The tight end position has gone through much change over the years. As the position title sort of suggests, he fits on the end of the offensive line and is both a blocker and able to release off the line of scrimmage and catch passes. They have to have strength and footwork of a 300lb lineman and the hands and speed of a 200lb receiver. Typically these guys have been more like blockers than pass catchers but finding this mix of athlete provides an incredible match up problem and over the years, there have been some exceptional talents and incredible human specimens to play the position. Guys like Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe pioneered the evolution of the tight end and they blazed the way for guys like Vernon Davis and Antonio Gates 10 odd years ago to guys in the modern game like Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce.
With the focus on these uber hybrid freaks of nature, finding them is like finding a needle in a USA continent size haystack. There will always be your model tight end, like your Jason Witten’s or your Dennis Pitta’s who are great athletes and solid contributors to their respective teams that will always produce but if you can find a 6’6″ 250lb monster with speed who can line up as a WR, in the slot or hell even in the backfield, defenses will not be able to match up. You can’t put a 5’10” cornerback on guys like Rob Gronkowski when he lines up outside. Put a linebacker on him and he just runs right by and gallops off for a 40 yard gain all the while being brought down by 6 defenders.
Point is, finding these guys that cause matchup problems is a high priority for teams in the modern NFL. Finding them is the problem and there are only a handful at the moment that display those sorts of skills. From a fantasy point of view, 2016 was a terrible year for the position. Mostly decimated by injuries and under performance, there are probably about 5 guys that truly contributed. This years draft class is apparently very good so you will see more teams investing in the position trying to create that unique mismatch. A few tidbits to note; for the first time since Shannon Sharpe in 1998, no TE went over 140 points. There were only 188 TDs to TE this year, fewest since 2008 and the lowest individual TD total (8) since 2002 when 3 players scored just 7.
On to the list! Again as per previous weeks, I will list points, stats and then whether or not they will do better, worse or stay the same in 2017.
1, Travis Kelce 138 points – 1125 yards, 85 catches, 4 TD
The fourth year pro started slow, going over 10 points just once in the first 7 weeks of the season. Something must have clicked because week 8 onwards he went nuts and racked up 6 100 yard games. Pretty much shot him up to the TE1 spot. Funnily enough, this year’s points total, 138 points would have had Kelce at TE7 in 2015. The player that was 7th last year you ask? Travis Kelce. Weird right? Kelce’s eccentricities aside, he fits the new mould of TE who can outrun linebackers and towers over cornerbacks but he is in an offense that can be inconsistent but it was great to see Kelce rack up over 1000 yards and become a main player at KC. Point to note, other than his yards, his TD’s are pretty much the same (5 in both his previous seasons so there really isn’t much more to work with.
Next year – Stay the same
2, Greg Olsen 127 points – 1073 yards, 80 catches, 3 TD
The only other guy to hit 1000 yards as a TE this year was Greg Olsen. Greg has a good year, not his best but he is easily the favourite target of Cam Newton. Despite the Panthers struggles on offense, Olsen racked up his third 1000 yard season in a row and has truly perfected his craft now. He is 31 but his production has actually got better year after year. From 2012-2016, he had 10+ catches of over 20 yards all but once, his previous 5 years he had no catches over that distance. Still as explosive as they come, he has a good few years left unless the injury bug gets him. Like Kelce above, this is right about where he should be but his TD total this year was his lowest since his rookie year. He also only 4 games of 10+ points which further highlights the misery of the TE position this year. Unless the Panthers find new blood at the same spot or in the WR position, Olsen should still be productive as the first or second option for Cam Newton along with Kelvin Benjamin.
Next year – Stay the same
3, Kyle Rudolph 126 points – 840 yards, 83 catches, 7 TD
Right so this is where the TE position gets a bit weird. Kyle Rudolph, for the anemic Vikings offense, was your TE3. This was Rudolph’s best season as a pro improving his catches by just over 30 balls and his yards by almost double. He did have 9 TD’s in his second season but in between there and 2016 he was a good, but not great player. Unlike Kelce and Olsen above, Rudolph was very consistent, getting 5 games of over 10 points and over 5 points for another 7. Right about the 50 yard mark each and every week so if you had him, he would give you decent production each week. His outlook next year will very much depend on who is the Vikings QB. If Sam Bradford keeps the job, expect similar production. If Teddy Bridgewater comes back then who knows. He is right around the 10 yards a catch mark for his career so if he gets 5 catches a game next year, you are looking at around 800 yards and 5/6 scores if he plays all 16 games. Like most TE’s next year, they will be available at the back end of all drafts so if you have the rest of your team set, you can rely on Rudolphs steady, but unremarkable production.
Next year – Stay the same
4, Jimmy Graham 124 points – 923 yards, 65 catches, 6 TD
The 2013 Jimmy Graham seems so far away. That Jimmy Graham who racked up a staggering 217 points (1215 yards and 16 TD) and simply dominated all defenses he faced. The 6’7″ 265lb ex basketball player was traded over to the Seahawks despite clear success with the Saints and just hasn’t quite got right in Seattle. They have shown flashes of greatness but Russell Wilson and the offense just doesn’t seem to want to use him the way that most other teams probably would. He is 30 now and his role in the Seahawks offense seems like it won’t change. He should be a guy you go get in the double digit rounds, because he clearly has the ability to influence games (5 games over 10 points) but in 8 of the other 11 games he scored 5 points or lower. Not an issue with the player I think but the offense. Again, I don’t see much changing next year but it could go either way.
Next year – Stay the same
5, Delanie Walker 123 points – 800 yards, 65 catches, 7 TD
Delanie Walker was primed for a great year but thanks to a few injuries and development of the Titans WR unit, it didn’t quite happen. For me, I would actually put Walker in the disappointment section of this write up. I was expecting another 1000 yards and double digit TD. He got a decent amount of TDs but his yardage and catches all dropped. He did have 6 games of 10+ points but like the Titans offense in the last month of the season, flamed out and halted any chance of getting to the playoffs. If Walker gets 1000 yards, he is your TE1. Unfortunately for Walker, this was probably his best chance to be the focal point of the offense as the rest of the team develops and probably pushes him down the pecking order. They are set at QB, RB and offensive line so they would more than likely invest in a WR or two and focus on pushing guys like Matthews, Derrick Henry and Tajae Sharpe.
Next year – Worse
6, Cameron Brate 114 points – 660 yards, 57 catches, 8 TD
Brate, the 3rd year pro from Harvard, emerged as a go to guy for Jameis Winston. With Mike Evans requiring most, if not all, of the attention of opposing secondaries, Brate happily stepped in as a safety blanket and TD machine. Like virtually all TE in 2016, there were even amounts of games with 10+ points (5 for Brate) and ones with lower than 5 points (7). No middle ground really. Brates yardage did creep up as the season when on and his reliability in scoring TDs should boost next years numbers up. He is the first guy on this list who I can see actually improving on his 2016 numbers. He is just 25 and has the size and ability to develop as a nice second option behind Mike Evans. At worst he is a TD dependent red zone threat. Much like Gary Barnidge and Tyler Eifert, they can be very useful players.
Next year – Better
7, Martellus Bennett 113 points – 701 yards, 55 catches, 7 TD
As if having Rob Gronkowski wasn’t enough, the Patriots just had to pick up 6’6″ 275lb Martellus Bennett to serve as their second TE. Fortunately for him, Gronk’s ongoing injury woes shot him up the fantasy rankings this year. If any one player symbolised the TE position in 2016, it was Bennett. A 24 point outburst in Cleveland, 17 points vs the Dolphins and a few other 10+ plus games padded his numbers massively. Those 5 games amassed 462 of his yards and 5 of his TDs. The rest of the year, he was just not needed as with most other Brady led teams, he will pick you apart with whoever he needs to. Bennett is probably a bit of a better blocker than Gronk so using his strengths a bit more makes sense. Either way, take those major games out, he doesn’t contribute that much. Presuming that Gronk manages to get healthy, Bennetts number go down. He is in a contract year though so he could potentially leave and get paid so his numbers should in theory go up.
Next year – Worse
8, Zach Ertz 105 points – 816 yards, 78 catches, 4 TD
Zach Ertz pretty much disappointed everyone in the first half of the season. A few injury issues and struggling offense led to him scoring 5 or less points in every game. The second half of the season was a very different story. 666 yards, all 4 of his TDs and 88 of his 105 points to be exact. This should be very encouraging for Eagles fans and especially fantasy players who potentially could have someone else that might be able to drop 1000 yards next year. He has definitely developed a chemistry with Carson Wentz and although most would argue that his production was a result of desperately poor wide receiver group, the signs and talent are there. If he can stay healthy, there is no reason he cannot double his TD numbers and boost to over 1000 yards.
Next year – Better
9, Jordan Reed 102 points – 686 yards, 66 catches, 6 TD
Jordan Reed had 11 TD and 952 yards last year. Most were expecting him to continue his impressive 2015 campaign and become a force to be reckoned with. Injuries (do you sense a trend here) de-railed that hope. He started off well, racking up over 50 yards in 8 of his first 10 games along with 5 TDs. Another missed game in week 13 basically ended his season and he could barely contribute for the rest of the way. Three of his games showed what he is capable of, 95 yards 2 TD at Dallas, 99 and a TD at Cincinnati and 73 yards and 2 TD. Those three games accounted for a third of his yards and 5 of his 6 TDs. Washington have lost their OC but I think all of their offensive players should stay intact. Providing he stays healthy, his numbers will go back to 2015 level.
Next year – Better
10, Antonio Gates 94 points – 548 yards, 53 catches, 7 TD
Antonio Gates will go down as one of the greatest TE in NFL history, but my god he has no place in the top 10 of fantasy football TE. No way. At 36, he has slowed down massively but is still crafty enough and smart enough to get himself in to the right spot and beat a defense. Philip Rivers just loves throwing him the ball and maybe out of habit, more than anything, he just kept throwing him the ball. In the 7 games he scored a TD, he scored 10+ in 5 of them. As you can probably tell, if he didn’t score, he did not contribute with his yards. He may hang around 1 more year but despite his 14 year long contribution winds down, he won’t/shouldn’t get any many looks as he did in 2016. He will be replaced by the younger chap who I will talk about below. Thank you Mr Gates!
Next year – Worse
11, Hunter Henry 93 points – over a three week stretch (weeks 4-6) Henry scored 39 points and had a TD in each game. They he dropped off while the Chargers forced Gates more and more back into the line-up. In the final 7 games he scored another 5 TD totaling 8 for the year. Between Henry and Gates, the Charges had 15 TD from their TE position. I would expect the stats to flip towards Henry next year. He is 6’5″ and 250lbs and Rivers loves throwing to a big bodied, fast TE.
14, Jason Witten 83 points – old reliable was again the safety blanket for his QB. That QB just happened to be Dak Prescott instead of Tony Romo. Different QB, same results.
17, CJ Fiedorowicz 79 points – only 1 player in all of Houston benefitted from Brock Osweiller’s 2016 season, that guy was Fiedorowicz. Somehow replacing DeAndre Hopkins as the number 1 target and got himself 559 yards and 4 scores. Doubtful he makes much more improvement with such uncertainty at the QB position.
22, Rob Gronkowski 72 points – Gronk is here because he could not stay on the field in 2016. Although the NFL website has him at 8 games, he only really played in 5. This means that he scored 72 points in 5 games. 5 games!? He only had 25 receptions but averaged 21.6 yards a catch just adding more evidence to his dominance and a true generational talent. If Gronk stays healthy, he is good for 1100 yards and 10+ TDs. In 5 games, he was just 25 points shy of reaching the top 10.
20, Gary Barnidge 75 points – this is probably unfair given the carousel of QB’s in Cleveland but after his 2015 breakout campaign, more was expected of him. His 1043 yards and 9 TDs landed him double the points that he got this year. He got the yards but only 2 TD.
24, Tyler Eifert 69 points – like Gronk, injuries all be derailed Eiferts season. Like Barnidge above his 69 points look like a far cry from his 139 points and 13 TD in 2015.
I could genuinely list Eric Ebron, Charles Clay, Zach Millar, Clive Walford and Julius Thomas in the disappointments but the whole position was a mess and these guys further show the lack of trust in the position. Next year should include an influx of talent so keep an eye out on the draft and the offseason work.
Guy to look out for:
36, Jared Cook 41 points – okay so you already know about Jared Cook. Or at least you should. Cook was the hero of the Dallas playoff game and steadily improved in the back end of the season. With another season of work, expect Jared working towards the top 10.
OJ Howard – Okay so this is jumping no the bandwagon a bit but it is only February and this guys name keeps coming up in mock drafts. Potential game changer and monster of a dude. No other reason other than people talking about him as I don’t know anything about him yet but one to look for according to virtually all the draft experts.
Right so the interesting thing that I could see was this season wasn’t actually that bad. 2009 through to 2012 there were only an average of 6 players who went over 100 points. 2012 to 2015 it is around 9/10 players that hit that same mark. This year had 9 players so right in line with the previous 4 years.
Thanks to the general lack of production from the position I would doubt any TE gets taken till the later single digit rounds next. If you can, I would wait as long as possible and pick up guys like Hunter Henry or Cameron Brate once guys like Gronk/Barnidge/Eifert etc are taken. Does anyone think that Gronk goes first round after only playing 6 games this year? Doubtful. The one thing I can say is that getting a top 10 TE will not guarantee a league championship but having a guy that will get you 8-10 points each week will win you close games during the season.
Next week, kickers and defences.