We're a few days out from the Super Bowl, which means it's not long until the NFL combine. From there it's a hop, skip, and a jump to the NFL draft, and before you know it, we'll be in fantasy football draft season. To make the best plans for 2017, it helps to understand what went down in 2016. Here then, for better or worse, are the biggest movers at the tight end position.
A quick note about methodology: I used 12-team PPR preseason ADP from Fantasy Football Calculator, and compared it to postseason positional finish. Rather than focus on the greatest raw change in rank, I focused on players that played the entire season, and were drafted outside of, but finished within the top tier of TEs.
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Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
With a preseason ADP outside the top 14 rounds, Rudolph was an afterthought heading into 2016. In fact, you might have gotten him on waivers after the season started. Rudolph almost doubled the number of targets he received in 2015, and guess what? 2017 is shaping up much the same. Sam Bradford is slated to be the starter, with Teddy Bridgewater's future in question, and Bradford just peppered Rudolph with a career high in targets. Should Laquon Treadwell emerge in his second year, there's a chance Rudolph's targets take a hit. But that's not a given, and he could give up a chunk of targets and still be a fantasy TE1. Since you probably paid little-to-nothing to acquire Rudolph, he's a strong hold.
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Harvard product made former second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins expendable. To be fair, Seferian-Jenkins did a good job of seeing himself out of town. But Brate performed very well and should have the opportunity to be the starter in 2017. With seven double-digit PPR performances in 15 games, he certainly has upside. Of course, that means he didn't do much at all in the other eight games, so he's a bit of a volatile player. It's also worth noting that his eight TDs tied for the league lead among TEs, and there's a good chance that number comes down next year. Still, he's a good candidate for another TE1 season and despite last year's performance, probably won't cost much in terms of 2017 draft capital.
Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
Talk about comebacks. I was not at all sanguine about Graham's outlook heading into 2016, but he turned in a sterling performance. Despite some rough patches from Russell Wilson, Graham was one of just seven TEs to play in more than 12 games and average more than 12 PPR points per game. Now a year removed from a devastating knee injury, he's solidly back in the top tier of fantasy TEs, along with Jordan Reed, Rob Gronkowski, and Greg Olsen. We'll have to keep an eye on his ADP though. Given his pedigree and name value, he could wind up with a lofty valuation. TE is a relatively fungible position in fantasy, so I'd be disinclined to pay top dollar for him, even though he could very well offer a repeat performance.
Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens
Where did that come from? Out of the league since 2014, Pitta not only played in all 16 games, he finished third in targets among TES (121). Since Baltimore is relatively short of cap space, and Steve Smith has retired, there's a very good chance Pitta gets a similar workload next year. Like Rudolph and Brate, he cost next to nothing to acquire last year, and is definitely worth holding in dynasty leagues. He'll also probably make a good redraft target, as concerns about his age and injury history should keep his value down. Unlike Brate, Pitta scored just two TD last year, so if he earns a similar role, there's also a great chance that number goes up.
Jared Cook, Green Bay Packers
Cook is a player who has long tantalized us with his athleticism and potential, but in a bounce-back year for Aaron Rodgers, disappointed us yet again. Cook only played in 10 games, but even on a per-game basis he underwhelmed, finishing as TE 31 by that measure. In those 10 appearances, he managed just two games with double-digit points. Apparently Green Bay wants to re-sign Cook, and perhaps a season of full health will help. I wouldn't count on it though. He'll still have to compete with a cadre of capable wide receivers, and it's probable that Rodgers numbers will come down a bit from 2016, when he set a career high in yards and led the league in TD passes.
Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars entire offense suffered through the demise of Blake Bortles, but the concerns with Thomas go well beyond that. He's never played a full season, and is likely to be cut this offseason. Since coming to Jacksonville, he's averaging just 3.6 catches and 35 yards per game. He does still score TDs at a decent rate (0.4 per game over the past two seasons) but that's not enough to count on.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
I put this off as long as I could, but you knew it was coming. Gronkowski was still very good on a per game basis, averaging 12.1 PPR points per game. Of course, that's the same as Jimmy Graham, and less than seven other TEs. It's not much more than Zach Miller (12), Cameron Brate (11.4), or Eric Ebron (11) managed. And none of those guys cost a second round pick. Ouch. If you drafted Gronk last year, you almost certainly suffered. It's fair to wonder how effective he'll be in 2017. Gronkowski has had nine surgeries since his final college season, including several on his back. Will he be dominant when he's healthy? Most likely. Will he stay healthy? That's debatable. Don't get me wrong, I love Gronk, but I think he's probably going to be a trap pick. If his ADP comes anywhere near where it was last year, the downside risk is too much to accept.
Check out RotoBaller's famous 2017 fantasy football draft sleepers and waiver wire pickups list, updated regularly!