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Tiered Tight End Rankings: Top 12 in Fantasy Football

Tight End is shaping up to be the shallowest position once again this year. As a result I am a strong advocate of getting one of the players in the top two tiers and giving yourself a weekly advantage over your opponent at the position. Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski when healthy are so far and away better than every other player at the position (sorry Julius Thomas lovers) that it makes the position really unique compared to others. While as usual the tiers signify a clear distinction in value, the gap between Tier 1 and everything else is probably the most significant in all of my rankings. Just something to keep in mind on draft day!

For more tiered rankings and analysis, be sure to check out our Wide Receiver Rankings (Top 20Top 40Top 60), Running Back Rankings (Top 12Top 25Top 37, Top 50, Dynasty Top 30), Quarterback Rankings (Top 10Top 21Top 32Dynasty Top 15), as well as RotoBaller's overall Standard League and PPR Rankings.


Tier 1 Tight Ends

1. Jimmy Graham - New Orleans Saints - 6'7" 265 lbs

86 Rec - 1,215 Yards - 16 TD

Coaching Change: None

Jeffrey Beall - Own workSorry, no surprises at the top. If you could build the perfect pass-catching tight end, he would probably be identical to Jimmy Graham. He is a great red zone target but he is also a fantastic option for Brees anywhere on the field. The crazy part is that he dealt with a foot issue in the middle of the season which limited him to being a decoy and strictly a goal line threat for a couple of games. If he can avoid that, he could get even better. He should be going in the first round of every draft. If you get him any later that, its a huge steal.


2. Rob Gronkowski - New England Patriots - 6'6" 265 lbs

39 Rec - 592 Yards - 4 TD

Coaching Change: None

Gronk is basically Jimmy Graham with more injury risk and a worse offense. In some ways that helps make Gronk a bigger part of the offense and it showed when he was on the field last year. Of the seven games he played, Gronk recorded five top-5 fantasy weeks at TE. You should expect more of the same in 2014. While the injuries will be enough to scare some off, the idea that you are almost guaranteed a top-5 week at the TE position when he plays is enough to make the risk worth it. He offers something you simply can't find anywhere else outside of the top 15 picks or so. Rob Gronkowski should be off the board by the late second round.


Tier 2 Tight Ends

3. Julius Thomas - Denver Broncos - 6'5" 250 lbs

65 Rec - 788 Yards - 12 TD

Coaching Change: None

RotoBaller-Fantasy-Football-Advice-Julius-ThomasOrange Julius had one heck of a breakout season and was a major factor in Peyton's breaking of the TD record. There were a few red flags that keep me from ranking him over Gronkowski though. While Gronk was averaging over 80 yards per game, Thomas was sitting at just over 50. His value was extremely touchdown dependent and that is backed up by the fact that he had ten games with under 50 yards last season. When you bank on a touchdown every game for your value you are playing a dangerous game. With that said, I think there is a great chance that the Broncos rely on Thomas a lot more in all passing situations this season. He should take a decent portion of the targets that were going to Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders can't replace all of that. If he can do that he should have very similar or even better numbers than last season. While I do see him as a step down from the first two guys, he can still give you elite production this season.


4. Jordan Cameron - Cleveland Browns - 6'5" 249 lbs

80 Rec - 917 Yards - 7 TD

Coaching Change: HC - Mike Pettine, OC - Kyle Shanahan

Erik Drost - Flickr: Jordon CameronCameron was another guy that enjoyed a big breakout season last year. He slowed down considerably after a monster start to the year, and that will likely keep many people from valuing him as high as I do. There are two things I see as major positives for Cameron's value: He was excellent in the two games before Josh Gordon blew away the fantasy world. He has proven that he has enough size and talent to succeed with little else in the receiving game. Secondly, at this point it looks like Brian Hoyer will be the starting quarterback to begin the season. They appeared to have a great connection in the two games Hoyer started last year. Even if Hoyer doesn't start and Johnny Manziel is the QB, who else will he throw to? Miles Austin is always injured, Nate Burleson will be 33 and Andrew Hawkins is tiny, certainly not an ideal touchdown threat. I think Cameron has a great under-appreciated shot at double digit touchdowns this season.


Tier 3 Tight Ends

5. Vernon Davis - San Francisco 49ers - 6'3" 250 lbs

52 Rec - 813 Yards - 13 TD

Coaching Change: None

Obviously Davis enjoyed a great season last year, and seems to have done so under the radar with a great deal of attention going to Julius Thomas despite Davis besting him in yards and touchdowns. Yet here I am acknowledging this fact and still not giving Davis as much respect as he may deserve. Why? He was another guy that was very touchdown dependent, with a staggering 25% of his receptions going for touchdowns (higher if you count the postseason). That number is simply unsustainable. I have no doubt that Davis is extremely talented but he can't keep that up. If we look at the players with fewer than 65 receptions and double-digit TD over the past five years, only one player improved the next season and that was Gronkowski.  Respect to Vernon, but he is not Gronkowski. Many more of the players had 3 or fewer TD the next season. In 2010 Antonio Gates had 10 TD with 50 Receptions and followed it up with a solid 7 TD season. That is a realistic expectation for Davis. It makes him a good option, but not someone winning you games every week.


6. Jason Witten - Dallas Cowboys - 6'6" 251 lbs

73 Rec - 851 Yards - 8 TD

Coaching Change: Passing Game Coordinator - Scott Linehan

Witten is getting a little older (he'll be 32 this year) but he continues to perform at a high level and act as a safety-blanket for Tony Romo. The addition of Scott Linehan running the passing game should improve the Cowboys offense as a whole and Witten should be a part of that. Witten saw his receptions dip to their lowest numbers since 2006, but I expect a slight increase again in 2014. There isn't really a possibility of him having a huge season like the players ranked above him but he is one of the safest bets, having played in 175 of 176 games in his career.


7. Greg Olsen - Carolina Panthers - 6'5" 253 lbs

73 Rec - 816 Yards - 6 TD

Coaching Change: None

I see Olsen as a lesser version of Witten and it shows in their 2013 stats. The big difference here is that the Panthers have significantly worse receiving options outside of Greg Olsen. That should give him a great shot to at least match his career high of 8 TD. I'm tempted to rank him ahead of Witten because of this but I am holding off on the basis of talent and much better overall offense going to Witten and the Cowboys. That said, with Olsen consistently going a round or later in drafts, he should provide the much better value.


Tier 4 Tight Ends

8. Jordan Reed - Washington Redskins - 6'2" 237 lbs

45 Rec - 499 Yards - 3 TD

Coaching Change: HC - Jay Gruden, OC - Sean McVay

Jordan Reed is extremely promising and it looked like it was all coming together in the middle of last season. Unfortunately he suffered a concussion in week 11 and the symptoms lingered which is always a scary sign. He was placed on injured reserve ending his rookie campaign. He appears to be fully healthy and should remain a top option for RGIII despite the addition of DeSean Jackson. There is always the fear another concussion could put his season or even his career at risk but his potential is too much to pass up at this point. The Redskins offense should be improved under Jay Gruden and Reed will have every opportunity to thrive.


9. Zach Ertz - Philadelphia Eagles - 6'5" 250 lbs

36 Rec - 469 Yards - 4 TD

Coaching Change: None

Let me start by saying out of all the receivers outside of the top five, Ertz has the best shot of jumping into the upper echelon. He has excellent size with great hands. The only problem that keeps him low on the list is that he didn't show much in his rookie year. Part of that was his teammate Brent Celek being a much better blocker which kept Ertz off the field in many situations. There are a few reasons to remain optimistic though. Rookie tight ends almost never have big seasons, not even Jimmy Graham. If you look at the top five, only Gronkowski was a fantasy threat in year 1. The Eagles also lost their top receiver in DeSean Jackson and also lost Jason Avant. While a lot of those yards will go to Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews, the opportunity has presented itself to Ertz and there is a great chance he will run with it. One very promising indicator is that Ertz has the ability to score plenty of touchdowns: Over the final 9 games (including the playoffs) he scored 5 touchdowns. That would put him at a pace of 8-9. With the expected yardage increase, Ertz would definitely be relevant on a weekly basis.


Tier 5 Tight Ends

10. Kyle Rudolph - Minnesota Vikings - 6'6" 259 lbs

30 Rec - 313 Yards - 3 TD

Coaching Change: HC - Mike Zimmer, OC - Norv Turner

So far in Rudolph's career he has been a touchdown or nothing player and I tend to shy away from those types. In fact, he has recorded more than 70 yards in a game just once (last year vs Carolina). You simply cannot become a great fantasy option that way. Yet there is plenty of optimism to go around and it starts with the nice contract extension the Vikings gave him, showing they are committed to Rudolph as their primary tight end. Norv Turner is the new offensive coordinator and he loves using his tight ends. In recent times it's a small sample size because he had Antonio Gates for so long, but he took Jordan Cameron to another level last year as well. Rudolph is not Cameron and will not be that good, but there is no reason he can't enjoy his finest and most consistent season yet.


11. Martellus Bennett - Chicago Bears - 6'6" 265 lbs

65 Rec - 759 Yards - 5 TD

Coaching change: None

Listed at the same size as Gronkowski, that is unfortunately about where the similarities end. Bennett enjoyed a nice season last year as TE10, but unfortunately his production went down as the season went on. He had three TD in the first two games but finished with just five. He had at least 5 fantasy points in six of the first seven games but would only hit that mark three more times the rest of the way. The problem with Bennett is that there is no reason to think he can do any better than last year. Ideally Jay Cutler stays healthy all season which should increase his yardage a bit, but his touchdowns were split between both QBs (3 with Cutler, 2 with McCown) and this offense runs through the two wide receivers and Forte. Should any of those guys get injured, I would expect Bennett to see an increase in targets. Otherwise, he's just another guy to have if you wait on tight ends.


12. Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers - 6'4" 255 lbs

77 Rec - 872 Yards - 4 TD

Coaching Change: OC - Frank Reich

Although Gates is now 34 and saw his touchdowns dip to their lowest total since he was a rookie, Gates still put up solid numbers by years end. He's no longer an every week fantasy starter and fellow tight end Ladarius Green has forced his way into the picture, Gates could prove to be a nice value as people pass on him due to age. Despite some injury problems in recent years, Gates has only seen a modest decline in skill to this point. Another positive for Gates: Outside of Keenan Allen the Chargers have nothing but question marks at wide receiver. Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd are both coming off major injuries and Vincent Brown is nothing special. Even if Ladarius Green starts to become the player many expect him to be, Gates could still continue to do his thing. I imagine even if his yardage goes down he should score a few more touchdowns this year as well.

Stay tuned for the rest of our top 25 TE rankings...


Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.