Well we have already covered the top 2016 fantasy QB’s, RB’s and WR’s. That leaves us with one more position to cover, (because I don’t rank defenses or kickers) the tight end. Solid fantasy producing tight ends are hard to come by and unless you have one of the top 3 TE’s on this list, you are left guessing week-to-week. This is a position that should not be taken lightly in your fantasy leagues, as having a guy who can put up consistent numbers at the tight end position could be the deciding factor in who wins and who loses your fantasy league…So pay attention as I run you through my 2016 top 10 fantasy tight ends.
10. Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars
Julius started out 2015 slowly as a broken hand cost him four games. When he came back he looked fat and out of shape. But toward the end of the year, the chemistry between Thomas and quarterback Blake Bortles really strengthened. Thomas will probably never be what he was in Denver with the high-powered Peyton Manning led offenses, but 60 catches 900 yards and 8 touchdowns isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
9. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Ertz is a cock-tease. He’s the ultimate “looks like Tarzan plays like Jane” tight end in the NFL. A lot of excuses have been made for the Stanford product since being drafted in the second round by Philadelphia. He’s an interesting analog for Travis Kelce who has played well for the KC Chiefs over the last two years and thus, should fit in nicely in new head coach Doug Pederson’s offense. Ertz may never live up to his massive potential, but the year he comes close he will win leagues for the lucky fantasy owner who takes a chance on him.
8. Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints
After the New Orleans Saints abruptly traded Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks in March of 2015 the Saints tight end position has been heavily speculated about who would fill his role. It was supposed to be Josh Hill but that went up in flames before the fire even really started. So in comes the wily vet Benjamin Watson.
Watson proceeds to put up TE1 numbers with Drew Brees in 2015. Watson is now a Baltimore Raven and Coby Fleener comes in to fill his shoes from the Indianapolis Colts. I don’t think Fleener is an especially good football player. However, the role is clearly there and when Dwayne Allen was out the lineup for the Colts, Fleener was an every-week starter at tight end. This rank suggests he becomes quarterback Drew Brees’ second or third option in the pecking order in 2016.
7. Gary Barnidge, Cleveland Browns
Barnidge broke out in a big way in 2015 catching 79 passes for 1,043 yards and 9 touchdowns. To put that in perspective, that’s right on par with Sammy Watkins’ 2015 stat line. There are a couple knocks on the Barnyard Dog. First, he’s no spring chicken. 2016 will be Barnidge’s 9th year in the league and he will turn 31 in late September so it’s not as if the guy was an unknown commodity buried on a loaded depth chart. Secondly, the Cleveland Browns had no one else to throw the ball to in 2015 and took steps to rectify that problem by drafting five wide receivers in the 2016 draft, including first round selection Corey Coleman. Couple that with the (extremely unlikely at this point, but still possible) return of Josh Gordon and I can’t see Barnidge receiving 123 targets again this season. Barnidge will be a tight end I will let someone else overdraft in 2016.
6. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Delanie Walker was a target monster for the Tennessee Titans in 2015. He was the chain mover, the field stretcher and the security blanket all wrapped up into one chiseled package. Walker isn’t a tight end with prototypical size (6’1” 248 lbs.) but he is a grinder. Walker led NFL tight ends in receptions last year with 94.
The Titans passing attack should improve in 2016 if wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham matures and improves his consistency and wide receiver Kendall Wright can stay on the field by avoiding injury. I’m banking on improvement from those receivers coupled with the addition of solid, if unspectacular, veteran Rishard Matthews allowing Walker to get open easier while decreasing the volume of targets he saw in 2015. The increase in efficiency should help keep Delanie among the second tier of tight ends in 2016.
5. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Travis Kelce burst onto the national scene after absolutely carving up the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football in September 2014. The rest of 2014 he was in and out of the lineup as the offensive coaching staff didn’t fully trust his blocking abilities. In 2015 he improved his blocking which allowed him to play more snaps and stay on the field.
Kelce was solid in 2015, although a bit sporadic at times, scoring a couple touchdowns in Week 1 against Houston before a rough stretch that saw him score just one touchdown between Weeks 2 and 11. Zeus only scored 5 touchdowns last year but if he can raise that number to 8 or 9 he will justify this ranking and be a solid weekly contributor to fantasy lineups.
4. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Tyler Eifert came out on fire in the touchdown department, scoring 9 in his first eight games finishing with 13 for the season. Some will argue Eifert is due for a major touchdown regression that will deplete his fantasy value. I agree he’s due for a touchdown regression; it’s likely he scores closer to 9 than 13. However, Eifert scored most of his fantasy points on touchdowns. My belief in ranking him this high is that the touchdowns will go down some but the receptions and yards will increase substantially.
Cincy lost two of its top three wide receivers from 2015 in free agency with the departures of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. This vaults Eifert right behind superstar wide receiver A.J. Green in the target totem pole. Other than Green, Eifert and running back, Giovani Bernard are the only players on the roster that are reliable pass catchers. Don’t even start with JoJo Lafell; he can’t catch a cold. Look for Eifert to build on his strong 2015 with the expectation the touchdown numbers won’t be so high.
3. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Greg Olsen is Mr. Dependable for quarterback Cam Newton in Carolina. Need a key first down? There’s Olsen getting the extra yard to move the sticks. Availability is a skill in the NFL and Olsen seems to take care of his body in the offseason to avoid nagging soft tissue issues during the season. He’s a good bet for 75-80 receptions 1,050-1,150 yards and 6-8 touchdowns in 2016. He won’t blow you away but he also won’t lose you a week as consistency is one of his calling cards.
2. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Jordan Reed is a stud. Ranking him this high is scary for me though. Reed hasn’t played the full 16 game slate in his three-year career. There’s always something with Reed that has him ending up on the weekly injury report come Wednesday’s in the fall. However, when he plays he flat out balls. He caught 87 passes in 2015 in only 14 games for an average of nearly 6 receptions per contest.
He barely missed out on a 1,000-yard season but with the 11 touchdowns he scored we can forgive him for that. Bottom line is Reed is a wide receiver posing as a tight end and is one of the two tight ends worth a selection before the 4th round of your fantasy draft in the fall. He’s still not in the same tier as the next guy on this list, but with a healthy 2016 he can certainly enter the discussion.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Which brings me to Gronk. He’s the only tight end that will be drafted amongst the first 12 picks this August, and there is a case to be made he should be drafted over any running back not named Adrian. I won’t make that case but I will say Gronk is the ultimate tight end in today’s NFL.
If he stays healthy he will finish TE1 this year and you’ll have a weekly advantage at a shallow position. Brady’s four game suspension hurts and I’m not quite sure what to make of the arrival of mercurial tight end Martellus Bennett but neither affect his status as top dog. He’s head and shoulders above the field and will look to build off a season where he amassed 72 receptions 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns in only 15 games.