Tight ends normally aren’t high on your list of fantasy football priorities, but a solid tight end can be what separates you from the rest of the pack.
While Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed and Travis Kelce are early-round options, there are a few sleepers that could help you take home the top prize in your league.
Here are the top 20 tight ends entering the 2017 NFL season.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (Bye Week: 9)
2016 stats: 25 receptions, 540 yards, 3 TDs
Gronkowski arguably is the most dominant player in the NFL when he’s healthy. The key, of course, is keeping Gronk on the field, as he’s missed at least one game during each of the past five seasons. Still, if active, he’s the unquestioned top tight end in the league.
2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (Bye Week: 10)
2016 stats: 85 receptions, 1,125 yards, 4 TDs
Kelce might not have Gronkowski’s talent or upside, but he was the top fantasy tight end in 2016 and will remain the favorite target for quarterback Alex Smith in Kansas City. Kelce saw a drop in targets during 2016, but his yards per target jumped to 9.8, and his catch rate went up to 74 percent, making him a high-quality tight end.
3. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins (Bye Week: 5)
2016 stats: 66 receptions, 686 yards, 6 TDs
Reed, like Gronkowski, has trouble staying on the field, but he’s an elite tight end when healthy. He’s averaged 8.8 targets per game over the past two seasons and has caught almost 75 percent of those targets. The Redskins veteran has the ability to be the top fantasy tight end in the NFL if he can stay healthy.
4. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (Bye Week: 11)
2016 stats: 80 receptions, 1,073 yards, 3 TDs
The Panthers’ 32-year-old tight end is as reliable as they come at the position. Despite only finding the end zone three times in 2016, Olsen remains a high-end TE1 option, as he works down the field more than most tights ends. He also is due to score more than three touchdowns in 2017 based on the high volume of red zone targets he receives.
5. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans (Bye Week: 8)
2016 stats: 65 receptions, 800 yards, 7 TDs
Walker has flourished since Marcus Mariota arrived in Tennessee and there’s no reason to think that will change in 2017. He has missed only one game in the past four seasons and set career highs in end zone targets and touchdowns in 2016. He’s a lock to be a top fantasy tight end.
6. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (Bye Week: 9)
2016 stats: 83 receptions, 840 yards, 7 TDs
Rudolph led all tight ends in targets (128) in 2016, and ranked in the top four in receptions, yards, touchdowns and end zone targets. He has become Sam Bradford’s favorite receiver and should see plenty of targets in 2017.
7. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks (Bye Week: 6)
2016 stats: 65 receptions, 923 yards, 6 TDs
The Seahawks tight end showed he had fully recovered from the torn patella he suffered in 2015, posting career highs in yards per target (9.8) and yards after catch (5.0) last season. He’s a solid fantasy option at tight end.
8. Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers (Bye Week: 8)
2016 stats: 55 receptions, 701 yards, 7 TDs
Bennett will be the fourth or fifth option in Green Bay, but that’s not a bad place to be in a high-powered pass-happy offense. He led all tight ends in yards per target last season, and he should have a solid season with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball.
9. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals (Bye Week: 6)
2016 stats: 29 receptions, 394 yards, 5 TDs
The oft-injured Eifert has been nearly unstoppable when he’s on the field, but he hasn’t seen as much of it as fantasy owners would like in recent seasons. But his production is one of the best at the position, making him worth a gamble on draft day.
10. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts (Bye Week: 11)
2016 stats: 59 receptions, 584 yards, 5 TDs
Doyle took advantage of Coby Fleener’s exodus and Dwayne Allen’s inconsistency to take over the starting spot in the Colts’ offense. Indianapolis loves to throw the ball to the tight end, so Doyle should continue to produce in 2017 with Allen gone, as well.
11. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Bye Week: 11)
2016 stats: N/A (rookie)
How Howard fell to the 19th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft still is unclear, but the Buccaneers got an electric playmaker to compliment Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Howard is an elite athlete who should thrive in what should be one of the top offenses in 2017.
12. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions (Bye Week: 7)
2016 stats: 61 receptions, 711 yards, 1 TD
Ebron has underwhelmed since coming into the league, as he’s had trouble with his health and his hands. Still, the North Carolina product only is 23 years old, and his lack of touchdowns in 2016 can be explained by Matthew Stafford only giving him two red zone targets. Ebron has high upside, and 2017 could be a breakout season.
13. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles (Bye Week: 10)
2016 stats: 78 receptions, 816 yards, 4 TDs
While Ertz saw a lot of targets in 2016, that number should drop this season with the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to the Eagles’ offense. Ertz is a No. 2 tight end, at best.
14. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys (Bye Week: 6)
2016 stats: 69 receptions, 673 yards, 3 TDs
Witten hasn’t missed a game since 2003, and while his production has dropped a little in recent seasons, he’s still one of the more solid options once the top tight ends have been taken.
15. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons (Bye Week: 5)
2016 stats: 19 receptions, 271 yards, 3 TDs
Hooper should see an increase in looks during his second NFL season, as the Falcons’ tight end corps has thinned out a bit. The Stanford product was effective when Matt Ryan looked his way, and he could be primed for a big 2017.
16. Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints (Bye Week: 5)
2016 stats: 50 receptions, 631 yards, 3 TDs
Fleener had a disappointing first season in the Saints’ offense, so bank on his second season with Drew Brees and Co. being more productive.
17. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston Texans (Bye Week: 7)
2016 stats: 54 receptions, 559 yards, 4 TDs
Whether Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson starts at QB for the Texans, Fiedorowicz should see a decent amount of targets. That being said, his upside is limited: Houston’s offense has been sluggish the past few seasons, and that’s unlikely to change drastically in 2017.
18. Evan Engram, New York Giants (Bye Week: 8)
2016 stats: N/A
Engram likely will only see the field when Eli Manning has to pass the ball, but the athletic rookie could be a solid waiver pickup after the first few weeks.
19. Antonio Gates, Los Angeles Chargers (Bye Week: 9)
2016 stats: 53 receptions, 548 yards, 7 TDs
The veteran tight end had a good 2016 after the Chargers’ offense was stricken with a variety of injuries. His production should dip this season, as there are a lot of mouths to feed in L.A.’s offense.
20. Julius Thomas, Miami Dolphins (Bye Week: 11)
2016 stats: 30 receptions, 281 yards, 4 TDs
Thomas was traded to the Dolphins after two brutal seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He is reunited with his former offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, who knows how to utilize the 29-year-old, and new QB Jay Cutler loves to sling the rock, making Thomas a boom-or-bust tight end.
Thumbnail photo via Jason Bridge/USA TODAY Sports Images
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