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Tight End Best-Ball Tiered Rankings and Analysis (May 2019)

It used to be that we ignored the tight end position until the middle rounds of a draft. Now, it's not uncommon to see a name like Kelce in the first round and not bat an eyelash, while Ertz and Kittle are guaranteed to be taken within the top 30 picks. In best-ball leagues, you must set out to "win" at every position on draft day. There is no Plan B. While only a couple of fantasy owners can possess an elite TE in any given league, it doesn't mean you can't find multiple ways to win the position elsewhere. Our tiered rankings and analysis are provided here to help you do just that.

RotoBaller's expert rankers have gotten together to update our 2019 Best Ball rankings in order to prepare you for early drafts. This is part of our commitment to helping you all season long.

We'll keep updating our rankings for Best Ball and every other format throughout the offseason. You can find the latest rankings here. We've already posted writeups on quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. Now, let's give the tight end position some attention.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive In-Season Lineup Tools, Lineup Optimizer and over 150 days of Premium DFS Research. Sign Up Now!


TE Best-Ball Rankings

Position Rank Position Tier Player Name Overall Rank Overall Tier
1 1 Travis Kelce 18 2
2 1 Zach Ertz 21 3
3 1 George Kittle 26 3
4 2 Evan Engram 66 6
5 2 O.J. Howard 68 6
6 2 Hunter Henry 75 7
7 2 Eric Ebron 78 7
8 3 Vance McDonald 85 7
9 3 David Njoku 89 8
10 4 Austin Hooper 101 9
11 4 Delanie Walker 109 9
12 4 Jared Cook 110 9
13 4 Chris Herndon IV 114 10
14 4 Jack Doyle 116 10
15 4 Trey Burton 124 10
16 5 Kyle Rudolph 132 10
17 5 T.J. Hockenson 134 10
18 5 Dallas Goedert 136 11
19 5 Austin Seferian-Jenkins 140 11
20 5 Mark Andrews 141 11
21 5 Noah Fant 142 11
22 5 Jordan Reed 143 11
23 5 Greg Olsen 144 11
24 5 Jimmy Graham 147 11
25 6 Mike Gesicki 159 13
26 6 Ian Thomas 162 13
27 6 Blake Jarwin 169 13
28 7 Cameron Brate 184 14
29 7 Gerald Everett 209 15
30 7 Tyler Eifert 210 15
31 7 Jace Sternberger 214 15
32 7 Charles Clay 226 16
33 7 Irv Smith Jr. 230 16
34 7 Hayden Hurst 234 16
35 7 Ricky Seals-Jones 239 16
36 8 Will Dissly 254 17
37 8 Darren Waller 266 18
38 8 Jesse James 270 18
39 8 Josh Oliver 272 18
40 8 Tyler Kroft 275 18
41 8 Vernon Davis 276 18
42 8 Jason Witten 286 18
43 9 Geoff Swaim 302 19
44 9 Jonnu Smith 304 19
45 9 Matt LaCosse 305 19
46 9 Jake Butt 306 19
47 9 C.J. Uzomah 310 19
48 9 Demetrius Harris 316 19
49 9 Adam Shaheen 318 19
50 10 Luke Willson 329 19
51 10 Nick Vannett 332 19
52 10 Jordan Thomas 334 19
53 10 Tyler Higbee 335 19
54 10 Josh Hill 336 19
55 10 Jeff Heuerman 338 20
56 10 Jason Croom 339 20
57 10 Mo Alie-Cox 346 20
58 10 Ed Dickson 348 20
59 10 Ryan Griffin 350 20
60 10 Kahale Warring 351 20
61 10 Dan Arnold 354 20
62 10 Dwayne Allen 364 20


Tier 1

Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, George Kittle

There's no much to say about Kelce - he's the undisputed overall TE1 in all formats and his value could actually go up this year if Tyreek Hill misses any time at all, much less the entire season. While he is going as early as the end of the first round in redraft mocks, his current ADP is 13 in BB10s. Ertz and Kittle aren't far behind, with ADPs of 22 and 23, meaning all three will be gone within the first two rounds in typical drafts. You'll have to pay up in order to "win" TE this year in best-ball.


Tier 2

Evan Engram, OJ Howard, Hunter Henry, Eric Ebron

This is by far the most fascinating tier. None of these players are projected to match the big three (although I have my doubts about Kittle personally). If you miss out on the top tier or don't want to use an early pick on tight end, then young, high-ceiling players like Engram and Howard should be your next choices.

RotoBaller has Engram as the TE4 based on the promise of more targets sans OBJ this season. Engram was dynamite down the stretch and proved to be a league-winning TE streamer for many fantasy owners, myself included. From Week 13-16 with Odell Beckham sidelined, Engram averaged 5.5 receptions and 80 yards per game. Without the luxury of waivers or trades, you'll have to target him early as your starter and hope he provides that type of production throughout the year. He wound up with a disappointing three TD all season and was only targeted seven times in the red zone all year, ranking 27th among all tight ends in that regard. There's no explanation for this and one would think the Giants would need to utilize Engram more in the red zone area but it is still a concern to be aware of.

Eric Ebron is being drafted as the fourth tight end in best-ball leagues but we prefer to wait. It's almost impossible to conceive that Ebron scored 13 touchdowns last year when he had tallied 11 scores in his first four seasons combined. Of course, he joined a much better offense that loves to involve the tight end. The other factor that must be addressed is the fact Jack Doyle missed most of the season, playing just six games. While Ebron did score seven TD in the games where Doyle was on the field, six of his seven lowest target totals came in those contests. Counting on touchdown totals to repeat themselves is always tricky proposition - it's best to follow targets instead.


Tier 3

Vance McDonald, David Njoku

We're higher on McDonald than most drafters, with all three of our rankers placing him inside the top 100 overall. I thought Chris Mangano was big on McDonald due to his expanding role on a pass-heavy offense without Antonio Brown but turns out I ranked him highest of all! McDonald emerged as a clear winner this offseason, with Jesse James leaving for Detroit via free agency and the Steelers only spending a fifth-round pick on Zach Gentry to fill out the TE depth chart. Gentry is athletic but didn't post big numbers at Michigan and didn't test very well either. McDonald should be a high-priority pick for those who wait on tight end.

Njoku is always a divisive player. On one hand, he has all the ability in the world and is part of a growing offense that could be one of the best in the league. On the other hand, he will compete for targets with both Beckham and Jarvis Landry. He was barely involved in the red zone last year, catching five of 10 targets, and that might not improve now that the team has even more weapons at its disposal. Njoku is possibly a better selection in best-ball than redraft because of his big-play ability. He ranked seventh among tight ends in total air yards last year with 603. He is still best paired with a consistent backup later on like Doyle or Olsen.


Tier 4

Austin Hooper, Delanie Walker, Jared Cook, Chris Herndon, Jack Doyle, Trey Burton

Hooper leads off our fourth tier as the 10th-ranked tight end, which is exactly where he falls under current ADP for best-ball leagues. His place as the clear starter with little depth behind him on a prolific passing offense makes him a relatively safe low-end TE1.

Delanie Walker will be 35 years old by the time this season starts and is coming off a torn ACL. Those factors have dropped him to TE15 in early best-ball drafts but I have a feeling that ADP will creep up at least a little once he proves healthy in training camp. We have Walker ranked 11th because he's proven to have one of the highest floors among all tight ends. Before his unfortunate injury, he had put up four straight seasons of at least 60 catches and 800 yards.

Cook is a player that will be drafted way too high in most leagues. He did see the sixth-most air yards (840) among tight ends and finished fourth in receiving yards (900). A move out of Oakland to New Orleans seems like an obvious win, right? In fact, it could do the opposite for his value. After the Raiders traded Amari Cooper and lost Jordy Nelson to injury, Cook was practically the only viable receiving threat Derek Carr had. In New Orleans, Cook will have to fight with Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Ted Ginn, Tre'Quan Smith, and others for targets. Drew Brees is also not known to target the tight end much, aside from those magical Jimmy Graham years. We see Cook as a high-end backup but not a fantasy starter.


Tier 5

Kyle Rudolph, TJ Hockenson, Dallas Goedert, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Mark Andrews, Noah Fant, Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham

It appears Rudolph will be staying in Minnesota after all but Irv Smith still lingers to threaten his snap count. Rudolph is coming off a disappointing season where we expected Kirk Cousins to target him a ton. Instead, he finished with four TD - his lowest total over a 16-game season. An average of four catches and 40 yards per game won't win you many weeks, which is why he barely makes the cutoff as a fantasy TE2.

I'm not surprised to see Hockenson higher than Fant in our rankings. I'm shocked. We have Phil to thank for that, as he ranked Hockenson a full 32 spots higher than Fant, whereas Chris and I both prefer Fant. Both have the same background, similar draft stock and great opportunity to contribute right away. The difference is that one is going to a team with a QB that loves throwing to the tight end in Denver and the other goes to a team where tight ends go to die in Detroit. It's hard enough for a rookie TE to make an impact but the increasingly conservative nature of the Lions offense is enough to scare me away from Hockenson completely. I don't see Fant as a player to target in 2019 necessarily since Jeff Heuereman will still be involved, but his playmaking ability stands out more.

If older, oft-injured veterans are more your speed, take your pick from Reed, Olsen, or Graham.

Olsen is a boom-bust pick that you should want exposure to as a second tight end based on his ridiculously low ADP of 163 (TE22). If you are planning to take three tight ends, make him your second pick and stack with a high-upside youngster later on or simply hedge your bet with Ian Thomas.

Graham actually played in all 16 games last year although he was listed as questionable a few times. He only scored twice though and just doesn't look like the Graham of old.

Reed might become a complete afterthought for fantasy owners. Despite staying healthy for the first 12 weeks of the season, he barely produced. Then he did his thing and hit the Injured Reserve. Wouldn't you be better off taking Dallas Goedert and at least have the knowledge that your backup will produce a couple of good games?


Tier 6 and lower

Mike Gesicki is a true boom-bust pick that is much better used in best-ball than redraft. He has every opportunity to win the starting job in his second year but struggled with route-running as a rookie and is part of a rebuilding team that could limit his scoring upside. The physical talent is exceptional but opportunity is always more important.

Gerald Everett might be a top-10 TE if he were on a different team. Everett graded out fifth among all tight ends last year according to PFF. His snap count steadily rose as the year went on and his target share crept up a bit each week. Much of that was due to Cooper Kupp's absence but if Jared Goff finds a little more trust in Everett or Sean McVay looks to diversify the offense based on last year's Super Bowl result, Everett could be a nice sleeper.

Tyler Eifert is one of those players you cringe at drafting because you just know he's going to get hurt. The fact that he's recovering from a broken ankle doesn't do much to alleviate those concerns. The upside is palpable because he's scored 19 TD in his last 27 games and there isn't much competition at tight end in Cincy. Rookie Drew Sample is a blocker who totaled 487 yards over a four-year college career at Washington. Eifert is worth a shot in the later rounds of best-ball drafts for sure.

If you draft Ian Thomas, it's because you are betting on a Greg Olsen injury. That's not a bad bet, as he's missed 16 games over the last two seasons and could be close to hanging it up if the foot keeps bothering him. It's not often we recommend handcuffing tight ends but this might be an exception.

We keep looking to young receivers on Seattle to fill the void left by Doug Baldwin but what about the tight end? Will Dissly showed a ton of promise early in his rookie year, going for 147 yards and two scores in the first two games of his NFL career. After one dud against Dallas and one injury to his patella tendon in the right knee in Week 4, his season was over. If he is fully recovered, he could prove to be a great late-round pick in best-ball leagues where you don't have to worry about start/sit decisions.

#RSJTruther4Life! It's possible that Justin Carter and I are the only ones still carrying the torch for Ricky Seals-Jones. He is in a new system with a rookie QB and now has to contend with veterans Charles Clay and Maxx Williams, along with rookie Caleb Wilson at his position. Allow me to selectively apply logic to justify Seals-Jones as a fantasy sleeper this year: Clay is always hurt and showed signs of decline last year, Williams is simply a blocking tight end who averages 1.5 receptions per game for his career, and Wilson is a seventh-round pick who isn't guaranteed to make the roster. For a third tight end, RSJ has more upside than most players in the seventh tier other than Eifert or Hurst (possibly Everett).

More Best-Ball League Strategy

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.

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