Fantasy Football 2014: TE Rankings, Riser, Faller, Sleepers and Risks
Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski started a golden age of fantasy tight ends a few years ago. The Denver Broncos' Julius Thomas and Cleveland Browns' Jordan Cameron added to it last season. Now, Jordan Reed and Ladarius Green look capable of joining the growing club.
A tight end will get picked in Round 1, perhaps for the first time, in your league. That doesn't mean you have to quickly follow suit.
With the growing supply of viable fantasy tight ends and there still being only 12 starting spots for them in a standard league, the price should go down, not up. You cannot argue with the laws of supply and demand—at least you shouldn't. They are smarter than you.
We will stop insulting our readers' intelligence and provide you with an update on the tight end position, including the latest rankings, a riser and faller, and a review of the sleepers and risks.
TE Rankings: Jimmy Graham Is Alone at the Top, but the Position Has Depth
Targeting Graham in Round 1 is not a reality for most of you. He is a middle first-round pick, which is the earliest a tight end has been projected to go in fantasy history.
It makes sense. He is 27, in a great offense with an accurate quarterback and is his team's No. 1 threat in the red zone.
After Graham, it gets a little fuzzy. This is where we make sense of the rest of things.
Remember this on draft day: You can wait a long time on picking your starter at this position. Thomas was a Week 2 waiver-wire pickup last year. Charles Clay was the seventh-highest scorer a year ago, according to FFToday.com, but he isn't being drafted as a starter in standard leagues this year, slotting just 15th in FantasyPros.com's average draft position (ADP).
There are options everywhere if you can make do without the star, though there is seemingly little to choose from among the remaining guys after the top few.
We give you our updated rankings at the position, which are produced by roughly projecting a player's role, health and statistical potential, with a little fudge factor weighed in from current ADP data.
Updated Tight End Rankings
|Rank||Tight Ends||Team||ECR||vs. ECR|
Riser: Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce Healthy, off to Great Start in Year 2
You want to know how to put doubts coming off microfracture knee surgery away? Look at what second-year tight end Travis Kelce is doing this summer for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Kelce might not start for his team, but he will (eventually) for fantasy owners as a late-round flier. He certainly looks like a dynamic target for the limited-armed quarterback Alex Smith. Kelce has made big plays down the field this preseason, scoring a 69-yard touchdown in the first week and a 43-yarder in Week 2.
Microfracture surgery isn't a cure-all for knee-tissue woes in recent sports history, but Kelce might be making one of the more remarkable comebacks from it. Smith is impressed—even if the touchdown passes came at the hands of backups Chase Daniel and rookie Aaron Murray—as he told Randy Covitz of The Kansas City Star:
Kelce has made two huge plays, and he even had some other ones underneath (in Week 2) and making guys miss and getting north and south. It was good to see. He's going to add another element to the tight end position. He'll stretch some defenses and do some things with the ball in his hands. It's exciting to see.
Head coach Andy Reid's West Coast system loves throwing to the tight ends, particularly in short routes and the red zone. Reid echoed Smith's excitement to Covitz, saying:
I like what (Kelce's) doing. He has to keep coming with it. There's more to it than just route running. You have to run block, and detail all your work there. You have to give him credit for the effort he's given in the pass game, and he sure has a nice skill level.
It certainly can get Kelce drafted now, despite the fact he is just the 24th tight end on the board in FantasyPros.com's current ADP.
Faller: Antonio Gates Losing Fans to Ladarius Green but Not Starting Job
There is a lot of growing fantasy love for Green, the San Diego Chargers's third-year tight end. He is a legit fantasy sleeper, if not this year's Thomas or Cameron breakthrough tight end of the year.
This is warranted praise for the emerging Green, but the move away from future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates is a little premature. Gates is still the starter and Philip Rivers' primary target in the red zone. Gates should not be dropped from the top 12 at the position, which is the number of starters in a standard league.
Gates is being ranked by analysts behind his own backup tight end, according to FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings (18th vs. 14th). This is sliding Gates into the very late rounds, but you should still anticipate starter-worthy numbers from him, especially out of the Gates (pun completely intended).
The ability to pick up Gates and/or Green after Round 10 are two more reasons to wait to select your starting tight end if you miss out on Graham in Round 1.
Sleepers: Pass-Happiness of NFL Is Trickling Down to Tight Ends
- Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
- Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens
- Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers
- Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
- Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears
- Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
- Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
- Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins
- Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts
- Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
There is a reason a monster like Graham might be the earliest tight end selected in fantasy history: The NFL is a passing league. There are video game numbers being flashed across the board.
The physical freaks—glorified tackles running 4.5-second 40-yard dashes—are getting more and more throws as extra attention gets paid to the diva wide receivers on the outside. It is making for a lot of depth at a position that hasn't been historically deep and has been equally overrated in drafts.
Sure, Graham is a first-rounder. Thomas is a third- or even a second-rounder. A healthy Gronkowski (good luck banking on that) might be better than anyone. After that, you can throw up the next 15 tight ends and not lose much in the way of potential fantasy production.
This all means there are sleepers and breakouts on the board who will dramatically outperform their draft position. We thoroughly dissected the position in Bleacher Report's TE blueprint earlier this month, but here is a reprinted review of the 10 tight ends we most expect to trump their modest fantasy expectations:
Risks: Rob Gronkowski Is the King of High-Risk, High-Reward Fantasy Options
- 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns
- Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos—His third-year breakout last season was so good we all are overlooking the ankle injuries that plagued him the first two years (and even some last season).
- Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns—He has to consume a new offense, deal with a mediocre Brian Hoyer as his starting quarterback and draw the attention that used to be reserved for the likely-to-be-suspended Josh Gordon.
- Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers—You have to assume some age-related statistical decline here, even if he is in a contract year.
- Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers—He has Green nipping at his heels for playing time and targets. Plus, Gates is 34 and has played through chronic foot issues for most of his career.
- Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings—He is coming off an injury-plagued year and has to deal with one of the shakier quarterback situations in football.
Here are two potential season projections for Gronkowski, the New England Patriots' 25-year-old tight end:
The first line contains his career-best numbers from his breakthrough 2011 season. The second is what you might get if Gronk rushes himself back from major knee reconstruction inside nine months and suffers a catastrophic setback.
That is a wide swath for a player who is being picked in the third round of leagues (31st overall), according to FantasyPros.com's ADP. There is no riskier player in fantasy football drafts this season.
Wait, wait, wait on the tight end spot, particularly since quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are far more impactful positions on your roster.
We conclude our updated look at the tight ends with five other cautionary tales we reprint and review from B/R's TE blueprint published earlier this preseason:
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.