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FANTASY PLAYS: TE, defense, kickers not to be ignored

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Tyler Patmon, right, breaks

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Tyler Patmon, right, breaks up a pass intended for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Josh Huff (15) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) Photo Credit: AP

A majority of fantasy football research tends to focus on running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks. But the other three positions are equally as crucial and can ultimately help you win your league. Knowing the right time to grab a tight end and when to keep waiting is key, as is your weekly strategy for defenses and even kickers.

Tight end is deep, with more than 20 players that could realistically finish the season inside the top 10 at the position. However, there are a few sharp drops in talent that make it better to consider drafting tight ends based on tiers.

The upper echelon is clear with Rob Gronkowski of New England, Travis Kelce of Kansas City and Zach Ertz of Philadelphia. In order to grab one of them, though, you need to be prepared to burn an early pick. Gronkowski offers upside that is head and shoulders above everyone else, but he also hasn't played a full season since 2011. Kelce is coming off back-to-back years with over 1,000 yards and 80-plus receptions, along with a career high eight TDs. He was locked in with Alex Smith, so the QB change to Patrick Mahomes could hurt his outlook. Zach Ertz has been a consistent threat with at least 70 catches and 800 yards in three straight seasons. He doubled his career high in TDs and further red zone attention could push him past Gronkowski and Kelce this year.

The second tier has more uncertainty and not quite as much upside, but will still get you a "set it-and-forget it" type of player. Jimmy Graham switched from one great QB to probably the best in the game with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. He should continue to see a massive amount of red zone work but his production between the 20s will ultimately decide whether he's an elite weekly option this year or a TD-reliant back-end starter. Giants tight end Evan Engram took advantage of Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall injuries to turn in an impressive rookie season with 64 catches, 722 yards and six touchdowns. He could end up the second receiving option this season for New York.

Tennessee's Delanie Walker has been as solid as they come over the past four years, especially in point-per-reception leagues. Carolina's Greg Olsen is coming off an injury-riddled season, but do not forget about the consistent TE1 production he provided in previous seasons. Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph should be one of Kirk Cousins' favorite targets, particularly in the red zone.

If you wait on the TE position, you can target potential breakout candidates Trey Burton (Chicago), George Kittle (San Francisco), David Njoku (Cleveland) or O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay). Washington's oft-injured Jordan Reed is more name than game at this point but he could be a viable weapon for Alex Smith. The same can be said about Tyler Eifert in Cincinnati.

Veterans Jared Cook (Oakland), Charles Clay (Buffalo), Ben Watson (New Orleans) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jacksonville) may not be exciting, high upside selections, but they all could finish as starting-caliber options. Jack Doyle could as well in Indianapolis, if Eric Ebron doesn't eat into his upside. Streamers and deep leaguers that waited too long can also consider Ricky Seals-Jones (Arizona), Vance McDonald (Pittsburgh), Hayden Hurst (Baltimore), Nick Vannett (Seattle) and Austin Hooper (Atlanta). That's a good amount of upside for going almost 30 players deep at the position.

DEFENSE

Streaming defenses based on matchups is a strong method if you are active on the waiver wire. This is a great way to exploit weak offenses and cycle through available defenses on an as-needed basis. You should know going in that there is more legwork required if you go this route. It is also a great strategy that allows you to focus your draft capital on position players while waiting until the final rounds before investing in a defense. The Saints are home for two games against the Buccaneers (sans Jameis Winston) and the Browns to open the season. The Lions, Titans and Ravens also have attractive opening weekend matchups, though you may need to grab the latter two units before the last round.

If you feel more comfortable riding one consistently good defense throughout the year regardless of matchup, you may be forced to consider taking a top option earlier than the 15th round. The Jaguars defense rose to prominence last season and they should be just as dominant in 2018. The Vikings and Eagles also have the personnel to stay among the league's elite fantasy defenses. The Texans should rebound after an injury-filled season and the Packers beefed up their defense with impact veteran and draft day additions. The Patriots are expected to rebound from a mediocre season to be a top 10 defense. Green Bay and New England are not quite in the same grouping as the others mentioned here and can be nabbed if you pass on the very elite defenses.

KICKERS

While it is often debated whether kickers should be eliminated from fantasy rosters, a majority of leagues still require owners to start one each week. There is too much variance from week to week in what becomes a gamble to determine which kicker to play. The best way to address the position is to wait until the last round before drafting one. Better yet, take a high upside position player in the last round and then cut someone from your roster prior to Week 1 for a kicker -- if it's allowable under your league rules. Depending on when your draft occurs, this buys you more time with your roster before deciding who needs to go.

When selecting your kicker for the year (or the week), a general rule is to focus on high-powered offenses. Yes, there will be outliers to this, but it will help you more often than not. If you are looking for the cream of the kicker crop, Greg Zuerlein, Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker, Matt Bryant and Will Lutz are great bets. Robbie Gould, Matt Prater, Jake Elliott and Chris Boswell are viable options as well. Otherwise, start streaming with a kicker that plays against a weak defense and cycle through the waiver wire as needed.

ROTOEXPERTS TOP 15 TIGHT ENDS

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

Evan Engram, New York Giants

Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers

Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts

Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins

Ricky Seals-Jones, Arizona Cardinals

Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Trey Burton, Chicago Bears

Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons

TOP 15 DEFENSES

Jacksonville Jaguars

Philadelphia Eagles

Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles Chargers

Minnesota Vikings

Pittsburgh Steelers

Denver Broncos

Baltimore Ravens

Seattle Seahawks

New England Patriots

Kansas City Chiefs

Carolina Panthers

Detroit Lions

Chicago Bears

New Orleans Saints

TOP 15 KICKERS

Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots

Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts

Josh Lambo, Jacksonville Jaguars

Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh Steelers

Wil Lutz, New Orleans Saints

Jake Elliott, Philadelphia Eagles

Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers

Caleb Sturgis, Los Angeles Chargers

Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons

Kai Forbath, Minnesota Vikings

Matt Prater, Detroit Lions

Robbie Gould, San Francisco 49ers

Phil Dawson, Arizona Cardinals

Ryan Succop, Tennessee Titans

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For more in-depth Fantasy Football draft advice and insights, visit RotoExperts: https://rotoexperts.com

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