Most people view the tight end
landscape in 2018 as a disappointing wasteland of mediocrity outside
of the top three finishers of Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George
Kittle. Owners who drafted Rob Gronkowski in the late second or
early third round were devastated with three touchdowns 682 receiving
yards on just 47 receptions in 13 games.
While I do agree that the 2018 season was frustrating for owners
looking to find viable plays at the tight end position, compared
to other seasons dating back to 2010, this past year was not as
bad as it seemed. There were three players who averaged ten or
more fantasy points per game for only the third time in the last
eight seasons, and the 12th ranked tight end in fantasy points
per game, Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers, averaged the same
fantasy points per game as the final TE1 in four of the last seven
The bottom line is that tight end has always been a wasteland
outside of the top performers at the position. If you can nab
one of the elite players in the early part of the draft, it will
give you a significant edge over your opponents. If you cannot
land Kelce, Kittle, or Ertz, you might as well wait a while as
there is not much to discern between the rest of the pack.
Here are my way too early rankings for 2019:
Kittle doubled his production from his
rookie season and will easily be a top 3 fantasy TE in 2019.
Kelce, KC - Kelce continues to ascend as the No.1 tight
end in fantasy after setting career highs in targets (150), receptions
(103), and receiving yards (1,336) while reaching double-digit touchdowns
for the first time in his career. While I do anticipate negative
touchdown regression from Patrick
Mahomes in 2019, any worries of a lack of rapport with Mahomes
was vastly overblown. Not only does Kelce provide one of the highest
floors at any position, but he also can be a weekly matchup winner
in the explosive KC offense.
Ertz, PHI - You can easily make a case for Ertz to
be ranked first overall based on the fact that he has equally
elite target volume to Kelce. The reason why I would not take
Ertz over Kelce is the questions surrounding the pass-catching
options in Philly as we approach free agency and the draft. Although
they have the worst cap situation in the league, the Eagles may
try to make a play for a free agent wide receiver to pair alongside
Alshon Jeffrey. But don’t overthink it too much, as it is clear
that Ertz is the focal point of the Eagles passing offense and
should continue to be next season.
Kittle, SF - As a 49er fan I was excited to see Kittle
become an elite tight end option. Not only is he an exceptional
route runner, but he is also deceptively fast for his size and
excellent in the open field for a 250-pound man. Kittle set an
NFL record for a tight end with 1,377 receiving yards in a season
and game very close to setting the single-game record for receiving
yards at the position. If the Niners bring in an elite pass-catching
weapon like Antonio
Brown, it will be more difficult for Kittle to repeat his
volume from 2018, but you could argue he is in line for some positive
touchdown regression after point only five TDs last year.
Ebron, IND - Sometimes it takes a new situation and
a new offense for a player to finally live up to their potential.
That appears to be the case for Ebron, who led all tight ends
in receiving touchdowns in 2018 after four disappointing seasons
in Detroit. The former first-round pick from North Carolina posted
more receiving touchdowns last year (13) that he scored in his
entire time with the Lions. It may be difficult to replicate those
numbers, but I do believe in the red zone connection between Ebron
and Andrew Luck,
and the news of an off-season hip surgery for Jack
Doyle may give Ebron even more snaps to start the season.
Howard, TB - Bruce Arians does not have a strong track
record of producing tight ends, dating back to his days with the
Steelers. But he also has never had a tight end with the physical
gifts that Howard possesses. I anticipate Howard will be actively
used by Jameis
Winston this season, especially if Cameron
Brate is a cap casualty this spring.
Henry, LAC - A season-ending knee injury cost Henry
a chance to take that next step in his third year in the league.
When on the field in 2017 and 2016, Henry was a deadly red zone
weapon for Philip
Rivers, with 12 touchdowns in 25 games, including eight in
his first 13 games as a rookie. Mike
Williams could eat into Henry’s red zone targets, and the
emergence of Melvin Gordon as an elite touchdown scoring running
back in goal-to-go situations could also limit Henry’s ceiling.
Gronkowski, NE - It pains me to rank Gronk this low
after having the big man as the No.1 tight end for so many years.
But you cannot look past his subpar fantasy production last season
and the evidence on the field that injuries and age are catching
up to him. It is also possible that Gronk and his Tide Pods ride
off to the sunset in retirement for a career in show business.
Engram, NYG - Engram might be the best tight end value
this season if he can avoid injury and play a full 16-game slate.
Although he managed just three receiving touchdowns in 11 games
last season and failed to live up to his draft cost, he averaged
only a tenth of a point less per game in 2018 than what he did
in 2017 as a rookie. Both Engram and OBJ could be steals at their
position if owners let them fall too much in drafts this year.
Cook, OAK - Although he is not flashy and he all but
disappeared from the face of the Earth in the final three games
of the regular season, Cook did finish as the No.5 tight end with
896 yards and six touchdowns. If the Raiders resign him and if
Jon Gruden does not bring in an elite pass-catching option, Cook
will once again be a TE1 for fantasy.
Njoku, CLE - I am quite bullish on the Browns for fantasy
purposes in 2019, and that includes tight end David Njoku. Mayfield
took off under Freddie Kitchens, and Njoku is the big body red
zone threat that Mayfield likes to target in the end zone. Of
the final four players ranked in my top 12, Njoku has the highest
Witten, DAL - Christmas came early for NFL fans when
Jason Witten announced that he would leave the MNF booth and return
to the Cowboys in 2019. Witten was a dreadful color commentator,
making MNF almost impossible to watch without muting the volume.
Hopefully, for Dallas fans, he still has something left in the
tank and gives Dak a reliable target in the middle of the field.
Witten never misses a game and should produce enough fantasy points
to be fantasy relevant this year.
Burton, CHI, - The narrative that Burton would take
over the Travis Kelce role in Matt Nagy’s offense proved to be
one of the worst collective calls of the fantasy industry in quite
some time. I myself was high on Burton, despite the fact that
he is nowhere near the physical beast like Kelce and Mitchell
Trubisky is still learning the new offense. While I don’t think
Burton will be as bad this year, I don’t see him becoming an elite
fantasy tight end any time soon.