Using our Projection Machine, the RotoViz writers have created a composite projection for every team. These are the 12 tight ends we have projected for the most fantasy points this season.
PART 1: TIGHT ENDS ONE THROUGH SIX
1. ROB GRONKOWSKI, 16.2 PPR FPPG
Even with four games started by Jimmy Garoppolo, it’s very hard to have any other tight end number one. The problem with the Patriots Rob Gronkowski is where he is drafted overall, often in the first round. We have projected him for 2.82 points-per-game more than all other tight ends, which the last two years tells us isn’t very likely.
In 2014, he had 2.2 more points-per-game than Jimmy Graham, and last year he had 0.7 points fewer than Jordan Reed per game. Gronkowski’s 255.6 points last season would have been WR13 or RB3, and the idea of “positional advantage” is completely fallacious.
In a 12 team league that starts 3WR, 2 RB, 1 TE, and a flex, your draft can work out two different ways based on whether you choose to draft Gronk, or pass for a high-value RB/WR and draft a TE later:
Gronk (18.5 PPR PPG (actual finish 17.0)) and either WR43 (11.9, 9.8, 10.5 PPR PPG last three seasons (actual finish 10.4)) or RB31, (8.4, 9.3, 9.1 PPR PPG last three seasons (actual finish 9.7)). This adds up to roughly 28 PPG. (actual finish 26.7 – 27.4)
A potential RB1 or WR1, and a tight end that will score ~12 PPG; the average for RB1 the last 3 years is 23.5 (actual finish 21.4), and for WR1 it’s 21.8 (actual finish 23.9). This adds up to roughly 33-36 PPG. (actual finish 33.4 – 35.9)
2. JORDAN REED, 13.4 PPG
Again, while we project Reed to have 2.82 points-per-game fewer than Gronkowski this season, he actually had 0.7 more than him last season. His quarterback also isn’t suspended for the first four games of the season.
Reed’s extensive, alarming injury history has also always been a concern, as he hasn’t been able to play all 16 games in any of his three seasons thus far. We know he’s had multiple hamstring, multiple quad, and multiple concussion injuries, all suffered over the last three years.
There’s also the chance that Washington’s balance of passing to rushing touchdowns normalizes, which would also hurt Reed’s chances.
What sticks out looking at the this offense from last season is Reed’s 114 targets and 11 touchdowns, Garcon’s 111 targets and six touchdowns, Cousins’ five rushing touchdowns, and Morris’ one rushing touchdown on 202 attempts:
-Of Reed and Garcon’s combined 17 touchdowns, only 6 of them were from further away than 8 yards.
-Other than Cam Newton or Jameis Winston, no quarterback had as many rushing TDs as Cousins.
-Of 21 running backs who had at least 185 attempts, Morris is the only one to have fewer than three touchdowns.
Despite those concerns, The Contrarian believes Reed is the perfect player to build your MFL10 roster around.
3. TRAVIS KELCE, 13 PPG
In his first season playing full-time, the Chiefs Travis Kelce quietly posted 72 catches, 875 receiving yards, and five touchdowns on 103 targets, for an overall TE8 finish. We bumped him up slightly across the board, projecting 77 catches, 939 receiving yards, and six touchdowns on 108 targets. That’s a roughly two percent increase in catch rate, a 0.16 increase in yards-per-target, and a 0.8 percent increase in touchdown rate.
That still would have only been TE6 last year, not TE3, so that means two things. First, we’re probably projecting the tight ends as a group too conservatively; and second, Kelce probably needs a spike in touchdown rate, or a significantly higher target market share, to hit TE3.
A microfracture injury that cost him all of his rookie season, and limited his work in the first half of his sophomore season, has delayed his development and career arc to the point he doesn’t have a ton of experience for someone as old as he is. As a result, our Sim Scores say that our projection is right between his median to high range of roughly 184 – 222 points, which implies his ceiling is still only around that TE6 mark from last year.
4. GREG OLSEN, 12.9 PPG
We are projecting a decline for the Panthers Greg Olsen of roughly 26 fantasy points on the season, with fewer targets, catches, and yards, than he has had in either of his last two seasons on Carolina.
His extremely consistent health, having not missed a game since his rookie season in 2007, has probably tricked people into thinking he’s older than he is. While a tight end normally falls out of their prime around the 31-years old mark that Olsen is now, the cliff is much more dramatic at 32-years old.
His median and high Sim Scores are well above Kelce’s, and that’s just one of four reasons that Tyler Buecher is heavily targeting him again this season.
Even if Jonathan Stewart stays healthy all year and realizes a larger share of the rushing touchdowns, the team already led the league in that category, so it’s unlikely that will go up much if at all.
On the contrary, if Kelvin Benjamin is healthy and Devin Funchess lives up to his incredible potential, it could certainly curtail the need to throw to Olsen so often, and perhaps his TE5 finish last season was his absolute ceiling.
5. COBY FLEENER, 12.2
Saints free agent Coby Fleener is basically the ultimate memory test.
In Drew Brees‘ remarkable ten year run in New Orleans, he has never thrown for fewer than 4,388 yards or 26 touchdowns, and never finished lower than the overall QB6. In recent years, from 2011 through 2015, his tight ends have been extraordinary beneficiaries, with Graham and Ben Watson finishing as the overall TE2, TE1, TE1, TE2, and TE6 respectively. Prior to that? The best tight end on the Saints from 2006 through 2010 finished as the overall TE46, TE21, TE20, TE17, and TE27, respectively.
Fleener’s massive contract, and productive play with a healthy Andrew Luck, has Charles Kleinheksel buying Fleener as a top five target. Douche agrees that the team’s passing volume provides the kind of upside to make Fleener a true bargain at his average draft position.
Ben Gretch counters that beyond Graham heavily skewing the Saints’ tight end usage picture, Watson had a lot less competition for targets last year than Fleener will this year. While Marques Colston has moved on, rookie Michael Thomas is old enough and has the draft capital to make an impact right away. Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks look to keep improving as they enter what should be the prime of their careers, and a healthy C.J. Spiller should also absorb a larger target market share.
6. DELANIE WALKER, 11.4 PPG
After finishing at the TE3 last season, and leading all tight ends in targets and catches, the Titans Delanie Walker comes at a discount in his 32-year old season.
In contrast to the Saints, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of competition for targets on this team. Free agent acquisition and former seventh round pick Rishard Matthews, and fifth round rookie from UMass Tajae Sharpe, are currently listed as the starters. Kendall Wright might be on the verge of a massive breakout, but the odds for a Dorial Green-Beckham breakout seem to get more dismal by the day.
One part people may have wrong is DeMarco Murray as a non-threat to steal targets, as he has quietly averaged 51 receptions a season over the last three years. Rookie Derrick Henry only amassed 17 catches total in his three year college career.
Jacob Myers still believes that Walker could lead the league in targets this season, and is being woefully undervalued right now.
Part 2: Rotoviz Rankings, The Top 12 Tight Ends for 2016, Numbers 7 through 12, can be found by clicking here.