Words by: Harley Schultz
Rankings by: Paul Charchian
1. Rob Gronkowski vs. JAX
We all knew that Rob Gronkowski would make hey against the Steelers. We also feared that the Bills would stifle him. They tried throwing triple-coverage at him on many occasions. It didn’t matter Gronk eviscerated them to the tune of 7-113-1. What we have determined is that there is no way to stop this juggernaut of a tight end. The Jaguars only allowed seven tight end touchdowns last season, but they were beaten mightily by every quality tight end they faced.
2. Jimmy Graham vs. CHI
Pete Carroll came out this week and said that the Seahawks have to change things up to get Jimmy Graham the ball more frequently. This week poses as a great starter opportunity for this new offensive philosophy since Chicago has tended to ignore tight ends recently. Somehow Chicago managed to allow the second most tight end scores last season despite having six different weeks where they allowed three or fewer receptions to the position. In the other ten contests, they allowed an average of 6.6-75-0.9. The only concern for Graham owners this week will be will he even be in the game after the half.
3. Martellus Bennett @ SEA
It looks like we will be seeing Jimmy Clausen in at quarterback for the Bears for the time being. Bears fans may be happy to see Jay Cutler kicked to the curb right now, but once they see how bad Clausen is they will be waxing historic for the good ole days with Cutler at the helm. Clausen is facing one of the best pass defenses in football and he will likely be without his top weapon, Alshon Jeffery. Even if Alshon plays he will draw Richard Sherman neutralizing him. In all likelihood, Clausen won’t have any other option but to throw it to Martellus Bennett. There is at least value in volume and the best way to achieve success against this Seahawks secondary is over the middle against the absence of Kam Chancellor. Both of their first two opponents had tight ends score touchdowns against them.
4. Tyler Eifert @ BAL
This is already shaping to be the year of the tight end and no one better embodies that than Tyler Eifert. Baltimore has played solid against tight ends both this and last year. Of course, they had their most difficulty with the tall basketball-playeresque tight ends like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham. At 6’6”, Eifert definitely fits that mold. Another thing to consider here is how impenetrable the Ravens run defense is. Jeremy Hill is already in the doghouse for fumblitits and Gio Bernard is not really built to pound the ball at the stripe. I expect red zone looks to go almost exclusively to Eifert this week.
5. Greg Olsen vs. NO
Last season, only three teams allowed fewer yards per game to opposing tight ends than New Orleans. This was really the one spot that their defense seemed to excel at. That said 18% of the yards they allowed to the position last year went to Greg Olsen. Mike Shula promised that the Panthers would get Olsen more involved in the offense after an afterthought Week 1. He only caught six passes but he was targeted 14 times. This is more in alignment with the frequency that Olsen has been targeted historically.
6. Travis Kelce @ GB
The Green Bay Packers will face their third straight premium tight end this week. Week 1 was a victory for Martellus Bennett and Week 2 had the Packers scheming to shut down Jimmy Graham. It certainly helped that they got back Morgan Burnett. Kelce’s numbers were diminished last week against arguably the AFC’s best defense in the Broncos. After facing that juggernaut, the Pack should feel like a collegiate opponent in comparison to Denver. The biggest concern, as always, with Kelce is whether or not Alex Smith can get him the ball.
7. Owen Daniels @ DET
A disjointed and cobbled together offensive line has stymied Owen Daniels’ ability to get anything started this season in Denver. It was generally assumed that Daniels would usurp many of Julius Thomas’ departed targets. Of course, hindsight is always 20-20 and Daniels has seen exactly seven passes thrown anywhere in his vicinity. Detroit blew up their defensive line almost as radically as Denver blew up their offensive line over the offseason. This will be the first game that Peyton Manning isn’t under constant duress. With time to read his progressions and no need for the extra blocker, Daniels could be in for a big game. It helps that Detroit has allowed a tight end to score in each of their first two contests.
8. Kyle Rudolph vs. SD
Two weeks into the season and San Diego has given up exactly four receptions and a touchdown to each of their first two opposing tight ends. Those two scores account for 67% of the tight end touchdowns that San Diego allowed in 2014. The task doesn’t get any easier as they face another adept tight end in Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph has back-to-back five catch games to go along with one touchdown as the main target of Teddy Bridgewater. To guarantee Rudolph’s success this week all Teddy has to do is wait until Eric Weddle is not on the same side of the field as Brandon Flowers. Andy Dalton exploited Flowers last week throwing into single-coverage his way on all three of his touchdowns, including one to Tyler Eifert.
9. Heath Miller @ STL
With all these fun new toys to play with at tight end, Heath Miller is kind of like that boring old yellow Tonka truck you’ve had since your childhood. Sure it is a little dinged up and the paint is well scraped off of the chassis, but like most toys of the 60’s and 70’s it still is in one piece and the tires still turn. When you start Miller you are not expecting a Gronkowski performance. You are expecting a line somewhere between 4-40 and 7-70 with a 50-50 chance that he scores a touchdown. These vanilla numbers are right in alignment with what St. Louis has been allowing through their first two games. Opposing tight ends are posting a 6-66 line against them to go along with a single touchdown in Week 1. Miller should be helped in his cause if Janoris Jenkins cannot return this week from his knee injury.
10. Delanie Walker/Anthony Fasano vs. IND
Delanie Walker is hoping to be healthy enough to go this week versus Indianapolis. If he is, he will get to exploit a secondary missing their top four corners including perennial Pro Bowler, Vontae Davis. If Walker cannot give it a go then don’t delay to start his backup Anthony Fasano. Fasano dominated last week, as it is clear that Marcus Mariota likes targeting his tight ends. When you factor in the Titans’ two backups Chase Coffman and Craig Stevens, Mariota has thrown an average of 7-100-1 to his tight ends through two weeks.
11. Jordan Reed @ NYG
As of this posting Jordan Reed is healthy. Of course he is highly probable of sustaining a major injury with every waking second so make sure to check his status before Thursday night. Fortunately, the short week provides fewer minutes for him to get hurt prior to kickoff. The Giants have allowed opposing tight ends 68 & 77 yards respectively over the first pair of games plus they allowed three Dallas tight end scores in Week 1. Those numbers look surprisingly similar to the 63 and 82 yards that Reed has notched the first two times out.
12. Jared Cook vs. PIT
Through two weeks only one team has allowed more receiving yards or touchdowns to the tight end position than Pittsburgh. They’ve also allowed the third most receptions to the position. Meanwhile, Jared Cook is leading St. Louis in receptions, yards, and targets despite ceding some looks to fellow tight end, Lance Kendricks. This game could turn into a shootout and Cook is arguably the most reliable option in this passing game. That is of course assuming that Brian Quick remains a healthy scratch for a third week in a row. If he plays that could help Cook’s numbers. In the six games they both played last year, Cook averaged only 4-53 despite being targeted 7.5 times per game.
13. Jason Witten vs. ATL
I liked this matchup a lot more before Tony Romo was lost for the next two months. Of course historically, backup quarterbacks do tend to lean on their tight ends more frequently than they air it out. The lack of Dez Bryant should mean a continued excess of targets for Jason Witten. Of course this also requires that Witten be healthy enough to suit up. Right now he is considered questionable following the roughly seventy-eight different injuries that he sustained last week. If he cannot go, bump Gavin Escobar up your sleeper ranks considerably since someone has to catch the balls from Brandon Weeden in garbage time.
14. Vernon Davis @ ARI
After last year’s steaming pile of lack of production by Vernon Davis, I completely wrote him off for this season. Perhaps, I jumped the gun? He has 13 targets over the first two games including a decent 5-62 in Week 2 versus Pittsburgh. Arizona is historically notorious for being ankle-grabbers when it comes to defending opposing tight ends. Last year they allowed the third most receptions to the position and the most total yards. Despite that feebleness, Davis managed to catch only 1 pass against them. This week he looks to revisit 2013 when he posted 11-225-3 over a pair of contests.
15. Zach Ertz @ NYJ
If you say his name really fast, it makes it sound like Zach hurts. I assume most of his owners feel that name is apropos when you consider that he only has two career games with more than five receptions. The Jets gave up the most tight end touchdowns last year, but that was before they reacquired both Darrell Revis and Antonio Cromartie. If those two lock horns with Nelson Agholor and Jordan Mathews, then maybe Ertz can get free. I’m not overly confident though.
Gary Barnidge vs. OAK
Don’t worry, you are not alone in asking who the heck this fool is. I had to go do some digging to find out who was the starting tight end for the Browns. Gary Barnidge has 48 career catches and three career touchdowns. He even managed to accumulate zero counting stats between 2010 and 2011. He also has managed to never haul in more than four passes in any game. So why am I telling you to play this stiff? Oakland has managed to allow four tight end touchdowns over the first two weeks to go along with 15 receptions for 200 yards.