Last Updated: September 2nd at 12:13am ET.
TIER ONE: Travis Kelce (TE1) > George Kittle (TE2)
Overview: Kelce arguably belongs in a tier unto his own as a legitimate first-round consideration even at a largely devalued fantasy position. In his first season with Patrick Mahomes, Kelce led all NFL tight ends in yards gained on 20-plus-yard targets (243) and yards gained on slot routes (755), and finished second in raw targets (150), catches (103), yards (1,336), and touchdowns (10). I moved Kittle into this tier when my research and projections placed Kittle much closer to Kelce’s range than Zach Ertz, and Tyreek Hill‘s suspension avoidance narrowed the playing field. Jimmy Garoppolo’s (ACL) return should bode well for Kittle, who led all tight ends in yards per route run by a big margin and set all-time records for a tight end in receiving yards (1,377) and yards after the catch (873) as an NFL sophomore. The 49ers’ inability to settle on their starting receivers in camp further solidifies Kittle as the team’s uncontested target hog.
TIER TWO: Zach Ertz (TE3)
Overview: Ertz has averaged 9.1 more yards and 1.2 more PPR points per game with Carson Wentz in the lineup over the past three years. Ertz’s 27 red-zone targets led all NFL tight ends last season, and the 2019 Eagles will be in scoring position even more with a loaded offense. I left Ertz out of the first tier because the distribution of his passing game is much more widespread than Kelce and Kittle’s, and the Eagles have a much better defense than Kansas City and San Francisco, threatening Philly’s pass volume. Ertz is also in danger of regression after setting a career high in targets by 44 in 2018.
TIER THREE: O.J. Howard (TE4) > Evan Engram (TE5) > Hunter Henry (TE6)
Overview: Tight ends with a chance to vault into the top-two tiers. Bruce Arians’ lukewarm tight end history will be held against Howard, but his immense talent and opportunity can’t be ignored. The Bucs’ passing-game distribution narrowed when Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson left, and Howard cleared 11.0 yards per target in each of his first two years. For perspective, neither Kelce nor Ertz has ever cleared 10.0 YPT in a season. Rob Gronkowski got there once in nine years. In 15 career games without Odell Beckham, Engram has 76 catches for 945 yards and six touchdowns on 125 targets, which would’ve made him last year’s TE5. Healthy down the stretch last season, Engram averaged 77.2 yards over the Giants’ last five games. His early-season ceiling is raised by Golden Tate‘s four-game ban, and Engram’s floor is heightened by Daniel Jones‘ promising preseason play. Henry looked poised for 2018 breakout after finishing No. 2 among tight ends in yards per route run the year before. He’s all systems go following last May’s ACL tear.
TIER FOUR: Vance McDonald (TE7)
Overview: In late August, I moved McDonald into his own tier as it became clear to me based on both ADP and my own drafts that I needed him in his own grouping. Dominant after the catch, McDonald is the favorite to emerge as Pittsburgh’s post-Antonio Brown No. 2 pass catcher behind JuJu Smith-Schuster. McDonald’s sheer snaps played should spike with Jesse James gone to Detroit, and no offense in the NFL threw more passes than the Steelers’ last season. There are seven tight ends I’m clearly targeting over the rest in drafts, and those seven end at McDonald.
TIER FIVE: Jared Cook (TE8) > David Njoku (TE9) > Austin Hooper (TE10)
Overview: These tight ends are less likely to make week-to-week differences but qualify as every-week starters we should be able to keep in our lineups regardless of matchups and situation. Cook is the favorite to be Drew Brees‘ No. 3 pass catcher behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Njoku averaged just 4.6 targets per game after Freddie Kitchens took control of Cleveland’s offense, and Odell Beckham‘s addition pushes Njoku down the target ladder. Still, Njoku is set up for spiked weeks as a double-digit touchdown candidate in a high-octane Browns attack. Hooper’s ceiling is capped by Atlanta’s deep wideout corps and his short-area possession usage, but the Falcons are going to score a ton of points this year, and Hooper’s production has improved each season he’s been in the league.
TIER SIX: Mark Andrews (TE11) > Delanie Walker (TE12) > Jordan Reed (TE13)
Overview: Tight ends that are capable of low-end TE1 production but probably lack high-end TE1 upside. Andrews finished fifth among tight ends in yards per route run as a rookie (2.01) and enters year two with the strongest on-field bond with Lamar Jackson in Baltimore’s pass-catcher corps. I’m still expecting maddening ups and downs from Andrews on the NFL’s run-heaviest team in a timeshare with Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst. Walker was all systems go in camp despite coming off a severe ankle fracture at age 35. Last year, he was sorely missed by Marcus Mariota, who averages 3.5 more fantasy points per game with Walker in the lineup over his career. Reed’s job security remains unchallenged. Even while gutting out chronic toe pain, Reed finished a respectable 11th among 30 qualified tight ends in yards per route run. Unfortunately, I had to drop Reed a few slots when he suffered his seventh known concussion in the Redskins’ third preseason game. I have no idea why they were playing him in that game.
TIER SEVEN: Chris Herndon (TE14) > Jimmy Graham (TE15) > Greg Olsen (TE16) > Tyler Eifert (TE17) > Darren Waller (TE18) > T.J. Hockenson (TE19) > Dallas Goedert (TE20) > Eric Ebron (TE21) > Jack Doyle (TE22) > Trey Burton (TE23)
Overview: Flawed TE2s with upside. Herndon became just the eighth rookie tight end in the last decade to clear 500 yards. Others include Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Evan Engram, and George Kittle. Unfortunately, Herndon is difficult to draft in short-bench season-long leagues due to his four-game suspension. My recommendation for Herndon drafters is to also select Eifert late as a short-term band-aid before Herndon’s return. Third-round pick Jace Sternberger will threaten Graham’s playing time sooner rather than later. Olsen first broke his foot in September of 2017, returned that November to aggravate the injury, re-broke the foot last Week 1, returned after four weeks, and tore his plantar fascia in December. Olsen turned 34 in March. Hockenson’s future is bright, but rookie tight ends rarely make major fantasy noise, and he will compete for targets with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola on a Lions team that wants to run the ball. Goedert’s path to fantasy relevance may require a Zach Ertz injury, but there’s no doubt Goedert deserves to play more. He’s already an elite run blocker and physical weapon in the passing game. The story never changes with Eifert, who has played more than eight games once in the last five years. A converted wide receiver, Waller has a clear pathway to full-time tight end duties in Oakland following Jared Cook‘s departure. Even before Andrew Luck‘s retirement, I was way below consensus on Ebron, whose 14 touchdowns were always bound to severely regress with Devin Funchess, Parris Campbell, a healthy T.Y. Hilton, and Doyle squeezing opportunity. I want no part of either Colts tight end in any form of fantasy this year. Burton first experienced groin problems last January, missed the Bears’ playoff loss, underwent offseason sports-hernia surgery, experienced setbacks in training camp, and looks doubtful for Week 1.
TIER EIGHT: Gerald Everett (TE24) > Kyle Rudolph (TE25) > Noah Fant (TE26) > Ian Thomas (TE27) > Mike Gesicki (TE28) > Cameron Brate (TE29) > Jason Witten (TE30) > Irv Smith (TE31) > Adam Shaheen (TE32) > Rob Gronkowski (TE33)
Overview: Late TE2/TE3s at very least worth monitoring. Albeit in part due to Cooper Kupp’s ACL tear, Everett’s routes run per game jumped from 12.9 in Weeks 1-11 to 23.5 over the Rams’ final eight games, including playoffs. Always an athletic freak, Everett is a sneaky long-shot breakout candidate in his third NFL season. There have been rumblings the Rams will use more two-tight end sets this year. Rudolph will stay in Minnesota after inking a surprise extension, but second-round pick Irv Smith threatens his passing-game usage. First-round pick Fant falls into the low-expectations rookie tight end bucket but could rise in my rankings if it becomes clear in preseason he’s carved out a full-time role. Thomas ranked sixth among NFL tight ends in yards over the final five weeks of his rookie year, and Greg Olsen is a foot injury waiting to happen. Gisecki is a deep sleeper for tight end-premium leagues. Brate is basically a red-zone weapon only at this stage. Witten returns as a possession target after flopping in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth. There is still some belief Gronk might unretire.
TIER NINE: Matt LaCosse > Ricky Seals-Jones > Will Dissly > Vernon Davis > Ben Watson > Geoff Swaim > Jeff Heuerman > Blake Jarwin > C.J. Uzomah > Hayden Hurst > Jace Sternberger > Dawson Knox > Nick Vannett > Ed Dickson > Ryan Griffin > Drew Sample > Trevon Wesco > Charles Clay > Jordan Thomas
Overview: Other tight ends expected to see 2019 playing time.