Daily Fantasy Football 2015: Projecting Top DraftKings Performers at TE
The 2015 NFL preseason is underway, which means it's time to start preparing for DraftKings daily fantasy football contests.
What follows are projections for the top performers at tight end for the upcoming season. The list includes the usual suspects like Jimmy Graham ($5,600) and Rob Gronkowski*, as well as a consistent veteran and a young up-and-comer.
In the DraftKings scoring system, tight ends register points primarily from touchdowns (six points each), receptions (one point each) and receiving yards (one point per 10 yards), so those three stats factor most prominently in the rankings.
Among other things, a player's previous numbers, injury history and quarterback situation may all come into play as well. The opinions of experts are also taken into consideration.
Without further ado, here are the top five tight ends for 2015.
*Gronkowski's price is not yet listed on DraftKings. The New England Patriots open the season on Thursday night, before the Sunday contests begin. Over the latter part of 2014, Gronkowski's cost fluctuated between $7,000 and $8,000.
Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers ($4,200)
Antonio Gates had 69 catches last year, the fifth-highest total in the league for a tight end. He also scored 12 touchdowns, tied for the most at the position. Because Gates is suspended for the season's first four games for performance-enhancing drugs, his overall stats in 2015 likely won't be too impressive.
However, the 35-year-old will return with something to prove and an added chip on his shoulder, which should make him a force to be reckoned with in daily fantasy contests beginning in Week 5.
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys ($4,000)
Jason Witten caught 64 passes for 704 yards and five touchdowns in 2014. Even though none of those numbers ranked among the top seven for tight ends, he still qualified for his 10th Pro Bowl in 11 years. Witten made a career-high 110 catches in 2012, and he followed that up with eight touchdowns in 2013.
The best thing the 33-year-old has going for him is his injury-free track record—Witten has missed just one game in his 12-year career, during his rookie season in 2003.
Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars ($4,500)
Julius Thomas tied for the tight end lead with 12 touchdown catches last year, including four games with multiple TDs. He also scored 12 times in his breakout 2013 campaign. The 27-year-old appears to just now be entering the prime of his career.
Unfortunately for Thomas, he no longer has future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning ($8,200) throwing to him in the Denver Broncos offense, but rather the Jaguars' Blake Bortles ($5,900).
Thomas also fractured a finger in Jacksonville's first preseason game, an injury that could hamper him to start the year.
No. 5: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
During his first season of NFL action in 2014, Travis Kelce ($4,800) hauled in 67 catches for 862 yards and five touchdowns. The receptions and yards were each the sixth-most for a tight end. Kelce also logged a 100-yard receiving game, which is worth an additional three points in DraftKings contests.
The 25-year-old is poised for even bigger and better things in 2015. In making the argument that Kelce could outperform Graham, numberFire.com's Joseph Juan wrote:
...while Graham's production was heavily reliant on the volume of work he got with the Saints, Kelce's stellar numbers were in large part due to his efficiency in the passing game.
While Graham might be hard-pressed to repeat the type of production he had in New Orleans with the Seahawks, all signs point to Kelce's 2014 numbers being his floor for 2015.
Juan also noted that Kelce played fewer snaps for the Chiefs than Anthony Fasano ($2,500) last year. Fasano was released in February, opening the door for more opportunities for Kelce.
Before elevating Kelce to the upper echelon of the TE rankings, it's important to remember two things: He's played only one year in the NFL, and he missed his entire rookie season due to microfracture surgery on his knee.
2015 Projections: 72 receptions, 883 yards, six touchdowns
No. 4: Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears
Martellus Bennett ($4,300) pulled in a whopping 90 catches last year, the most of any tight end. Bennett amassed 916 receiving yards as well, the third-highest total for TEs. Both of those numbers were easily career bests for the seven-year veteran.
Regarding Bennett's 2015 outlook, Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus wrote:
Bennett’s role as a pass catcher has progressively increased over the past four seasons, and it reached what probably is his ceiling in 2014.
Also a strong blocker, Bennett rarely leaves the field. He’s played at least 90 percent of his team’s snaps each of the past three seasons.
Although Bennett may not match his 2014 numbers, Brandon Marshall’s departure all but guarantees he’ll be busy, especially near the goal line.
The 28-year-old's lack of goal-line production is what kept him from keeping pace with the best tight ends in fantasy scoring a year ago. After reaching the end zone four times in the season's first three games, Bennett scored only twice more over the Bears' final 13 contests. His six TDs were a career high, but still just half as many as Gates, Thomas and Gronkowski's total.
2015 Projections: 77 receptions, 864 yards, seven touchdowns
No. 3: Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Greg Olsen ($5,300) is the gold standard for dependability at the tight end position. In each of the past three seasons, Olsen posted at least 69 catches and over 800 yards receiving. For the last five years, he's scored either five or six TDs in every season. Olsen has also suited up for every game his team has played since 2008.
From Fox Sports' D.J. Foster:
He's a safety blanket, both for Cam Newton and fantasy owners. Olsen provides very reliable production, as he's made good on three straight seasons of 100-plus targets with respectable fantasy totals. After setting career-highs last season in receptions (84) and yards (1,008), Olsen is safely a top-five fantasy tight end given the climate of the position.
His yards and receptions ranked second and third, respectively, among tight ends in 2014. It's worth mentioning as well that Olsen topped the 100-yard mark on three occasions last year.
He may not have the same big-game potential as more explosive tight ends like Bennett, Graham or Gronkowski, but Olsen's consistency at the position is unparalleled.
2015 Projections: 79 receptions, 914 yards, seven touchdowns
No. 2: Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
After totaling 1,215 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013, Jimmy Graham slipped to 889 yards and 10 TDs in 2014—still good enough to land in the top five for tight ends in both categories. Despite the decreased yardage, Graham's 85 catches trailed only Bennett at the position. It was also Graham's fourth consecutive season with at least 85 receptions.
Graham played through a nagging shoulder injury that limited his fantasy output last year. All indications from Seahawks training camp are that he's now fully healthy and ready to go, even eager to take on a bigger blocking role in Seattle than he had with the New Orleans Saints.
However, Graham at 100 percent in 2015 is still unlikely to put up his 2013 numbers and rival Gronkowski for the top spot in the TE rankings. The former Saint will surely miss playing with quarterback Drew Brees in pass-happy New Orleans.
According to ESPN.com's Eric Karabell:
He’s not in the Big Easy anymore and it’s not going to be at all easy for him to duplicate his normal level of targets, receptions, yards, you name it. I could see plenty of touchdowns, though. Just don’t assume the same production is coming. Russell Wilson is great, but he hands off the football a lot too, and runs it himself too.
Graham hasn't scored fewer than nine touchdowns in any of the last four seasons, a number that is still 50 percent more than either Bennett or Olsen had in 2014. For this reason, it's impossible to rate Graham any lower than the second-best fantasy tight end.
2015 Projections: 80 receptions, 857 yards, 11 touchdowns
No. 1: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
From ESPN.com, to CBSSports.com, to RotoWire and beyond, Rob Gronkowski is just about everyone's unanimous choice as the No. 1 fantasy tight end in 2015. According to Sports Illustrated's Michael Beller, "Gronkowski is in a tier of his own at the tight end position."
Among TEs in 2014, Gronkowski finished fourth in catches with 82, tied for first in touchdowns with 12 and was far and away the leader in receiving yards with 1,124. Gronkowski accumulated 116 more yards than any other tight end while playing in only 15 games after the Patriots sat him as a precaution for the regular-season finale.
Of course, the Super Bowl champions had good reason to hold Gronkowski out of a meaningless affair—the three-time Pro Bowler had missed a combined 15 games over the previous two years.
When healthy, Gronkowski is one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL. He's scored 54 touchdowns in 65 career contests, an average of 0.83 per game.
The Patriots and Gronkowski are still awaiting word of whether or not Tom Brady (price not yet listed) will be available for the season's first four games. Even if he's without his regular quarterback for 25 percent of the year, Gronkowski's recent stats are dominant enough to merit the top fantasy tight end ranking.
2015 Projections: 76 receptions, 1,011 yards, 13 touchdowns
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