Words by: Harley Schultz, Rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Rob Gronkowski @ IND
Rob Gronkowski continues to lead all tight ends in yards and he ranks second in touchdowns despite already having his bye. Those numbers also come despite his being held to only 4-67 last week. Indianapolis is finally starting to get their secondary healthy as Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, and Mike Adams all played through various degrees of injury last week. Indy will need them all ready to go to slow down the Tom Brady-led passing attack.
2. Tyler Eifert @ BUF
Week 5, Tyler Eifert notched his second multiple touchdown game of the season. In each of those starts he was targeted 12 times. In the other three weeks, he was targeted a total of 12 times. Those weeks added up to a marginal line of 7-118-1. It should be clear to Andy Dalton and the coaching staff that it is in Cincinnati’s best interest to get Eifert the ball. Buffalo can be beat by tight ends. They are allowing an average of 6-55 to the position and both Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen have scored against them.
3. Travis Kelce @ MIN
With Jamaal Charles on season ending I.R., Perhaps now Alex Smith will actually get his massive tight end more involved in the offense. Travis Kelce amazingly ranks fourth amongst tight ends in targets. They also rank third in catches and yards amongst all tight ends. Those numbers just feel false because when you watch the games live, it feels like he is ignored for quarters on end. This speaks much more to the mediocrity of the position as a whole than to Kelce’s value. The Vikings have given up tight end touchdowns in half of their games so far but they have allowed a minimal number of yards to the position.
4. Greg Olsen @ SEA
Last week, Cincinnati continued to show exactly how to exploit Seattle’s secondary using the tight end position. Even the return of Kam Chancellor hasn’t been able to stifle the chink in their armor that is allowing an average of 5-65-0.8 to the position. Things aren’t going to be any easier this time around as they face Greg Olsen. Dating back to the start of last year, Olsen has seven games during which he was targeted more than ten times. In those games, Olsen is averaging 7.5-99 with five touchdowns.
5. Martellus Bennett @ DET
As a Chicago Bear, Martellus Bennett faces the Detroit Lions twice a year. In each of the last two years, he has had a huge game in their first matchup (8-100) and an invisible game in their second meeting (2.5-15). This week, will be the first meeting between the Bears and Lions this year. It also could be a game defining potential tie-breakers for the first overall pick in next year’s draft. In this battle of who could care less, we can say with 100% certainly that Detroit doesn’t care about opposing tight ends in the red zone. They have allowed opposing tight ends to score in four of five contests, despite holding them to an average of only 5-45 on the year.
6. Jimmy Graham vs. CAR
Jimmy Graham has been a no-show in three of five games since joining the Seahawks. We all expected a drop off in production when he left New Orleans, but no one could have predicted such a precipitous fall off. His 28 targets ranks all the way down at eleventh and he ranks eighth in receptions. This week will prove even tougher for Graham as he faces a Carolina defense that has allowed 8-86-1 to opposing tight ends. This is not their total from last week. This is not their per week average. This is the combined total that Carolina has allowed to the position through four games. In previous seasons that would be closer to what we’d expect Graham to dole out week-to-week. What Graham does have going for him is his history versus Carolina. In ten career matchups, he is averaging 5.6-70 with eight touchdowns.
7. Antonio Gates @ GB
San Diego continues to be lacking at wide receiver. As long as they are short-handed, expect Philip Rivers to target Antonio Gates as frequently as possible. In his first game back, he made his presence felt scoring twice and posting decent yardage. Meanwhile, the Packers are allowing only 4-48 to opposing tight ends and only Martellus Bennett has scored against them. That said this game projects as a shootout. To keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the Pack, Rivers will be throwing the ball a lot. Based on volume alone, I like Gates chances.
8. Julius Thomas vs. HOU
This week will be only the second game for Julius Thomas since coming back from his hand injury. Fortunately, he looked fully healthy and the injury shouldn’t take any of the 12-touchdown skill set away from him. Bortles utilized his tight ends last year as Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor combined for nearly 500 yards and three touchdowns over just 14 healthy games between the two of them. Thomas is light years better than either of those two. Houston got schooled by both Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen before shutting down three middling tight ends. Thomas has the pedigree to produce a similar line to the 6-88-1 that Houston allowed to Kelce and Olsen.
9. Richard Rodgers vs. SD
If Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback then you instantly increase the likelihood that you will produce quality stats. Of course, it also helps if you are 6’4” with a huge wingspan and if you run crisp routes. It also helps if the guys in front of you are all listed in various degrees of the league’s injury report. The last two weeks, Rodgers has seen 14 targets and he has hauled in 11-90-1. Meanwhile, San Diego has a litany of injuries of their own to their secondary. With injuries on both sides of the ball, the scale weights to the Packers side because of the presence of Aaron Rodgers.
10. Gary Barnidge vs. DEN
Ok, this started out as a joke. A couple weeks back, I predicted the Gary Barnidge touchdown against a ridiculously bad Oakland defense. However, no one could have predicted that he, nor Josh McCown, would go on this epic run. Barnidge has nearly half as many catches over the last three weeks as he had his entire career. The Raiders were an easy pick, the beat-up Chargers’ secondary also could have been forecast, but destroying a Baltimore team that had allowed only 8 receptions and 31 yards to opposing tight ends all season was a total shock. Perhaps there is something real there. At the very least it is a feel-good story. The Broncos have allowed 60 or more yards to the tight end position in three of five contests. In each of those games, most of the damage was done by a super-tall tight end. Clive Walford, Eric Ebron, and Travis Kelce are all 6’4” and above just like Barnidge.
11. Jordan Cameron @ TEN
Tennessee has alternated between shutting down two teams’ tight ends and being clobbered by both Coby Fleener and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. If the pattern holds true, then Jordan Cameron is due for a big game. Now it isn’t like Ryan Tannehill hasn’t been trying to get the ball to Cameron. His 28 targets are eleventh amongst tight ends. His problem is that he has caught only 43% of those targets. That ranks 16% below his career average while with Cleveland. Who would have guessed that leaving the quarterback-instability in Cleveland would hurt Cameron’s reception rate?
12. Charles Clay vs. CIN
Charles Clay has always been a decent bye week level tight end. He was never quite good enough to break through the glass ceiling as a top-twelve guy, and over the years he probably cost your league mates a small fortune in terms of transaction fees. Once again this year, he actually looked like a potential every week starter over Weeks 3 and 4. Then you likely added him and started him against a crappy Tennessee defense. So of course he goes back into the tank and does nothing. This is the story of a man named Clay, a frustrating tale that has caused the premature hair loss of many a young fantasy player. One potential carrot to dangle in front of you when you choose to roster Clay again is that the Bengals have allowed an average of 6-69 to opposing tight ends over the last three weeks. Of course, Cincy has also allowed only one touchdown to the position since Week 8 of last year.
13. Larry Donnell @ PHI
So, whose catch was better: Odell Beckham Jr., David Tyree, or Larry Donnell? It used to be just a two person question, but Donnell firmly implanted himself into the conversation with the game winning touchdown grab at the end of last week. For their part, Philadelphia has allowed 5.6 receptions per game to opposing tight ends but only 40 yards per game. They also have given up only two scores to the position since 2013. Donnell does have six targets per week but he is only catching four of those on average. With Reuben Randle, Victor Cruz, and Beckham all battling maladies, then perhaps Donnell will be a more featured part of this game plan but don’t expect the moon in this otherwise tough matchup.
14. Dwayne Allen vs. NE
The Patriots still give up a fair amount of passing yards and points as their opponents are forced to go to the air to try and keep up with Tom Brady. Andrew Luck is one of the few quarterbacks in the league that can keep pace with Brady. It remains to be seen how his shoulder will hold up in his first action in three weeks. It no doubt will take a lot of abuse as he airs it out again and again and again. Now stop me if you’ve heard this before, Dwayne Allen is coming off of an injury. He played briefly last week but will get many more snaps this time around. New England has allowed two different tight ends to score and Heath Miller crushed them for 8-84 back in Week 1. If Allen (and Luck) can stay on the field for the entirety of this game the tight end should produce some satisfactory returns.
15. Delanie Walker vs. MIA
There is a strange pattern forming when you look at points allowed by Miami against opposing tight ends. In Week 1 and Week 3, they allowed 70 or more yards and a touchdown. In Weeks 2 and 4, they allowed zero catches, zero yards, and zero scores. Last week was their bye putting a bump in the pattern. It remains to be seen if they pick back up with a poor performance or if the even number week theorem applies and they shut out Tennessee. With Delanie Walker battling a hip ailment, a shutout is certainly possible. However, if he plays it is hard to bench a quality tight end like Walker against a defense that has a brand new head coach and defensive coordinator.
Zach Ertz vs. NYG
Zach Ertz has tumbled so far down the rabbit hole that he is now officially out of the top 15 and into sleeper territory. I’m sure that many of you have already dropped this constant ne’er-do-well. Coming into this season he had topped 60 yards only four times in his career, so it should be of no surprise that he failed to reach that mark in any of the first four games. He finally hit the 60 yard mark last week so maybe he is trending the right way. Of course, I’d feel better if Brent Celek didn’t vulture his touchdowns each of the last two weeks. The Giants have allowed either a minimum of 77 total yards or a touchdown to every tight end group they have faced this year. It feels like a certainty that Either Ertz or Celek will score, but Ertz is the one more likely to gain yardage and receptions so I’d lean slightly his way.