1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs:
In 2016 Travis Kelce finished second amongst all NFL tight ends with 85 receptions and topped the position with 1,125 receiving yards. He led all Chiefs’ receivers with 117 targets to go along with four touchdowns and finished as the #1 fantasy scoring TE in Yahoo PPR-leagues. Travis was one of the most consistent tight ends over the course of the 2016 season, as he posted eight games with at least 84 yards receiving and eleven games with at least five receptions. According to Pro Football Focus, Kelce’s 2016 season graded out best among all tight ends, edging out Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen. With the release of Jeremy Maclin on June 3, Kansas City is left without a true #1 wide receiver, with the likely starters for this year set to be Chris Conley (44 catches in ’16) and Tyreek Hill (61 grabs in ’16), putting Kelce in place to once again be the Chiefs number one target. While Hill displayed an incredible skill set in 2016, he split his time between running back, wide receiver and kick return duties, which he will look to repeat this year, in turn limiting his number of targets in the pass game. Without a go-to target on the outside, QB Alex Smith will again turn to Kelce early and often. Opposing defenses will try double-teaming the 6’5″ Kelce, but with Travis’ ability to line up outside, in the slot as well as at the traditional end of the line, the Chiefs will move him around to find the soft spot in coverage and the mismatch. At the NFL Combine in March, Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid said that the 5th-year Kelce had matured throughout the ’16 season and that he will continue to grow throughout this year, indicating bigger and better things are approaching for the tight end. 2017 Prediction: 89 receptions 1,114 yards and eight touchdowns.
2. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins:
When Jordan Reed is healthy, he might be the best tight end option in fantasy football. The problem is of course, he never stays healthy. Since the start of 2014, Reed has missed 11 of a possible 48 games due to injury and is believed to have suffered at least five concussions. This is a major concern for fantasy owners, as a player who doesn’t play is a waste of a roster spot, and a draft pick. You would be taking a major risk by drafting Reed early, but the reward just might be worth it. If you can get 14 games out of Reed, including the playoffs, you might be smiling all the way to the Championship game. According to Pro Football Focus, last season Reed averaged the most fantasy PPR points per snap and had just one drop in his 67 targets. Over the course of 12 games in 2016, Jordan averaged over five catches and 57 receiving yards per contest. That’s double-digit points in a PPR league, and that’s not even including his six touchdowns. Project that to a minimum of 14 games played and you’ll get 77 receptions and 798 yards, which would have placed him amongst the top-10 Yahoo PPR-league tight ends last year. Again, this is not even including points from touchdowns, and Reed is a safe bet to score. Dangerous with the ability to line up outside and in the slot, over the last two seasons the 6’2″, 246-pound Jordan has scored 15 of his 17 touchdowns in the red-zone. With the Redskins boasting an improved running game in 2017 and a scarcity of outside receiving options following the losses of Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon (combined for 135 receptions and 2,035 yards in ’16), Reed will get plenty of action in the passing game. Yes, Washington did sign Terrelle Pryor from the Browns, but he’s only had one successful season as a receiver and has yet to build a rapport with quarterback Kirk Cousins. Slot receiver Jamison Crowder will get some more looks as well this year, but at only 5’8″ and 180-pounds he is not a threat to steal touches inside the twenty. If Reed can avoid the injury bug, and yes that’s a big if, he will be in for a monster season. 2017 prediction: 93 receptions, 974 yards and eight touchdowns.
3. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings:
Kyle Rudolph finished the 2016 season as the leading points scorer in Yahoo PPR League formats, and led the NFL in targets for a tight end with 132. Rudolph converted those targets into 83 receptions (third in the NFL for TE’s), 840 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. All this with new quarterback Sam Bradford (arrived in Minnesota just eight days before the opener) who was playing behind a porous offensive line with virtually no running game. Despite the huge disadvantage, Bradford set an NFL record with a 71.6 percent completion rate, with most of those completions coming when he targeted Rudolph. As Bradford developed a rapport with his tight end, he started looking Kyle’s way more and more. According to Pro Football Focus, over the final eight weeks of the season, Rudolph was targeted 70 times with 52 receptions. Rudolph was a model of consistency, recording at least five catches in ten games over the course of 2016. With another year to build chemistry with his quarterback and a rebuilt offensive line, Rudolph will be in line to repeat, if not improve on his 2016 numbers. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who replaced Norv Turner on November 2, 2016, returns, which bodes well for Kyle. Once Shurmur took over play-calling duties, Rudolph’s usage jumped from the 6.75 targets/game and 4.4 receptions/game under Turner to 8.33 targets/game and 5.7 receptions/game. The addition of big-bodied receiver Michael Floyd and the developing presence of Stefon Diggs will prevent teams from doubling Rudolph, keeping Kyle’s usage in the passing game high. 2017 prediction: 98 receptions, 993 yards and six touchdowns.
4.Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots:
The only reason Gronk is so far down on this list is availability, plain and simple. Since 2012, Rob has missed 29 games (including the playoffs) due to injury. He reportedly has undergone nine surgeries since leaving the University of Arizona in 2009. In 2016 he played in just eight games, and he missed the first two weeks with a pulled hamstring and then was placed on season-ending IR in December with an injured back. In his eight games (six starts) Gronkowski totaled 25 catches for 540 yards (a 21.7 yards per catch average!) and three touchdowns for a Yahoo PPR-league average of 12.12 points a game. This was good enough for 8th among all tight ends in PPR points per game. This may not sound worthy of a 2017 top 5 TE ranking, but if you take away Rob’s week 3 and 4 appearances, where his hamstring was obviously not back to 100 percent and he was targeted only once while playing minimal snaps, his numbers are much more enticing. From October 9th until November 13th, when Gronk’s back was injured by an Earl Thomas hit in the week ten matchup against the Seahawks, Rob averaged 4.8 receptions and 105.8 yards per game and scored all three of his td’s. Like Jordan Reed, you would be taking a big risk by selecting Gronkowski early, but if healthy, he will be well worth it. The good news is, he appeared back to his old self during OTA’s in May and had his contract restructured with multiple playing time and performance incentives for 2017, indicating Gronk will see plenty of snaps this year. Though Julian Edelman and new-comer Brandin Cooks will get plenty of looks themselves in ’17, Gronkowski will be Tom Brady’s go-to target in the red-zone. Look for Rob’s receptions to hover around his career average of 4.6 catches/game, but his touchdowns should be up near one per game. 2017 prediction: 65 receptions, 845 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
5. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks:
Graham is fresh off his best season in Seattle and is one more year removed from a torn patella. This is great news for the Seahawks and for fantasy managers interested in selecting the 6’7″, 265 pound tight end. Jimmy will look to build on his 2016 season, where he finished with 923 yards on 65 catches and six touchdowns. Graham finished as the third highest scoring TE in Yahoo-PPR leagues and averaged 11.89 PPR points a game, all while recovering from offseason knee surgery. Jimmy proved to be a consistent option in ’16, with seven games of at least five receptions while also flashing big-play potential. According to Pro Football Focus, Graham led all tight ends with eight receptions over 20 yards. Jimmy is fully healed and will be playing on the final year of his contract, two prime ingredients for having a monster season. Appearing on the ESPN radio show “Brock and Salk”, Seahawks’ Head Coach Pete Carroll said he was surprised to see how explosive Graham was in May OTA’s and that Graham looked the best he ever had. After having to spend nearly all the 2016 offseason rehabbing his knee, Jimmy is now focused on building on his chemistry with quarterback Russell Wilson. The only thing preventing Graham from being the number one fantasy tight end in 2017 is the Seahawks’ offense itself. After struggling with the 25th-ranked rushing attack in 2016, Seattle invested in their O-line and brought in former Green Bay running back Eddy Lacy, all in hopes of bringing back balance to the offense. This will probably drop Jimmy’s targets down from the 96 he had in 2016, but an improved run game will set up the play-action and open up the middle of the field for Graham, who has averaged over 12.6 yards a catch in his career. 2017 projection: 66 receptions, 877 yards and six touchdowns.
NEXT LEVEL OPTIONS:
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers