When to Draft a Tight End in Your Fantasy Football League

When to Draft a Tight End in Your Fantasy Football League

By Jennifer Eakins (Senior Writer), last update Aug 13, 2018

Jennifer Eakins's picture

A proud alumna of the UGA Grady College of Journalism, Jennifer Eakins has been working in the sports industry for well over a decade. She has had stints with CNN Sports, the Atlanta Hawks and the Colorado Rockies. Her first fantasy football draft took place in 1996 where she selected Ricky Watters with the first overall pick, and she has been a fantasy degenerate ever since.

Follow Jennifer Eakins on Twitter: @themondaymommy.

Let’s face it, the tight end gets a bad rap. Sure, people care about tight ends a little bit more than kickers or team defense, but they are often an afterthought for the general drafting population. Your average fantasy football player doesn’t spend much time evaluating their tight end options and will usually either reach for one of the top guys or settle for a passable option somewhere throughout the course of their draft. I’m here to change that stigma and arm you with a few different strategies to maximize your points at tight end so you can get the most bang for your buck on draft day. 


More 2018 Positional Draft Strategies: IDP | Streaming D/ST | QB | WR | RB


Draft Strategy: Opportunity Cost of Drafting a Tight End Early

When constructing your fantasy football rosters, the players you choose to pass over should have as much of an impact on your decision as those you eventually select. This theory is referred to as opportunity cost and should be taken into consideration when deciding when to grab a tight end, especially in the earlier rounds of your draft. 

In a standard 12-team league, starting rosters usually consist of two RBs, three WRs, one TE, and one FLEX player. Because you must start multiple other positional players versus just the one tight end, the demand for these players is much higher. An average league has to roster anywhere from 24–48 positional players depending on league rules for the FLEX position. This creates a deficiency in the supply for running backs, and to a lesser extent wide receivers, that does not meet the league’s demand. This, in turn, results in somewhat of a surplus on tight ends, as there is at least one starter on every NFL team, so there is always an availability, even after fantasy drafts and into the season. 

If you are sitting at the lower end of the draft order, say picks 10-12, and are debating whether to grab the top tight end off the board, it may help the decision process to glance back at some previous drafts to determine whether the production from that tight end was worth his draft spot over a similar positional player. It wasn’t that long ago when tight ends were not even remotely considered draftable until around the third or fourth round. 

In 2015, Rob Gronkowski was a clear first-round draft pick across the board and folks who drafted him got points for 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wide receivers selected around him included Odell Beckham Jr., (1,450 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Calvin Johnson (1,214 yards, nine touchdowns). Conversely, two backs with similar ADPs that year were C.J. Anderson (720 yards, five touchdowns) and Matt Forte (898 yards, four touchdowns).

In this instance, you were better off grabbing Gronk or one of the wideouts rather than going with a running back in the tail end of the draft order. That season saw much better production from tight ends in the later rounds like Delanie Walker (1,088 yards, six touchdowns) in the ninth round and Jordan Reed in the 15th round (952 yards, 11 touchdowns).

In 2016, the trend was to lay off the tight end position in round one, with Gronk’s ADP hovering around pick 15 overall. Sadly for his drafters, he only played in seven games, finishing with 540 yards and three touchdowns (TE26 in fantasy points). In an injury-riddled year all around, the player drafted right before him was Keenan Allen, who went down Week 1 with a torn ACL. Mike Evans had an ADP of 2.04, and flourished in 2016, ending as WR3 with 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns. The two closest running backs to Gronk when it came to 2016 ADP were LeVeon Bell and Devonta Freeman, who both ended the season with more than double his yardage and touchdowns. You were much better off waiting until round six to grab a tight end in 2016, as both Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker finished among the top five in fantasy points. 

Last year, waiting on a tight end was a popular strategy again, as Gronk was the first one off the board at pick 2.06, followed by Travis Kelce at pick 4.03. They led the league in PPR points, finishing 2017 with 233.5 points for Kelce and 225.3 for Gronk. The two backs drafted right after Gronk were Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt, who both outperformed their ADPs drastically. Gurley posted 383.3 PPR points to finish as the RB1, and Hunt’s 295.2 checked in as RB4 on the season. 

Receivers were a different story, however, as both Brandin Cooks and Dez Bryant finished far below Gronk’s output, and no wideout anywhere near Kelce’s fourth-round ADP came close to his total in fantasy points.

This season, players close to Gronk’s 2.06 ADP include Davante Adams, A.J. Green, and LeSean McCoy, who are all projected to score more PPR points than the New England tight end. I will most likely grab a wide receiver here unless it’s a TE-premium scoring league. Same goes for Kelce at 2.11, whose surrounding players include Doug Baldwin and Devonta Freeman.

Opportunity cost varies from year to year and, of course, hindsight is always 20/20. All we can do is provide you with the information and tools—it is up to you to determine what suits your specific draft needs.

Targeting a Late-Round Tight End With Upside

Continue reading why you want to target late-round tights with upside in your fantasy drafts and more general tips on how to handle the position.

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2018