Words by Daniel House, Rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Greg Olsen @ TB
Only Rob Gronkowski has been targeted as much as Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (28). Not to mention, Olsen has accumulated the third-most yards (215) in his first three weeks of play. What’s more, he’s exceeded 80+ receiving yards in each of his last three matchups with the Swashbucklers. Tampa Bay is allowing roughly four tight end targets per game and they’ve specifically struggled against teams who heavily utilize the tight end. The Bucs have allowed just one touchdown to opposing pass catchers, but the Panthers use Olsen as a primary offensive target. More importantly, opposing offenses have scored touchdowns against Tampa Bay 88% of the time when they’ve reached the red zone. Just a quick PSA – Tampa Bay sucks. That’s all.
2. Travis Kelce @ CIN
Travis Kelce has accumulated the second-most yards (244) and just four other tight ends have accumulated more touchdowns (2). The Bengals are allowing roughly 10 total targets per game to pass catchers, but have yet to surrender a touchdown. Cincinnati’s defense was one of the worst teams against the tight end in 2014 and they have yet to face any challenge this year. Well, unless you consider Clive Walford (he’s actually an NFL player) a challenge. Nonetheless, when all Alex Smith can do is complete a crossing route or dump downs, Kelce is the primary weapon in the passing game. It was evident last week as Kelce was targeted in double digits for the first time of his short career. More importantly, Kelce has notched 50+ yards receiving yards in each of his first three games.
3. Martellus Bennett vs. OAK
No team has surrendered more receptions, yards, or touchdowns to opposing tight ends than the Oakland Raider defense. It’s safe to say your defense has a problem when it’s already allowed two 100+ yard performances in the first three weeks of play. Oakland’s linebackers are like a Blue Light special at K-Mart. They’re a hell of a deal, but they break the second you walk out the door. Jimmy Clausen is starting at quarterback, but that shouldn’t shy you away from Martellus Bennett. He’s been targeted at least five times in eight of his last nine starts and the Raiders defense can’t cover tight ends in the seam. Bennett has hauled in the seventh-most receptions and will be a focal point of the game plan this week.
4. Tyler Eifert vs. KC
Only Gronk has notched more touchdown grabs than Tyler Eifert (3) this season. Last week, his stat line was blank, but the NFL screwed him out of a touchdown grab. You would think they could learn about the process of a catch? They’ve sure as heck have never dealt with that before. Nonetheless, Kansas City’s defense is allowing touchdown scores on 75% of opposing red zone tries. That’s good news for Tyler Eifert, who accounts for roughly 25% of Cincinnati’s targets inside the 20-yard line. What’s more, only five tight ends have hauled in more receptions than Eifert.
5. Jimmy Graham vs. DET
Jimmy Graham finally made in impact in the Seattle offense. I’m not sure what took so long, but you learn to expect the unexpected from the Seachickens. They’re like a guy who goes into a burger restaurant and orders a salad. You spend money on food, but you don’t order the best possible item you could have. Jimmy Graham has still managed to haul in 50+ yards and two touchdowns in two of his first three games. With his abilities yet to be fully maximized, he’s still notched the fifth-most targets (14). What’s more, the Lions have surrendered the third-most touchdowns (3) and receptions (16) to opposing tight ends. Not to mention, they’ve allowed red zone touchdowns on 66% of opposing offensive trips trips inside the 20-yard line.
6. Jason Witten @ NO
I was proud of my ginger friend Brandon Weeden last week. He didn’t win the game, but he did some soul searching and I’m certain he found the recipe to success for week four – it’s Jason Witten. Just two teams have surrendered more yardage (268) and touchdowns (3) than the New Orleans Saints. Quietly, Jason Witten is leading the league with 21 total receptions and only two other tight ends have been targeted more (24). He’s notched 50+ yards receiving in each of the first three contests and his performance was in no way compromised with Soul Surfer at the helm. With limited weapons to choose from, Witten is one piece that remains intact for Dallas.
7. Jordan Reed vs. PHI
In two of his first three games, Jordan Reed has been targeted for over 30% of Washington’s total snaps. Not to mention, just two other tight ends have hauled in more receptions (19) or targets (26) than Reed. He’s performed well even when he’s been relegated to catching paper airplanes from Kirk Cousins. The Eagles haven’t allowed a tight end touchdown, but have surrendered one 50+ yard performance. More importantly, the one 50-yard stat-line came off a season-high eight targets allowed. That’s a good formula for Reed who is one of the most targeted pass catchers in the league.
8. Charles Clay vs. NYG
Only two other tight ends have accumulated more total touchdowns (2) than Charles Clay. He’s added scores in each of his last two games and was breaking ankles like John Travolta on the dance floor last week. More importantly, just two teams have surrendered more yards (241) and touchdowns (3) to opposing tight ends than the New York Giants. They’ve allowed 50+ yard performances in each of the first three games. Clay is more involved in the Buffalo offensive system and notched a season-high seven targets last week.
9. Crockett Gillmore @ PIT
Only one team has allowed more touchdowns to opposing tight ends (4) than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Crockett Gillmore has hauled in 40+ yards and two touchdowns over his last two weeks of play. Not to mention, he’s had his workload diminished as he’s shared snaps with Maxx Williams. He accounts for roughly 22% of the Ravens red zone targets and the Steelers have allowed scores inside the red zone at a 56% clip over the last two weeks of play.
10. Eric Ebron @ SEA
Eric Ebron has quietly evolved into a respectable tight end in the Detroit offense. He has accumulated two 50+ yard performances, including two touchdowns over the first three games. What’s more, Seattle has surrendered tight end scores in two of their first three contests. Not to mention, they’ve allowed a respectable amount of yardage and receptions as well. Matthew Stafford has targeted Ebron a whopping 15 times over the last two weeks and he’s quickly becoming a main target in the Detroit offensive system.
11. Jordan Cameron vs. NYJ
Jordan Cameron has been as fragile as the glasses in my grandma’s china cabinet. He’s still played in each of the first three games, while notching two 60+ yards performances in the process. Cameron has been targeted the sixth-most 19 times and has accounted for almost 25% of the Miami red zone passes. New York has yet to surrender more than 40 yards to opposing tight ends and has the best defensive red zone touchdown allowed percentage (16%) inside the 20-yard line. However, all of those performances have come at the hands of mediocre tight ends and this will be New York’s first true assessment.
12. Owen Daniels vs. MIN
Owen Daniels hauled in a red zone touchdown last week and is Peyton’s side kick inside the 20-yard line. Daniels has just 52 yards through three games, but has been targeted a season-high 14 times over the last two weeks. Teams have targeted the tight end 14 times over the last two weeks against Minnesota’s defense. Not to mention, the lone tight end touchdown they allowed came inside the red zone. The Vikings are notoriously a poor road team and Peyton Manning surely will dissect a young linebacker group.
13. Kyle Rudolph @ DEN
If you are reading this, you probably won’t want to start Kyle Rudolph after he dropped a can of corn touchdown last week. I guess I can’t really blame you for holding a grudge. However, Denver has surrendered the fifth-most 211 yards to opposing tight ends. They have yet to surrender a touchdown, but teams are accumulating a gargantuan amount of targets and yards. The Vikings passing volume has been small as they’ve relied heavily on Adrian Peterson. What’s more, Rudolph has been targeted a sixth-most 19 times, including five last week in a game where Teddy Bridgewater only threw 24 passes.
14. Coby Fleener vs. JAC
We’re still unsure whether Dwayne Allen will return, but if he does, he certainly won’t see all the snaps. Coby Fleener has logged action in just two games, but was targeted six times as Dwayne Allen was inactive. The Jags have allowed the fourth-most yards (211) to opposing defenses. They’ve allowed 50+ yard performances in each of their last two games. What’s more, opposing offenses have scored touchdowns on them inside the red zone a whopping 70% of the time.
15. Zach Ertz @ WAS
It took the Pope’s Sunday mass in Philly for the Eagles to score points last week. Chip Kelly is forever grateful. After being targeted 15 times over the first two weeks, the ball went Ertz’s way just twice against a Jets defense that has held tight ends in check. Washington has yet to allow a touchdown to a tight end, but they still have surrendered the ninth-most yards (194) to opposing pass catchers. Remember, Ertz’s lone 100-yard performance came in week 16 of last season against the one and only, Washington Redskins.
Gary Barnidge @ SD
Yes, there is man who plays tight end in the NFL named Gary Barnidge. In fact, he was targeted 10 times and accumulated 105 yards last week! He has another favorable matchup as he squares off against a Chargers defense that has surrendered two tight end scores through the first three weeks. Last week, Kyle Rudolph dropped a score, or they would have allowed touchdowns in all three contests. Barnidge has been praised by the coaches this week and his role will continue to evolve in the offense. Get on the train now while there is still room!