The tight end position is as deep as it ever has been and there is plenty of value to be found, but there are a few tight ends that stand out to me as special values this year. If you’re not willing to draft Jimmy Graham in the first round or spend an early round pick on an injury risk like Rob Gronkowski, then this post is for you.
Expecting any tight end to step in to the Jimmy Graham tier (except for a healthy Gronk) is a little ambitious, but this is a group of tight ends who have a combination of reliability, upside and most importantly… come at a great value on draft day.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers – Much has been made of Cam Newton losing his “best receivers” in the off-season, but even though Smith, Lafell and Ginn are all gone, Newton’s real best receiver is tight end Greg Olsen who led the Panthers in receiving yards last season.
When Olsen was drafted back in 2007, he was projected to be the next Jeremy Shockey, with a big frame (6’6” 253lbs) and wide receiver speed, but the Bears didn’t know how to utilize his ability so it took him a few seasons to live up to his potential. As a result many fantasy owners who drafted him earlier in his career are hesitant to jump back on board.
Olsen has been one of the more reliable tight ends in the league since signing with Carolina. He has posted back to back seasons of 800 yards and scored 5 and 6 touchdowns respectively, ranking him as the #7 overall tight end both years in PPR leagues. Olsen is also reliable in terms of health, not missing a game since his rookie season.
With a group of new receivers in Carolina, Olsen is the veteran of the bunch and best knows the Panthers offense and where he needs to be for quarterback Cam Newton to get him the ball. There is some concern that defenses will key on Olsen more often this year but Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Kelvin Benjamin are talented enough to keep defenses honest and Newton should rely even more heavily on his big tight end as the rest of the receiving corps gets up to speed. With the increased volume, I’m anticipating an uptick in receptions, yards and touchdowns this season.
Right now Olsen is being drafted 96th overall and 10th amongst tight ends but I would be willing to draft him a round or two earlier. Don’t draft him expecting him to have a Jimmy Graham breakout season, but if you’re looking for a reliable tight end who should be right around 900 yards and 6-8 touchdowns this season, Olsen is your guy.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings – There’s a lot of buzz around Kyle Rudolph this off-season with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner calling the plays in Minnesota.
In Turner’s days in Dallas Jay Novacek was one of the league’s best, in San Diego Antonio Gates was fantasy football’s top tight end, and last season Jordan Cameron finally had the breakout season many were expecting from him. Everywhere Norv goes, the tight ends post big numbers and this year many are expecting big things from Rudolph.
Rudolph is a big-bodied tight end standing 6’6” and weighing 260lbs and has good hands and speed for a guy his size. Coming in to the 2013 season, Rudolph looked primed for a breakout coming off a year where he scored 9 touchdowns, but the entire Vikings offense was disappointing and Rudolph missed the second half of the year with a foot injury.
In 2014 the team made big changes in the coaching staff and under center and there is a lot for Vikings fans to be excited about. In Norv’s scheme, and with improved quarterback play, Rudolph has the size and ability to catch double-digit touchdowns, which is something only 4 tight ends have done over the past two seasons (Graham, Julius Thomas and Vernon Davis in 2013, Gronkowski in 2012).
My fear with Rudolph is that he is going to appear on every single fantasy analyst’s “sleeper” list and his value is going to go out the window. Right now he is holding steady as the #9 tight end off the board with an ADP of 94, but that has been slowly creeping up over the past few weeks. Regardless if you can get him somewhere around the 8th round in your league, he would be a tremendous value and could be a difference maker for your team.
Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers – If there’s one tight end I’m really excited about this year it’s Green, playing in a much-improved San Diego Chargers offense and catching passes from Philip Rivers who certainly knows how to feed the rock to an elite tight end.
Green is a physical freak at the tight end position. At the 2012 combine Green ran a 4.53 40 time – faster than tight ends Jimmy Graham, Jordan Cameron and Eric Ebron ran it in their respective combines. At 6’6″, he is also as tall or taller than all of them and knows how to use his athletic ability to create mismatches and box out defenders for jump balls.
The obvious downside with Green is that he still plays on the same team as fantasy legend Antonio Gates, but Gates has been battling foot and leg issue for years and isn’t nearly the same player he used to be. Although there will be some weeks where Gates puts up big numbers and Green is under-utilized, I’m fully expecting Green to become the Chargers’ #1 tight end option by at least mid-season, if not sooner.
If any player is going to make a leap in to Jimmy Graham territory it’s going to be Green – although like I said earlier, expecting that from anyone is probably wishful thinking. Still, Green has massive, massive upside and at an ADP of 104 (11th amongst tight ends) he’s a player I will be rostering everywhere.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles – Another good bet to have a breakout season at the tight end position is Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz.
The former Stanford tight end has a big frame at 6’5″ 250lbs and knows how to use it effectively. He doesn’t have elite speed like Green does, but the Eagles offense is special and head coach Chip Kelly singled out Ertz as one of the primary beneficiaries of the departure of DeSean Jackson this off-season and noted that he expects second year tight end to have a “huge role” in the offense in 2014.
Ertz’ first year stats were not terribly impressive, but his 469 yards and 4 touchdowns is about what you can expect from rookie tight ends these days. Over the second half of the season it was clear the Eagles were working him in to the offense more frequently and he scored all four of his touchdowns from week 9 on.
Perhaps most importantly, the Eagles are one of the league’s top 2-3 offenses and reports have them looking even better so far in training camp. As much as it pains me to say it Philly could lead the league in scoring in 2014 and you’re going to want a piece of it on your fantasy team. The only downside with that is there will likely be weeks where someone else gets the production, but that’s not uncommon with most tight ends.
Ertz is currently being drafted 12th among tight ends with an ADP of 106. He’s a bit of a risk without much of a track record, but he has the upside to be quite a value in 2014. Don’t expect elite Graham/Gronk numbers from him, but he could be a mid level TE1 as soon as this season.