Tight End Rankings
Editor’s Note: This article is from a series of #FootClan guest posts highlighting what set Footballers rankings apart.
Each year there are a handful of names atop the tight end rankings that you easily recognize and have grown to love. You may even take notice of these names slightly more than the names of players that sit atop other position rankings. The sole reason that this is true is that the tight end position typically offers much less bang for its buck.
We all want a sure thing when it comes to our fantasy lineups. When searching for a tight end, these sure-things are very few and far between. With players such as Rob Gronkowski calling it quits in 2019, and more players approaching the twilight of their career, other tight ends need to step into the limelight. Players like Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz have earned their stripes, and in return will sit atop tight end rankings for the foreseeable future. Yet how do The Fantasy Footballers accumulate the rest of their fantasy player rankings for a position that at times leaves more questions than answers? We discuss below.
Want to find out who the top-10 TEs are for 2019? Listen to the recent Top-10 TE podcast.
How a Team Uses a TE Within Their System
The tight end position has evolved more than nearly any other position in the NFL over the years. Primarily by converting from brawling 285+ lb. behemoths who served as not much more than an extra lineman, too often serving as a key focal point of their team’s passing game now. New age tight ends essentially operate as a third wide receiver in base sets and have the ability to line up in numerous places in the formation.
“Complete” tight ends are more difficult to come by nowadays, as more and more colleges operate strictly from a spread offense. Still, a tight end that can catch and block is highly sought after in NFL circles. However, in fantasy realms, we could care less, for the most part. As long as a tight end proves to be a reliable target in the passing game, they will continue to get looks from the quarterback.
While being a complete tight end may be appreciated within the league, it may actually hurt a player’s fantasy value at times. Take T.J. Hockenson as an example. Hockenson made a name for himself by being as good, if not better, as an in-line blocker than a pass catcher during his time in college. These well-versed attributes helped him be selected within the top ten of the 2019 NFL draft.
For more on Hockenson, check out his Rookie Profile.
Yet these same attributes may be what also hinders his fantasy value. If a team struggles to keep their quarterback upright, they might ask a player like Hockenson to stay in and block for the QB rather than catch passes from him. This is something that can greatly help his team, but not “your” team. In return, The Fantasy Footballers look for tight ends who are frequently used and featured in the passing game. While an ability to block may get the player on the field, it is their usage rate in the passing game that is most important when calculating tight end rankings for fantasy football.
Entering the 2018 season, George Kittle was looked at as a player with decent athletic traits who may one day be a matchup-based starter at the tight end position. Instead, Kittle went on to break the single-season record for most receiving yards by a tight end. You may ask, how did Kittle make such a big leap from fantasy mediocrity to fantasy stardom? The answer is simple, he had the opportunity. One could argue no team in the NFL relied upon a tight end more than the 49ers relied upon Kittle in the 2018 season. This is due primarily to the fact that San Francisco’s other receiving options were abysmal. Kittle is a great player, but he was also surrounded by fringe NFL talent. This means Kittle was the clear-cut go-to option amongst a plethora of non-fantasy factors.
Another great example of opportunity bolstering one’s fantasy value is Eric Ebron. Ebron, a perceived bust prior to joining the Colts in 2018, resurrected his career to the tune of 14 total touchdowns. Ebron was never truly featured in the Lions’ passing attack in prior years. Yet when Ebron joined the Colts he was able to flash his receiving prowess. The Colts offense readily operates out of two, three, and sometimes four tight end sets on a regular basis. These schematics allowed Ebron to flash his athletic ability as a pass-catcher, while other tight ends did the dirty work.
We’ve all been burned before, especially by a tight end. Maybe it was a waiver wire darling, who shined the week prior. Only for the tight end to put up a goose egg when you inserted him into your starting lineup the following week. When you dig deeper into the player’s stat line, you realize they were only targeted twice a week prior. It just so happens one of those two targets occurred when the player was standing all alone in the end zone on a blown coverage.
That tight end isn’t a true part of his team’s offensive game plan, but just fluke that will burn you again and again if you continue to trust him. The Fantasy Footballers don’t want you to have to rely on flukes. That’s why they put such a heavy focus on a player’s target count when they set their TE rankings.
You can expect the names sitting atop The Fantasy Footballers’ tight end rankings to be reliable receiving options week-in and week-out, for not only their NFL team but your fantasy team as well. There’s a reason why names like Kelce and Ertz are regularly brought up when discussing the top fantasy tight ends. That is because on their team they aren’t treated like a tight end, but more like a receiving weapon. Teams want to get these want these receiving threats the ball as quickly and as often as possible.
Red Zone Target
Not all tight ends can be exceptionally athletic pseudo-receivers. Most tight ends must find other ways to help their respective teams. There is no better way for them to help their team than by using their big body targets to put points on the scoreboard. We aren’t talking about your tight end who happens to fall into the end zone every six weeks or so. We’re talking about the tight end that asserts themselves as a true red-zone threat on a weekly basis.
In 2017, the then Seattle Seahawk Jimmy Graham reeled in less than 60 receptions and would barely crack the 500 receiving yards mark. Despite this, Graham worked his way into must-start territory, finishing the season as the fourth-highest scoring tight end in standard-scoring fantasy leagues. This is because Graham was a threat to score a touchdown anytime Seattle worked their way into the red zone. Graham would cap off his 2017 campaign with ten receiving touchdowns, which was good for second in the NFL, regardless of position.
While Graham wasn’t racking up the receptions and yards on a regular basis, he was racking up what mattered most in fantasy football, touchdowns. Touchdowns are the most valuable statistic in fantasy sports. The six points from a receiving touchdown is worth more than any other point you could get from a specific receiving statistic.
We’ve stated above how there are few “elite” tight ends in terms of fantasy value. When The Footballers aren’t examining the shoo-in amongst their tight end rankings, they use a player’s matchup to help determine their TE ranking for a given week. An athletic, big-bodied tight end can be one of the most difficult defensive matchups for linebackers and safeties alike.
Some defensive schemes are better equipped to defend the tight end position. Other units feature slow-footed backers and undersized safeties. These defenses help create some big fantasy days for tight ends. Defenses can be stellar against the pass, yet still, surrender a large number of fantasy points to the tight end position. The Fantasy Footballers know that sometimes the key to finding the right play at the tight end can be finding the right matchup.
You can’t make the club in the tub, well actually you can, but you may not make The Fantasy Footballers top TE rankings. Tight end is one of the most physical positions to play in the NFL. Linebackers and safeties are looking to take their head off every time they go over the middle for a pass. In return, many tight ends deal with injuries on a regular basis. The best tight ends are the ones available most frequently.
No one will ever question Jordan Reed’s talent. As an athlete, he may be the most difficult cover at his position, but the guy is extremely fragile. So fragile that he has become a liability for many fantasy rosters. Reed’s talent may be as good as it gets for a TE. Yet, until he can prove that he can stay healthy on a consistent basis, his rankings amongst fantasy tight ends will never match up with his skill level.