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While the tight end position is still pretty top-heavy, more and more of them are becoming fantasy-relevant as the NFL has become a pass-happy league.
Sure, there are 4 or 5 elite tight ends, but if you miss out on one of them, it’s not the end of the world. There are up to 15 TEs who will put up serviceable numbers this fall.
But when it comes to points-per-reception leagues (PPR), who are the best? We know the usual suspects — we’ll get to them in a bit. But there are also some up-and-comers who have the potential to join the elite tight end ranks.
So let’s get to it.
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1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
2014 Stats: 82 receptions (130 targets), 1,124 yards, 12 TDs
With Jimmy Graham no longer catching passes from Drew Brees (more on that soon), Gronkowski takes the top spot. Gronk is basically unstoppable when he’s on the field, but he has missed 15 games the past 3 seasons (1 in 2014). He appears healthy now and that’s bad news for opposing defenses. Even if it’s Jimmy Garoppolo throwing him passes for the first 4 games, Gronk will be just fine. Then when Tom Brady comes back, look out.
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2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
2014 Stats: 67 receptions (87 targets), 862 yards, 5 TDs
Kelce had a solid rookie season and is expected to take it to the next level in 2015. Aside from new addition Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs receiving corps is green. QB Alex Smith obviously feels comfortable with Kelce as he targeted the rookie 87 times in 2014. I expect that number to hit 115. More opportunities, more catches, more fantasy points.
3. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
2014 Stats: 84 receptions (122 targets), 1,008 yards, 6 TDs
Olsen set career-highs in receptions, yards and targets in 2014. He might repeat the feat in 2015 now that WR Kelvin Benjamin is done of the year with a torn ACL. If you take a look at the receiver depth chart, you can see Olsen is obviously Cam Newton’s No. 1 target now. And he proved that Friday night in Week 3 of the preseason when Newton threw at Olsen 8 times in the first half. Like I said, expect another career year from the 6-foot-5 veteran.
4. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
2014 Stats (with New Orleans): 85 receptions (124 targets), 889 yards, 10 TDs
Whoa! There’s Jimmy Graham. And at No. 4?! Graham is a fantastic player, but Drew Brees gets a lot of credit for his success. Hear this, his new QB, Russell Wilson, is no slouch. While I don’t believe Graham when says he’ll be blocking “75 percent” of the time, I also know he isn’t getting 130 targets like he used to in New Orleans. Graham could hit double-digit TDs, but those years of 85 receptions are done. That’s not the Seahawks’ game. And that’s why they’re good, because they spread the ball around.
5. Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears
2014 Stats: 90 receptions (129 targets), 916 yards, 6 TDs
Bennett has enjoyed back-to-back career seasons since joining Chicago. He could go for the three-peat. No more Brandon Marshall. Rookie WR Kevin White is on the PUP list and will miss at least 6 games. WR Alshon Jeffery will see an uptick in targets, but there are still plenty more to go around. Jay Cutler is obviously comfortable throwing to Bennett, but I’m looking for the 6-foot-6, 265-pounder to be more of an end zone target this season.
6.Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
2014 Stats: 64 receptions (70 targets), 703 yards, 5 TDs
Witten’s 2014 was probably his worst statistically since his rookie year in 2003. What does that mean? Well, Witten has obviously lost a step after a dozen seasons. And while he still saw a healthy number of targets (90), it’s down 60 from 2012. That’s the Dez Bryant Effect. But also DeMarco Murray — he saw 64 passes come his way. Many short ones that used to go to Witten. Now Murray is gone, expect Romo to use Witten once again as his safety valve. Witten might not have another 1,000-yard season in him, but a 75-catch, 8-TD year is well within reason.
7. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
2014 Stats: 58 receptions (86 targets), 702 yards, 3 TDs
Ertz made a massive leap from his rookie to sophomore season and many are expecting a similarly-sized spike into Year 3. That might be a tad overly-optimistic. But I could absolutely see 70 catches and 8 TDs. A slight concern, Ertz played in only 50 percent of the offensive snaps in 2014. But I believe it’s safe to say that’ll increase in ’15. It better or Ertz might disappoint.
8. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
2014 Stats: 63 receptions (108 targets), 890 yards, 4 TDs
Walker set career-highs in catches, targets and yards in 2014, but it didn’t translate to TDs. The Titans improved their receiving corps for rookie QB Marcus Mariota, so targets might be hard to come by. But the Titans offensive coordinator is Jason Michael, the Chargers former tight ends coach. He coached perenial Pro Bowler Antonio Gates, so Michael knows a thing or two about the position. Walker will get his chances to shine.
9. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2014 Stats: 21 receptions (37 targets), 221 yards, 2 TDs
This is a lofty spot for the unproven and injury-prone Sererian-Jenkins. But the potential is certainly there for the 2014 2nd-round pick. He wasn’t a major part of the offense last year, but that expects to change in 2015. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter says ASJ has a little Tony Gonzalez in him. Koetter should know as he coached the All-Pro in Atlanta. Hey, that works. At 6-foot-5, Seferian-Jenkins is going to be a tough cover in the end zone. Here’s hoping rookie QB Jameis Winston takes advantage.
10. Jordan Cameron, Miami Dolphins
2014 Stats: 24 receptions (48 targets), 424 yards, 2 TDs
Cameron is another risky pick based on his injury history, but he also has the tools. In 4 seasons, he’s missed 17 games, but when he’s on the field, he produces. His 2013 season (80-917-7) got everyone excited, but then he missed 6 games in 2014. Now with Miami and a steady quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, Cameron needs to stay on the field for us fantasy owners. There will be a lot of competition for Tannehill’s affections (take a look at the receiving depth chart), no question. But if healthy, Cameron has elite TE potential. But he’s also a potential bust because of his injury history.
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