TE Tiers for 2019 Fantasy Football Drafts
Mick Ciallela sorts through the player pool to formulate his TE Tiers for 2019 Fantasy Football.
Four tight ends eclipsed the 150-point threshold in standard leagues last season. The last time that happened was in 2015. (Remember Gary Barnidge? Man, life in the NFL moves fast.) Anyway, in 2015, five tight ends reached that mark, and another four reached the century mark. Last year, the falloff from the top guys to the next group was much steeper. After the Fab Four of Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Zach Ertz, and Eric Ebron, Jared Cook was the only other tight end to score as many as 100 fantasy points last year. This is a prime example of why you want to tier out your players prior to a draft. Last year, the overall TE6 gave just 59.6 percent of the production that Ebron (last year’s TE4) provided. Compare that to quarterback, where Aaron Rodgers (QB6) scored 94.2 percent the number of points that Deshaun Watson (QB4) did in 2018.
In most instances, I do not recommend drafting a second tight end in standard leagues. The position is chock full of touchdown-or-bust guys who you can stream based on matchup if need be. However, it would be unfair of me to just lump the last 25 tight ends on this list into the same tier. So, I will do my best to settle the epic debate on when exactly to draft your third tight end. Here are my tight end tiers for 2019. But seriously – don’t ever draft a third tight end unless you’re in a Best Ball league.
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TE Tiers for 2019 Fantasy Football
|Travis Kelce||Kansas City Chiefs|
Travis Kelce is a tier unto himself until someone proves otherwise. Kelce set the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end last season. He held the record for roughly an hour before George Kittle broke it, but that’s beside the point. Kelce has finished top-two in each of the last three seasons, and his fantasy scoring has improved every year he has been in the league. There are reasons to believe that trend will continue in 2019. First, Tyreek Hill is likely to be suspended for a portion of the season. The Chiefs also figure to face a bit more negative game script then they encountered last season. Both of those factors could funnel a few more targets towards Kelce. Expecting a 2011 Rob Gronkowski season (1,327 yards, 17 TD) might be a bit much, but there are plenty of reasons to consider Kelce at the end of the first round in drafts.
Tier 2 – Catching Kelce
|Zach Ertz||Philadelphia Eagles|
|George Kittle||San Francisco 49ers|
These are the players with the most realistic chances of supplanting Kelce as this year’s overall TE1.
Zach Ertz and George Kittle are the consensus 2-3, but in what order is up for debate. I favor Ertz by a slight margin. Both can put up monster numbers in any given week. The quandary for me is that both will cost a late second/early third-round pick. Because on that, I find myself passing on this duo in most drafts. Also, beware that Kittle has an early bye, so you may need to draft a backup if you go that route. Based on the draft capital it would cost to acquire Ertz or Kittle, I would rather either pay up for Kelce or try to pick a player who can be this year’s Kittle. Speaking of which…
Tier 3A – Breakout Candidates, Part 1
|O.J. Howard||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Evan Engram||New York Giants|
|Vance McDonald||Pittsburgh Steelers|
I think there is a very good chance we see at least one player from each of the next two tiers post a top-three fantasy season. These players all figure to have significant roles in their offense in 2019.
O.J. Howard finished 10th among tight ends in total scoring last year and only played 10 games. On a points per game basis, he would have finished fifth. He should also have less competition for targets following the departures of DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries… Evan Engram has been drastically more productive in games that Odell Beckham has missed (71-886-6 in 15 games) than games he has played in (38-423-3 in 11 games). Beckham has been replaced by Golden Tate in the Giants’ receiving corps. Tate and Sterling Shepard will get their share of targets, but Engram will get plenty of looks… Vance McDonald is one of my favorite values this season. McDonald split reps with Jesse James last season but should have the job all to himself in 2019. The loss of Antonio Brown figures to benefit McDonald in the red zone.
Tier 3B – Breakout Candidates, Part II, and 2018 Breakouts
|Jared Cook||New Orleans Saints|
|Hunter Henry||Los Angeles Chargers|
|David Njoku||Cleveland Browns|
|Austin Hooper||Atlanta Falcons|
|Trey Burton||Chicago Bears|
|Eric Ebron||Indianapolis Colts|
More players who could well exceed expectations in 2019, and two players who did the same a year ago.
Jared Cook broke the 100-point barrier for the first time in his career and was rewarded with a two-year deal with the New Orleans Saints. Cook is the best tight end to target in this range if you are looking for reliable, albeit unspectacular, production… I do not consider myself anti-Hunter Henry per se, but I tend to shy away at his price point. He has surpassed 50 yards receiving in five of his last 21 regular-season games. There is upside here, but the floor is lower than his ADP would suggest… In Baker Mayfield’s 13 starts, David Njoku surpassed the 50-yard mark eight times. Yes, Odell Beckham will demand some targets, but Njoku will continue to have a role in this offense and offers a solid floor/ceiling combination… Austin Hooper is another player who seems to be a bit undervalued. Hooper plays in a high-octane offense and should garner plenty of looks from Matt Ryan. Hooper led all full-time tight ends with an 80.7 percent catch rate last season. He has not reached 80 receiving yards in a game since Week 1 of the 2017 season, but he has a pretty safe floor, particularly in PPR leagues… Raise your hand if you are avoiding Trey Burton because you drafted him last year and were disappointed. Now smack yourself in the head. Don’t worry, I did it too because I thought the same thing. But did you know that Burton finished as the aforementioned overall TE6 last year? It sure didn’t feel that way. Perhaps that is because Burton faded badly down the stretch, averaging just 2.98 points per game over the second half of 2018. But his first half (8.66 PPG) highlights his potential. If he can be more consistent on a weekly basis, Burton will be an excellent value… Eric Ebron caught more touchdown passes last season than he had in four years combined in Detroit. Regression is likely in 2019, especially if Jack Doyle is healthy. Ebron saw just 22 targets in the six games Doyle appeared in, compared to 88 in 10 games without Doyle…
Tier 4 – Old Reliables
|Delanie Walker||Tennessee Titans|
|Jimmy Graham||Green Bay Packers|
|Greg Olsen||Carolina Panthers|
|Kyle Rudolph||Minnesota Vikings|
These players are not 2019’s sexiest names, but figure to offer solid value throughout the course of the season.
Delanie Walker posted four consecutive 800-yard seasons before injuries derailed him last year. The veteran should have a relatively safe weekly floor… Jimmy Graham should see a bit of positive touchdown regression after only scoring twice on 89 targets a season ago. Predicting touchdowns is always a risky proposition, but Graham has pretty good upside in the double-digit rounds of drafts… People tend to shy away from Greg Olsen because he’s old and has been beset by injuries in recent years. I see a buying opportunity. Olsen has already proven to have upside, and the cost is minimal. If he gets hurt or fails to produce, simply cut him and pick up someone else. No harm, no foul… Kyle Rudolph finished ninth among tight ends in total scoring last year, but over 25 percent of his output came in Week 16. That makes him a dicey play in weekly leagues.
Tier 5 – Risk Management
|Jack Doyle||Indianapolis Colts|
|Chris Herndon||New York Jets|
|Jordan Reed||Washington Redskins|
This is where things really start getting dicey when it comes to selecting a tight end. You should not draft any of these players as your TE1 unless you have reinforcements in place.
If I was only drafting one of these three, it would be Reed, even though I have him ranked last. Here’s why. First, we must always remember that we are playing a weekly game. Sure, I think Jack Doyle will bounce back and have a nice season, but am I playing him over Jimmy Graham if Eric Ebron is healthy in a given week? Probably not… I love Herndon’s potential, but he is almost certain to give you nothing for the first month of the season. Herndon is likely to be facing a two-game suspension, and the Jets have a Week 4 bye. If you can shoulder the dead weight through the bye, or if he is on your waiver wire following Week 4, then jump on board. Herndon had at least 50 yards and/or a touchdown in seven of his last 11 games in 2018. If it weren’t for that first month, he would be in Tier 3B… Jordan Reed lost people a lot of bar bets in 2018. The oft-injured veteran managed to stay healthy and productive for most of the regular season. Of course, he got hurt just in time for the fantasy playoffs, which was a bummer. At this stage of his career, Reed has a decent floor but a pretty low ceiling and is always a threat to miss time.
Tier 6 – Maybe Next Year
|Noah Fant||Denver Broncos|
|T.J. Hockenson||Detroit Lions|
|Dallas Goedert||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Mark Andrews||Baltimore Ravens|
These players are all much better bets in Dynasty and Best Ball formats than they are in Redraft leagues.
Noah Fant has a lot of raw potential, and he should have every chance to win the job in Denver. If he does, he should have tight-end feeder Joe Flacco in his corner for a significant portion of his rookie season. I would not rush to insert him as my TE1, but there are worse fliers… Fant’s former college teammate, T.J. Hockenson, has a similar outlook. Hockenson may start Week 1 but will be forced to fight for scraps in a Detroit passing offense that does not figure to air it out very often… Those who put stock in Dallas Goedert will have to deal with the same issues that those who draft Doyle will. It will be a tough sell to start Goedert with any confidence in weekly leagues when Zach Ertz is around. Goedert has tremendous talent and upside, but the downside is significant… Mark Andrews posted some good numbers last year, and many are expecting him to take the next step. He very well may, but it will probably not be on my teams. I just cannot get behind any pass catcher in a Lamar Jackson-led offense. A 15 percent target share in an offense that generates 30 passing attempts < a 12 percent target share in an offense that generates 40 passing attempts, because math.
Tier 7 – Low-Key Values
|Darren Waller||Oakland Raiders|
|Vernon Davis||Washington Redskins|
|Will Dissly||Seattle Seahawks|
|Gerald Everett||Los Angeles Rams|
I think Darren Waller is going a bit under the radar. The problem is that even though I am high on him, I can’t really justify drafting him in standard leagues. There really is no reason to go out of your way to draft a second tight end with so many streamers available. Even so, he is at the very low end of TE2 territory for me at the moment… Vernon Davis finished as last year’s overall TE25, and that was with Jordan Reed relatively healthy. Even at his advanced age, Davis figures to produce when called upon. I would not overpay, but I can see Davis outperforming his current draft price (TE43) by a significant margin… Will Dissly was a popular early-season add following a pair of double-digit fantasy scoring games to begin his NFL career. He flopped in his next two games and had his season ended by a torn patella. If he can recover, he should be able to reclaim the starting job from Nick Vannett. Dissly is worth a speculative pick at the end of drafts depending on the format. He showed good rapport with Russell Wilson and Wilson will need someone underneath to replace the reliable Doug Baldwin… Gerald Everett is another player who I like in this range, but that does not necessarily mean he should be considered a reliable source of production or even drafted. Everett is a matchup-based streamer who could provide solid value in certain weeks.
Tier 8 – Wing and a Prayer
|Tyler Eifert||Cincinnati Bengals|
|Mike Gesicki||Miami Dolphins|
|Jordan Thomas||Houston Texans|
|Cameron Brate||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
I want to believe that Tyler Eifert can have a 2018 Jordan Reed kind of season. However, I cannot justify paying for that potential. I don’t mind taking him in Best Ball leagues, but you are asking for trouble putting much draft stock in Eifert in standard redraft leagues… Mike Gesicki had a woeful rookie campaign. Gesicki played in all 16 games but managed just 202 scoreless yards last season. He is sure to improve on those numbers, but to what extent remains unknown. It is probably best to let him sit on the wire to begin the season and monitor his progress… Jordan Thomas is working as the starting tight end in Houston. This is an offense that should put up plenty of points, and Thomas could be an asset in the red zone, where he can body defenders with his 275-pound frame… Cameron Brate averaged fewer than 20 yards per game last year, but did manage six touchdowns. Yes, we are well into the “hope for a cheap TD” in a given week range.
Tier 9 – More Dart Throws
|Jason Witten||Dallas Cowboys|
|Geoff Swaim||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Ben Watson||New England Patriots|
|Matt LaCosse||New England Patriots|
Let’s look into the future, shall we? Jason Witten has just put up 50 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 against the Giants. He looks like Vintage Jason Witten. Talking heads immediately label Witten as a viable starting fantasy tight end. He then proceeds to average about 25 yards per game and is a borderline top-30 fantasy tight end for the rest of the season. At least it will be better than his performance in the booth… Geoff Swaim is a popular deep sleeper pick. I don’t really see it, but if you want to take a shot in Best Ball formats, be my guest… Ben Watson is currently penciled in as the starting tight end in New England but is also suspended for the first four games of the season. Many people are jumping on Watson and Matt LaCosse at the very end of drafts. Those who do will contend that Tom Brady likes to feed his tight ends. I am going to go out on a limb and say that was more the byproduct of the quality of tight ends Brady had at his disposal. I would not be in a rush to draft either unless I was in the deepest of leagues.
Tier 10 – The Replacements
|C.J. Uzomah||Cincinnati Bengals|
|Ian Thomas||Carolina Panthers|
|Tyler Higbee||Los Angeles Rams|
|Nick Vannett||Seattle Seahawks|
|Blake Jarwin||Dallas Cowboys|
|Jesse James||Detroit Lions|
|Hayden Hurst||Baltimore Ravens|
|Rhett Ellison||New York Giants|
|Jordan Akins||Houston Texans|
|Josh Oliver||Jacksonville Jaguars|
These players will likely need an injury in order to gain any sort of fantasy relevance in Redraft leagues. They should not be drafted unless you are in an incredibly deep league and have room to speculate.
Are you down with Mick’s TE Tiers? If so you need to head on over to the 2019 Fantrax Fantasy Football Draft Kit for more great strategy, analysis, and rankings.
Mick Ciallela has been writing for FantraxHQ since July 2017. He has also written for Bleacher Report. He is a lifelong sports fan and has been an avid fantasy sports player for many years. Mick was the Overall Champion of both the 2016 Football Challenge – Roto and 2017 Play 3 Football contests hosted by CDM Sports. Mick was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York and currently resides in New London, Connecticut.
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