2017 Fantasy Football Draft Kit

2017 Fantasy Football Tight End Preview: The Undesirable Necessity

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The most inconsistent and frustrating position in Fantasy Football is the tight end. This position tends to have owners pulling their hair out due to the position’s unpredictability. So why not write a 2017 fantasy football tight end preview article, right?

For a more detailed article on the frustrations and the different grade levels of tight ends, read my tight end grades article. As much as I despise the tight end position in Fantasy Football because of its sporadic nature and unpredictability, every once in a while, the position deserves some credit. Tight Ends can even play hero for your Fantasy Football team. Heck, it may even win you a championship!

That is exactly what happened to me this past season. I was down eight points going into Monday Night Football which was a Week 16 matchup between The Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions. My Uncle had zero players remaining and all I had remaining was Eric Ebron.

I was obviously not very confident in a favorable outcome. He had failed to score over eight standard fantasy points in all but four games last season. This was a standard scoring league so I needed either 90 receiving yards or 30 receiving yards and a touchdown. Further lowering my confidence was the fact that Ebron had only one receiving touchdown all season and had only surpassed 90 receiving yards once, prior to this week 16 matchup.

For that night, the tight end position went from my most hated Fantasy Football position to my most cherished. Ebron absolutely abused the middle of the field catching eight passes on 12 targets for 93 yards. It was Ebron, a tight end, who played hero and won me the Fantasy Championship.   

Point being is that even though the position is unpredictable, and even though it is possible to stream tight ends, as I did in route to the championship title, we cannot forget about the position. Like paying taxes, the tight end position is an undesirable necessity. The only possible solution is to read tight end positional preview articles like this. They provide research and analysis that can assist owners in developing a higher chance of success at dealing with the tight end position. 

2017 Fantasy Football Tight End Preview

Can top caliber tight ends avoid injury?

The top of the tight end Fantasy Football rankings consists of several injury prone players. Players like Jordan Reed, Rob Gronkowski, and Tyler Eifert often impress as top options at the tight end position in Fantasy Football.

All three of these players were in the top four for points per game at the tight end position last year. They did this by averaging over 8.6 fantasy points per game. Same goes for the 2015 season. In 2015, they were the top three tight ends for points per game averaging over 10.7 standard points per game.

The problem is that this has not necessarily translated into a top tight end finish because these players have missed over a combined 25 games over the past two seasons. The reward these players give owners is undeniable but the risk may be too high to invest the capital that these players command.  

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

Gronk has been riddled with injuries over the past six years, suffering forearm, knee, back, and leg injuries, which have managed to sideline him throughout his career.

The chance of an injury for Gronk doesn’t disappear when he isn’t on the field. Gronk is notorious for “knowing how to have a good time” and has been videoed performing stunts in Las Vegas or in the WWE world that could result in accidental injury. Sports Injury Predictor has Gronk listed as a Low Risk for injury this season at a 25 percent chance of injury.

Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins

Reed has over six concussions and is one concussion away from not only ending his career but as well as developing permanent adverse effects on his health. Sports Injury Predictor has Reed listed as a High Risk for injury this season at an 81 percent chance of injury.

Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals

Tyler Eifert has also missed a substantial amount of his career due to injuries to his neck, shoulder, head, and ankle. When healthy, Eifert has proven that he belongs in the elite tier of tight ends. Sports Injury Predictor has Eifert as a High Risk for injury this season at a 77 percent chance of injury.

Can Rookies have an impact?

The three big name rookie tight ends for fantasy purposes are O.J. Howard of Tampa Bay, David Njoku of Cleveland, and Evan Engram of the New York Giants.

The learning curve for tight end rookies in the NFL is steep and it is rare to see a rookie tight end generate fantasy success. However, Njoku, Howard, and Engram are immense talents who could break the trend.

The quarterback situation in Cleveland remains clouded, but Gary Barnidge was able to have a top two fantasy season in 2015 with a similarly murky quarterback situation. Njoku, should be able to overcome any quarterback issues he faces.

In New York, the competition for targets is stiff with Odell Beckham, Jr., the addition of Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and capable pass-catching running backs. However, the Giants remain a pass heavy team, and with all the targets available at Eli Manning’s disposal, the middle of the field should be open with plenty of space for Engram to operate.

If both tight ends can become better blockers, normally the biggest concern with rookie tight ends, there is no reason they cannot become fantasy football commodities.

On the other hand, there is Howard, who is already a talented blocker. Howard’s biggest obstacle will be competing for playing time over Cameron Brate who just had an outstanding season as one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets. The good news is Howard is coming from a pro-style offense at Alabama and can flex outside as a receiver as well as remain inside as a blocker or pass catcher. If Howard can beat out Brate, there is no reason he shouldn’t post better or similar numbers to Brate’s 600 plus yard and eight touchdown 2016 campaign.

Can these tight ends succeed in new locations?

Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers

Over the past three years, the Green Bay Packers have not had a tight end finish 15th or better in fantasy football. Jared Cook finished 29th in 2016, Richard Rodgers finished 15th in 2015, and Andrew Quarless finished 34th in 2014. Martellus Bennett is more talented than the aforementioned tight ends. He even has his fair share of top 12 fantasy finishes.

The problem is that these successful years for Bennett were in Chicago and New England, both teams that heavily utilize the tight end as a receiver. Now joining a Green Bay team the prefers to distribute the ball among receivers like Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb, Bennett is likely to have his worst season, for Fantasy Football purposes, in a long time.

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Dwayne Allen, New England Patriots

Unlike Bennett going to Green Bay, moving to New England from Indianapolis might have been the best thing for Allen. New England has a trend of producing two Fantasy Football relevant tight ends.

In 2011 and 2012, both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez finished in the top five for fantasy points among tight ends. Last year, both Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski finished in the top 12 for fantasy points per game among tight ends.

Dwayne Allen is coming off a top 20 finish in a season in which he missed two games. What is more telling, is that he is coming from a team that also uses two tight ends, both Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle. Allen should fit right in at New England and have a chance to put up better numbers at his new home in New England.

Draft Strategy

There are basically two drafting strategies for tight ends. Draft an elite caliber tight end in the first two or three rounds in hopes of landing someone like Gronkowski, or passing on these elite players and waiting to draft a tight end.

I can see the argument for spending high capital on a tight end like Gronkowski. He is a game changer and has the ability to win you the weekly tight end battle. However, with the uncertainty of some of the top tight ends’ health, and the risk of finding one of the few elite guys, I tend to focus more on the wide receiver and running back positions and wait on tight end knowing that if I am not one of the three members that lands an elite tight end, my tight end production will be about the same as everyone else’s and my running backs or wide receivers will be better and deeper than those with the rare and elite tight end.

This does not mean you should pass on elite guys if the time is right. But, I am certainly not taking a tight end in the first few rounds if I can drastically improve my running backs or wide receivers. This is because there are many wide receivers or running backs that are not very good for Fantasy purposes and that will get outscored on a weekly basis by most other players at that respective position. However, this is different for tight ends. For tight ends there are about three or four elite caliber players. After that, the drop-off is drastic. You can find similar production at the tight end position that is comparable to your opponents who do not have one of the top three.

Tight Ends by the Numbers

In 2016 four tight ends averaged over 8.5 points per game. Eight averaged between seven and 8.5 points per game. Then the next 20 tight ends averaged between about four to six points per game.

Upon looking at the stats within the past five years, the same distribution exists with the worst 20 tight ends never having a point differential greater than two. This means that you do not necessarily have a disadvantage at the tight end position, if you wait on drafting the position. When you play the guys who spent high picks on hopefully obtaining an elite tight end, you will have deeper and better running backs and wide receivers.

Tight Ends on Championship Teams

Another interesting nugget is who were the most owned tight ends on championship rosters, in terms of percentage owned. In 2016, of the 20 most owned players on Championship rosters, only one player was a tight end.

Even more interesting was that this tight end was not a heavily sought after “elite level” tight end in drafts. The tight end was Jimmy Graham who was owned in 54.5 percent of ESPN championship rosters. He was drafted last season with an ADP of 115. If this does not convince you to use the wait approach when drafting tight ends then let’s look a little deeper.

Of the top five most owned tight ends on Championship teams, only Jimmy Graham was owned in more than 50 percent of the teams. The other four were Travis Kelce (49%), Kyle Rudolph (46%), Greg Olsen (45%), and Eric Ebron (44.3%). Hey, remember my story about Eric Ebron? The ADP for these tight ends is what is most telling. The only tight end listed with an ADP of lower than 50 was Olsen who had an ADP of 48. The other ADPs were as followed, Travis Kelce (57), Kyle Rudolph (174), and Eric Ebron (131). This means that two tight ends that were commonly used to win owners championships last season were essentially undrafted. The others were found in the mid to late rounds.

Your draft strategy is ultimately yours. But waiting on tight end and focusing more on running backs and wide receivers might be the best strategy to get yourself a Fantasy Football Championship.

You can test out your different draft strategies by doing five-minute mock drafts using the Fantasy Pros Mock Draft Tool.

Reaches

Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

Olsen is one of the better and more reliable fantasy assets at the tight end position. However, drafting Olsen in the first four rounds as one of the top tight ends off the board is a reach.

The Panthers regressed hard last season. They also have more weapons at their disposal with a healthy Kelvin Benjamin and newly drafted Christian McCaffrey. Furthermore, in the last seven games of the season last year, Olsen averaged less than five standard points per game. This is a number that the bottom 20 tight ends averaged within plus or minus a point of. Don’t spend the high pick on Olsen, and wait for other options.

Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins

This decision has nothing to do with Reed’s talent as a tight end. It does have everything to do with his ability to stay healthy. As I mentioned above, Reed has significant injury problems. Spending a high pick on a tight end, especially one with an injury history is too high of a risk.

Steals

Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts

Doyle will now be the main tight end in Indianapolis.

Last season Doyle posted 59 receptions for just under 600 yards and five touchdowns. He did this as the second tight end option to Dwayne Allen. In fact, in the two games that Allen missed, Doyle had 13 targets, 114 yards, and a touchdown.

Andrew Luck relies heavily on his tight ends, particularly in the red zone. In fact, in 2016 Luck threw about 40 percent of his touchdown passes to tight ends. Look for Doyle to be a solid Fantasy producer as the lead guy in Indianapolis.

Dwayne Allen, New England Patriots

As I mentioned above, the former teammate of Doyle’s, Dwayne Allen has a new home in New England. New England is a team known to be Fantasy friendly to tight ends. Nothing more to say here that I did not already mention. Allen is a legit steal at his ADP of 241 where he is basically going undrafted in some leagues.


2017 Fantasy Football Position Previews
QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversTight Ends

For more F6P preseason coverage please visit our 2017 Draft Kit section.

About Alex Hamrick

Alex is an avid fantasy football enthusiast and writer for Fantasy Six Pack. With a background in quantitative methods and analysis, Alex enjoys using statistics and data analytics to develop detailed fantasy football analysis. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @AlexBHamrick

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