This is the first of a four-part series preparing you for the hunt for fantasy football glory! I’m here to share with you a guide to this treacherous terrain and how to attack the tight end position for this season. Fantasy football is a fight for survival every season. The 2016 season is no different as it has come to the part of the year where it is time to prepare for the journey ahead. Drafts are soon approaching and you need to know what kind of animals you are working with to assemble your championship winning team. Let’s Dive In!
Alpha-Male: Rob Gronkowski
Is there a question? He is the best tight end over the past few years and can routinely dominate a game. The real question is: Can he have a good start to the season with Jimmy Garoppolo playing quarterback while Tom Brady is suspended? You may also be concerned with Martellus Bennett, but Brandon LaFell is now gone, so you could call it a “wash.” If Gronk can stay healthy, you are certain to have another stellar year from the Alpha-Male.
Beast: Jordan Reed
He is the second most feared tight end in football coming into the 2016 season. He burst onto the scene last year and saw 115 targets, bringing in 87 receptions for 952 yards and 11 scores. He is the most dangerous weapon for Kirk Cousins in the Washington offense. He is an athletic freak over the middle of the field and is a mismatch for most defensive personnel. If he can stay healthy, he is the only tight end that can challenge Gronk’s numbers and aim for the title of Alpha-Male.
Workhorse: Delanie Walker
Everyone knows that Greg Olsen and Travis Kelce are very solid tight ends, but Delanie Walker is quietly right up there with them. Walker saw 133 targets, which led the league for tight ends, last season with a rookie at quarterback (Marcus Mariota). What does that tell you about the young rookie and his comfort level with this sure-handed veteran? He is reliable and is an every-down tight end that can really put up the same, if not better, numbers than he did last year (94 receptions, 6 TDs) with the Titans current roster. The game plan looks to focus on the run game with Murray and Henry and feed off of play-action to ease the load on the young quarterback. Play-action will benefit Walker as he will see plenty of balls come his way with linebackers and safeties worrying about the pounding run game in the box. Delanie Walker is an underrated tight end that you will be happy having week-in and week-out consistently finding catches and production.
Territorial: Julius Thomas
When Julius Thomas signed his big contract last season with the Jaguars, the expectations were high for him to be a focal point of that offense with Blake Bortles. He got injured in preseason and struggled to reach the expectations that were laid upon him. Currently, he is healthy and ready to start 2016 as a key weapon for the young and explosive Jaguars offense. The issue he may run into is the emergence of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns as viable pass-catching weapons as well in this offense last year during his absence. I think Julius Thomas will be a top-5 tight end this season, but will be hot and cold due to matchups and all the mouths that have to be fed in this offense, hence the label “territorial.” There will be matchups where he will excel and put up double-digit points and times where he will be quiet and barely make a dent in the box score. Just be aware of this and plan accordingly when drafting this talented tight end.
Scavenger: Ladarius Green
A scavenger in the wild is one that cleans up and eats whatever leftovers are around to survive. Ladarius Green has landed in an ideal situation to clean-up the production behind Antonio Brown in the passing offense. He walks into an efficient passing offense that has last Heath Miller to retirement and Martavis Bryant to suspension. Le’Veon Bell’s injury issues and looming four-game suspension could also kick-start a great year for Green. He has great speed and agility for a tight end and Ben Roethlisberger will love this new weapon and use it to his advantage in the play-action game and red zone. I see Green finishing in the top 8 in tight end production this upcoming season.
Young Buck: Dwayne Allen
I’d love to put a rookie tight end in this spot, but a rule of thumb is not to draft rookie tight ends due to the time it takes for them to adjust to the NFL game. So instead, I’ll choose a guy that should burst onto the scene this year given the opportunity as lead tight end in the offense. Dwayne Allen (age 26) finally gets to be “the man” at tight end for Indianapolis with Coby Fleener heading to New Orleans. Allen is the perfect tight end for OC Rob Chudzinski’s offense. He is an every-down tight end that Andrew Luck loves to find in the red zone. This past season, he was often finding himself blocking because of the atrocious offensive line protecting the Colts’ quarterbacks. In 2014, when he was treated as more of a pass-catching option than blocker, he had 29 receptions as the No. 2 tight end in the offense; 8 of those catches were touchdowns. As the No. 1 tight end in this offense with a healthy Andrew Luck at the helm, he has a very high ceiling if he can stay healthy.
Scrounger: Clive Walford
Let’s say you draft a tight end that you are unsure about earlier in your draft and need to take a flyer late just to feel secure about the position. Look no further than Clive Walford. When an animal comes upon food without having to work or pay a price for it, it is a scrounger; and that is what Clive Walford can be for you as a high potential cheap option at tight end. He is a year away from being in the discussion as a “sleeper” tight end, but he will have some solid games this year and may surprise us a season earlier than we expect. He is in an offense with “gun-slinger” Derek Carr and two wide receivers that have struggled with injuries so far in their careers. The issue holding him back from becoming a more talked about tight end is the amount of mouths that will need to be fed in this offense (Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, Latavius Murray). He is a player that could emerge quicker than what we expect, but also may need another year to grow into a consistent fantasy relevant tight end. He has plenty of upside and would be worth the risk as a 2nd tight end on your roster.
Tamed: Gary Barnidge
If you are on the Gary Barnidge train, quickly ask to be excused, and jump off. He is a 1-year wonder and will not even come close to matching his surprising numbers from last season. He was the beneficiary of an offense that looked to him when all their wide receivers turned out to be duds as possession receiver options. Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, and Andrew Hawkins did nothing in the offense as safety blankets for the Cleveland quarterbacks and Travis Benjamin was a glorified deep threat. They are walking into this season with a bunch of rookie wide receivers and a quarterback that hasn’t been productive since his rookie season. You would think this would lead to more looks towards a veteran right, right? The problem is that so will the defenses they face who will want to see if Robert Griffin III and a bunch of rookie wide receivers can beat them, not a veteran like Gary Barnidge. He may have run wild last year, but those days are over, so expect last year’s numbers to be tamed to average tight end production. Also, the return of Josh Gordon in Week 5 after serving a four-game suspension, will siphon even more targets away from Barnidge.
Extinct: Antonio Gates
It is always sad to see a fantastic talent and career come toward its eventual end. Even though watching Peyton Manning win the Super Bowl was a great experience knowing that he was riding into the sunset a champion, he did not look healthy and was far from his elite self. That time is coming for Antonio Gates and it may be this season. He is 36 years old and barely played 11 games last season for the Chargers. They drafted Hunter Henry in the 2nd round this in order to begin preparing for the end of the Gates era. Henry is one of the most polished rookie tight ends we have seen enter the league in quite awhile. I think San Diego is giving Gates a 1-year contract out of respect. I would not draft Antonio Gates this season without having a very solid 2nd tight end on the roster. This is most likely the last season we see this dynamic game-changing tight end play in the NFL.
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