Written and Ranked by Jim Ayello
1. Rob Gronkowski at Dallas
When projecting future performance, Gronk is one of maybe three players in the league where the opponent doesn’t matter. Julio Jones and Antonio Brown (with a healthy Big Ben) are the only other guys on that list. Tom Brady will get the ball to his favorite target regardless of the defense’s effectiveness against tight ends. Including the postseason Gronkowski has delivered 100 yards or a touchdown (usually both) in his past nine games. Betting on that streak to end, even against a Cowboys defense that has surrendered just 16 catches and one score to the position, is a fool’s errand.
2. Jimmy Graham at Cincinnati
Boy, does Graham miss Drew Brees and the Saints offense. Graham isn’t in the top 10 of tight-end targets, and his 18 catches are his lowest through four games since his rookie season. Honestly, he just looks like a poor fit in this run-first offense. That said, no one but Gronk has more talent at the position, and it’s far too early to drop him in the rankings. Cincinnati is middle of the pack when it comes to covering tight ends, allowing more than 50 yards per game but no touchdowns.
3. Martellus Bennett at Kansas City
When writing these reviews, Charch requests we try to entertain you, the readers, with an occasional funny story or quip. Most of the time, it requires some thinking. Other times, well, other times these things just fall into our laps. Without any further ado, ladies and gentleman, I give you Mr. Martellus Bennett.
The Chicago Tribune’s Patrick Finley: “Is Jay Cutler too often criticized?”
Bennett: “They threw rocks at Jesus, and Jesus was an excellent guy who did a lot of awesome stuff.”
Smokin’ Jay Cutler and Jesus Christ. Yessir.
Anyway, @MartysaurusRex draws a tough matchup this week against a Chiefs defense that has been stingy against the tight end, allowing only one Virgil Green to find the end zone this year and holding all but Tyler Eifert to fewer than 20 yards. Then again, he just compared his QB to Jesus, so Cutler sort of owes him one. Besides, who else is he going to throw it to? Josh Bellamy?
4. Travis Kelce vs. Chicago
For all their defensive flaws, the Bears have actually been pretty solid against non-elite tight ends, allowing only Jimmy Graham to really do any damage. That said, with an elite combination of size, strength and speed, Kelce has thrust himself into the conversation of upper-echelon tight ends. The only thing holding him back is Andy Reid’s dogmatic like adherence to not using his stars players. With 27 targets on the season, Kelce ranks tied for 37th in league, behind dynamos Nate Washington and Leonard Hankerson. Can you imagine the kind of numbers this guy would post in New England, Carolina or even New Orleans? One more year on that rookie deal, Travis, then you are free as bird.
5. Owen Daniels at Oakland
Owen Daniels has hauled in 12 catches for a grand total of 61 yards. Ten tight ends racked up more yardage in their first game of the year than Daniels has all season. So why is Daniels ranked so highly this week? Because a monkey riding a unicycle backward could toss on Broncos uniform this week, line up at tight end and score at least once. The Raiders have conceded at least one score to the position in all four of their games this season. In just about every scoring format under the sun, the tight end facing the Raiders has finished in the top three in his position, and that includes Crockett Gilmore and Gary Barnidge.
6. Tyler Eifert vs. Seattle
The Seahawks have allowed 85 yards or a touchdown to three different tight ends this season, none as talented as Eifert. With the Red Rifle playing like an MVP candida … ekk...glug….OK...OK. Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. With Dalton playing like an MVP candidate, Eifert can be counted on to continue delivering mid-level TE1 production.
7. Charles Clay at Tennessee
No one has been happier that Tyrod Taylor got the gig in Buffalo then Clay. The 26-year-old emerging star leads Bills receivers in receptions BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP … Hold on. Looks like there’s a flag on this write-up. (Talking to referee) What do you mean than not then? Oh… Oh that’s ticky-tack. Wow, seems like where the Bills go, yellow flags follow.
So as I was saying, no one has been happier that Tyrod Taylor got the gig in Buffalo THAN Clay He leads the team in receptions, yards, targets, touchdowns, first downs, 20-plus yard catches and hugs and kisses from Tyrod. I don’t have an exact count on that last one, but probably, right? This week, Clay faces the bye-week rested Titans defense that was torched by Austin Seferian-Jenkins in Week 1, lit up by a Coby Fleener/Jack Doyle combo in Week 3 and was one of only nine teams to surrender 900-plus yards to the position last season. This is a matchup ripe for Clay’s picking.
8. Delanie Walker vs. Buffalo
For those owners suffering through the Zach Ertz or Jordan Cameron blues, Walker is a somewhat sneaky buy-low candidate, whom I think will finish this season in the top ten in tight-end scoring. He’s coming off a bye and already has missed a game due to injury, but in the two games he’s played, he’s produced. Walker picked up for 43 yards and a touchdown in the opener and then racked up 10 targets and 63 yards in his return to action Week 3. What’s more, Marcus Mariota is peppering his tight ends with targets through the first three games of his career. The Tennessean recently reported that entering Week 3, Titans tight ends were second in the league in catches and accounted for 43 percent of the team’s receptions. That old adage about young quarterbacks looking for tight ends appears true be in Tennessee and could pay off in a big way for fantasy owners, especially this week against a Bills team that has conceded the fifth-most yards to the position.
9. Jordan Reed at Atlanta (if he plays)
I’ll start by saying Reed was diagnosed with a concussion immediately following Sunday’s game, so owners need to monitor his status. Sadly, concussions have plagued Reed’s young career and already have caused him to miss a significant amount of time. That said, if he overcomes that and an MCL sprain, he’s an excellent start this week. With 34 targets, Reed and Greg Olsen are the most heavily targeted tight ends in the league. Additionally, opponents have thrown to their tight ends 35 times against the Falcons, suggesting it is perceived area of weakness for Dan Quinn’s unit.
10. Jason Witten vs. New England
Here are Mr. Consistent’s yardage totals for the first four games: 60, 56, 65, and 57. His career yards per game? 55.07. So yeah, you know what you’re gettin’ with Witten (No. I’m not better than that). All you really need to know is if he’s likely to score. Well, New England has surrendered touchdowns to tight ends in back-to-back games. And in the past three seasons, Witten, who now has not scored in three straight contests, has been kept out of the end zone in four consecutive games only once. So, I like his chances here.
11. Antonio Gates vs. Pittsburgh
He’s back. Gates makes his 2015 debut in the Don’t Do Drugs Bowl (co-hosted by Martavis Bryant) on Monday night. In his final three games last season, Gates showed anything but old age, piling up 213 yards and three touchdowns. With Stevie Johnson and Malcolm Floyd banged up, Gates could get involved quickly, despite Ladarius Green’s presence. That said, it’s tough to expect much against Pittsburgh/ The Steelers were mauled by Gronk in the opener, but have recovered nicely, not allowing a tight end to find pay dirt since.
12. Zach Ertz vs. New Orleans
This one is all about that matchup, because Ertz has been a B-U-S-T bust, bust bust this season. Not only has he failed to find the end zone, but he also hasn’t exceeded three catches in a game this season. Regardless, the Saints defense is one of just four teams to have given up 300-plus yards to tight ends and one of only seven to surrender three or more touchdowns. It’s as a good a week as any to try and mine some value out of a guy you undoubtedly overpaid for.
13. Coby Fleener at Houston
The history isn’t great, folks. In six career games against the Texans, Fleener is averaging just over 20 yards per game with two touchdowns. In both games combined last season, he had four catches for 43 yards. More bad news: Houston has allowed just 15 tight end catches this season, ninth fewest in the league. And finally, Andrew Luck is probably playing, which is the worst news of all. Last week with backup Matt Hasselbeck, Fleener caught nine passes. In the three weeks prior, he caught five.
14. Heath Miller at San Diego
Holy slim pickings, Batman! It’s come to this. This guy caught one pass for one yard on two targets in his first game with the backup quarterback last week, yet here he is in the top 15. This does not speak well of the tight end position. Alas, Miller has a tasty matchup this week against a defense that has given up touchdown and 49-plus yards to tight ends in three out of four games. Consider that Michael Vick has had more than three days to digest a game plan, and Miller could be a decent a bounce-back candidate.
15. Richard Rodgers vs. St. Louis
Never trust a Packers tight end. I learned that lesson the hard way a couple of times between Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless and Colt Lyerla. It just makes so much sense for a tight end in Aaron Rodgers offense to produce. It’s so easy to be seduced. Don’t let it happen to you. That said, feel free to add Tricky Dick Rodgers as long as you keep your expectations in perspective. With Quarless out, he might field a few more red zone targets than the three he has this season. However, the Rams have given up only one touchdown to a tight end this season and conceded just two last year.
Gary Barnidge at Baltimore
All aboard! The Barnidge bandwagon is about to leave the station for Baltimore! This might be your last chance ride, and let me warn you, ticket prices have skyrocketed recently. Before, you could hop on for a pittance; now it will cost you your top waiver selection or a significant chunk of your waiver allotment. Barnidge has been a monster the past two games, piling up 12 catches, 180 yards and two touchdowns. I say he doubles that this week against the Ravens! … Ah, just kidding. Let’s let cooler heads prevail here. Barnidge has been great, but his big numbers have come at the expense off two pretty dreadful defenses in Oakland and San Diego. This week presents a much stiffer test, as the Ravens have been top-notch against tight ends this year, allowing a ridiculous 7.5 yards per game to the position. I still think Barnidge is worth the add in most leagues, especially for those of you suffering through Cameron or Ertz, but temper expectations. There’s a reason you’d probably never heard of this guy eight seasons into his NFL career.