Opportunity is a bigger factor than talent in some cases.
The 2016 season was a disaster for the tight end position. According to fantasyfootballcalculator.com Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed were the no. 1 and 2 TEs taken in drafts. Gronk’s average draft position (ADP) was 2.02 and was taken as high as the 2nd overall pick. Injuries plagued him throughout the year and he finished as TE21 in standard scoring leagues.
Reed was taken as the TE2 this season after being undrafted in 2015 but, as with Gronk, injuries limited his availability and he was just able to squeak in the top 10 TEs for the season. Drafting a tight end early is never a certainty even as we look to the 2015 season where Jimmy Graham was drafted as TE2 with an ADP of 3.08, but finished as TE17.
The Top 3 tight ends for the 2016 season finished as 3 of the 6 TEs to eclipse the 100 target mark. Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen were the only tight ends to go over 1,000 yards for the year, on 85 and 80 receptions respectively. The knock on these players is the lack of touchdown production from a position usually known for scoring.
In fact, 5 of the 6 previous seasons the TE1 has amassed at least 9 touchdowns, while Kelce and Olsen only combined to score 7. Gronkowski returning, Jimmy Graham becoming more involved in the Seattle offense and the random bursts of touchdowns from the Jack Doyles, Cameron Brates, and Hunter Henrys the tight end position is due for positive touchdown regression.
Undrafted Players Making an Impact
In standard scoring leagues, 4 of the top 12 tight ends for 2016 were not drafted. Kyle Rudolph finished the season as TE3 and led all tight ends with 132 targets and finished third in receptions with 83. Rudolph was the perfect example of waiting for a tight end late and also having tremendous opportunity. In 8 of his 15 games played with Sam Bradford at quarterback, Rudolph posted at least one touchdown and only saw fewer than 5 targets 5 times. Rudolph posted a career high in targets, receptions, and yardage.
Cameron Brate (TE6) and Hunter Henry (TE11) both finished with 8 touchdowns which led the position. Brate entered the season battling Austin Sefarian-Jenkins for the starting spot and after ASJ was released Brate was clearly the better option. 2016 was only his third season out of Harvard but he was able to compile 57 receptions on 81 targets. Henry was a rookie entering the season with a Hall of Fame predecessor, in Antonio Gates.
While Gates served his suspension in weeks 2 and 3, Hunter Henry began his breakout posting 9 receptions and 133 receiving yards along with a touchdown. Antonio Gates announced he will be returning for the upcoming 2017 season, meaning Henry will fall in drafts and could be a late round flier or even possibly an early waiver addition to your team.
To top all of the undrafted lists among tight ends however is Jack Doyle finishing as TE12. Dwayne Allen’s ADP was 12.06 so cutting ties with him was not painful, but after Coby Fleener left for New Orleans Allen seemed primed for a Top 12 season only to be out targeted by Doyle by 30 targets. Doyle is a free agent as we head into the off season, so this may be a one year outlier. What it does show however is, due to Allen’s injury history and concern the second tight end in Indianapolis will have value.
Late Round Steals in 2016
Personal experience leads me to suggest on waiting until at least round 9 before drafting a tight end, and for the 2016 season you would have ended up with players such as Zach Ertz, Antonio Gates, or Jimmy Graham. Ertz seems to be an end of the season monster, with back to back years of not scoring a touchdown until at least week 11 and in each of his first
4 seasons his best game has come in the second -half of the year. The average draft position for Ertz has never been higher than TE11, yet he has yet to finish outside of the top 20 for TEs each year. Gates, as mentioned before, has an heir apparent looming over his shoulder. Even with the constant threat of Hunter Henry, Gates still managed to haul in at least 7 touchdowns for the 11th time in his illustrious career. Antonio Gates finished the season tied with Tony Gonzalez with 111 career touchdowns, and has stated he will be returning in 2017 to break the record.
An ADP of 9.07 in 2016 bodes well for players looking to find a starting caliber tight end late in drafts. The player drafted latest of the trio was Jimmy Graham with an ADP of 11.04. Graham entered the season with huge injury questions, but throughout the season he proved he was back to being his normal self. As Seattle moves toward a more pass heavy approach with the questions in their backfield, look for Graham to become the touchdown machine he was in New Orleans.
What to Do Moving Forward
Only twice since 2011 has the tight end drafted first for the position finished as the no. 1 tight end on the year. Every year however there is a player that was either drafted late or not drafted at all who has finished at least in the top 5 for tight ends. It is best for fantasy rosters to stock up on skill position players in the earlier rounds and grab a tight end later in drafts, or even stream the position week to week.