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“Brook’s School” Ranking the Top 20 Tight Ends for 2018

It’s ranking season! We’re just days away from training camp, and then it’s practically opening day kickoff. The 2018 season is so close. Before we start drafting our teams it’s important to get a grasp of the landscape at each position. Tight end is probably the most precarious offensive position to determine in fantasy football. That’s because it takes most players years to grasp and master the position at the professional level. Plenty of young tight ends come into the league with great promise only to take 3-4 years to have their breakout season. I say this, yet last year we saw three rookie TEs in Engram, Njoku, and Howard, perform beyond expectations. Still, Engram was the only one out of these breakout tight ends to finish the 2017 season within the top-20 at the position.

This article will rank the top twenty tight ends for the 2018 season. As a disciple of the PPR format, these rankings and predictions are geared for PPR scoring formats.

Top 20 Tight-Ends:

#20.) Hayden Hurst – Baltimore Ravens – 2017 Finish: N/A

I wrote about Hayden Hurst while breaking down the top TE’s taken in the 2018 Draft. As I stated in that article, Hurst is walking into the best opportunity to have an impact this season out of all of the other TE’s taken in the draft. The Ravens invested a 1st Round pick on Hurst, and followed up by signing him to a four-year deal. Flacco will be the starter for the Ravens going into the 2018 season, and history has shown us that he loves to target his TEs. Over the past two seasons his TE’s have been targeted 285 times for 1,740 yards and 10 touchdowns. Hurst has displayed better pass catching ability than the featured TE’s Flacco has been throwing to the past two years. The opportunity is there for Hurst to have a breakout rookie campaign. He comes with a risk, and depending on your league size, he is not worth drafting yet. Let’s see how things play out in Baltimore before jumping in bed with the rookie.

#19. Vance McDonald – Pittsburgh Steelers – 2017 Finish: #52

The Steelers acquired Vance McDonald from the 49ers about a week before the 2017 season began. It took him a few weeks to get over some lingering injuries and learn the offense before getting a larger role in the office. He’s not a terribly exciting player and has only logged 38 receptions for 579 yards and 5 touchdowns in the past two seasons. He was behind veteran Vernon Davis in a woeful 2016 49ers offense, and last season he struggled to adjust to the Steelers’ offense after missing six games to injury. Vance showed his upside during the playoff game last season against the Jaguars. In that game he hauled in 10 catches for 112 yards in the 45-42 loss to the Jags. The Steelers made no moves at tight end this offseason. Vance McDonald is looking to become an integral part of an offense that made Heath Miller fantasy relevant. 

#18. Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Jacksonville Jaguars – 2017 Finish: #20

ASJ was a breakout candidate last season, and ended up as the #20 TE overall at the end of the day. To his credit, 2017 was a career season for ASJ. Now he will be looking to replace TE Marcedes Lewis (the longest tenured player on the Jaguars) as the prominent TE in the Jaguars’ offense. Early reports out of the Jaguars’ offseason program and practice sessions show that ASJ has become Blake Bortles’ favorite target. The Jaguars lost Robinson & Hurns this offseason, and will need to rely on Seferian-Jenkins’ ability to create a mismatch against defenses. I’m counting on Jenkins to have another career season in 2018 as the Jaguars’ primary redzone target.

#17. Eric Ebron – Indianapolis Colts – 2017 Finish: #13

Eric Ebron is one of the most difficult players in football to get excited about. Analysts have been projecting his breakout since 2015, and each year he underwhelms. Last season Ebron was the #13 TE in PPR scoring bringing in 53 receptions on 83 targets for 574 yards and 4 touchdowns. As a member of the Colts, Ebron will be relied upon to make up for an underwhelming core of pass-catchers. Outside of T.Y. Hilton & Jack Doyle, the Colts are lacking in experienced receivers. Something else to consider is Ebron’s age. He is only 25 heading into the 2018 season. He’s young, and heading into his prime years. I would have him ranked higher if he didn’t have to compete with Jack Doyle for meaningful snaps. Fortunately, there should be plenty of targets to go around with Frank Reich as the head coach of the Colts offense. Frank Reich was formerly the Eagles’ offensive coordinator. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Trey Burton were heavily utilized in Frank’s offense there, and he wasn’t afraid of running two-tight end sets either. So, it shouldn’t be too much of a leap to assume that Ebron will play a similar role in the Colts’ offense. The big “if” in this scenario is clearly Andrew Luck’s health. If Luck is healthy and starting by game 1 I would be more confident in Ebron.

#16. Cameron Brate – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2017 Finish: #10

Brate is a difficult tight end to project heading into this upcoming season. At the end of last season, first round draft pick O.J. Howard was pushing him for targets. Brate saw just 29 targets over the final seven games of the 2017 season. It was expected that Brate would be on another team by 2018, but the Bucs signed Brate to a hefty contract that changed everything. They doubled down on their investment in the 27 year old with a six-year $41 million dollar contract. Brate’s presence will significantly hamper O.J. Howard’s 2018 production, but the TE duo will collectively cause some significant damage to defenses once Winston is back from his suspension. I don’t expect Brate to meet or outperform what he did last season. In fact, I expect the pendulum to swing in favor of O.J. Howard this season. That said, Tampa bay didn’t pay the man $41 million to not use him. Cameron is a redzone beast and will be a frequent target for Winston inside the 20 yard line. 

#15.  Tyler Eifert – Cincinnati Bengals – 2017 Finish: N/A

This ranking depends entirely on whether or not Tyler Eifert is healthy by the start of the 2018 season. Eifert’s talent is there. He proved it in 2015. Only issue is he’s started only 2 games since then. This offseason they retained Eifert on a one-year $8 million dollar deal, and in so doing exhibited some confidence in his recovery timetable. Things are beginning to get a bit murky in Cincinnati now that OTAs and minicamps are over. Eifert was a limited participant at OTA’s in May, and has now sat out all of minicamp this month. It’s uncertain if he will be ready for training camp. There’s just too much uncertainty. If Eifert is healthy, though, he could be a difference maker on your fantasy roster. He’s lethal in the red zone. In 2015 he ended the season with 13 touchdowns, and the following season he was on a sixteen game pace to match that before going down with injury. If Eifert is able to participate throughout training camp, and is ready for game one he’s someone I’ll be looking to draft for cheap.

#14. O.J. Howard – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2017 Finish: #21

O.J. Howard had an impressive rookie season campaign with 6 touchdowns and averaging an ungodly 16.6 yards per receptions. His targets were limited last season with just 39, but his efficiency with those targets was hard to ignore. He ended as the TE #21. Howard & Brate split their production rather evenly last season, which is why I have them ranked so close together. Brate had the edge between the two, but I expect that dynamic to shift to Howard coming into 2018. Howard out-snapped Brate last season as a rookie. He’s more complete at tight end with his ability as a run blocker, and his raw talent as a pass-catcher and game breaking ability is evident. Jameis Winston’s three game suspension hurts the Bucs’ TE position as a whole, but I still expect Howard’s target share and involvement to grow this coming season.

#13. David Njoku – Cleveland Browns – 2017 Finish: #24

David Njoku is in an offense that, all of a sudden, is totally lethal (on paper). Flash Gordon, Jarvis Landry, and Duke Johnson Jr. will be receiving the majority of targets. The good news for Njoku, though, is he will be catching passes from QBs who like to target their tight ends. It was no secret that Charles Clay was one of Tyrod Taylor’s favorite receiving options while in Buffalo. In that time Clay had 157 receptions for 1,638 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tyrod will spread the ball around, but I don’t expect him to stray far from his roots. The number one overall 2018 draft pick, Baker Mayfield, is not a stranger to relying on his tight ends either. Last year at Oklahoma, Mayfield’s tight end, Mark Andrews, brought in a whopping 62 receptions for 958 yards and 8 touchdowns. I don’t expect these kinds of numbers for Njoku, but I expect his usage to carry over from last year, and for his completion percentage to improve. In his rookie season he had 60 targets for 32 receptions, 386 yards and 4 touchdowns. And that was with the inept Deshone Kizer throwing him the ball. Njoku will build off his 2017 rookie campaign and carve a place for himself as a high end TE2/low end TE1 in 2018.

#12. George Kittle – San Francisco 49ers – 2017 Finish: #19

George Kittle is a bit of an enigma. He had a good rookie season with 63 targets for 43 receptions, 515 yards and 2 touchdowns, and was the 49ers second most productive pass-catcher after Marquise Goodwin. On the other hand, the majority of that production came while his colleague teammate, C.J. Beathard, was under center. Their rapport clearly carried over from their days as Hawkeyes. Fortunately, Kittle will have had an entire offseason to get on the same page as Jimmy ‘GQ’ Garoppolo, a far superior quarterback. Kittle has some great upside heading into the 2018 season. The 49ers are primed to make significant gains under Shanahan’s leadership, who considers Kittle as his team’s top pass-catching tight end. It doesn’t take much to put two and two together. A valued weapon on a Shanahan-led offense is someone you will want to own.

#11. Jack Doyle – Indianapolis Colts – 2017 Finish: #7

Last season Doyle was the only consistent weapon in the Colts’ offense. He was targeted 108 times and brought in 80 receptions for 690 yards, and 4 touchdowns. His yards per reception was pretty dismal at just 8.6, but he was the safety valve for Jacoby Brissett. The Colts adding Eric Ebron into the mix definitely complicates Jack’s projection heading into 2018. But I think he has the most sure floor out of the two tight ends on the Colts. If Jacoby is starting under center in week one, he already has a well established rapport with Doyle, and if Luck is healthy (god willing) the entire offense gets an upgrade. Ebron’s has a history of dropped passes that hurt him in Detroit, and will haunt him in Indy if he falls out of favor with Luck. His counterpart, Doyle, has some of the more sure hands at the position. Doyle will have a significant role to play as part of Frank Reich’s Colts offense in 2018, and his reliability and consistency will be his advantage over Ebron.

#10. Jordan Reed – Washington Redskins – 2017 Finish: #36

As I’m writing this Jordan Reed’s status is ‘Questionable’ for training camp. Reed has been rehabbing from his toe surgery all offseason, but he is “still on track” to be ready the 2018 season. There is so much to doubt when it comes to Jordan Reed, and his ability to avoid injury. He’s missed 14 games out of the past two seasons. When he is on the field, there’s no denying Reed’s game breaking ability. In 2015 Reed had a career season with 87 receptions for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. Fortunately, the Redskins replaced Kirk Cousins with Alex Smith, another quarterback with a propensity to target his tight ends. If Reed can stay healthy and on the field for 11-12+ games he’s easily a top tier tight end, and at his current ADP he could end up as one of the steals of the draft.

#9. Evan Engram – New York Giants – 2017 Finish: #5

As a rookie Evan Engram finished as the TE #5 last season. I don’t think there’s any way he does that again in 2018. Last season Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall were out for the season, and Sterling Shepard was battling migraines all season that kept him from a handful of games. Engram was essentially Eli Manning’s only receiving option. Eli targeted Engram 115 times last season, and Engram hauled in only 64 of those targets for 722 yards and 6 touchdowns. His inefficiency with his 115 targets leaves something to be desired. There’s just no way that Engram sees that number of targets again with OBJ & Sterling Shepard healthy and with Saquon Barkley catching passes out of the backfield. The Giants’ offense as a whole will improve, though, and if Engram can work on his efficiency in the passing game, he will still likely finish in the top ten at the position.

#8. Trey Burton – Chicago Bears – 2017 Finish: #26

Burton’s ADP keeps climbing as we near our fantasy drafts, so I’m not sure how much of a steal he will be. That said, he’s a tight end you will want to own this coming season. Last season Burton had a 74.2% catch rate on 31 targets for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns. Burton’s efficiency with his limited targets is evidence that he is a special talent at the position. He also has the advantage of walking into a system he’s very familiar with. The Bears’ new HC Matt Nagy was the former Chiefs’ OC. Burton’s former HC on the Eagles, Doug Pederson, was the OC on the Chiefs before moving on to Philly. Basically, he’s staying in the “family”. His familiarity with the offensive scheme, and the Bears’ investment in him adds up to major involvement in the 2018 Bears’ offense. Mitchell Trubisky is no Carson Wentz (yet), but he will improve enough under Matt Nagy’s leadership to turn Burton into a TE1 this season.

#7. Delanie Walker – Tennessee Titans – 2017 Finish: #4

There’s nothing exciting or flashy about Delanie Walker on paper. But, if you like consistency and reliability, he’s your man. Walker has been inside the top 10 at the position since 2014, and in 2015 he was the TE #2. In those four seasons he’s averaged 113 targets a season. In PPR formats that is irreplaceable. His age is a knock against him, but just last season, at the age of 33, he ended the season with 74 receptions for 807 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Titans are heading into 2018 with new HC Mike Vrabel and new OC Matt LaFleur, who just spent the 2017 season as the Rams’ offensive coordinator. These are all positive changes for the Titans who have struggled to really get things going in the passing game. This bodes well for Walker who is the centerpiece for the Titans’ passing attack. It will be more of the same for Delanie in 2018, and that’s just fine by me.

#6. Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings – 2017 Finish: #8

Kyle Rudolph is a touchdown machine. He has 15 touchdowns in the past two seasons, and has finished as a top-8 tight end in those two seasons. His targets and yardage are a bit of a concern, but with Kirk Cousins coming to Minnesota Rudolph’s outlook is bright [insert Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer pun here]. Kirk Cousins has an extensive track record of relying on his tight ends in the passing game. There’s no reason to think Cousins won’t continue that trend in Minnesota with Kyle Rudolph as his recipient. Cousins is the best QB in the NFL when running two tight-end sets, and the Vikings acquired John DeFilippo, former Eagles’ quarterback coach, as their new offensive coordinator. DeFilippo is no stranger to two-TE sets as the Eagles ran the third most pass plays with two-TE sets last season. Kyle Rudolph will benefit from Kirk Cousins as his new quarterback, and offensive coordinator that is coming from an offense that focused heavily on their tight end.

#5. Jimmy Graham – Green Bay Packers – 2017 Finish: #6

Jimmy Graham had a down season last season. That’s no surprise. The Seahawks as a whole struggled last year, and are looking to repeat that again this upcoming season. Fortunately, Jimmy Graham will not be a part of that offense. Instead he will have Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. Jimmy Graham had only 520 receiving yards last season, and saw most of his fantasy production come from his 10 touchdowns. His receiving yards last season was the lowest they had been since his rookie season. Graham will be looking at some positive regression in Green Bay. At 31 and with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, Jimmy Graham should be considered an elite level tight end heading into the 2018 season.

#4. Greg Olsen – Carolina Panthers – 2017 Finish: #49

Greg Olsen is coming off an injury ridden 2017 season. It devastated fantasy players’ seasons, and certainly left a sour taste coming into 2018. Don’t let last season cloud your judgement as you prepare for your drafts! Olsen has never missed a game before last season. Not a single game. That’s 10 season’s worth of evidence. I’ll side with that volume of data over a fractured foot that is now fully healed. From the 2014-2016 seasons Greg Olsen was averaging 125 targets and 1,061 yards a season. Those are obviously elite numbers. The Panthers recognize this, and signed him to a two-year $17.1 million extension earlier this offseason. With new addition D.J. Moore on the team and Curtis Samuel coming back from injury, defenses will need to take some focus away from Olsen. I’m anticipating a bounce back season from Olsen in a big way in 2018, and with the ADP of 62.8 currently, he’s someone I’ll be targeting in my drafts. 

#3. Zach Ertz – Philadelphia Eagles – 2017 Finish: #3

Ertz ended last season as the TE #3, and with a Super Bowl victory. Now he’s somehow heading into this season in an even better position than before. All signs are pointing to Carson Wentz being ready to go by training camp, Trey Burton won’t be pushing him for targets as he’s now on the Bears, and Alshon Jeffery’s might miss some time due to a shoulder injury. Ertz’ production replication over the past three seasons is impressive. He’s averaged 109 targets for 76 receptions and 831 yards since 2015. The main improvement over that period of time has been his touchdown numbers. Ertz had two touchdowns in 2015, four in 2016, and eight touchdowns last season. You know what to expect from this 27 year old in the coming season.

#2. Travis Kelce – Kansas City Chiefs – 2017 Finish: #1

The reigning TE #1 (PPR) from 2017 comes in second on this list just because of his quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. I am excited to watch the young gun get out there and showcase his talent, but I’d just be lying to myself if I thought he’d play to the level of MVP candidate Alex Smith. With Smith last year Kelce put up 1,038 yards on 83 receptions for 8 touchdowns. Kelce is still a major piece of this offense, and Andy Reid will not stray away from him, no matter who his under center. He’s been the #1 Fantasy TE in PPR formats for two years running. It’s impossible to deny that level of talent at a position so starved for quality production. Kelce’s floor is set with an even higher upside than he had with Smith as Mahomes will be more willing to take chances with Kelce down the field.

#1. Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots – 2017 Finish: #2

Same s*it different day with Gronk. The hulking manchild of the NFL, and the best tight end in football. Gronk ended last season as the TE #1 (Standard) with 105 targets for 69 (nice) receptions, 1,084 yards and 8 touchdowns. The only issue with Gronk is health, which has always been his issue. If he’s healthy he’s a set it and forget it type of player. Tom Brady is still his QB, and Gronk seems to be as close to 100% healthy as possible. The Patriots also lost Brandin Cooks’ and Dion Lewis’ targets, and Edelman will be suspended for the first three games of the season. That production will go somewhere, and I’m banking that Gronk will be the primary beneficiary. Gronk’s price tag will have me staying away from him coming into this season, but if he stays healthy for the 2018 season (a substantial if), he will win people their leagues.

 

 

 


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Kyle is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com going on his 5 th year. He focuses primarily on baseball, but is a fantasy football fan and analyst as well.

I’m a former pitcher from upstate New York, and a proud Demon Deacon. Go Deacs! I’ve been playing fantasy football and baseball for the better part of a decade, but my specialty lies within the realm of football. I am a disciple, so to speak, of fantasy sports, and have converted many friends and family to this unpredictable, exciting religion. New York sports teams have been both my rock and the bane of my existence. Fun Facts: As a Jets fan, during the NFL season I moonlight as a masochist; Movies and television are my life's other great passions; I’m an aspiring Maester of the Citadel, currently holding the status of Acolyte.

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