A look at the top 20 tight ends for fantasy football as the start of the 2017 NFL season draws near.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Gronkowski is coming off an injury-riddled year where he played in eight games because of a back injury that required surgery in December. He had 25 catches for 540 yards and three touchdowns, which in a full season, put him on pace for a third-straight 1,000-yard season. His 4.75 targets per game were down significantly from the season before when he averaged eight per game. Gronkowski has missed at least one game in each of the last five seasons, but when the 6-6, 265-pounder is out there, he’s impossible to defend.
2. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Reed is yet another talented tight end with injury troubles. He’s missed at least two games in each of his four seasons in the NFL and he had been on the Redskins’ PUP list since the beginning of training camp with a toe injury before being activated on Aug. 20. Last season Reed missed a combined four games with a concussion and shoulder injury but still had 66 catches for 686 yards and six touchdowns. He’s a physical specimen and gives Kirk Cousins a solid red-zone target. Five of six of Reed’s touchdowns last season came within the opponent’s 20. The Redskins lost DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, in free agency, so Reed should be Cousins’ top target now that he’s healthy.
3. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce hasn’t missed a game in his first three seasons and is coming off a career year where he had 85 catches for 1,125 yards (the most among tight ends) and four touchdowns. The 6-5, 260-pounder led the Chiefs with 117 targets, 34 more than Tyreek Hill, who had the second most targets on the team. With Jeremy Maclin gone, the Chiefs will go with Hill and Chris Conley as their starting receivers. Alex Smith will continue to rely on his big tight end, who should be in for more than 100 targets for a third straight season.
4. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Entering his age-32 season, Olsen doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He put up a third straight 1,000-yard season as he had 80 catches for 1,073 yards and three touchdowns.
In his six seasons with the Panthers, Olsen’s targets have increased every year, reaching a career-high 127 last season.
The touchdown dropoff is a bit of a concern for a player who had at least five TDs in his previous eight seasons. Cam Newton has a slew of big targets with Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 245-pounds) and Devin Funchess (6-4, 225-pounds). While Olsen led the team with 16 red-zone targets, he wasn’t as productive as the pair of receivers, who combined for 11 red-zone touchdowns compared with Olsen’s two. Olsen hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season in 2007.
5. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Another young tight end, another injury saga. Entering his fifth year, Eifert has yet to play in all 16 games in a season. Last season he played eight games because of an ankle injury suffered in the Pro Bowl. He has missed 26 games in his career. Last season, Eifert had 29 catches for 394 yards and five touchdowns. Over the last two seasons, Eifert has 18 touchdowns, the most of any tight end, despite missing a combined 11 games. When he’s on the field, Eifert is a dominant force in a Bengals’ offense that leaned heavily on the pass last season (56-44 pass-run ratio).
6. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
Graham got off to a slow start in his first year with the Seahawks in 2015, largely because of a torn right patellar tendon, but he showed flashes of his old self in 2016. Graham, who otherwise has avoided the injury bug, had 65 catches for 923 yards and six touchdowns last season — second on the Seahawks in each category behind only Doug Baldwin. Graham also had a career-high 14.2 yards per catch average. Now that he’s fully healthy, expect the 30-year-old to turn in another big year.
7. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
It seemed like Kyle Rudolph was ready to join the ranks of Gronkowski and Graham as one of the league’s top tight ends after a sophomore season in 2012 when he caught nine touchdowns. But after a pair of injury-riddled seasons and a mediocre 2015, it seemed he might not blossom into that. In 2016, he proved the doubters wrong. Rudolph had career highs in receptions (83) and yards (840) and finished with his second-best touchdown total (seven). He also led the team with 132 targets, 39 more than he’d ever had in a single season. With Teddy Bridgewater still out, the Vikings will continue with Sam Bradford, who historically has favored his tight ends, as their starting quarterback.
8. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Walker has combined for 24 touchdowns in his four seasons with the Titans after leaving San Francisco and the shadow of Vernon Davis behind. Even with the addition of Rishard Matthews to the passing game and the Titans’ increased reliance on the run game (51-49 pass-run ratio in 2016 compared with a 60-40 pass-run ratio in 2015), Walker had at least 800 yards and was targeted more than 100 times for a third straight season.
9. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Ertz has put up back-to-back seasons with at least 75 catches, 100 targets and 800 yards, and he managed to up his touchdown total from two to four in 2016. The Eagles brought in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith this offseason, which could help open things up for Ertz.
10. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
In his first three seasons, Doyle was targeted just 43 times combined while playing behind Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Last season, he turned in a career year after getting 75 targets, overtaking Allen as Andrew Luck’s top tight end. Doyle had career-highs across the board with 59 catches for 584 yards and five touchdowns. Now that Allen’s off to New England, Doyle is the Colts’ clear-cut No. 1 tight end and a low-end TE1.
11. Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers
Bennett joins his fifth team in 10 seasons, moving to Green Bay after a season in New England. With the Patriots, Bennett had 55 catches for 701 yards and a career-best seven touchdowns. He’s moving to another high-powered offense that will rely on the pass with converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery as the lead running back.
12. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
Antonio Gates has been the No. 1 tight end for the Chargers for the last 14 years, but that may change this season. While Gates was targeted far more often (92) than Henry (54) and thus outperformed him in receptions and yards, Henry finished with eight touchdowns, tied for the league-high among tight ends. (Gates had seven TDs). And Henry did that as a rookie. Henry’s in a crowded receiving corps with Gates, Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman, but he’ll get his targets in an offense that had a 59-41 pass-run ratio last season.
13. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons
With Jacob Tamme gone, Hooper takes over as the Falcons’ top tight end. The 2016 second-round pick didn’t do much as a rookie. He had 19 catches for 271 yards and three touchdowns on 27 targets, but he’s in a potent offense that led the league in scoring and finished third in total yards. The rise up the depth chart should help Hooper as the Falcons’ tight end group combined for 10 touchdowns last season.
14. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
Entering his fourth season, Ebron still hasn’t played a full season, and that could be in jeopardy again. Ebron has been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury in camp after missing three games last season with a knee injury. While the Lions are downplaying the severity of the injury, Ebron has remained out during camp. He turned in career-highs in receptions (61) and yards (711), but also he led tight ends with seven drops and only had one touchdown. Ebron was targeted in the red zone just six times, but Anquan Boldin, who led the Lions in red-zone targets and touchdowns, is gone, hopefully leaving more opportunities for the big-bodied Ebron.
15. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston Texans
Despite lousy quarterback play in Houston last season, C.J. Fiedorowicz turned in his best season as a pro. He had 54 catches for 559 yards and matched a team-high four touchdowns. It’s unclear what the Texans have in Tom Savage, who’s played in just five games since getting drafted by the Texans in 2014 and appears to be the Week 1 starter. Rookie Deshaun Watson has impressed in training camp and the preseason, but it appears to be Savage’s job to lose. Either way, Fiedorowicz, who averaged 10.4 yards per catch last season, will continue to be a nice option underneath for inexperienced quarterbacks.
16. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
The 35-year-old hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season in 2003, making him one of the most durable players in the league. He might not put up the flashy numbers of his prime, but he’s consistently had at least 60 catches, 650 yards and three touchdowns every year since his last 1,000-yard season in 2012. Witten also has been targeted at least 90 times per season since 2006 when the stat first was measured. Witten’s a dependable option as a TE2 or flex.
17. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fellow tight end Cameron Brate is coming off a strong year (57 catches, 660 yards, eight touchdowns), so look for the Bucs to run plenty of two tight end sets. Howard, an Alabama product, had 114 catches for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns in four seasons with the Crimson Tide, an underwhelming stat line compared with his NFL Combine performance. Howard had the best times among tight ends at the three-cone, short shuttle and 60-yard shuttle. The 6-6, 251-pounder gives Jameis Winston another big red-zone target along with Brate (6-5, 245) and Mike Evans (6-5, 231).
18. Evan Engram, New York Giants
It’s not who many expected the Giants to take with the No. 23 pick this year, but he’s shown improvement throughout training camp, especially as a blocker, which was the biggest concern. He’s clearly here to catch passes, but his improved blocking likely will keep him on the field. Engram will be fighting for targets amid a crowded receiving corps that includes Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard, but in an offense that heavily favors the pass (60-40 pass-run ratio last season), he’ll get his looks.
19. Julius Thomas, Miami Dolphins
Thomas has been dealing with back tightness that has kept him out of practice. He also missed seven games last season with the Jaguars because of a back injury. But he did have a catch in his first preseason action on Aug. 17, which is an encouraging sign for the oft-injured tight end. Thomas hasn’t been what he was for two seasons in Denver in 2013 and 2014 when he combined for 108 catches, 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns, but he was hindered by injuries and subpar quarterback play from Blake Bortles in Jacksonville. Thomas also will be competing for receptions with a strong receiving corps of Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, but if he can stay on the field he can be productive.
20. Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brate finally got a chance to shine last season after the Bucs parted ways with Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He had 57 catches for 660 yards and tied a position-high with Hunter Henry with eight touchdowns. That didn’t stop the Bucs from drafting fellow tight end O.J. Howard with the 19th pick. The rookie surely will cut into Brate’s 81 targets from last season, but with a likely increase in two tight end sets, Brate still will be a big part of the Bucs’ offense.