2018 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends
Another early-August day, another fantasy football rankings list. We all want to draft as great a team as possible to garner bragging rights over all are friends, so I’m here to help you out in that quest.
Today we’ll be talking about tight ends. While most of them might not be tremendously exciting when it comes to fantasy, you might be surprised by how often huge fantasy matchups can come down to tight end play. With every player, I’ll list their stats from the 2017-18 season, as well as their bye week for this upcoming season. I’ll also include reasonings as to why they deserve a pick, as well as some negatives you might want to watch out for.
In most 12-team formats, fantasy owners typically find themselves walking away from draft day with a pair of tight ends on their roster, so I’ll be listing my top 24 picks for the position. In terms of the rankings, I’m assuming a .5-PPR format so as to be as neutral as I can be.
In case you missed our 2018 fantasy football rankings for other positions, you can check them out in the links below:
Let’s get down to business.
1. Rob Gronkowski, NE (11)
14 games: 69 receptions, 1,084 receiving yards, 8 TD
The Good: When you’re arguably the best to ever play your position and you haven’t even hit 30 yet, you’re a pretty good be atop your position’s fantasy rankings. The NFL has never seen the combination of size, speed, strength, quickness, and hands that Gronk possesses, making him one of the most imposing offenses threats in football today. Being thrown to by arguably the great quarterback of all time in Tom Brady doesn’t exactly hurt either. He should be the first tight end off your board.
The Catch: Injury concerns always loom over Gronk. He hasn’t played a full 16 game season since 2011-12 and is constantly at risk of seriously hurting himself given how hard he plays. Gronk is nearly guaranteed to miss at least two games.
2. Travis Kelce, KC (12)
15 games: 83 receptions, 1,038 receiving yards, 8 TD
The Good: Kelce is a surefire second best tight end in the NFL behind Gronk. He’s caught for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons and finished just shy of first place in fantasy points among tight ends in 2017-18. He might not have the immense talent Rob Gronkowski has, but he’s a close second and doesn’t come with those same injury concerns.
The Catch: The Chiefs offense is likely going to go under a major shift this season, as their going from a short, accurate pass type of quarterback in Alex Smith to a hard throwing, high-risk high-reward QB in Patrick Mahomes. Kelce should be great for Mahomes’s development as an NFL quarterback, but being wary of the shift in QB is understandable for fantasy owners.
3. Zach Ertz, PHI (9)
14 games: 74 receptions, 824 receiving yards, 8 TD
The Good: Coming off his best fantasy season to date which saw him garner his first Pro Bowl appearance, Ertz rounds out what most consider to be the easy top 3 of fantasy tight ends. He’s hit 70 receptions and 800 yards and three straight seasons and doubled his career high in touchdowns in 2017-18. With a full season of Carson Wentz at quarterback, Ertz could very well match or exceed last season’s excellent numbers.
The Catch: Ertz has yet to have an eye-popping fantasy season like Gronk or Kelce, so he probably should not be taken as high. He has a very high floor, but some guys ranked below him could have higher ceilings.
4. Evan Engram, NYG (9)
15 games: 64 receptions, 722 receiving yards, 6 TD
The Good: When wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr and Brandon Marshall both went down with season-ending injuries, Engram became Eli Manning’s top pass-catching option, and he didn’t disappoint. His rookie season was excellent, especially when you take into account the fact that opposing defenses didn’t have much else to concentrate on when it came to the passing game. Look for Engram to improve significantly this season.
The Catch: How much can you trust Eli’s arm at this point? The 37-year-old looked awful last season, throwing for his least amount of single-season yards in nearly a decade and his worst touchdown-to-interception ratio since he threw 27 picks in 2013-14. Eli’s probably not going to be getting better, making hesitation regarding Engram’s status on the tight end rankings pretty understandable.
5. Greg Olsen, CAR (4)
7 games: 17 receptions, 191 receiving yards, 1 TD
The Good: Prior to Olsen’s injury-riddled 2017-18, he had caught for over 1,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons. He’s established himself as quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite receiving target, emphasized by the fact that last season saw Newton throw for the second-lowest season total of his career. With his broken foot fully recover, Olsen should come back at full strength and threaten the 1,000 yard mark once again.
The Catch: Olsen’s injury is understandably a bit scary. The broken foot had him sidelined for over two months, and his first attempt at returning resulted in him leaving the field after only being targeted once. Olsen only had one good fantasy game last season, and one can’t help but wonder if his foot can get aggravated again at some point this season.
6. Kyle Rudolph, MIN (10)
16 games: 57 receptions, 532 receiving yards, 8 TD
The Good: I’ve always felt that Kyle Rudolph was pretty under-appreciated. He’s a very talented tight end who’s always a consistently reliable receiving option for his (usually) bad quarterbacks. Now that he finally has someone as good as Kirk Cousins throwing him the ball, Rudolph could be in for his best season yet. He’s been a perennial mid-to-low tier TE1, but he could finish toward the top this season.
The Catch: We just don’t know how Rudolph and Cousins will mesh. Cousins has experience with throwing to a talented tight end, having had Jordan Reed in Washington, but Minnesota’s plethora or receiving options might take away some of Rudolph’s fantasy value.
7. Delanie Walker, TEN (8)
16 games: 74 receptions, 807 receiving yards, 3 TD
The Good: After a fantastic 2015-16 season which saw him catch 94 balls for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns, Walker has slowed down a bit, hitting 800 and 807 yards resopectively in the two seasons since. Still, that sort of consistent production is nice to have in a mid-tier TE1, and he should be pretty safe to snag in the middle rounds.
The Catch: Walker will be 34 at the start of this season, and getting older rarely ever benefits tight ends. As quarterback Marcus Mariota continues to improve, he seems to be using Walker less than he did as a more raw player. In addition, if wide receiver Corey Davis breaks out this season as many expect he could, Walker runs the possibility of losing targets.
8. David Njoku, CLE (11)
16 games: 32 receptions, 386 receiving yards, 4 TD
The Good: While his numbers weren’t exactly incredible, Njoku looked nice in his rookie season despite being on a historically terrible Cleveland Browns offense. He showed plenty of promise thanks to his combination of size and athleticism, so he clearly has plenty of potential. He will also almost definitely benefit from the change in Cleveland’s quarterback situation, making him a solid breakout candidate this season and a nice mid-to-low tier RB1.
The Catch: Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has never exactly been huge on throwing to tight ends, and rookie QB Baker Mayfield is a totally wild card when it comes to who might be his top receiving targets. Njoku’s value could be contingent on who plays quarterback for the Browns, a situation which is entirely unpredictable as of right now.
9. Jimmy Graham, GB (7)
16 games: 57 receptions, 520 receiving yards, 10 TD
The Good: Graham finally seemed to catch his stride in Seattle last season, who had finally figured out how to use him appropriately. His ten touchdowns were good enough to tie him for second in the NFL with Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, making it clear that he’s still a huge threat in the end zone. He’s also about to start playing with his third elite quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, which is never much reason to complain. With Jordy Nelson gone, Rodgers needs a new target for touchdowns, a role with Graham could certainly fill.
The Catch: Aaron Rodgers is notorious for rarely putting his tight ends to much use. Graham is the best tight end he’s ever had to work with, but old habits are tough to break, especially when you’re a 34-year-old quarterback on your way to the Hall of Fame. Graham could be great in fantasy this season, but he can also be a huge bust.
10. Jack Doyle, IND (9)
15 games: 80 receptions, 690 receiving yards, 4 TD
The Good: What impresses me most about Doyle is the fact that he had his best season as a pro with Jacoby Brissett throwing to him last year. With quarterback Andrew Luck totally healthy this season, Doyle is likely to improve even further from a fantasy perspective. He could be a nice sleeper as a low-end TE1.
The Bad: Although Luck should be healthy, his shoulder is always prone to getting hurt once again. Perhaps more troubling from a fantasy perspective, though, is the fact that that Colts have brought in Eric Ebron from the Lions as another tight end to play across from Doyle. Ebron could certainly take away some of Doyle’s opportunities.
11. Trey Burton, CHI (5)
15 games: 23 receptions, 248 receiving yards, 5 TD
The Good: One of Super Bowl LII’s heroes will get his chance to shine during this upcoming fantasy season. Burton signed a four-year, $32 million contract with Chicago this past offseason, as the Bears hope the tight end could provide a solid target for young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in the middle of the field and the red zone. It’s tough to know where Burton’s floor lies, but his ceiling is relatively high for a fringe TE1/TE2.
The Catch: We just don’t know what Burton will look like atop a team’s tight end depth chart. He was great in the red zone last season while playing second fiddle to Zach Ertz, but we don’t have much of an idea of how he could impact the game from the opposing team’s 25 yard line. The uncertainty regarding how good Trubisky actually is doesn’t help either.
12. Jordan Reed, WAS (4)
6 games: 27 receptions, 211 receiving yards, 2 TD
The Good: Reed are potentially the third-most talented in the NFL behind Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce when he can stay on the field. He’s got a big frame and a ton of athleticism, but he’s had huge injury issues for most of his career. Nonetheless, when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best there is. He should also thrive in an Alex Smith-led offense. He’s a great option to take as a late TE1 so long as you’re okay with taking another tight end shortly afterwards.
The Catch: Reed has suffered at least five concussions over his five-year NFL career, possibly more considering he’s admitted to hiding them. He also missed nearly two-thirds of his team’s game due to a lingering foot injury. He’s a great tight end and a really valuable fantasy asset, but his health is such a huge question mark that it’s tough to totally rely on him as your top fantasy tight end.
13. Tyler Eifert, CIN (9)
2 games: 4 receptions, 46 receiving yards, 0 TD
The Good: Eifert is a huge red zone presence, as made evident by his 13 touchdowns in 2015-16. When he’s out on the field, he’s always a threat for at least one score and is essentially Cincinnati’s second-best pass catcher behind wide receiver AJ Green. All this makes him highly valuable as a plug-and-play tight end with TE1 upside when you’re low on options.
The Catch: Since his breakout season, Eifert has only played in ten games. He’s had lingering injury problems, having been sidelined for almost all of last season with a back issue which eventually required surgery. He’s a nice fantasy asset when he’s on the field, but it’s tough to trust him as a TE1 given his injury history.
14. George Kittle, SF (11)
15 games: 43 receptions, 515 receiving yards, 2 TD
The Good: 43 receptions for 515 receiving yards is a nice season for a rookie tight end. Kittle showed plenty of promise in his first NFL season, and should be even better this season with Jimmy Garoppolo quarterbacking Kyle Shanahan’s fast-paced offense. He’s a pretty safe TE2 with TE1 upside if he significantly improves in his second NFL year. So long as you’re not meaning to make him your immediate starter, there isn’t much reason not to take him in the later rounds of your draft.
The Bad: It’s rarely a guarantee that a player will have a great second NFL season if they didn’t blow minds in their rookie year. Kittle was good last season, but not unbelievably good. He shouldn’t be drafted as anything more than a backup this season.
15. Jared Cook, OAK (7)
16 games: 54 receptions, 688 receiving yards, 2 TD
The Good: Cook has been a consistently above average tight end for about eight seasons now. Since 2010-11, he’s had at least 11.9 yards per reception in every season, exceeding 13 ypr twice. He’s not the biggest red zone threat (only 19 touchdowns in nine seasons), but quarterback Derek Carr likes him enough to make him a solid plug-and-play option in most weeks.
The Catch: I feel like I’ve been hearing, “Jared Cook will be this season’s breakout fantasy tight end,” for years now, but it seems extremely unlikely at this point given the fact that he’s entering his age 31 season. What you see is what you get with Cook, in that he has a decent floor with a pretty low ceiling. He’s tough to trust as a consistent TE1.
16. Charles Clay, BUF (11)
13 games: 49 receptions, 558 receiving yards, 2 TD
The Good: Clay has been the model of consistency over his seven-year NFL career. In every season since 2014-15, he’s caught between 49 and 58 balls for 528 to 605 yards and two to four touchdowns. He’ll probably never give you anything spectacular, but he’s a dependable tight end when your starter in on bye.
The Catch: Like I said, Clay will never give you enough points to make him a safe #1 option at tight end, so he needs to be a backup if you’re going to take him given his low ceiling. The quarterback situation in Buffalo is also likely to be a mess, which will likely hurt is fantasy value.
17. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, JAX (9)
13 games: 50 receptions, 357 receiving yards, 3 TD
The Good: I’ve been sort of waiting for Seferian-Jenkins to break out for a couple of years now, but I’m starting to think that ship has sailed. Nonetheless, he provides a nice red zone presence and is usually a threat to score in most games. He could be in line for his best season yet in a Jacksonville offense that is aiming to be slow and methodical, a good situation for a tight end who isn’t particularly exciting.
The Catch: Seferian-Jenkins has not shown any reason as to why he could be trusted on a week-to-week basis. He’s fine as a plug-and-play tight end in good matchups if your starter is on a bye, but you might waste a pick if you take him as your #1 tight end.
18. Ricky Seals-Jones, ARI (9)
10 games: 12 receptions, 201 receiving yards, 3 TD
The Good: I like Seals-Jones as a sleeper this season. The second-year man out of Texas A&M is a monstrous human being, standing at 6’5” and 243 pounds. This alone makes him a solid red zone presence, made evident by the fact that a quarter of his catches went for touchdowns. He had two of the best tight end fantasy performances during the latter half of 2017-18 and will likely be in for a bigger year if rookie quarterback Josh Rosen takes the field and is as good as most of us expect him to be.
The Bad: Much like George Kittle, there’s no safety in drafting someone going into their sophomore season after not having a fantastic rookie year. Seal-Jones will still have to battle Jermaine Gresham for tight end snaps, and some relatively minor assault charges from July could result in some sort of disciplinary action from the NFL.
19. Austin Hooper, ATL (8)
16 games: 49 receptions, 526 receiving yards, 3 TD
The Good: Few offensive players are in a better situation than Hooper, as Atlanta aims to attack on the offensive side of the ball as much as any team in the NFL. His second season was a massive improvement over his first, in that he more than doubled his receptions and nearly did the same for his receiving yards. Hooper is a very athletic tight end in a great situation, making him a solid TE2 with a bit of TE1 upside.
The Catch: Hooper only had one truly great fantasy performance last season, which came in Week 1 against Chicago. Afterwards, he didn’t show any sort of reliability that could warrant consistent TE1 classification. He was basically a non-factor from Week 11 on.
20. Cameron Brate, TB (5)
16 games: 48 receptions, 591 receiving yards, 6 TD
The Good: Brate took a small step back from his solid 2016-17 fantasy season last year, but was still serviceable as a fringe TE1/TE2. His touchdown total is enough to make him a solid bye week replacement tight end, and he has the potential to put up TE1 numbers when given the opportunity.
The Catch: Quarterback Jameis Winston will be suspended for the first three games of the season, limiting Brate’s value as a starting fantasy tight end right out of the gate. He’ll also be competing for tight end snaps with OJ Howard, who has the talent to monopolize opportunities at the position.
21. Eric Ebron, IND (9)
16 games: 53 receptions, 574 receiving yards, 4 TD
The Good: Ebron has been a perennial low-tier TE1 draft choice since he came into the league in 2014. This was mainly due to his status as a top 10 NFL draft choice and being in a good situation in Detroit. While, he hasn’t quite lived up to those expectations from a fantasy perspective, he’s only 25 and still has plenty of time to improve. He’s also going to have Andrew Luck throwing him the ball, which certainly helps.
The Catch: Ebron is a clear backup tight to Jack Doyle, which is rarely a good thing in fantasy. Doyle and Luck have already established some nice chemistry, so Ebron will really have to flourish if he’s going to be relevant in fantasy.
22. Benjamin Watson, NO (6)
16 games: 61 receptions, 522 receiving yards, 4 TD
The Good: Watson has never been an elite fantasy tight end, but he’s had seasons in which he’s put up fringe TE1/TE2 numbers. He revitalized his career in 2015-16, his last with the Saints before returning this season. He’s atop a Drew Brees-led team’s depth chart at his position, which is always a huge boost to anyone’s fantasy value. Consider Watson a safe, low-end TE2 for now.
The Catch: Watson will turn 38 this December, making him very old for a player at a playmaking position. He doesn’t have the athleticism he once did, and is unlikely to improve on what we’ve seen over the past few seasons. There isn’t much to be excited about here.
23. OJ Howard, TB (5)
14 games: 26 receptions, 432 receiving yards, 6 TD
The Good: Howard had a nice rookie season which saw him tie for his team’s lead in touchdowns. That isn’t necessarily saying much considering how bad the Bucs were last year, but it’s still impressive for a rookie tight end to come in and immediately take that spot. Howard stands at 6’6” and weighs 251 pounds, making him bigger than just about anyone a defense might throw at him, and he’s got the athleticism to be a big fantasy producer if given the opportunity.
The Catch: See: Cameron Brate, except reverse the tight ends’ names.
24. Hayden Hurst, BAL (10)
The Good: A first round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Hurst starts out his rookie season atop Baltimore’s tight end depth chart. Given the fact that the Ravens were so high on him, they likely plan to make him a big fixture in their offense for years to come. He’s a really talented player who could be a nice plug-and-play tight end in the right matchups if he proves himself to be fantasy viable right out of the gate.
The Catch: Rookie tight ends are never, ever safe fantasy bets because we never know how their teams plan to utilize them right out of the bat. But even putting that aside, quarterback Joe Flacco just isn’t good and could easily be replaced by rookie QB Lamar Jackson if he plays poorly enough and the fans express that they’re done with him. This uncertainty at the quarterback position does not bode well for Hurst’s fantasy value in the first season of his NFL career.