Not sure if it is because America is the fattest country in the world but tight ends were just hard to come by last year. The position had fewer worthy options than shows on MTV. One thing is certain, tight end has become very hard to predict. They can explode or disappear and overall we haven't seen a lot of consistent production. Many injuries dampened the TE 2016 fantasy stats and overall no one really stood out in standard scoring leagues. Last year as a whole left a lot to be desired. Looking ahead fantasy football draft strategy, based on average draft position, the top 5 are going in rounds 2 through 6. If you don't land a tight end in the early middle rounds then I'd just suggest waiting for a late round sleeper with a safer price tag and build up your bench in the middle of your draft. So let's look at the top options I'd like to draft before the 7th round and the other options I'm looking for in the late rounds, the sleepers if you will.
The Last Two Seasons
One thing we need to dominate our league is consistency. Weekly consistency and year over year consistency. Greg Olsen and Delanie Walker have dominated the aggregate PPR fantasy points totals in the last two NFL seasons. Each of these tight ends have made the top five in back to back seasons. I like PPR rankings as they identify players with opportunity, even if that opportunity didn't translate into many touchdowns. Let's try and identify the top five tight ends headed into the 2017 NFL season then follow up with some later round picks with upside, our sleepers.
The Top Five Tight Ends
- Rob Gronkowski N.E. - Can't put anyone else on top. Despite his injury history I'd rather have him over any other TE. Because of his upside nobody can overtake his spot as top dog, as long as he shows up to camp healthy he will be the 1st TE off the board. He can put up middle top tier WR numbers when healthy and if that does happen in 2017 you have a real shot at dominance with a good draft around him. With 15 games played, I predict 1,275 yards on 87 catches and 13 TDs. As long as his injuries don't cheat him out of snaps.
- Travis Kelce K.C. - His speed for a tight end makes it hard for linebackers to keep up. Unfortunately, Alex Smith can only throw the ball 20 yards. But he does do good work in the middle getting open and with his 6'5" frame he should be a great option in the red zone. But he only has 14 TDs in the last 3 seasons. I feel like as long as he plays for the Chiefs he will be a great PPR TE but standard league managers can drop him down a round. Over the last 3 seasons, he has averaged 954 yards and 75 catches. In 2016 he had 13.4 YPC. Only Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham had better numbers. And he has gradually gotten better in each of the last 3 seasons. I confidently predict 1,225 yards and 92 catches for the big man in red. If he adds 7 TDs consider it a bonus.
- Delanie Walker TEN - He has to love having Marcus Mariota at QB. The two have hooked up for 159 balls and 1,888 yards since the Titans used the 2nd overall pick on the Hawaiian in the 2015 draft. Mariota fractured his leg last December; word from camp suggests he will be ready by starting day. Walker has played his best ball since putting on a Titans uniform. The 10 year veteran has a knack for getting open and Mariota uses him as a safety valve. I am predicting 98 catches for 980 yards and 8 scores.
- Greg Olsen CAR - Cam Newton produced his worse season to date in 2016. We need Cam to bounce back in 2017 in order for Olsen to be relevant. I honestly don't see that happening but it's hard to fade Olsen who has finished as a top five TE in back to back seasons.
- I'm putting several names into the "five spot". These guys have potential but consistency hasn't been their best friend: Jimmy Graham, Jordan Reed, Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz. They are listed in order of preference with Reed obviously possessing the most upside.
The Top Five Sleepers
- Martellus Bennett G.B. The Packers found a guy that will bring back some memories of Shannon Sharpe. Jared Cook was a nice find but contract negotiations didn't go smooth and it pushed Green Bay to go after Bennett. His 3 year average for yards (795), receptions (69) and TDs (5) put him in line to be a top ten TE. The difference is his upside. At 6'7 275 lbs. Martellus should have no problem matching his career high in TDs (7) and be the old reliable chains mover should produce around 70 catches. You can draft him in the 11th round on average (which is going to rise as more drafts take place) which seemed a little late to me. I'd take him in round 10 if I didn't have a T.E. He's a more seasoned player than Cook and has a nose for the first down line. Green Bay finally has a legit T.E. who will produce better numbers than his 3 year averages. Don't be surprised to see 76 catches for 888 yards and 8 TDs when the season is over.
- C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU. If I had a true sleeper on this list this guy would be it. The Texans traded Brock Oswieler to the Browns for like a bag of chips and 6 double stuffed Oreos. They did free up $10 million however. So I guess they need to go after Tony Romo. If they were to land the veteran QB it's a boost to the entire offense, that is, if he can stay healthy. No matter who plays QB for Houston Fiedorowicz could be an interesting option. He could be the dump off 1st down guy for a young QB or blow up with some real talent under center. Either way with an ADP in round 14 he is worth an end game grab. Whomever his QB ends up being, I predict 69 catches, 700 yards and 6 TDs. If the stars align he could be on the top ten list this season.
- Hunter Henry LAC - Los Angeles Chargers have a very talented TE in Hunter Henry. He had a monster rookie season and should replace Gates as the featured TE for the Chargers in 2017. If this happens, Henry will be a top 5 TE in 2017.
- Julius Thomas - During his six-year career injuries have been a constant issue for Thomas. But headed into the 2017 NFL season he's reuniting with Adam Gase who coaxed monster numbers out of Thomas in 2013-14. If he can put together a complete season you should be very happy with this late round sleeper.
- Coby Fleener NO - I almost put Cook in the five spot but ended up picking Fleener. The upside with Drew Brees (think history here with TE connections) is to hard to ignore. If he is able to learn the play book and start catching the balls they throw him, he'll be a solid late round pick.