Only a little more than a handful of Tight Ends changed teams since the end of the 2016 NFL season. I’ll focus only on the “handful” and not the “little more”. The biggest free agent signing among this group was Martellus Bennett leaving the New England Patriots after one season to sign with the Green Bay Packers. This, in turn, lead Jared Cook to leave the Packers and sign with the Raiders. There were also a couple of trades at this position with Julius Thomas being traded from Jacksonville to Miami, and Dwayne Allen moving from the Colts to the Patriots. I’m sure most won’t agree with the way I rank this group, but in the end, I wouldn’t want any of these guys as my starter headed into the new fantasy season.
- Julius Thomas (Miami Dolphins) – Thomas is coming off two injury-plagued seasons in Jacksonville. Over his 21 games played with the Jags, he had 76 receptions for 736 yards and 9 TD’s, which would be well above average tight end stats if it were only over one full season. During the two years prior in Denver, he had 12 TD’s each season and is now reunited with his old offensive coordinator, Adam Gase. The Dolphins did not have a tight end with the talent of Julius Thomas in Gase’s first season and only targeted the tight end 73 times for 55 receptions and 6 TD’s. These numbers will go up with Thomas as long as he stays healthy. He has never played a full season; in his two best seasons in Denver, he played 14 games. If he can get close to that 14 game mark he should be able to provide 600 yards, around 60 receptions and 8-10 TD’s. This would likely put him among the top 10 tight ends but there is a big injury risk with Thomas.
- Martellus Bennett (Green Bay Packers) – Bennett is coming off a really good season with the Patriots that put him out of the Patriots price range this offseason. Green Bay is typically a team where you’d never want to own their tight end in fantasy football leagues. Even with an above average athlete and a big target like Jared Cook last season this trend did not change – Cook finished 36th in tight end scoring. Green Bay is rumored to be moving to a two-tight end system. They brought in not only Bennett but Lance Kendricks from the Rams. These two could definitely change the trend in Green Bay, for tight ends, if the offense commits to the two tight end system. My question is which of these two would play more of the blocking tight end role and will there be enough volume to make either one fantasy relevant. I know once upon a time New England had two fantasy relevant tight ends but they didn’t have the quality receivers Green Bay currently has on their roster. I’d rank Bennett well outside the top 10 tight ends headed into the 2017 season.
- Dwayne Allen (New England Patriots) – The Patriots gave up a 4th round pick to the Colts for Allen and the Colts’ 6th round pick. While not quite as big of a target as Martellus Bennett was last season for the Patriots (6’2″ vs 6’6″), Allen is the faster player and knows how to get open. Bennett ranked as the 6th best Fantasy TE in standard scoring last season and benefited from more than expected playing time due to Rob Gronkowski’s injuries. While Gronkowski has had many injuries over the years there is no guarantee, but I still expect Allen to get a lot of playing time in New England’s system as above average end zone target. If Gronkowski has to deal with another injury then Allen would easily vault up to number two on this list.
- Jared Cook (Oakland Raiders) – While Jared Cook possibly had the more memorable season in Green Bay, catching the sideline pass from Rodgers with the clock expiring and knocking Dallas out of the playoffs, Clive Walford put up the better stats in Oakland. Granted they weren’t better by much but: Cook the answer at tight end for the Raiders where the tight end has not played a significant role under Jack Del Rio? Bill Musgrave is out as offensive coordinator and Todd Downing is in. Downing previously served as the Raiders Quarterback’s coach. Del Rio was unhappy with the play calling at times throughout the year, specifically with running back usage, and decided to make a change. I don’t see the tight end role changing much this season in Oakland. There may be a small increase,but not enough to target Cook in Fantasy drafts as more than a flier at the end of the draft.
Sleeper – Well, if I stuck with the theme I’d have to give you Mychal Rivera as the sleeper, but I can’t do that so instead I’ll take a bit of liberty with the theme and give you someone who was forgotten last season and played only limited snaps. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (NY Jets) – Jenkins admitted to having a problem with alcohol and has switched to a healthier lifestyle. He is down twenty pounds and has not had a drink since January 2017. In OTA’s he was called “the most impressive player on the field” by NJ Advanced Media’s Connor Hughes. The Jets have a new Offensive Coordinator, John Morton, previously a position coach for the Saints. We don’t yet know his philosophy but he has said the tight end will be more involved. Jenkins is suspended for the first two games but could make a real difference for this Jets team. There are no big-name wide receivers on the team and we don’t yet know who will be at quarterback week 1, but on this team, the tight end could end up being the best friend of whoever starts.
Again, I wouldn’t draft of any of these guys as your true starter. I believe Julius Thomas is the safest pick among them, but if you’re looking for a late tight end with upside, Austin Safarian-Jenkins could be that man.
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