Never-Too-Early 2019 Tight End Rankings

Never-Too-Early 2019 Tight End Rankings

By John Paulsen (Director of Forecasting), last update Mar 21, 2019

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, and has finished in the Top 6 in seven of the last eight years. Cumulatively, John has been the most accurate expert from 2010-17 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

Follow John Paulsen on Twitter: @4for4_John.

Below you'll find my third stab at 2019 rankings for the tight end position.

The rankings are based on half-PPR scoring systems. I’ve included 2018 regular season points per game and two-year points per game (where applicable). I’ve also included the difference (DIFF) between my rank and the player’s current average draft position (ADP) of 12-team half-PPR best ball drafts at DRAFT. A positive number means that I'm relatively high on the player while a negative number means—you guessed it—that I'm relatively low on the player.

More Never-Too-Early Rankings: QB | RB | WR 

Below the rankings you'll find some discussion about a few players that jump out as particularly good or poor values heading into the spring.

2019 Never-Too-Early Tight End Rankings
Rank Player Team 2018 PPG 2-YR PPG DIFF
1 Travis Kelce KC 15.6 14.2 0
2 Zach Ertz PHI 14.6 13.6 0
3 George Kittle SF 12.5 9.0 0
4 Hunter Henry LAC - 7.5 1
5 O.J. Howard TB 10.4 8.0 1
6 Evan Engram NYG 8.5 9.1 2
7 Eric Ebron IND 11.7 9.3 -3
8 Jared Cook NO 10.4 8.5 1
9 David Njoku CLE 7.2 6.1 -2
10 Rob Gronkowski NE 8.7 11.8 0
11 Vance McDonald PIT 7.3 5.8 1
12 Austin Hooper ATL 7.8 6.9 -1
13 Trey Burton CHI 7.5 6.1 0
14 Chris Herndon NYJ 6.2 6.2 1
15 Delanie Walker TEN 7.2 8.8 4
16 Jack Doyle IND 7.9 8.2 4
17 Kyle Rudolph MIN 7.7 8.1 -3
18 Jimmy Graham GB 6.6 7.8 -2
19 Jordan Reed WAS 7.1 7.3 -1
20 Dallas Goedert PHI 4.6 4.6 -3
21 Greg Olsen CAR 7.4 6.6 2
22 Tyler Eifert CIN 7.9 6.3 2
23 Mark Andrews BAL 5.5 5.5 -2
24 Jason Witten DAL - 7.5 -
25 Gerald Everett LAR 4.5 3.7 1
26 Mike Gesicki MIA 1.8 1.8 -1
27 Hayden Hurst BAL 2.1 2.1 2
28 Cameron Brate TB 4.9 6.2 4
29 Ian Thomas CAR 3.5 3.5 -7
30 Jeff Heuerman DEN 5.1 3.5 8

With the fall of Rob Gronkowski and the ascension of George Kittle, there’s a new “big three” at the tight end position and I’ll gladly nab Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz or Kittle in the second or third round. There are certainly a few intriguing fallback options available (see below), but I love having a big time weapon at the tight end position while most of the other owners in my league are hoping and praying that their tight end starter catches a touchdown in any given week.

  • How to project 2019 Hunter Henry? Heading into the 2018 season, I predicted a break out season, but an early-offseason ACL tear delayed his breakout at least one year. The good news is that he returned to practice late last year, so he should be fully healthy for all offseason activities. His career per game average (8.7 in half-PPR formats) immediately places him in the top 10, and his production in three games without Antonio Gates (11.1 PPG) is higher than all but Kelce, Ertz, Kittle and Eric Ebron last season. Three games is an extremely small sample, so another way to ballpark Henry’s projection is to apply his career fantasy points per target (half-PPR = 1.90) to an expected number of targets. A not-in-his-prime Antonio Gates saw 6.9 targets per game from 2014-16, so if Henry maintains his per-target production with that sort of usage, he’s looking at 13.1 PPG, which is basically what Kittle averaged last year. I’m hoping to nab one of the big three tight ends in the first three rounds, but if not, I’ll gladly take Henry in the fifth (current ADP: 55.6). His ADP may creep into the fourth round by August.
  • Bruce Arians has a reputation for underutilizing the tight end position in the passing game, so the usage of O.J. Howard in 2019 is a bit of an unknown. Arians actually won’t be calling plays—new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will have that duty—but Arians will surely have a heavy hand in designing the offense. Howard was in the middle of a breakout season when he injured his foot and ankle in Week 11. He was the No. 6 fantasy tight end at that point. Arians hasn’t had a tight end of Howard’s caliber in his 14 years as an offensive coordinator or head coach. His most productive tight end was Heath Miller, who averaged 3.6 catches for 41 yards and 0.27 touchdowns in 74 games under Arians, though his best season (76-789-6) would certainly be a good season for Howard. Given Arians’ history, Howard is a risk/reward pick in the middle rounds, but it’s usually smart to bet on talent, and Howard has it.
  • David Njoku should be primed for a breakout, but his splits with Freddie Kitchens calling the plays aren’t pretty. He averaged 3.1-43-0.25 on 4.6 targets with Kitchens as the OC and 4.4-42-0.29 on 7.4 targets prior to Kitchens’ promotion. It’s the targets that I’m worried about.
  • I still believe in Jack Doyle! In 2018, only eight tight ends had a higher per game average than Doyle, though the presence of Eric Ebron obviously caps Doyle’s upside, as long as Ebron is healthy. Still, Doyle is a good value as the 16th tight end off the board in early drafts, and would have top five upside if anything were to happen to Ebron.

3/10/19 Updates

  • The departure of Antonio Brown should create opportunity for the other Pittsburgh receivers, and I think Vance McDonald could see a bump in targets in 2019. In his last 16 games with the Steelers, he has racked up 60 catches for 722 yards and four touchdowns. That per game average of 7.9 fantasy points per game was the same as what Austin Hooper scored as 2018's No. 6 tight end.

3/21/19 Updates

  • Jared Cook gets a bump after signing with the Saints. He proved last year that he's still a very good fantasy tight end when healthy, and now he joins a great offense with a great quarterback in Drew Brees.
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