Written and Ranked by Jim Ayello
1. Rob Gronkowski vs. Buffalo
In the past two weeks, Rob Gronkowski has seen just 12 passes thrown his way, his second lowest two-game total of the season. Don’t fret. He’s going to eclipse that number Monday night against the Bills, maybe in the first half. Not only because two of Tom Brady’s favorite weapons (Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis) are now on the shelf — but because Rex Ryan defenses seem to encourage Gronk’s heavy involvement. In his past three games against Ryan, Gronk has racked up 33 targets, never seeing fewer than 10. In those games, he’s produced 212 yards and two touchdowns, including 113-1 against the Bills in Week 2.
2. Jordan Reed at Carolina
Most of you probably know Jordan Reed has scored five touchdowns in his past three games. What you probably don’t know is that they are far from fluky. The guy is getting a ton of red zone opportunities. Not only are his 15 targets in this area No. 2 among tight ends (No. 1 Ron Gronkowski, 17), they are No. 8 overall. What’s more, his 10 targets in the past three games are at least seven more than any of his teammates received in that same time. In the red zone, Kirk Cousin only has eyes for Reed. This week, he gets a good matchup against a Panthers defense that has given up three touchdowns to tight ends in its past three games.
3. Greg Olsen vs. Washington
In the past two weeks, Washington’s defense has faced two of the hottest tight ends in the league in Rob Gronkowski and Ben Watson. Combined, the pair collected 7 catches for 66 yards and zero touchdowns. That’s not a coincidence. Washington has conceded just one score to the position this year, and that was almost two months ago. There’s no way you’re benching Greg Olsen, but this is about the worst draw a tight end can get.
4. Eric Ebron vs. Oakland
The Raiders aren’t the disaster they were earlier this season in covering opposing tight ends, but they’re still terrible. Oakland has allowed a tight end touchdown in four straight games and in 8-of-9 contests. Meanwhile, Ebron collected eight targets last week, his second highest total of the season and only one fewer than Calvin Johnson. Combined with Brandon Pettigrew’s four targets, it seems clear newish offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter wants Matthew Stafford using his tight ends more often. If I’m right, Ebron is in for a monster week.
5. Delanie Walker at Jacksonville
Among tight ends the past three weeks, only Greg Olsen, Ben Watson and Heath Miller have more catches than Walker’s 16. And only Olsen, Watson and Rob Gronkowski have more yards. The explanation of Walker’s recent surge is simple: Tennessee loves throwing to the tight end. Tight ends have accounted for 37 percent of Titans receptions. Walker, alone has accounted for 23 percent. If I am reading the tea leaves correctly, this heavy workload could prove enormous against the Jaguars, who were torched by tight ends last week in Baltimore (8 catches, 82 yards, 2 touchdowns) and have given up the ninth most yards to the position.
6. Tyler Eifert at Arizona
If you’re in a league with a trade deadline looming, Monday would be a great time to buy low on Tyler Eifert. Coming off a rough week against Houston (3 catches, 26 yards), he’s about to hit another brick wall. Arizona has stifled tight ends, holding them to just one touchdown overall and an average of 4.5 catches and 39 yards per game. And with Bad Andy rearing his ugly red head — I’m kidding, Andy. I know you’re sensitive to innocuous jokes — I don’t trust Eifert can overcome this tough defense. That said, he and the Bengals get tasty matchups in the following weeks against St. Louis, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
7. Travis Kelce at San Diego
Brian Hartline has more red zone targets than Travis Kelce. Brian f***ing Hartline. That Kelce has only seen nine looks in the scoring area is downright criminal. I can’t fault Andy Reid for not looking the big man’s way enough overall, though, because Kelce is fifth among tight ends in total targets (64), but he plummets to an inexcusable 11th once his team ventures into the red zone. And it’s for lack of opportunities: The Chiefs are fifth in the NFL in trips inside the scoring area, averaging 3.8 per game. I don’t know if or when this will be amended, but I do know that despite an excellent matchup against a San Diego defense that has conceded seven scores to tight ends, he’s hard to trust.
8. Jacob Tamme vs. Indianapolis
Jacob Tamme’s first five games this season: 26 targets, 19 catches, 230 yards, 0 touchdowns.
Tamme’s past three games: 28 targets, 19 catches, 200 yards, 1 touchdown.
Tamme has emerged as the Falcons’ No. 2 receiving weapon, yet he remains available in many leagues. He won’t for long if he enjoy the post-bye week production I think he’s capable of. Beginning with the Colts, who have allowed touchdowns to tight ends in four straight weeks, Tamme gets three straight opponents in the bottom half of the league at stopping opposing tight ends. My bet: Tamme finishes the season top 10 at his position.
9. Coby Fleener at Atlanta
This is my guy. I love Fleener for this week and the rest of the season. If he’s available in your league, go get him. Here’s why: His new offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, turns tight ends into stars. Just look at his work with Kellen Winslow (2007-08) and Jordan Cameron (2013) in separate stints in Cleveland. Second, his new quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, loves throwing to tight ends. In the two games Fleener played with the veteran QB, he picked up 15 targets, 11 catches, 91 yards and a touchdown. Finally, the Falcons, like many opponents coming up on Fleener’s schedule, are atrocious at stopping the tight end. Atlanta has given up the fifth most catches to the position and scores in six of the past seven weeks.
10. Jason Witten at Miami
Is anyone going to be happier to see Tony Romo under center than Jason Witten? I don’t want to hear Dez Bryant. He might talk about it more (read: whine), but Witten played in every one of those games Romo and Bryant were sidelined. He endured seven straight defeats and nary a touchdown since Week 1. This is just a hunch, but I think Romo straightens out his old buddy immediately upon return against a defense that has given up 100-yard games to Rob Gronkowski and Brent Celek in two of the past three weeks.
11. Jimmy Graham vs. San Francisco
Jimmy Graham has taken to Seattle about as well as a guy who listens to pop music, eats fast food and thinks the GAP is pretty rad. Other than his rookie year, Graham has never had fewer catches, fewer yards, fewer touchdowns or this low of self-esteem at this point in the season. He has just two touchdowns, the most recent coming waaaaay back in Week 3 — meaning he’s on a 7-game scoreless streak. In his final four seasons in New Orleans, he averaged 11 scores per season, and his longest scoreless streak was five games. It’s bad folks, and I don’t expect it to get better any time soon. The 49ers haven’t given up a touchdown to a tight end in more than a month and have yet to allow one to exceed 61 yards.
12. Richard Rodgers at Minnesota
Randall Cobb and the Packers outside weapons’ continued failure to win one-on-one matchups has caused quarterback Aaron Rodgers to look elsewhere for open parties. Enter Richard Rodgers, who is enjoying the most productive stretch of his career amid Green Bay’s three-game losing streak. In his past two games, Richard Rodgers has racked up a career high 14 targets — including three in the red zone — to go along with 10 catches, 51 yards and three touchdowns. Obviously, Rodgers is a bit touchdown dependent, but that’s OK. With Minnesota’s excellence at keeping backs and receivers out of the end zone, Aaron Rodgers will be forced to look Richard Rodgers’ way often … again.
13. Martellus Bennett vs. Denver
With Denver’s stout defense and the emergence of Zach Miller, color me skeptical about Marty Bennett’s chances of going off this week. Last week, Miller not only scored twice and racked up 107 yards, but for the first time all season, saw more targets than Bennett (5-3). I still think Bennett is the No. 1, but it’s looks like Adam Gase and Jay Cuter are trying to make up for their injured weaponry with an unpredictable and widespread attack. This will hurt Bennett’s cause in pursuit of another season among the top 5 fantasy tight ends. As will the Broncos’ defense, which has limited tight ends to 38 catches this year, fourth fewest in the league.
14. Antonio Gates vs. Kansas City
Strike one: Gates admitted earlier this week his sprained knee is far from 100 percent and that he is limited in what he can do on the field.
Strike two: Kansas City has surrendered the fewest catches and yards to tight ends.
Strike three: No. Keenan Allen. No Malcom Floyd. With only slot receiver Stevie Johnson providing a threat on the outside, the Chiefs will be honed in on stopping Gates.
He should be out of lineups if possible.
15. Zach Ertz vs. Tampa Bay
Zach Ertz plays a pivotal role in the NFL’s most boring offense. You thought that sentence was going somewhere different, didn’t you? Well, you shouldn’t have. The Eagles are intolerable. They run 5-yard ins and 5-yard outs. And then some more 5-yard outs and 5-yard ins. And then maybe a 7-yard curl and a swing pass to the running back — just to show they’re not too predictable — and then it’s back to 5-yard ins and 5-yard outs. Snooze. Before he broke, Sam Bradford was averaging a paltry 6.86 yards per attempt, just barely above Matt Cassel. The good news for Ertz is that the Eagles’ zombie offense should continue unhindered by Mark Sanchez, who in 23 attempts this season, is averaging a Bradfordish 6.78 yards. So, Ertz owners can continue to expect the monotonous 4-5 catches for 50-60 yards Ertz provides every week. Doesn’t matter who the opponent is, by the way. He doesn’t score and won’t this week.
Crockett Gillmore vs. St. Louis
It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know what’s tougher to watch, The Wire or this Ravens offense. Either way, Baltimore loses. All I can say the Ravens’ receiving options are scarce, and Crockett Gillmore has scored touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. Now, he’s about to face a Rams defense that just gave up a line of 8-125-2 to Bears tight ends. You could do worse.