2018 Positional Rankings: Top Ten TEs PPR
“If you ain’t first you’re last” – Reece Bobby
We all know by now cocaine is a hell of a drug but no truer words have been spoken when it comes to the drafting strategy you should be using when it comes to selecting a Tight End in your league drafts. Matthew Berry has been writing about this drafting strategy for years in his annual draft day manifesto and the logic behind it makes sense. The seasonal production difference of the TE1 all the way down to the TE12 is far greater than that of what we traditionally see from RBs or WRs. This logic worked as Gronk ran wild on the league, spiking touchdowns on every defense as all other TEs tried to catch up. But over the past few years, we have seen a Tight End renaissance and the rest of the TEs have caught up and even one player has passed Sir Gronk smash as the top Tight End to own in fantasy football the past two years. In 2018 we find our selves saying “if you ain’t first or second you’re last”!
Welcome in everyone to our fourth installment of our 2018 PPR Positional Rankings Series. I always have loved writing this series. If this is your first stop on our positional rankings series I highly recommend you check all the great work our writing team has done so far on QBs, RBs, and WRs. Simply click here to be brought to our rankings page where you can find them. This week we are taking a closer look at the Tight End position. The running joke is that to be a TE1 each week all you have to do is put up 30 yards and a touchdown. That would be a 9 point performance in standard scoring formats. This is why the strategy to wait to draft a TE makes so much sense. Take last year, for instance, the difference between the TE3 (Ertz) & the TE12 (Cook) was 69.6 points in PPR scoring formats. Excluding QBs, only WRs had a lesser difference in points (59.7) but everyone knows WR performance was down in 2017. But when you compare that to the RB position you find that the difference between the RB3 (Kamara) & the RB12 (Elliott) was 117.2 in PPR scoring.
Last season showed that even after Gronk was taken you could still get a great return on your draft capital when targeting Tight Ends early. Kelce who’s ADP had him at the top of the 4th round produced 233.5 PPR points good enough to be the overall TE1 last season. That performance would have had him finish as the RB9 behind Carlos Hyde & the WR10 behind Adam Thielen. Gronk who’s ADP last year had him going in the 2nd round finished as the TE2 in PPR formats scoring 227.4 points. That would have made Gronk the RB 11 behind Christian McCaffrey & your WR 10 as well behind Adam Thielen.
Gronk & Kelce are in a tier all by themselves but with so many young TE’s looking to explode in 2018, the position has never been deeper with options to choose from. With all the being said let’s put drafting strategy aside right now and dive into who we think are the Top 10 Tight Ends to target this year!
10. Trey Burton – We kick-start this with a player who changed teams in 2018 heading from the Philly Special throwing QB in the Super Bowl to the potential starting TE for the Chicago Bears. Burton fits the mold of today’s pass catching Tight End. At 6’3 233 pounds, Burton has the athletic profile (4.62 86th percentile 40-yard dash) and has shown when thrust into the primary TE role for the Eagles he has been able to produce TE1 numbers. Burton obviously comes with risk as he has never proven he can handle primary TE duties for a whole season and we just don’t know how good Chicago can really be. If the Bears are able to make that leap everyone thinks they can because of the new weapons they have around Mitch Trubisky & the new coaching staff they brought in, then Snowboard Trey (That’s a sick rapper name!) has a chance to be a #GreatValue pick! Chase the upside, embrace the risk.
9. Jordan Reed – Talk about risk! No player in our top 10 list comes with more red flags and while we are at it duct tape then Jordan Reed. When healthy, Reed has the athletic profile and proven statistical track record to be one of the elite TEs in the league. Right up there with Gronk, Kelce, & Ertz. However, Reed has never played a full 16 game season in his 5-year career, he missed 10 games last season and was placed on the injured reserve, and he has suffered multiple concussions that have forced him to miss time. Even with all those red flags the talent and ADP are what makes Reed such a compelling target in fantasy this year. The addition of Alex Smith helps add value as no other QB has thrown to their tight end more than Alex Smith has over the past two years. If you draft Reed this year you can’t leave the draft without grabbing an insurance policy because it’s not a matter if he is going to get hurt, it’s a matter of when with Reed.
8. Evan Engram – No player has the fantasy community as split about what his range of outcomes can be in 2018 then Evan Engram. Engram enjoyed a tremendously successful rookie season that saw him finish as the TE4 (173.6) in PPR scoring formats and if you just stopped there you would ask “why is he so low on your list?”. Engram had a lot break his way last season. The Giants as a team underperformed, their RB situation was a mess, Sterling Shepard missed 6 games, and OBJ was lost for the season just after 4 weeks in. So the Giants turned to their cheat code TE and Engram who saw a team-high 115 targets delivered. The Giants led the NFL in passing attempts with 608 last season a feat that most likely will not be duplicated as the Giants were playing behind almost all season long indicated by their 31 ranked Pts/G of 15.4. In 2018 OBJ & Sterling Shepard are back fully healthy and the Giants just drafted the most dynamic RB to enter the league in Saquon Barkley since LaDainian Tomlinson. The Giants have to be better (right?!?) then they were in 2017 and if that is the case and they don’t rank second to last in total pts scored (246), Engram has a great shot at returning as a top 5 tight end even with the decrease in targets.
7. Jimmy Graham – Jimmy Graham led all tight ends in touchdowns (10) but ranked 17th in receiving yards with 520. Last season Graham was a redzone monster for the Seahawks ranking 1st in red zone target share (36.6%), first in redzone receptions (16), and 4th in end zone target share (34%). I understand the excitement around Jimmy Graham signing with the Green Bay Packers. Being tied to a prolific passer like Rodgers increase the odds that Graham will once again be able to dominate in the redzone and any increase in receiving yardage totals would be icing on the cake. With Jordy Nelson now in Oakland, Graham should be able to demand an 18 to 20% target share and could once again lead all tight ends in touchdowns. Rodgers to Graham touchdown! Is something I have a feeling we are going to hear often this season.
6. Delanie Walker – Delanie “I Don’t Need No” Walker just continues to produce year in and year out. And his 2017 performance is even that much more spectacular when you realize just how bad the Titans passing game was last season. The Titans ranked 28th in total pass attempts (496), 23rd in passing yards per game (199.4), 19th in Pts/G (20.9), and 30th in touchdown passes (14). With all that Walker still ranked 3rd in targets (111), 4th in target share (22%), 1st in end zone target share (50%), and 4th in receiving yards (807). Walker also led the team in targets a feat that most likely will not repeat now that players like Taywon Taylor and Corey Davis are ready to take on an increased role in the offense. You also can’t forget about the addition of Dion Lewis and the target share he will demand out of the backfield. The Titans Exotic smashmouth (sounds like an STD diagnosis) is gone and now it’s time to unleash Mariota on the league, again! Walker will still be Mariota’s safety net and #1 option in the RZ and for those reasons, he comes in at number 6!
5. Kyle Rudolph – Rudolph the red nose reindeer has helped guide Santa’s slay to Minnesota where he was able to drop off a new shiny toy that goes by the name of Kirk Cousins! The Vikings are stacked, Cook, Theilen, Diggs, and Rudolph MERRY CHRISTMAS! With Cousins behind center, every pass catcher gets a bump in projected production and Rudolph who is as steady as they come at the position should once again see 80+ targets. The last time Jordan Reed played more than 12 games he saw 114 targets from Cousins. In the last two years, the combination of Reed & Davis have seen 252 targets and have scored 13 touchdowns. Look for Rudolph who has caught 15 touchdowns over the last two years to continue his dominant play at the position. With the addition of Cousins, Rudolph looks poised to go get a top 3 TE this season, something Rudolph has only done once in his fantasy career. Put the milk and cookies away because Santa already brought you your present and it’s a TE1!
4. Greg Olsen – Greg “the leg” say’s he is fully healed from the fractured foot injury that caused him to miss time last year and snap a streak of 3 straight 1k yard seasons. The last time we did get to see Olsen play he lit up the New Orleans Saints secondary to the tune of 8/107/1 on 12 targets! Cam Newton’s favorite target Olsen from 2012 to 2016 has 591 targets, 383 receptions, 4,844 yards, and 27 touchdowns. If you break that down, Olsen averaged 118.2 targets, 76.6 receptions, 968.8 yards, and 5.4 touchdowns every year before his foot injury robbed him of the 2017 season. 2017 doesn’t count because his foot injury reduced his production. With Norv Turner now running the offense in Carolina if Olsen can stay healthy, I don’t see any reason why he can’t get back to the seasonal numbers we have become so used to seeing. It’s time to start a new 100+ target / 1,000+ yard streak!
3. Zach Ertz – Heading into the 2017 season no one didn’t believe in the talent or didn’t see that the offense was on the rise with Carson Wentz under center. The thing people did worry about was the inconsistency Ertz had shown in years past. In 2o16 Ertz came out of the gates struggling with 7 straight weeks without a touchdown or a 100-yard performance while also missing 2 games early on. It wasn’t until Ertz was able to string together back to back double digit target games in week’s 12 (15) & 13 (13) and was able to produce 22.9 & 21.2 PPR performances over those same two weeks that things changed. That explosion in performance propelled his owners into the playoffs & he went ahead and capped off his second-half surge with a 13/139/2 (38.9 PPR pts) in week 16 leading many who owned him to a league championship! Ertz rode that week 16 production into 2017 and he was able to put together a more consistently great season and was able to finish the year as the TE3 (202.4 pts). I have to admit I was skeptical of Ertz heading into last season based on what I had seen up until that point but he proved me and I am sure many others wrong. If he can stay healthy, Ertz has the talent and offensive system to challenge the next two TEs for the top spot in 2018!
2. Travis Kelce – Similar to Ertz, Kelce came into 2017 with some question marks. Many fantasy analysts didn’t know if he could duplicate his overall TE1 finish from 2016 because it was done so in a season where he only scored 4 touchdowns and in a season in which Gronk got hurt early and was placed on IR. Could he actually beat out Gronk if he had stayed healthy in 2016? Was what many were saying and could he ever score more than 5 touchdowns which at the time was his career high in touchdowns in a single season was the other thing people were talking about. What did Kelce do? He finished the season as the overall TE1 for the second year in a row and set career highs in targets (122) & touchdowns (8) as well as having back to back 1k yard seasons. Kelce has now lead the Chiefs in targets in two straight years and with only the addition of Sammy Watkins in the offseason, Kelce looks poised to once again lead the team. Kelce does come with a red flag as the Chiefs moved on from Alex Smith in the offseason a player Kelce has excelled with over the past three years and is turning the ball over to their 2nd year QB Patrick Mahomes. This move although may make the Chiefs a better team in the long term, has to impact your evaluation of the player as you are now working with an unknown in the relationship & continuity between Kelce and Mahomes. Kelce is reaching the Apex of his ability and looks to once again sit atop the TE mountain. The targets may dip but the potential increase in average depth of target with Mahomes under center should more than make up for what is lost in target volume.
1. Rob Gronkowski – There is no Tight End who dominates fantasy football or the NFL for that matter like Rob Gronkowski. You can just about pencil in 1k yards and double-digit touchdowns every single year. In his three previous healthy season’s including 2017, he has finished with at least 1k+ yards and outside of last year he hadn’t scored less than 11 TDs. The back is a concern as Gronk had offseason surgery on it in 2016 and you could tell it limited him early on in 2017. Even with battling back from yet another injured riddled off-season, Gronk was able to produce 227.4 PPR fantasy pts good enough for the overall TE2. Putting an injury free year behind him last year was a major hurdle for all Gronk owners as that is the biggest risk that comes with drafting Gronk and I believe it will help him as we head into 2018. I know Kelce is your back to back overall TE1 but when healthy no player provides the combination of unmatched upside with one of the safest floors then Gronk. You sprinkle in that he plays in an offense with the best QB in the league, in an offensive system that is always in the running to lead the league in Pts scored, and you come to the same conclusion we did. Gronk is a planet player and deserves to be the first tight end taken come draft day.
That wraps our countdown of the top 10 fantasy TE’s to target in PPR leagues. What did you think? Do you agree with the rankings? Did we miss someone you think deserves to be in the top 10? Let me know by tweeting me @trotta23 or @tffgurus our company handle. While you are on Twitter go check out our new podcast page @trophytimepod and shoot us a follow! Also, don’t forget to follow us @TFFGurus to continue to get league winning fantasy advice all season long. That will do it for this installment of our 2018 positional rankings series but make sure to come back next week as we put a bow on this year’s rankings with our top 10 team defenses.