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Fantasy Football: Top 30 tight ends

08.12.14 at 10:57 am ET
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This is the final position rankings article in our summer series. If you want to keep up with all our rankings and updates, head over to rotobahn.com, where you will find all up-to-date rankings and cheat sheets. And, yes, it’s still free.

Today we’ll rank the tight ends and place them into tiers as we did with the other positions. If you missed any of our earlier articles, they are indexed below. Remember, our rankings are based on standard scoring rather than PPR.

The tight ends are insanely deep if you just need a decent option. There is more startable depth than we’ve ever seen before. Having said that, if you are looking to gain an edge at the position, you will want to focus on options from Tier 1 or 2. I’ll get into exactly how I am drafting the position when we release Rotobahn’s 2014 draft plan, and also in my Drafting In Reverse series that will premier next week.

On Sunday, Jim Hackett and I hosted our first Fantasy Football Hour on 93.7. If you missed it, you can listen here. Jim and I will be back with a fresh podcast later this week and we’ll be back on the air next Sunday at 7:30 a.m.  Join us!

Tier 1 (1)

Jimmy Graham, Saints

Yes, he gets his own tier. No offense, Rob Gronkowski fans, but Graham has to be considered a better bet to stay healthy. He’s also going to be harder to double team with all the young talent in New Orleans. Graham’s foot injury from 2013 is a mild concern in terms of re-occurrence, but all other fantasy arrows are pointing decidedly up.

Tier 2 (2-3)

Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Julius Thomas, Broncos

Gronkowski would be at the top of Tier 1 if his injury history wasn’t so significant. Even with all the surgeries and missed games, he still is the best option at the position on a per-game basis. Thomas is a step down from the top two, but he’s locked into a large role in Peyton Manning‘s offense and that’s huge. Manning made Dallas Clark a star and he made Jacob Tamme relevant. What else do you need to know?

Tier 3 (4)

Jordan Cameron, Browns

Giving Cameron his own tier is odd, I know. The thing is, there’s a gap from Gronkowski and Thomas to Cameron, so you can’t put him in Tier 2. He’s also too good for the next tier. Cameron is a fine talent, but so is Vernon Davis. What separates them is their projected role. Cameron is the top option in his team’s passing game due to the eventual suspension that’s coming Josh Gordon‘s way. He’s going to command the football on a weekly basis and he’s a nice red zone target.

Tier 4 (5-9)

Vernon Davis, 49ers
Jordan Reed, Washington
Greg Olsen, Panthers
Jason Witten, Cowboys
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings

You can find your starter from this group, the key is to not reach for the top of the tier while there still are solid weekly starters available at the tougher-to-fill positions like RB and WR. Davis is the best player in this group, but he also has perhaps the most inconsistent usage. Reed probably is the best weekly scorer this season, but his value is capped a bit by his concussion history. Olsen has never been elite, but he should be the No. 1 option this year for Cam Newton, so we expect consistent volume and thus production. Witten is aging but still producing. Rudolph has more upside than most people currently seem to realize as the lead tight end in Norv Turner‘s offense.

Tier 5 (10-11)

Martellus Bennett, Bears
Dennis Pitta, Ravens

Tier 5 could be attached to Tier 4, but I am mildly concerned about Bennett’s recent suspension, which now is over. He’s a volatile guy who needs to be reeled in on occasion. Perhaps HC Marc Trestman has just done that and Bennett will be on his best behavior the rest of the way. For now, we gave him a small bump down. His upside in the Bears offense still is excellent. Pitta is a player coming off a major injury (hip) and who is in a new offense. Having said that, we suspect that he’ll do well in the new scheme and, by all accounts, the hip is coming along fine. Pitta should end up as a TE1 when all is said and done.

Tier 6 (12-14)

Zach Ertz, Eagles
Ladarius Green, Chargers
Tyler Eifert, Bengals

This is the upside tier. All three of these guys have TE1 upside and big-game potential on most weeks. The big debate, in all three cases, revolves around how consistently they will be targeted and how many snaps each will be afforded. My guess, on all three, is that we’ll see a significant uptick from 2013. These are guys I am targeting, but I’ll also exercise some patience. I want value with one of these players if I can manage it. The other key point to make here is that you will want a Plan B if you play in a large format. So grab a more consistent proven option as your TE2 if you choose one of these young upside options as your starter.

Tier 7 (15-18)

Antonio Gates, Chargers
Dwayne Allen, Colts
Travis Kelce, Chiefs
Jermaine Gresham, Bengals

So all the TE1s have been snatched up and you still need a starter? There’s hope. All the guys in this tier are potential starters and strong options as backups. The one you choose will depend on your situation. If I have a starter, and it’s a young upside guy from Tier 6, I might go with Gates or Gresham. If I have a solid veteran starter, but I want more upside, I’d go with Kelce. If I have no TE, I might go with Allen — a guy who is almost universally underappreciated as a two-way tight end in an Andrew Luck-led offense. I think Allen would have established himself last season if not for a hip injury that knocked him out for the year.

Tier 8 (19-22)

Eric Ebron, Lions
Charles Clay, Dolphins
Heath Miller, Steelers
Coby Fleener, Colts

You can still find starters here. They might not be quite as appealing, but Miller is still a solid guy (though he lacks the burst he had before he tore up his knee in 2012). Clay is a bit of an enigma and is in a new offense, but he showed some nice versatility in 2013 and QB Ryan Tannehill likes him. Ebron is here for upside, but he’s a rookie who could be a volatile option until he’s more settled in the Detroit offense. Then again, he could become a household name fast; he’s that kind of talent, and defenses will be preoccupied with covering Calvin Johnson. Fleener is getting good pub in terms of playing time. Everybody seems to think the Colts will play with a lot of two tight-end sets this year. I am not so sure. I worry that Fleener, unless he improves his play, is susceptible to losing snaps to Hakeem Nicks and/or T.Y. Hilton, depending on how the pecking order at receiver plays out. Fleener could be anything from a weekly starter to an afterthought. He should be valued as such on draft day.

Tier 9 (23-28)

Jace Amaro, Jets
Jared Cook, Rams
Garrett Graham, Texans
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers
Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
Delanie Walker, Titans

The depth that I spoke of up top is on display here. Every player in this tier has legit talent and could be a starter for you in deeper leagues. Not to say that they are ideal, but they underscore how difficult it is to get shut out at the position. Amaro may struggle early, but he could develop TE1 upside as the season progresses. The Jets need weapons and he has a very intriguing skill set. Cook was exceedingly volatile on a week-to-week basis, but he also flashed big-game potential and he is in an improving offense. Sam Bradford‘s return from injury should help. Graham should be the lead tight end in a Bill O’Brien offense that we suspect will use the tight end consistently. Seferian-Jenkins has elite potential but also should have some rookie growing pains early on. He’s a high-quality stash option in deep formats. Lewis is always a viable play when healthy, and we think Jacksonville will call his number often early in the year with so many injuries to its receivers.

Tier 10 (29-30)

Levine Toilolo, Falcons
Luke Willson, Seahawks

Closing out the top 30, we have the guy replacing Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta and a developing weapon in the Seattle passing attack. I’m not big on Toilolo’s chances this season, but he plays in a pass-first offense and he has an excellent quarterback in Matt Ryan. The situation itself demands a little respect, and Toilolo could flourish with even average play. Willson (yes, that spelling is correct) is a big-play guy who could become a fantasy option if he can get on the field more consistently.

Read More: 2014 Fantasy Football, Jimmy Graham, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas
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