The tight end group this season is as trivial as it’s been in a long time.
We have some youth here, but none of it truly stands out. And Jimmy Graham is without Sean Payton and Drew Brees. At the time of this article, Tom Brady will miss the first four games. And Vernon Davis doesn’t even make the top 20.
This is a tough year for tight ends, even with Antonio Gates making defenses look silly last year, doesn’t crack the top five. And Julius Thomas, who was the first tight end drafted in some leagues last year, is off the list entirely.
Yes, this is an oddball year at tight end, and the most difficult group to project, by far. So it comes down to some proven commodities, some opportunity expectation, and a whole lot of homework.
Zach Ertz comes across as the best option here. The reasoning comes down to his reliability, and the lack of proven talent in Philadelphia. Ertz dropped only two catchable passes last season, the best of any tight end with 80 targets or more, and is almost guaranteed to play more passing snaps than any other tight end in the NFL.
Other reasons, though, include the fact that Jeremy Maclin is gone, and that Ertz is probably the least touchdown reliant tight end in fantasy.
Martellus Bennett scored five of his six touchdowns in the first three weeks of 2014, which led to bloated overall numbers, and while he still played well, was a misleading commodity. Ertz scored three all season. But it wasn’t because he’s not capable.
But with the lack of power, even if DeMarco Murray is there, Philadelphia will need Ertz’s help in the red zone. And the offensive system will probably favor the use of a receiving tight end with Sam Bradford replacing Nick Foles. There’s no question that Bradford is the more talented player, but in order to stay upright, will need to look for Ertz often.
As for Jimmy Graham, it’s tough to expect the same production in a run-first offense that doesn’t feature much spread or over-the-top speed. Seattle wins by imposing their will onto others, and while Graham has been excellent, Michael Bennett wasn’t wrong with he called the tight end “soft.”
I can’t shake the feeling that Graham’s days of extreme fantasy production are over. And to be fair, no tight end in that division was very good last season. And before that, only touchdown-dependant Vernon Davis stood out.
That didn’t stop me from making him my number two tight end, but that’s more to do with his past production, which needs to be recognized. But he’s a buyer-beware candidate, and needs a backup. And is no longer worthy of a top draft pick.
Dwayne Allen (Colts) and Travis Kelce (Chiefs) are safer plays, albeit with lower projected ceilings, that won’t cost nearly as much. My favorite of the group is Oakland tight end Clive Walford, who I wrote about when discussing new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Walford seems primed for a breakout rookie season on a team who will probably be throwing at a solid clip. And while those familiar with Mychal Rivera will be skeptics, it’s important to note that the incumbent starter Rivera hauled in only 58 of 91 targets, and often did the majority of his work when the game was already over.
He’s the garbage time king, whose numbers will lead to being overdrafted like crazy. Walford seems like the better player, now, not tomorrow, and this author has seen quite a bit of both during offseason practices this year.
Another tight end who recently signed to a contract due to injury, is Jermaine Gresham.
Gresham was one of the best, if not the best, tight ends of 2014. He caught 62 of 78 targets, and could find himself in prime position at some point this season. He signed with Arizona, and becomes the day one starter. Day one meaning, whenever he’s healthy again.
The Cards have been without a tight end for some time now, but Gresham could be poised for big numbers.