I will readily admit that when it comes to drafting a tight end, if it’s not Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce, you’re probably not spending a premium pick on the position anyways. With that, take these revelatory musings with a grain of salt.
Green Bay Packers Sign Jimmy Graham
The only major offseason move at TE that is sure to throw a wrench into the rankings gears, Jimmy Graham finds himself moved to a team that presents him with red zone opportunities that owners have pined over since his days in New Orleans. While the recent track records for tight ends in Green Bay may leave you skeptical, the truth is you should be excited about the potential here.
Without Jordy Nelson in the Red Zone, the Packers are going to have to lean on Graham and his basketball pedigree to score points. His usage between the 20’s will continue to be unpredictable, as I expect a few bad days out of him, but the potential for double digit touchdowns is enough to take the plunge in the middle rounds (only after Gronk and Kelce have been selected).
Indianapolis Colts Sign Eric Ebron
While it’d be easy to just write Ebron off as a monster bust at this point in his career, it’d be just as easy to say a change of scenery will do the former first round pick a bit of good. While he won’t likely live up to the massive hype surrounding him as a rookie, he still has plenty of good football ahead of him as he’s still only 24 years old.
To ignore his pedigree would be to ignore the potential for him in an Indianapolis offense that can’t seem to figure out how to run the football. Even with Andrew Luck sidelined last year the Colts forced over 100 targets to tight end Jack Doyle. Of course, the offense could stick with Doyle as it’s lead TE but the talent of Ebron is too much to deny at this point. He should get every opportunity to steal those 100 looks and make some noise come the regular season.
Chicago Bears Sign Trey Burton
One of the most surprising names out of last years superbowl run was that of back up tighten Trey Burton, who stepped in when Zach Ertz went down late in the season and showed flashes of brilliance in limited work. With his 5 TD’s on only 31 targets, it’s clear that the big bodied Burton has what it takes to be a red zone threat.
The transition to a younger offense in Chicago could mean disfuntion, but it could also mean plenty of looks by a young quarterback. Much like our view of Allen Robinson in this same offense, the size and position played by Burton could mean he and Mitchell Trubisky form a check down symbiosis that makes for a great season for what is likely to be a late round pick.
Honorable Mention: With a general lack of elite talent at the position comes the mirrored lack of worth while transactions involving said players. Aside from the three above, the TE friendly New Orleans Saints signed Benjamin Watson in the offseason to bring veteran leadership. He won’t win you a championship but he could certainly help in spot starts off the bench. Likewise, the Seahawks brought in his former teammate Ed Dickson to fill the big shoes left by Jimmy Graham. Truthfully, I think he’s little more than a flyer but could prove to be more valuable in a much better offense.
Two of the biggest questionmarks outside of the RB top 10 revolve around the return of Marshawn Lynch and the reclemation of Eddie Lacy. Both backs are being drafted between round 4-6 but do they really have the goods to return on that investment?
Marshawn Lynch (ADP 32, RB21)
For a player known as “Beast Mode” because of his bruising style of play, Lynch has been surprisingly durable across a 10 year NFL career. In part, this can be attributed to the lack of use in Buffalo; after 280 rushes his rookie year, Lynch averaged 12 touches a game until he made the move to Seattle. Even in Seattle, where he became revered as one of the leagues top backs, Lynch only posted two 300 rush seasons. The argument can be made that despite his age, “Beast Mode” has plenty left in the tank.
An upgrade in Oakland, Lynch will be given every opportunity early on to run away with the starting gig. DeAndre Washington will provide plenty of competition but barring injury or complete ineffectiveness on Lynch’s part, the job is his to lose.
Eddie Lacy (ADP 48, RB21)
Following Lynch’s exodus from Seattle, the Rawls/Prosise experiment began in ernest. Unfortunately, neither was able to do much with an expanded role, and Green Bay cast off Eddie Lacy was brought in to bring some consistency back to a Seattle offense that never got it going.
Lacy was once considered a top three back in the league after a rookie and softmore season that saw him post 3,000 combined rushing/receiving yards and 24 totat touchdowns. It was all downhill from there.
Lacy struggled with his weight and injuries over the last two years and found himself out of favor in only two short years. Now the question becomes which two years were the abberation? It’s clear that the talent is there, but it may have been a case of wrong place at the wrong time. Green Bay, with Aaron Rodgers under center, is always going to be a pass-first team. Eddie Lacy became an albatross that needed greener pastures to bloom. At his current ADP Lacy presents a unique risk/reward scenario. With Seattle likely to run the football a significant amount, he could be the steal of drafts everywhere. If only he can put it all together again.
Who to draft?
Truthfully, I’m not down on either player. Both offer great value as high profile starters with little early season competition. Of course, should either stumble for a prolonged stretch, they could find themselves on the outs yet again. I’d suggest both are safe bets at their current ADP, but be cautious as we approach drafts not to over draft either player because of any potential upside. Between the two Lacy offers the best value in my mind, and with his stock failing to rise, will likely offer the best value going forward.
The NFC West has undergone major changes in terms of success. With the 49ers looking to enter a multiyear depression and the Rams still struggling to get out of their own, it’s up to the Cardinals and Seahawks to bring respect to the West.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jimmy Graham (TE6), Russell Wilson (QB8), Doug Baldwin (WR11), Eddie Lacy (RB20), C.J. Prosise (RB41), Thomas Rawls (RB48), Tyler Lockett (WR59)
Synopsis – The Seahawks will go only as far as Russell Wilson will take them, and an effective run game will go a long way in keeping him healthy. With Prosise and Rawls proving to be injuried or ineffiecient, the Hawks added Eddie Lacy who hopes to bounce back with the new club. Doug Baldwin should garner the bulk of Wilsons attention between the 20’s but Jimmy Graham finally achieved symbiosis in Seattle and can be relied upon as a top 5 TE again.
San Fransisco 49ers
Notable Fantasy Stars: Carlos Hyde (RB12), Vance McDonald (TE29), Brian Hoyer (QB32), C.J.Beathard (QB39), Pierre Garcon (WR39), Joe Williams (RB54), Jeremy Kerley (WR80)
Synopsis – Barring a miracle, this San Fransisco team is looking like an abject disaster. Brian Hoyer as a starting QB isn’t the worst thing that could happen to this team, but between Pierre Garcon and Jeremy Kerley, there isn’t much to work with in this offene. McDonald may be a servicable backup TE but only Carlos Hyde is worth investing in as he proved last year he can be effective despite a crumbling organization around him.
Los Angeles Rams
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jared Goff (QB31), Todd Gurley (RB10), Robert Woods (WR60), Tavon Austin (WR73), Cooper Kupp (WR74), Tyler Higbee (TE27)
Synopsis – Things went sideway on the Rams last year as Gurley faced too many stacked boxes to show the burst we expected of him. With Goff likely to start this year, no one knows if they’ll actually be improved or not, but Gurley should still garner attention thanks to the high volume of carries. Robert Woods will outperform Tavon Austin, but not by much, with Tyler Higbee being the true sleeper candidate on a roster devoid of much fantasy bright spots.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Carson Palmer (QB23), David Johnson (RB1), Larry Fitzgerald (WR26), John Brown (WR48), J.J. Nelson (WR63), Jermaine Gresham (TE36)
Synopsis – David Johnson returns as my number one fantasy player this year, and this season could be the perfect record breaking scenario following the obvious decline to aging Carson Palmer and the lack of weapons not named Larry Fitzgerald to compete with. John Brown is an underwhelming option and J.J. Nelson has more questions than answers. This is David Johnson’s team.
After looking at the middle round gems for QB’s, we turn our attention to the muddled mess that is the middle to late round “committee” backs. While studs like David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliot will dominate the backfield touches for their respective teams, there are plenty of potential stars slogging through the expanded depth charts of “RB by Committee” coaches.
New England Patriots: There’s little doubt to the risk one assumes when drafting a NE running back. Gillislee projects to man the bulk of the running downs, but White is my early pick for passing downs (Lewis and Burkhead will likely battle for the last roster spot). Back to draft: Mike Gillislee
Cincinatti Bengals: Despite the addition of Joe Mixon at the draft, the Bengals have bucked conventional wisdom and rolled with a mostly effective committee over the last two years. With Bernard and Hill still on the roster, none of the three can be counted on to have an early fantasy impact. Back to Draft: Joe Mixon
Cleveland Browns: While the jury was out prior to last season on whether Duke Johnson could steam meaningful touches from the Crow, the biggest question mark this year is do they remain in a nearly 50/50 split? Crowell is likely to man the bulk of the rushes but Johnson is more than effective with the rock (4.9 ypc and 55 receptions for 500 yards). Your leagues format should dictate who you draft – Standard Scoring, Crowell – PPR, Johnson Jr.
Philadelphia Eagles: If the waters were muddled enough last year with both RBs often on the sidelines with injuries, the Eagles have added short yardage specialist LeGarrett Blount to the fold. Don’t expect 300 carries from the plodding back either, but he should syphon the bulk of the goal line carries effectively ending Ryan Mathews as a fringe RB1/RB2. Sproles will still garner some attention in PPR leagues, but even then he’ll cede some 3rd down touches to Dalton Pumphrey. Back to Draft: LeGarrett Blount
Seattle Seahawks: While things look a bit more stable with the addition of former stud Eddie Lacy, the talent of Rawls and Prosise behind him on the depth chart mean that Seattle will offer a short leash on Lacy’s tenure as the lead back. If he struggles early, Prosise will likely get the first shot at the lead role but his health could impact as well. Back to Draft: Eddie Lacy
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags drafted Yeldon and added Ivory in an attempt to add both a dynamic between the 20’s RB and a head down goal line back. The addition of Fournette could make both obsolete as the massive rookie has both the speed and size to play three downs. Still, if the rookie finds a lack of footing in the NFL, Yeldon could still steal a chunk of carries.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos seem to make things interesting every year. First it was Montee Ball and whatever other bum he was fighting for time with, then it was he and Anderson, then Anderson and Booker. To make matters worse, the Broncos took a flier on the ultra talented (and oft-injured) Jamaal Charles. By all reports he’ll be ready for the start of the season, but it’ll take a rough patch early for Anderson to really lose out on touches.
Detroit Lions: Abdullah missed all of last season to injury but the Lions front office is saying they expect the young back to return at the top of the depth chart. He has the goods, but with Riddick eating away at the passing downs, there is a risk of a true two headed committee in Detroit.
Minnesota Vikings: When AP finally left town, the Vikings shelled out 15 million to land the athletically gifted Latavius Murray out of Oakland. Then, to make us all wonder aloud what the heck is going on, they trade up to select potential superstar RB Dalvin Cook in the draft. I would expect that the supremely talented Cook shows up atop the depth chart early, but with Murray waiting in the wings it could be a while before he really sees meaningful fantasy touches.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Any committee list isn’t complete until you discuss whether or not the Muscle Hamster can retain his tenuous hold on the starts role in Tampa Bay. Charles Sims (like Theo Riddick) is an obvious bet to see a lot of third down work, so Martin will have to have a monster year again to remain relevant as a RB1/RB2.
Ryan Tannehill quietly put together a borderline top 10 QB season, and Lamar Miller proved he could run the football with some consistency and catch it on occasion in the passing game. The receivers on this team are young and talented, with high volume option in Jarvis Landry and burners in Kenny Stills and Rishard Matthews. Adding Jordan Cameron only makes it harder for defenses to match up when they want to spread you out. Worth Drafting: Ryan Tannehill will likely be valued lower than he should be, as a later QB1 he’s worth it. Lamar Miller may have some competition later in the year from the uber talented Jay Ajayi, expect him to be a workhorse if healthy. Landry should be a good bet for 70+ catches, and Stills could be a weapon for Tannehill over the top. Jordan Cameron, if healthy, will step in and replace Charles Clay’s production very well.
11. San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers manages every year to put together a top 10 QB season, and expect this year to be no different. Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd should still see the bulk of the passes, new addition Stevie Johnson has a lot to prove and could be a nice late round WR addition. Despite Ledarius Green’s presence, Antonio Gates went out and killed it last year, and I’ll never again doubt the big mans ability or drive. Worth Drafting: Philip Rivers as always falls just shy of the NFL elite, but is a solid QB if you miss out on the top teir guys. Keenan Allen has the tools to be a WR1 and Michael Floyd will still stretch the field a bit (16.5 YPC last year). Stevie Johnson is a risk/reward player as his pedigree may trick owners into jumping early. Antonio Gates should be himself again this year, and I would caution against Ladarius Green fans against expecting any real fantasy value unless Gates gets hurt. Melvin Gordon could be this years highest scoring rookie… don’t be afraid to draft.
10. Chicago Bears
I know what you’re thinking, “the Bears in the top 10?” They may not be a top 10 NFL team, but we’re talking in terms of fantasy contributions. Jay Cutler may be inconsistent, as is evidenced by his second half slide, but he still has plenty of tools and a big arm. Alshon Jeffery will have an uptick in attempts as Cutler has shown a propensity to seak out his top target despite double teams. Matt Forte is a top 10 RB and top 3 in PPR formats, and Martellus Bennet moves into the top 3 conversation at TE thanks to Jimmy Grahams change of scenery. Worth Drafting: I was high on Jay Cutler last year, and this hasn’t changed. If you look at his first 5 or 6 weeks last year, he had some pretty good numbers that would have been even better if he didn’t turn the ball over. Kevin White is an unknown quantity but he should replace Marshall in the long run with the same kind of build. Jeffry should be a top 10WR and Bennett is a top 3 TE.
9. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan did the best he could with the rash of injuries that clipped the Falcons wings last year, but a healthy squad will make a world of difference. Ryan is a top 10 QB even without his top two targets healthy. Tevin Coleman could push Devonta Freeman but both are talented and whoever makes it out of camp as the #1 should see above average RB numbers. Roddy White is still an every week start even with the top 3 WR in Julio Jones across from him. They have question marks at TE as Toilolo Levine led their active TE’s with 62 points last year (in 1pt PPR). Worth Drafting: Matt Ryan had a few brutal weeks and still managed a top 10 finish, he’ll have a better grasp on this offense and health not withstanding should be a top 10 QB this year as well. Julio Jones has the talent to finish #1, and he’ll likely go in the first 15 picks. Roddy White gets over looked more every year but he’s still a top 20 WR. The real question is Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman? I think it’ll be a battle in camp, and both guys should have some fantasy relevance come week 1.
8. New York Giants
The world was against the Giants after a brutal season prior, but Eli Manning still finished top 10 at QB, and Odell Beckham emerged as a top WR threat. With the return of Victor Cruz this offense could have two scary weapons for Eli to use. Rashad Jennings may be a little older than the other top RB’s, but he still averaged 10-11 points per week (depending on your scoring system). Larry Donnell put together an admirable season and the Giants like to use TE’s in the passing game. Worth Drafting: Eli is a safe bet to out perform his numbers last year if he has a healthy WR corps. Beckham will likely be drafted incredibly early, but with Cruz back, he’ll be hard pressed to repeat his second half numbers. Rueben Randle is the real steal here, as his value takes a huge hit with two studs in front of him, but in a passing offense, he should out perform his ADP. Rashad Jennings was fine when he played, but grab Andre Williams late as a handcuff if you need to use Jennings as a RB 1 or 2.
7. Detroit Lions
I hate to say that Matthew Stafford is overrated, because I think he’s an entertaining gun slinger in the Brett Favre mold, but his terrible efficiency actually lowers his ceiling despite as often as he throws the football. That being said, he has two elite WR’s in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Either one can carry the torch if the other isn’t performing. At TE, they have two question marks: is Brandon Pettigrew capable of being used in the passing game and can Eric Ebron be healthy enough to contribute. I think Ebron is the TE the Lions would rather emerge. Joique Bell got a lot of touches last year, but averaged under 4 YPC. His value lies in the passing game, but the Lions served notice in drafting what they think is a 3 down back in Ameer Abdullah. A great talent, he should push Bell for touches early and often. Worth Drafting: Matt Stafford at the right price has enough volume to contribute but he’ll drive you crazy. Calvin Johnson slipping down the ranks only helps the owner who gets him, he’s still the best in the game in my opinion. Golden Tate is a solid second option, and a good one two punch in Bell and Abdullah in the backfield make this a formidable offense. Ebron is the TE to look at with a much higher ceiling.
6. Seattle Seahawks
The beautiful thing about this offense is that it’s predictable and consistent. Russell Wilson will beat you through the air or on the ground, and his ability to run at the right time means he’ll get you a ton of points that other QB’s won’t. Marshawn Lynch is a workhorse unlike any in the league. He’ll touch the ball with greater consistency and efficiency than anyone else. The homeruns aren’t always there, but 4-5YPC and double digit touchdowns make him my #1 back. Doug Baldwin has proven to be a solid #1 for a team that doesn’t throw it that much, his value will reflect that. Beyond him, Jimmy Graham should give Wilson a redzone threat, but no one else is more than a flier. Worth Drafting: This team features three top 5 position options. Russell Wilson ran for 850 yards last year… he’s in my top 3 for QBs. Marshawn Lynch may not have as many 30+ point weeks as a Le’Veon Bell, but his unparralleled consistency (12 weeks above RB average) make him my #1, and Jimmy Graham will likely be the #1 option inside the 20 plus just a tick behind Baldwin elsewhere. Draft all three confidently. Doug Baldwin is a safe WR if he’s available after the top options are off the board.
5. Dallas Cowboys
My value of the Dallas Cowboys is contingent on the offensive line. Darren McFadden’s ability hasn’t been his big question, it’s been his health. If he can stay on the field he’ll benifit greatly from the O-Line that helped DeMarco Murray lead the league in rushing last year. Dez Bryant and Tony Romo have a special connection, allowing both to creep towards the top 5 in their catagories. Cole Beasley should be a good value pick in PPR leagues, and Jason Witten is ageless and productive. Worth Drafting: At their relative ADP’s I’d say nearly all of the offensive weapons are worth a look. Bryant, Romo and McFadden all three will be drafted in the first 4 or 5 rounds. Witten, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley all have a good chance to produce weekly for this team as well.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Who knew Le’Veon Bell would bounce back from a tough rookie year to lead the league in fantasy scoring? We knew he’d be good, but it gave the offense the freedom to throw different looks at the defense. They were rewarded with a career year by Roethlisburger and the emergency of Antonio Brown as a top WR office. Marcus Wheaton will put up solid WR fantasy stats as well, and Heath Miller, although no longer Elite, still has some gas in the tank. Worth Drafting: Ben Roethlisberger may not finish with the totals he had last year, but he’s a good bet to finish at or near a top 5 QB. Le’Veon Bell is going to miss a few games to start the year, but it’s clear he’s the focal point of that offense and he’s young enough to eat up 300+ touches and is a beast in PPR. Antonio Brown is the Marshawn Lynch of the receiving game. Quietly posting 300 or so points in PPR leagues and nearly 15-20 points every week. Bell and Brown are likely first or 2nd round picks. Don’t sleep on Miller either as there is really only 5 or 6 elite TE’s on the board, and after you’re looking at either consistency (miller) or home run weeks.
3. Denver Broncos
This wouldn’t change if Peyton Manning was 50 years old, and that’s because they finally found their RB to compliment their lethal passing game. Peyton is a general, and will use his elite weapons liberaly, and will make mediocre talents look even better. Julius Thomas is gone but anyone that can run routes will look solid in this offense. CJ Anderson as a 3 down back compliments Manning in ways Montee Ball never could, averaging 180+ points in PPR formats over the final 7 weeks (on par with Le’Veon Bell). Worth Drafting: Manning may be falling behind his contemporaries a bit but should still finish in the top 5. Demaryius Thomas looks to be a top 2 WR with Emmanuel Sanders not far behind. CJ Anderson is a bit of an unknown quantity but even if he’s only a quarter of the back he was over the last 7 weeks, he’ll be a top 10 back. Not sure about Virgil Green, but I think we said the same thing about Julius Thomas a few years ago, and Manning turned him into a top option.
2. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy… do I need to say more? A high powered offense with consistency and familiarity unlike any squad in the league, they could break records if the schedule shakes out for them. They play through the air, and on the ground, but they give everyone their due which is rare for a team with as many options. Worth Drafting: Aaron Rodgers may have been supplanted by Andrew Luck, but he hasn’t fallen far. All four of the players above will be gone in the first 3 or so rounds, which is scary for opposing defenses. Andrew Quarless is the other player to target, but they’ve never been a heavy TE use team.
1. Indianapolis Colts
AFC Championship withstanding, this is the most outstanding offense in football. A team that is often in shootouts, Indy has a quarterback to compete with them all. Adding Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, and Phillip Dorsett through the draft makes this offense even better than last year. Luck could (and I’d argue should) crest 5k yards and 50 TD’s, contributing to TY Hilton’s continued emergence as a 2nd round WR. Frank Gore has proven he can play forever, and in this Indy offense should contribute on the ground and in the air, and Andre Johnson may have lost a step but as a route runner, the dangerously accurate Luck should have no problem finding him in the soft spots of the defense. Worth Drafting: Andrew Luck will finish the year as the highest scoring player in football, draft him in the first round if you want him, he’s that good. TY Hilton and Andre Johnson should both have 70-80 Receptions with 1100 plus yards, although I expect Johnson to be the bigger red zone threat and higher ADP. Frank Gore may not be a top 5 or even top 10 RB, but expect some huge weeks from the old dog as he will be highighted in the passing game. Even Dwayne Allen, for all his deficiencies, should finish inside the top 10 of the TE ranks.
If you have a problem with any of these rankings, I say good, because debating and conversation is the best way to explain why we feel the way we feel. Tell me where I’m wrong, and who is your Fantasy Elite?