Brandon Funston

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Henry Looms Large for '18

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


Each week during the NFL season, I will offer up a variety of top-five lists because, well, who doesn’t love a top five list?  With that universal love of lists in mind, I look to the near future of the tight end position, breaking down how the TE fantasy landscape might look heading into 2018 drafts.

 

Top 5 Tight Ends for 2018 Fantasy Drafts

Rob Gronkowski, NE – Gronk will be just 29 years old next season and, as long as he’s healthy and Tom Brady is his quarterback, he’s going to sit atop my TE rankings. His 27 catches of 15-plus yards is tied for fourth-most in the league behind Julio Jones, Antonio Brown and Keenan Allen. He’s cruising towards his fifth season with double-digit touchdowns and his fourth 1,000-yard campaign, though his bush league hit on Buffalo Bills CB Tre’Davious White (and Week 14 suspension) will make it a little harder to achieve those benchmarks.

Zach Ertz, PHI – Other than a couple of injury-influenced pitfalls, Ertz has been a target and reception machine over the past season and a half. Additionally, unlike early in his career, he’s also finding the end zone with regularity. The former Stanford product has nine touchdowns in his past 12 regular-season games and has finished as a TE1 (top 12) in 15 of his past 20 contests.

Travis Kelce, KC – Kelce is really 1C on this list, with it getting to be a real splitting-hairs exercise to differentiate the top three at the TE position. Kelce has at least 9.0 fantasy points in 14 of 22 regular-season games, and is the top scoring fantasy tight end since the start of the ’16 campaign. This season, he became the first tight end in NFL history to top 800 receiving yards in each of his first four NFL seasons.

Evan Engram, NYG – A wide receiver wearing a tight end label, Engram climbed to uncommon heights in ’17. He is on pace to finish with the third-most fantasy points by a tight end in a rookie season, and with a nice December run, he could easily climb to No. 2 on the list behind only Mike Ditka, who went for 1,076 yards and 12 TDs as a rookie for the Bears in ’61.

Jimmy Graham, SEA – He’ll be a free agent this offseason, and I think there’s a good chance, given the relatively soft market for tight ends,  that Graham re-signs with the Seahawks. If that’s the case, his re-emergence as one of the league’s most dangerous red zone weapons (nine TDs in his past eight games; league-high 25 red zone targets) would lead me to rank him as the No. 5 tight end off the board. If he ends up elsewhere in ’18, and if it’s an uninspiring locale, I might be tempted to go with Hunter Henry instead.

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5 Tight Ends on the Rise Heading into 2018

Evan Engram, NYG – (See above) Only Kyle Rudolph has had a higher Catch% in the red zone this season than Engram, who has secured seven of eight targets (87.5), with six of those targets resulting in a touchdown. And only Gronk and Delanie Walker have more than Engram’s eight games of at least 40 receiving yards (through Week 13). The rookie with the 4.4 40-time and rare first-year success in the position should lead to Engram’s having no shortage of buzz heading into ’18 drafts.

Hunter Henry, LAC – Henry just missed my top five, but I’m not going to fight anyone who wants to argue that he belongs in the TE upper class. While he’s had some inexplicable disappearing acts this season, the Chargers’ towering second-year talent is still tied with Zach Ertz for third at the position in games with at least 70 receiving yards (5).  And only Gronk and Travis Kelce have graded out better at the position this season (receiving, run blocking and pass blocking) than Henry, according to the analytical minds at Pro Football Focus. Heading into his third season, and with Antonio Gates hitting retirement, Henry should go much higher in ’18 than he did in drafts leading into this season (TE 11 ADP).

David Njoku, CLE – Speaking to his athletic upside, no tight end has been targeted more often on throws of 20 or more yards downfield than Njoku (through Week 13). The rookie from Miami has had some big moments (catching seven of those 14 targets of 20-plus yards, accounting for three of his four TDs to date), and his No. 17 standing among tight ends (through Week 13) looks even more impressive when you consider that he’s just 38th at the position in total snaps played. He should see a major uptick in workload next season, settling in regularly alongside Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman to give Cleveland one of the most talented receiving corps in the league.

O.J. Howard, TB – If Cameron Brate, who is a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason, ends up elsewhere in ’18, Howard’s draft stock should rise sharply ahead of ’18 drafts. The former Alabama star is like Jeff Spicoli’s dad – “He’s got the ultimate set of tools.” But if Brate remains a Buccaneer in ’18, Howard’s going to have to figure out how to break up the undeniable bro-mance that exists between QB Jameis Winston and Brate.

Tyler Kroft, CIN – Taking over for an injured Tyler Eifert, Cincy’s other towering Tyler tight end has produced as the No. 9 fantasy tight end since Week 4. He's graded out with the eighth-highest receiving mark by Pro Football Focus, and there’s a good chance he’s convinced Cincy’s brass that the other Tyler (Eifert), a free agent this offseason, is no longer worth the injury risk. If that proves to be the case, and the Bengals turn to Kroft as their No. 1 tight end for next season, don’t be surprised if he’s pegged as a back-end TE1 by many in ’18 fantasy drafts.

 


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Brandon Funston has been dispensing solid gold fantasy advice (with some fool's gold mixed in from time to time) for the past 20 years, formerly with ESPN, and Yahoo. You can send him questions/comments on Twitter @brandonfunston.



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