We are finally in the home stretch for football season! The 2016 NFL draft is over and the rookies have been selected. The free agency frenzy time period has calmed down immensely, and we are now getting ready to see full-length training camps starting July 15th. In this series (check out the RBs that can make a tier jump) we explain how a possible jump in rankings is inevitable due to different variables that took place this past off-season. Our focus is on tight ends this round, and players that can really demonstrate a full rise forward in production at the position, entering that “next level” kind of play and move the ranks up for next year.

Coby Fleener

It’s no surprise that the New Orleans Saints love their tight ends. Quarterback Drew Brees has consistently thrown over 4,000 passing yards and has more than 26 touchdowns each year since 2006 when he showed up in Louisiana. Head Coach Sean Payton loves to have weapons in the passing attack game and it has shown statistically over the last 6 years, as they have become one the most “pass-heaviest” offenses in the entire league. We’ve seen the rise of Jimmy Graham to stardom in fantasy football due to the game plans they have put in place for them. Even at age 35, the Saints last year were able to even make Benjamin Watson useful and relevant for fantasy rosters. The position is a necessity to use in order to capture those long yardage plays and a constant threat near the end-zone in that scheme. Here we can see just how useful the position is when it comes to the Saints:

Year Player Receptions Passing Yards Touchdowns
2012 Jimmy Graham 85 982 9
2013 Jimmy Graham 86 1,215 16
2014 Jimmy Graham 85 889 10
2015 Benjamin Watson 74 825 6

The one thing that makes things interesting for this new pairing in New Orleans is that the Stanford standout always seems to cause mismatches during games for defenses. Being 6’6″ and being able to run a 40-yard dash time of 4.51 Seconds, Coby Fleener is able to get separation and be available and open to make almost any catch when the play goes live. This is indeed very similar to when Jimmy Graham was the starting tight end as well. Two guys built out of the same cloth it seems. Fleener has not always been known for his hands and being able to catch all the time as he’s dropped way more passes than Graham ever has. Still, that opportunity remains that being open most every time produces volume and attempts. Honestly, in fantasy football, that’s all you can ask for right? As of right now in the Ultimate Draft Kit, Coby sits in Tier 3, only behind Rob Gronkowski in Tier 1, and “Rule 86” himself, Jordan Reed in Tier 2 for preferred leagues. With these facts and statistics the Saints give us, and with the physical capability that the former Cardinal holds in his arsenal, I really do see him moving up into that 2nd Tier and becoming a “must-have” for fantasy owners in the years to come. It’s even possible for him to get to the main tier with a possible injury coming from Gronk or Reed this season. This is a great example of the right free-agent meets the right offensive scheme here for sure.

Eric Ebron

The 10th selection in the 2014 NFL Draft is coming into his third season this year. That third year has really been the sweet spot for collegiate tight ends to really breakout and finally become comfortable in their roles. Especially if you have consistency and a full off-season to keep practicing the same playbook. As one of the best tight ends to ever come out of the University of North Carolina, Eric Ebron has always had high expectations on his shoulders. The Detroit Lions took him two years ago with the 10th pick in the NFL Draft. But here we are with a perfect storm looming ahead at Ford Field. The soon to be Hall of Famer and all-star wideout, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson has called it a historic ten-year career. Jim Bob Cooter is still the man calling the shots on the offensive side of the ball, running this high-octane train lead by the strong arm of veteran QB Matthew Stafford, and now the new number one wide receiver in Golden Tate. The Lions also brought in former Cincinnati star Marvin Jones to be the one lining up beside Tate on the other side of the field. With a big gap of targets being left out with Johnson’s retirement, and Jones not technically being proven as a “go-to” guy in recent years as a Bengal, a role for Eric Ebron is definitely in the books this upcoming football year. Here we can see how the targets were distributed out for the Detroit Lions in the 2015 season:

2015 Detroit Lions Player Targets
Calvin Johnson 150
Golden Tate 128
Theo Riddick 99
Eric Ebron 69
Lance Moore 43
Joique Bell 27
Ameer Abdullah 39
TJ Jones 18
Timothy Wright 16
Corey Fuller 9
Brandon Pettigrew 15
Michael Burton 6
Zach Zenner 3
Matthew Stafford 1

The former Tarheel saw a big upswing just last season in statistics as his targets went from 49 in 2014 to 69 in 2015. The yardage also moved up from 258 yards all the way up to 537 yards just in one year. We even saw 1 touchdown in 2014 turn to 5 total in 2015. Now with being fully healthy in camp, knowing the plays and routes to a tee, this 6’4″ beast can really be a constant ongoing threat against defenses this upcoming season. Do you know the best part of all of this when it comes to Number 85? According to the ADP at Fantasy Football Calculator he is currently going as the 5th pick of the 13th round. A great steal for a guy that could jump the tiers all the way up to the solid 3rd Tier with the likes of Greg Olson and Travis Kelce.

Ladarius Green

Probably the most exciting of the free agency news, former Charger and big-time red-zone threat, Ladarius Green makes his way into arguably the most prolific offense in the NFL. No longer are the days of the player hailing from the country of Germany sitting as second fiddle and backup to the great and reliable Antonio Gates in San Diego. He now goes to the Steel City of Pittsburgh and Todd Haley’s high-octane scheme, giving him the chance to really shine as their pure TE1 guy. He has always been the number 2 guy. This season the mystery will be revealed whether or not he can really jump the tiers and come up in the level of play.  Being tall like the rest of these other tight ends we discussed, (6’6″) he is an absolute freak of an athlete and causes defenders to really struggle to cover him the majority of plays. Taking the place of a great and respected tight end like Heath Miller is no easy task. The pressure to perform for the contract he was given this past winter has already started. The team anticipates and watches closely with hopes that Green is ready to go for training camp in July, recovering from off-season ankle surgery. Still, the loss of Martavis Bryant to a season-long suspension gives a great big opportunity for Number 89 to really show he can do what it takes and return to that rising star he had become the first 4 games of last season when Gates was suspended. He was able to grab 19 catches for 224 passing yards and 2 touchdowns. If he can keep that pace and stay healthy all season long, he is the huge advantage up the middle for Big Ben Roethlisberger to throw to. Yes, Antonio Brown could catch over 150 passes, but there is quite a bit more to go around. In fact, let’s look at the other receivers, running backs, and tight ends that caught passes from Big Ben to drive that point home that the former Louisiana-Lafayette player could really be in for a big breakout year:

Year Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
2015 Heath Miller 60 535 2
2015 Martavis Bryant 50 765 6
2015 DeAngelo WIlliams 40 367 0
2015 Le'Veon Bell 24 136 0

If you add just what Heath Miller did last year and pair it with Martavis Bryant from last year in receptions alone, we are talking about over 110 targets! That’s remarkable considering Antonio grabbed 136 passes on his own! Now do I think he will grab all of them? No. We still have other players involved in a now almost healthy standout Le’Veon Bell, who could easily grab twice as many targets than he did when he went down with an injury. If not him, the backup DeAngelo Williams could certainly fill right in like he did last season. Plus with backup tight end, Jesse James, and another tall behemoth Sammie Coates coming into his sophomore season at wide receiver, these will be separated and moved around, but its still possible for Ladarius to sneakily make his way in getting well over 70 of those catches. His ceiling is high, hence moving the big guy up from a lower Tier 5/6 range into skyrocketing at a Tier 3 level by year’s end. According to ADP, you can snag this mountain of a man with the 4th pick of the 9th round. Just like Ebron, a steal and the fact that you don’t have to take the big names too early in the draft to find solid production throughout the fantasy weeks to come.

Keep a lookout for these stud tight ends this upcoming fantasy draft season when you are trying to piece a solid foundation together for your leagues. They are the hurdlers, the tier-busters, the rank-up runners that you can look for and rely on to really put you ahead of the curve at the position compared to your other league-mates. Consistency each week from vital positions like the tight end spot leads to fantasy championship glory. Be sure to check out episodes on Youtube and here at the website from The Fantasy Footballers for some more great analysis on these gentlemen.


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