Not every tight end had the season Kansas City’s Travis Kelce had in 2016. While Kelce caught every Alex Smith dump-off in sight on his way to a career-high 1,125 yards that topped all tight ends, many others gave their fantasy football owners a tremendous pile of garbage games, DNPs and head-scratching weeks. 2016 might go down as the year Donald Trump shocked the world and became President, but it will never be known the Year of the Tight End. Here are the biggest busts of 2016 at the tight end position.
Tight End Busts for 2016 Fantasy Football
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
I do not normally like labeling players who were injured as busts. Most of the time it is hard to pin blame on a guy for suffering a torn ACL, breaking a bone or spraining his foot. But Gronkowski has been injured so many times over the years and fooled fantasy owners into thinking they could waste first or second-round draft picks on him this year after back-to-back 15-game seasons that he deserves to be at the top of his list.
Gronkowski kicked off the 2016 campaign by missing the first two games due to a hamstring injury. Then he served as a decoy for the next two games and only caught one pass for 11 yards while fantasy owners cried over the zeroes he put up. Gronk followed with five great games where he totaled 529 receiving yards and three touchdowns to tease people into believing he would be a fantasy demigod again. He proceeded to stab them in the back once more when he suffered a back injury that required season-ending injury and cost him the final five games of the season.
Gronk should be trusted as much as you would trust the oily salesman who knocks on your door and tries to sell you knock-off cologne at bargain basement prices. When he is healthy, there is no better tight end to own in fantasy football, but sadly, he is only healthy a fraction of the time.
Gary Barnidge, Cleveland Browns
Barnidge was the breakout star at the tight end position in 2015, racking up 79 receptions for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns after four years of being a No. 2 tight end only the dumbest fantasy football owners would want.
But Barnidge showed that 2015 might have been a fantastic fluke. The combination of fewer targets and Cleveland rotating between FIVE below-average quarterbacks led to a dramatic dropoff. Barnidge went from a 1,000-yard receiver to 612 yards and a paltry pair of touchdowns. By midseason, fantasy owners probably had seen enough and waived him in millions of leagues.
Barnidge’s 2017 fantasy value will be dependent on who the Browns trot out at quarterback. It will also depend on if he can disprove the theory that he has such a successful 2015 season because of the volume of targets he had. We will have to wait and see how it shakes out, but his cheat sheet ranking heading into 2017 drafts has definitely dropped.
Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints
Maybe calling a tight end who caught 50 passes for 631 yards and three touchdowns is a tad harsh, but fantasy owners including myself expected more from Fleener during his first season with New Orleans. Planted in one of the most explosive passing attacks in the NFL, and with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees as the quarterback throwing to him, Fleener should have been a top-10 tight end in fantasy football. Instead, he was barely better than 80-year-old Vernon Davis and perennial disappointment Charles Clay.
Fleener was a little on the underwhelming side in 2016, considering just two years ago he had 774 yards and eight touchdowns as a member of the Indianapolis Colts when best buddy Andrew Luck was the one feeding him the ball. The Saints just had too many weapons on the outside in wideouts Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas and Willie Snead, who combined for over 3,000 receiving yards this season.
Fleener has now proven that he can only get fantasy owners so much, no matter if his quarterback is named Brees or Luck. He has a definitive ceiling. Draft him next season knowing what to expect. God forbid if he does not wind up having a Pro Bowl quarterback throwing to him. Fleener could bottom out and end up with 400 yards and one TD if that ever happens.
Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars
Consider Thomas a two-year bust. The touchdown-scoring tight end reveled in the red zone when he was with the Denver Broncos, scoring a dozen times in back-to-back years before signing a multi-million dollar contract with Jacksonville in 2015. More money and new teammates have translated into fewer touchdowns for Thomas, though.
Thomas caught just 30 passes for only 281 yards and four touchdowns while missing seven contests this year. You can blame Blake Bortles all you want for being as erratic as a hunter with a blindfold on, but Thomas is just not the same player he was in Denver. He has been riddled with injuries and cannot consistently get open or make game-changing plays.
Thomas might be a salary cap casualty in the offseason since he has not really been worth the multimillions he is being paid. He does not stretch the field (9.4 yards per catch in 2016), so if he is not making catches in the end zone and not staying on the field (he has never played all 16 games in a season), his usefulness is questionable at best since he is not known to be a ferocious run blocker. His fantasy stock is falling off the table, making him a dubious pick in 2017 drafts.
Check out RotoBaller's famous 2017 fantasy football draft sleepers and waiver wire pickups list, updated regularly!