The tight end position is one of the most pivotal positions in fantasy football, although many people do not view it this way. Finding an advantage at the position can be your success in winning a championship in your league. Last year, I waited on tight end until later in my draft because of the best tight ends being drafted already. Luckily, I found a gem in the later rounds with a man named George Kittle who finished in the top 3 at the position last year. Kittle won me my league last year and was the MVP of my team, carrying me through the championship. Doing your research is important to find these types of sleepers at the position. There are guys in this article who will be going early in drafts, but there are also some that your league mates may let drop in the draft. I am going to go through my top 5 tight ends, and although they may not all be going in the later rounds, they may just be worth the draft pick to give you a leg-up on the competition.
Travis Kelce #1
Travis Kelce is now regarded as the best tight end in the league, he is the standard for what pass-catching tight ends should be. Before Kelce, Rob Gronkowski was thought to be the best player at the position while in his prime but recently retired this offseason. The good news is that although Kelce is almost 30 years old, he has just recently hit his peak and started dominating defenders on the field. Kelce also is in what is considered one of the best offenses in the entire league. He is an elite player, but he also has an elite QB throwing him the ball in Patrick Mahomes and he also has a top-end wide receiver in Tyreek Hill that defenders have to worry about constantly. Having Tyreek on the outside running past defenders helps Kelce out tremendously as it opens up the middle of the field for Kelce to work his magic. Kelce last year had 150 targets for 103 receptions which were both #2 in the league at his position. He also managed to rack up 1336 yards which was also #2 in the league.
Now the portion that Kelce stands out is his skill set in the red zone. Being on a great offense in Kansas City means that Kelce has more opportunities near the goal line. Last year, he had 17 red zone receptions which was #1 in the league, and he also had 10 touchdowns which are what fantasy players should hope for out of their tight end on their roster. Kelce will continue to thrive in the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense this year. The team has stayed for the most part consistent since last year, they have the same coach, same weapons, and he also still has the key to his success which is an upcoming QB in Patrick Mahomes. Kelce is going extremely high in drafts, usually in the 2nd round. Although I believe in waiting until the later rounds to draft a TE, if there is one guy who could pay back fantasy owners at that price, it would be Kelce.
Zach Ertz #2
Zach Ertz comes in at #2 in my tight end rankings. Ertz is on one of the best offenses in the league. Although I am biased as an Eagles’ fan, I believe that they are a contender for the Superbowl this year with a healthy Carson Wentz on the field. Ertz is also a prime beneficiary of having Wentz on the field with him. Wentz and Ertz have formed a great connection over the past couple of seasons. It seems like whenever Wentz needs to complete a pass, he looks in Ertz’s direction. Last year, Ertz led the position with 156 targets and 116 receptions which set a record for most TE receptions in a single season. This statistic speaks to how involved Ertz is in the Eagles’ offense. He is only 28 years old and his game is only getting better, if his quarterback can stay healthy this year, Ertz likely remains extremely involved in this offense.
The only downside to Ertz is that the Eagles added many weapons in the offseason include DeSean Jackson, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Miles Sanders, which does not even account for Goedert who many people have slated to breakout this season. These players could potentially take quite a few targets away from Ertz this year. Even if these players were not added to the offense, Ertz would still be a prime candidate for regression coming into this season. He will continue to see a high target volume in the offense but there is a low probability that he would repeat a record-setting level season like last year. Ertz did, however, see 27 targets in the red zone last year which equates to 32.1% red zone target share which was #1 in the league. Although the Eagles now have some more red-zone weapons such as Dallas Goedert and Arcega-Whiteside, Ertz should still see high touchdown volume because he is Wentz’s favorite target. Ertz is a guaranteed top 3 TE and should be drafted that way.
George Kittle #3
George Kittle is the epitome of taking a shot in the dark and finding a steal late in your drafts. Last year I drafted Kittle in the 8th+ round in my draft and I would consider him my MVP on my championship roster last season. Kittle set a record last year for the most receiving yards by a TE in a season. Kittle did all of this with the 49ers starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out for the season due to a torn ACL. If Kittle can have a record-setting season without a great quarterback, there is no reason to believe that he will do worse with a franchise quarterback Garoppolo throwing him the ball. Kittle finished last year with 137 targets and 88 receptions. He only finished behind Kelce and Ertz at the position and even though he finished with 20 fewer receptions than Kelce, Kittle somehow still manage to finish with more yards than the two tight ends mentioned earlier in the article.
Kittle had a bit of an outlier year somehow managing to rack up 1377 yards on only 88 catches. I do not believe that this kind of season is repeatable, but if I had to bet on one person to repeat a season like this, it would be Kittle. He showed last year that he does not need a crazy amount of volume to be efficient on the field. There were many plays last year where Kittle would catch the ball on a short route, break some tackles, and take it to the house. Kittle is a dynamic playmaker whos skillset is more like a wide receiver than a tight end. He had 857 yards after the catch last year, which solidifies the fact that any reception he brings in can be taken to the house because he is so good at breaking tackles and using his speed to run away from defenders. I do see some regression coming for Kittle this season, but fantasy players should still feel confident in taking him as a locked and loaded top 5 tight end this season.
Hunter Henry #4
Henry being ranked at #4 at the position may surprise some people because of him not having great fantasy seasons before. Many things have changed since Henry was on the field in 2017. The Chargers have established themselves as an above-average team in the NFL by making it to the playoffs last year. I believe that the Chargers have a great offense that is going to continue its reign this season. Opportunity is the key to Hunter Henry finishing as a top 5 tight end this season. He has not been able to prove himself on the field the past couple of seasons because of his injury last year right before the start of the season. Last year would have been the first season where Henry was the #1 tight end for the Chargers but ended up missing the entire year due to injury. From what I have seen, Henry has the talent when he’s on the field to help contribute to the Chargers’ offense.
Henry should have a huge opportunity to be an essential piece to the offense. Although it may seem like there are quite a few mouths to feed in that offense with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams taking quite a few targets, the important part is that Henry is going to be on a great offense with a quarterback that utilized the tight end in the red zone. Last year while Henry was out, the Chargers signed Antonio Gates to take his place for the season. Antonio Gates saw a 25% end zone target share last year which was 11 targets. This was all while Gates only played 42.7% of all snaps with the Chargers. We also have to keep in mind that Antonio Gates at his age is not even close to the talent that Henry is right now. Back when Henry did play in 2017 as the second string TE, he saw 9.3 yards per target which was #4 in the league that year. When taking all of these factors into account, I am confidently planting my flag on Hunter Henry to be the breakout star at TE that Kittle was last season.
OJ Howard #5
OJ Howard made a name for himself coming out of college as one of the best athletes at tight end that we have seen in a long time. Howard was a sure-fire draft prospect when he was selected by the Buccaneers 19th overall in the 2017 draft. Everyone was sure that Howard was going to be a star in the high passing volume offense. So far we have not quite seen this come to fruition, OJ Howard has been good for the team but has not yet had his full-on break-out season. The break-out season could be coming for Howard this year as many things are coming together for him to have a great season. Bruce Ariens became the head coach of the Buccaneers this offseason. Ariens is known for his air-raid offense which is known for throwing the ball down the field. Combine this with a quarterback who has no issue throwing deep balls down the field in Jameis Winston, and Howard should be able to make big plays throughout the season.
Howard last season only had 34 receptions on 48 targets. With Winston throwing the ball all season instead of Fitzpatrick being the starter for half the year, we should expect an uptick in targets for OJ Howard. I would image the target volume we will see will be closer to the 70-80 range for Howard, with somewhere around 50 receptions. Now I understand that 50 receptions do not seem great for Howard, but he is known for being able to make big plays on the field. Last season, he had 16.6 yards per reception and 11.8 yards per target which were both #1 in the league at the position. He also had 545 yards last year keep in mind that these statistics are all without Howard playing after week 11 due to injury. Everything is pointing in the right direction for Howard this year. He is a dynamic playmaker who when given the opportunity, can turn even the most mundane target into a captivating play. As long as he has the opportunity and his team gets better as it is projected to do, Howard is a high upside player who could finish top 3 at the position but is not being drafted that way currently.