Welcome to life after Gronk.
Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement this offseason, officially removing the New England Patriots star from atop the tight end mountain. So, who will be the next undisputed king of the position as it pertains to fantasy football?
One man stood above the rest in 2018 and figures to do so again in 2019. But there are a couple of other challengers for the throne, before a significant drop-off really complicates matters.
So, let’s break down the top 20 tight ends for the 2019 fantasy football season.
1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (Bye Week: 12)
All hail the king. Kelce, without question the best tight end in fantasy football, is coming off a 2018 campaign in which he set career-highs in targets (149), receptions (103), receiving yards (1,336) and touchdowns (10). And you know what’s crazy? He might exceed those numbers this season as a favorite target of reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City’s explosive offense.
2. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles (Bye Week: 10)
Ertz broke the single-season record for receptions by a tight end last season (116) while also totaling 1,163 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He ranked first in snaps (949), routes (550) and targets (156). As a focal point of Philadelphia’s offense with Carson Wentz back under center, Ertz is primed for another huge season. Don’t be afraid to draft him early, once Kelce is off the board.
3. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (Bye Week: 4)
While Ertz broke the single-season tight end receptions record in 2018, Kittle set a new single-season receiving yard mark (1,377). And that came without the benefit of consistent quarterback play, something that should change this season with Jimmy Garoppolo back from a torn ACL. Kittle, a fifth-round pick in 2017, comes with more risk than Kelce and Ertz given his limited track record, but the Niners standout turns just 26 in October. His upside is immense.
4. Evan Engram, New York Giants (Bye Week: 11)
Engram could benefit most from Odell Beckham Jr.’s departure, as the third-year tight end should see an uptick in targets with the Giants’ biggest receiving threat out of the mix. In fact, the early returns were promising, as Engram was a beast when OBJ was sidelined last season. Engram, a first-round pick in 2017, ranked fourth among tight ends in fantasy points per game during his rookie campaign. He ranked seventh last season. If Kelce, Ertz and Kittle comprise the top tier of tight ends, Engram is the best of the second tier and should be drafted as such.
5. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers (Bye Week: 12)
This could be a breakout year for Henry, who’s fully recovered from a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2018 regular season. The 24-year-old no longer has to share tight end duties with Antonio Gates, and quarterback Philip Rivers loves to sling the bacon in the Chargers’ high-powered attack. Henry has the potential to be a monster in the red zone.
6. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Bye Week: 7)
The upside is undeniable, as Howard has been very productive when healthy despite sharing tight end duties with Cameron Brate. The 2017 first-round pick has missed eight games in his first two seasons, though. Plus, according to ESPN, Bruce Arians’ tight ends ranked 31st in fantasy points during his five seasons as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, making it difficult to project how he’ll use Howard in Tampa Bay. Howard is a risky pick, albeit one who could make you look like a genius when the dust settles.
7. David Njoku, Cleveland Browns (Bye Week: 7)
Speaking of upside, Njoku is a very intriguing option. Not only is he a freak athlete. But the University of Miami product also is entering his second season with quarterback Baker Mayfield at the helm. If opposing defenses key in on Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, Njoku will make them pay. The 2017 first-round pick is coming off a sophomore campaign in which he totaled 56 catches for 639 yards with four touchdowns at age 22.
8. Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers (Bye Week: 7)
No one attempted more passes or threw for more yards last season than Ben Roethlisberger. McDonald benefitted, totaling 50 catches for 610 yards with four touchdowns, but there’s a very good chance he’ll surpass those numbers this season with Pittsburgh’s most-targeted weapon, Antonio Brown, and a fellow tight end, Jesse James, out of the equation.
9. Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints (Bye Week: 9)
Cook set career-highs in receptions (68), receiving yards (896) and touchdowns (six) last season — his 10th in the NFL — despite playing in an anemic Raiders offense. While it’s hard to imagine Cook, now 32 years old, blowing past those numbers in 2019, it’s certainly fair to expect comparable production with him catching passes from Drew Brees in New Orleans’ steady attack.
10. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons (Bye Week: 9)
Matt Ryan has no shortage of weapons in Atlanta, with running back Devonta Freeman and wide receivers Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu all fantasy relevant. But don’t sleep on Hooper, who finished fourth among tight ends in receptions (71), trailing only Ertz (116), Kelce (103) and Kittle (88). New Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter made good use of his tight ends as head coach of the Buccaneers — see Howard, O.J. and Brate, Cameron — and an increase in red-zone targets would make Hooper a legitimate TE1.
11. Trey Burton, Chicago Bears (Bye Week: 6)
If you’re skeptical about Burton, that’s understandable. He wasn’t the fantasy stud many expected in his first season with the Bears. But he wasn’t a slouch, either, catching 54 passes for 569 yards with six touchdowns. And he could wind up being a mid-round steal this season if quarterback Mitchell Trubisky takes a step forward under head coach Matt Nagy.
12. Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers (Bye Week: 11)
No, Graham no longer is the All-Pro stud he was in New Orleans. And yes, his first season in Green Bay was a bit disappointing, all things considered. But it’s still impossible to ignore the upside of playing with one of the league’s elite quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, in an offense searching for a clear-cut No. 2 receiving threat behind Davante Adams.
13. Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts (Bye Week: 6)
All signs point toward regression this season. His touchdown production (14) feels unsustainable, quarterback Andrew Luck is dealing with a leg injury, and Ebron will have more competition for targets from the onset with fellow tight end Jack Doyle healthy and another viable red-zone option, Devin Funchess, joining the fray. But is it possible everyone’s cooling on Ebron a bit too much? The talent certainly is there, and he might be worth a dice roll based on his ceiling relative to the tight ends ranked below.
14. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans (Bye Week: 11)
Walker had more than 100 targets and at least 800 receiving yards every season from 2014 to 2017, earning him a reputation as one of the league’s most underrated all-around players. He’s now 35 and coming off a season limited to one game because of a broken ankle, but the overall track record speaks for itself. Walker just might remind everyone how consistently solid he is when healthy.
15. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (Bye Week: 12)
Speaking of consistent, Rudolph is a fairly reliable fantasy contributor, finishing no lower than eighth in scoring in each of the past three seasons. The presence of tight end Irv Smith Jr., drafted in the second round (50th overall) in April, certainly threatens to end that run, but keep in mind the Vikings just signed Rudolph to a four-year, $36 million contract extension rather than trade him. They’ll want to make good on that investment and thus keep him involved in the offense.
16. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins (Bye Week: 10)
Consistency not your thing? Well, maybe Reed is more your speed. When healthy, Reed is a force to be reckoned with in Washington’s passing game. The problem is he’s seemingly never healthy, missing 31 games in six seasons. If you’re willing to gamble a bit in the later rounds, you could do worse than Reed, whose ceiling is higher than a lot of tight ends who will be drafted before him. Just don’t complain if he goes down with an injury, as that’s kind of the book on him at this point.
17. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens (Bye Week: 8)
Rookie tight ends usually don’t produce much, but Andrews bucked that trend last season and it bodes well for his NFL future. The Ravens almost certainly will be run-heavy with Lamar Jackson quarterbacking the offense, limiting Andrews’ upside, but the sophomore tight end also might serve as a very productive safety valve in Baltimore’s offense. He’s somewhat of a wild card, worthy of a late-round flier.
18. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts (Bye Week: 6)
Ebron might be ranked ahead of Doyle, but it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world if the latter ends up outproducing the former this season. Doyle missed 10 games last season with a hip injury but assumed a large role in Indianapolis’ offense upon returning. In fact, Doyle ran more routes and was targeted more frequently than Ebron when both tight ends played. And Doyle is just two years removed from an 80-catch, 690-yard campaign.
19. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (Bye Week: 7)
Olsen is 34 years old. He’s missed 16 games over the past two seasons with foot injuries, limiting him to just 44 catches for 482 yards with five touchdowns in that span. There’s a real chance he’ll give you nothing. But there’s also a chance he’ll rediscover some of what helped him rattle off three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2014 to 2016. And wouldn’t it suck to watch him do that for another fantasy owner?
20. T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (Bye Week: 5)
As mentioned, Andrews’ great rookie season was an exception, not the norm, when it comes to rookie tight ends. So perhaps it’s a fool’s errand to expect big things from Hockenson in Year 1, especially since he’ll likely start the season behind Jesse James on Detroit’s tight end depth chart. But the Lions drafted the Iowa product eighth overall, and his tools have earned him comparisons to Gronk. Just sayin’.
Thumbnail photo via Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports Images