, and for now, at least Adam Shaheen is healthier.
Wide Receiver Playing Tight End
For two tight end (yes they exist and they are fun) and tight end premium leagues, there are a few intriguing deep sleepers. Both play tight end despite having a wide receiver pedigree.
Darren Waller, OAK - Target
Waller could be the main beneficiary of Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams occupying defenses even though Derek Carr is a passive, meek passer downfield. Waller should win his matchup consistently and he is part of a long line of Georgia Tech size/speed receivers.
Waiver Wire Watch List
The tight end position lends itself to a lot of turnover and playing matchups or hot streaks. This list is led off by two names who have the ability to be consistent scorers but will miss the first four games of the season. There’s some youth with upside, some players who could slide into good roles, and a few candidates for late-season impact.
Eric Ebron, IND
Jack Doyle, IND
Jordan Reed, WAS
Starters with mediocre talent or #2s with pass-catching ability in a good offense who can save your bacon in an emergency.
Injury Upside Waiver Wire Watch List
Injuries at tight end will happen in bunches. This list covers players who could get on our fantasy radar if the guy ahead of them on the depth chart goes down.