Our fantasy tight end rankings: Whose are best?

There are just two weekends left before the NFL starts the regular season. Thousands of fantasy football leagues will be drafting this weekend. For the next few days reigning 3-peat Office Football League champ Rich Tijerina and I will share our rankings for each position side-by-side. We’ve ranked quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Up next are tight ends followed by defenses. At the end of this list are a few questions regarding where we ranked the tight ends. Ranks in bold are discussed at the bottom.

1. Tijerina—Rob Gronkowski; Vasquez—Rob Gronkowski

2. Tijerina—Greg Olsen; Vasquez—Jordan Reed

3. Tijerina—Travis Kelce; Vasquez—Travis Kelce

4. Tijerina—Jimmy Graham; Vasquez—Greg Olsen

5. Tijerina—Martellus Bennett; Vasquez—Jimmy Graham

6. Tijerina—Jordan Reed; Vasquez—Tyler Eifert

7. Tijerina—Delanie Walker; Vasquez—Kyle Rudolph

8. Tijerina—Zach Ertz; Vasquez—Zach Ertz

9. Tijerina—Kyle Rudolph; Vasquez—Hunter Henry

10. Tijerina—Hunter Henry; Vasquez—Eric Ebron

11. Tijerina—Tyler Eifert; Vasquez—Martellus Bennett

12. Tijerina—Jason Witten; Vasquez—Delanie Walker

13. Tijerina—Jack Doyle; Vasquez—Jack Doyle

14. Tijerina—Cameron Brate; Vasquez—Coby Fleener

15. Tijerina—Eric Ebron; Vasquez—Jason Witten

16. Tijerina—Coby Fleener; Vasquez—Charles Clay

17. Tijerina—Evan Engram; Vasquez—Antonio Gates

18. Tijerina—Austin Hooper; Vasquez—Benjamin Watson

19. Tijerina—Jesse James; Vasquez—Jesse James

20. Tijerina—Julius Thomas; Vasquez—Austin Hooper

Three questions about these rankings:

Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle catches a pass during a preseason NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sarah Warnock)
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle catches a pass during a preseason NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sarah Warnock)

Who outside of your top 12 has the best opportunity to outperform their current ranking?

Tijerina: Cameron Brate, at 14. O.J. Howard will probably go before Brate on draft day, but those two both will put up good numbers. Rookies are usually fantasy wildcards; Howard has been hit or miss this preseason though he did get a couple of red zone targets last week. Brate’s been steady throughout and knows the offense.

Vasquez: Jack Doyle can inch his way into the top 12 by the end of the year. Dwayne Allen isn’t on the team anymore so things should open up for Doyle. Hopefully Andrew Luck doesn’t miss more than a game so that Doyle can put up TE1 numbers during the season. I expect him to catch more than five touchdowns this year.

O.J. Howard #80 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is tackled by Tashaun Gipson #39 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during a preseason game at EverBank Field on August 17, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
O.J. Howard #80 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is tackled by Tashaun Gipson #39 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during a preseason game at EverBank Field on August 17, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Will a rookie be relevant for fantasy by the end of the year? Which one?

Tijerina: Relevant? O.J. Howard and Evan Engram. Either would be suitable backups with upside. But they also both have roster issues to contend with when it comes to red-zone targets. I don’t think David Njoku does much this year. Keep an eye on possible sleeper George Kittle, who only has Vance McDonald ahead of him on the 49ers’ depth chart; the fifth-rounder scored on a nice 29-yard catch and run in his first preseason game.

Vasquez: Rookie tight ends don’t typically produce in fantasy football, but if anyone can this season, I’d bet on O.J. Howard of Tampa Bay. He’s finding his way onto the field with Cameron Brate at the same time. That makes things interesting, but it’s hard to be relevant when you’re sharing targets with the other tight end on the team.

New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (88) is tripped up by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Brandon Dixon (35) during the second quarter of a preseason NFL football game, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Should you even draft a backup tight end? Or is it OK to pull one with a good matchup off the waiver wire during your starter’s bye week?

Tijerina: It’s OK to go with one tight end — if that tight end is one of the first 12 on our lists. If you’re only going with one, make sure he’s a true TE1. You can manage byes or injuries with waivers. By the time you’re considering drafting a second tight end, you’re already in best-available mode in the later rounds. You have better odds hitting on a late-round shot on a receiver or running back than a tight end. It’s a numbers thing: More draftable receivers and backs in the fantasy pond than tight ends.

Vasquez: I go back and forth on this one. If I can get a tight end with upside, like an Evan Engram, then I’ll take a shot late. If the options just aren’t exciting after I’ve drafted a tight end, I’ll go for upside on a receiver or a running back. I would advise doing that during the draft and picking up a substitute tight end off the waiver wire when necessary.

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

2017 fantasy football position rankings: Tight Ends

Continuing our series of position rankings for the upcoming 2017 fantasy football season, we’ll take a look at the top 24 tight ends before turning to defenses next week. We’ve ranked the QBs 1-32running backs from 1 to 36 and wide receivers 1 to 36. Defenses and kickers will be ranked 1-12.

Any of the top four tight ends listed here could end up being the best in the league this season. There’s even a chance any of the top seven could end up being TE1. In addition, a mix of rookies and second-year players are in good situations to contribute.

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots—He might as well change his first name to “if he’s healthy” because it seems like every year we say, “if he’s healthy, he should be the best tight end in the game.” His new contract is full of incentives, so he should do everything he can to stay on the field to dominate.

2. Jordan Reed, Redskins—Another tight end that needs to find a way to stay on the field is Reed. He was on the injury report more than a handful of times last season. He’s going in the middle of the fourth round in mock drafts so you might as well wait on the position unless he falls to the fifth.

3. Travis Kelce, Chiefs—He’s getting drafted in the fourth round as well, and he may end up being a safer pick than Reed. He had a late-season streak of games in which he had at least 100 yards receiving. His biggest week came against a tough Broncos defense in fantasy championship week.

4. Greg Olsen, Panthers—His success is somewhat dependent on Cam Newton being able to complete more than just 53 percent of his passes. Olsen had a terrible second half of the season and didn’t score a touchdown after Week 9. The addition of Christian McCaffrey could end up taking pressure of Newton, allowing him to connect better with his receivers.

5. Jimmy Graham, Seahawks—He struggled in the first week of the season last year, but picked it up after that. And that was with a hobbled Russell Wilson slinging the ball around while under a lot of pressure. With Wilson back healthy enough to scramble things should improve for the veteran.

6. Tyler Eifert, Bengals—He’s bound to play a full season, right? Eifert hasn’t played all 16 games in his four years. Here’s hoping he can get it done in his fifth. There’s no doubt that when he’s on the field he’s incredibly tough to cover. Eifert scored five touchdowns in just half a season last year.

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (85) catches the ball during an NFL Football game between Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday Oct. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

7. Delanie Walker, Titans—Marcus Mariota is entering his third year and looking like the real deal. That’s good news for Walker, who had 800 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. He didn’t have fantasy-relevant numbers until his 8th year in the league but has been solid ever since.

8. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings—He’s currently going in the ninth round of fantasy mock drafts and that’s outstanding for the type of production he’ll be capable of this year. Rudolph had the second-most targets last season—not for tight ends—overall. Short-passing Sam Bradford targeted the tight end 132 times, allowing Rudolph to catch 83 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns.

9. Hunter Henry, Chargers—The 22-year-old may end up making it ok for Antonio Gates to ride off into the sunset. Henry caught eight touchdowns in his rookie season to go with 478 yards. The Chargers improved their offensive line and that should allow Philip Rivers to find his receivers.

10. Martellus Bennett, Packers—He’s coming off a season in which he filled in for a hurt Gronkowski, amassing 701 yards and seven touchdowns in New England. Only one tight end in Green Bay has had over 500 yards receiving in the last four years, but Bennett is possibly the most talented one they’ve had since Jermichael Finley.

Martellus Bennett #88 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the New York Jets during the first half at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

11. Zach Ertz, Eagles—He caught four touchdowns last season with a rookie quarterback at the helm. That matched a career high. Ertz had 816 yards receiving and was targeted over 100 yards for the second year in a row, signaling that he’s a clear weapon in their offensive scheme.

12. O.J. Howard, Buccaneers—The rookie enters a situation in which he can become one of many weapons for Jameis Winston. The Bucs added DeSean Jackson to help stretch the field and take pressure off of Mike Evans. Defenses should be worried about covering those two outside options, leaving Howard to do some damage in the middle of the field.

13. Austin Hooper, Falcons

14. Julius Thomas, Dolphins

15. Jack Doyle, Colts

16. Eric Ebron, Lions

17. Evan Engram, Giants

18. Vance McDonald, 49ers

19. Coby Fleener, Saints

20. Jesse James, Steelers

21. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Texans

22. Jason Witten, Cowboys

23. Tyler Higbee, Rams

24. David Njoku, Browns