With the recent explosion of tight end production, fantasy football enthusiasts including dynasty owners are now concentrating on a position that would normally be disregarded in the past. On top of their emergence as legitimate fantasy targets, many leagues are transitioning to a tight end friendly scoring format assigning up to a half a point more per reception for tight ends than other positions. Predicting the future success of NFL tight ends has proven to be extremely difficult such as top tight end Jimmy Graham who was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft and Kellen Winslow II who was drafted as the sixth overall player in the 2004 draft and both players, although separated by nearly two rounds, couldn’t have had different careers with Graham emerging as the elite pro bowler and Winslow basically dropping off the face of the earth and literally becoming fantasy irrelevant. So how do you decide who to pick? Experience doesn’t seem to matter as much as athleticism and raw ability and in this draft there are plenty of elite athletes at the tight end position, in fact this year’s NFL draft, although it lacks the elite quarterback or running back, really produced some great long-term options at tight end. Lets take a look at my dynasty tight end rankings and their short-term and long-term outlook for 2013 fantasy football and beyond.
Tyler Eifert – You might know him from his appearance in the national championship game vs Alabama or you might now him from the recent airing of Hard Knocks, but what you should know about Eifert is that he is the most dominant, physical and versatile tight end in the draft. Eifert isn’t in the best spot with the Bengals, having to fight for targets with AJ Green and Jermaine Gresham, but he is so talented, he’s not a player you want to pass on. I have a feeling Gresham could be gone in 2014 and those who draft Eifert could be rewrded by holding him. He could be a top producing tight end for fantasy if given the opportunity.
Travis Kelce – I can’t think of a better landing spot for a rookie tight end. With Andy Reed taking over as the head coach in Kansas city, who is known for his love of tight end usage and Alex Smith as the new QB, who is crowned by most as captain check-down, it makes the talented Kelce an extremely intriguing option and could have the biggest immediate impact of all the tight ends. Kelce is a big bodied tight end at 6’5” 260 but, he didn’t wow anyone at the combine posting average number. Working to his advantage though he does have amazing fundamentals and is a playmaker with the ball in his hands. He is drawing comparisons to Rob Gronkowski which I think is a stretch but his college film is impressive. There isn’t much commeption for Kelce with the only other options being former Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano and the always injured
Jordan Reed -One of the most dynamic tight ends in the draft, Reed brings a new element to the Washington Redskins offense that is really lacking decent options in the passing game. He is a bit undersized and could struggle with blocking at the NFL level but when spread out wide he will be a nightmare for linebackers and safeties. With Coach Shannahan possibly transitioning to a more pass heavy attack in 2013 to keep Robert Griffin III healthy, Reed could play a vital role in the offense moving forward. Some concern for most would be Fred Davis who is now fully recovered from a season ending achilles injury last year, and looks great in preseason, but he has had an inability to stay healthy and has had some off the field problems in the offseason. I wouldn’t count on Reed making a major impact this year but if the door is opened in the future he provides a great pass catching target for the Redskins and is worth a hold in dynasty formats. It is worth a note that Reed is having some issues with a quad injury that has kept him out of practices this offseason, nothing major but it does impact his short-term value.
Zach Ertz – Even after signing tight end James Casey from the Texans, the Eagles take the 2nd overall tight end in the draft, Stanford tight end Zach Ertz. To me he was one of the many players that was over-hyped in this draft but by Chip Kelly and the Eagles taking him this early I was obviously mistaken. Ertz is a talented tight end but some attribute his production to the Stanford offense and not his overall ability. Even with the excitement of Chip Kelly’s offense we need to keep in mind that the Eagles are carrying three other capable tight ends on their roster as well as trying to fix a terrible offensive line and a questionable quarterback situation. If Kelly makes Ertz a feature tight end and this offense is successful the sky is the limit for his fantasy value.
Gavin Escobar – Escobar was graded by scouts as a very average talent and to see the Cowboys take him with a 3rd round pick was surprising, but when it comes to situation this is a very interesting one for the tight end out of San Diego State.Escobar is a great athlete and has decent yards after the catch ability but lacks the necessary blocking skills to be an every down work horse like current Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. Escobar will most likely be used in certain passing downs only splitting out wide and trying to create mismatches with linebackers. What does this mean for fantasy? I can’t envision Escobar seeing a lot of work during the season with a healthy Jason Witten. With that said, his is a very productive passing offense and with Witten aging this does open the door for Escobar to become a very decent fantasy option for the future.
Vance McDonald – With the departure of Delanie Walker to Tennessee the 49ers had to select a tight end to give them depth at the position and allow for effective two tight end sets which could be necessary with their lack of options at wide receiver. He has the ability to play in the slot and on line and could be a mismatch problem for defenses in the NFC West. McDonald is extremely talented and is having an excellent training camp including a 4 reception 66 yard game in his preseason debut. He does have some issues with his blocking though which could hurt his immediate impact potential.
Zach Sudfeld – One rookie who is making a ton of noise this offense is an undrafted tight end out of Nevada. At 6’7″ 255 pounds Sudfeld is monster and although he lacks elite speed or athleticism his size really makes for an interesting red zone target. The most intriguing part of Sudfeld is the team that picked him up and gave him a chance. The Patriots, with the loss of Wes Welker, the loss of Aaron Hernandez and the potential health concerns of Rob Gronkowski are in desperate need of someone to step in and be a major part of their offense. So far with many unattractive options such as Jake Ballard, Sudfeld has the opportunity as well as the talent to step up and be a starter in this offense. As an undrafted 24 year old with average production and a laundry list of past injuries himself, he probably wouldn’t be on these rankings but the situation and opportunity is just too good to pass up.
Dion Sims- A talented tight end out of Michigan State, but with the Dolphins signing of Dustin Keller, his immediate fantasy potential is put on hold for now. Keller does have a history of injuries and at 6’5″ 262 Sims could eventually turn into a great red zone target for a Dolphins team that struggled in to score in close in 2012. He is worth a long term stash but first year expectations should be tempered.
Luke Willson- No not the Godfather from Old School…. although he might end up being just as cool. Wilson has the athletic ability you want to see with good size but does struggle with blocking at the NFL level. He had a decent showing in his first preseason game against the Chargers but did drop a couple very catchable balls. Wilson is the type of upside pick I like late in drafts as he has a very high ceiling if he works his way into the starting roll for the Seahawks. It’s just going to be a little weird to hear “Touchdown! Wilson to Wilson” we’ll figure it out though.
Chris Gragg- A University of Arkansas wide receiver converted tight end Gragg presents a big threat in the passing game. With Scott Chandler being the only thing that stands in his way, Gragg could find himself on the field in Buffalo sooner than later. He does lack fundamentals in nearly every part of his game but if this buffalo offense develops into the explosive one we are all expecting he could be a very interesting fantasy asset. The quarterback situation is concerning but because he is more of a long-term option it’s not a major problem at this point.