This is the second of four articles planned to lay out positional rankings.
Today we’re covering tight ends and defenses. Earlier this week we covered quarterbacks. Later on, we’ll get to the money positions. These are my opinions and how I stack my board. I will be wrong about a lot of this stuff – that’s just how these things work out – but hopefully this gives us a launching point for a conversation. My rankings will consider a 0.5 PPR (point per reception) format for position players and a turnover tax of -3, because that’s the format I prefer.
If you want to deep dive and missed them the first time out, check out my divisional previews: AFC South, AFC East, AFC West, AFC North, NFC North, NFC East, NFC West, NFC South. I break all positional rankings into tiers. Players in the same tier are considered close enough to equal to make no difference within the tier. It’s sort of a Belichick way of approaching a fantasy draft. As always, civil discourse is encouraged in the comment section below.
Positional Rankings – Tight Ends
Tier 1 – The Elite
1 – Travis Kelce, 2 – Rob Gronkowski
Kelce over Gronk? Are you crazy?! Yeah, maybe I am crazy. But Kelce has finished near the top at the position in the last two seasons and I worry about Gronkowski’s injury history. I believe that Pat Mahomes is only going to help Kelce, but I might be the only one holding that flag. Gronk worries me due to Belichick’s desire to keep his ultimate weapon fresh for a playoff run. There are a lot of hits on Gronk already and he’s no sure bet to start a full slate of games. Tight end in general is a tough position and I’d consider holding a roster spot for a backup if you select Gronkowski.
Tier 2 – Good floor with a chance to be Elite
3 – Zach Ertz, 4 – Greg Olsen, 5 – Evan Engram, 5b – Delanie Walker
I’m not ready to put Ertz into the top tier quite yet and I’m curious to see how well Wentz rebounds from his injury. Otherwise, I think he’s got the clearest path of this group to make a surprise leap into the top position. I’m giving Olsen a pass for last year based on injury. Engram is the most intriguing piece of the Giants offense and I want at least one share this year. Walker is a personal favorite and it was tough to list him outside of the top five so there’s a virtual tie. For the record, I there’s a big line between this tier and the next one for me and I’d like to invest somewhere inside of these top two tiers.
Tier 3 – Solid, Workmanlike
7 – Kyle Rudolph, 8 – George Kittle, 9 – Trey Burton, 10 – Jimmy Graham, 11 – Jack Doyle
Kittle might have the best shot at jumping up a tier by season’s end as he might emerge at the top of the pecking order in that passing tree. Burton, Graham, and Rudolph are all from the NFC North and I think each offer a solid base with the possibility to produce above this draft position if touchdowns break right for them. If Andrew Luck is back at full health, Doyle gets mighty interesting (80 catches last year).
Tier 4 – The Leap of Faith
12 – Jordan Reed, 13 – David Njoku, 14 – O.J. Howard, 15 – Mike Gesicki, 16 – Hayden Hurst
Reed is a top talent, but his body keeps betraying him. He’ll go well before this ranking but I refuse to be burned by him again. The second year guys interest me very much – both Njoku and Howard could be breakouts this season. Gesicki and Hurst are much bigger leaps of faith, but early reports out of their respective camps have been positive. If you can get on the field and establish a path to targets, fantasy relevance will follow.
Tier 5 – In a Pinch
16 – Jesse James, 17 – Austin Hooper, 18 – Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, 19 – Tyler Eifert, 20 – Ben Watson, 22 – Charles Clay, 23 – Cameron Brate
I can see all of these guys having a week or two of fantasy relevance but for one reason or another, I don’t see any of them as draftable assets. I’m pretty sure I’ve had all of these guys fill in for a bye week or an injury and you’re basically hoping for a score to salvage the play. Watson might end up being a big target for Brees, and Eifert has the talent if he can stay healthy. A big if.
Positional Rankings – Defenses
Tier 1 – The Elite
1 – Jaguars, 2 – Rams, 3 – Vikings
Each of these defenses are stacked and have real Super Bowl aspirations. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but I have to give the edge to the Jaguars as my favorite to lead the position group. The Rams are certainly going all in to capitalize on the rookie quarterback contract window by signing Ndamukong Suh and I think all quarterbacks on their schedule should be terrified of the Suh and Aaron Donald combination. The Vikings might be my favorites to win the NFC on the strength of their defense.
Tier 2 – Elite with a caveat
4 – Chargers, 5 – Eagles, 6 – Texans
I wanted to put the Chargers in the top tier, but the Jason Verrett injury knocks them down a peg. Don’t sleep on this squad though – playmakers at all three levels and if Derwin James comes on like I think he can, watch out. The Super Bowl Champion Eagles are an obvious, great choice, but you always worry about teams coming back to earth after a Super Bowl. I think I’m probably too high on the Texans, but adding the Tyrann Mathieu and a healthy J.J. Watt into that lineup is a potential game changer.
Tier 3 – Good floor with a chance to be Elite
7 – Broncos, 8 – Ravens, 9 – Saints
The Ravens always seem to churn out solid defenses and according to our friends over at Baltimore Beatdown, no change is in sight. The Broncos will always be interesting with Von Miller in the lineup, but they’ve lost some key pieces and may be hampered by an ineffective lineup. The Saints have absolutely vaulted themselves into this group based on good drafting recently. It wasn’t that long ago that the Saints were the worst defense by a mile in the league and recommending them seems ... odd.
Tier 4 – The Leap of Faith
10 – Bears, 11 – Patriots, 12 – Panthers
I think Bears fans will want this rank to be higher, but I just haven’t seen evidence of consistent points from turnovers and elite pass rush to put them higher. The Patriots defense in real life has a lot of problems, but they’re attached to a great offense that puts pressure on the opposing team to throw a lot. That, in turn, leads to more sacks and turnovers. It’s a risky play week-to-week, but you can do much worse.
Tier 5 – I’m worried…
13 – Chiefs, 14 – Steelers, 15 – Titans
I saw enough holes in the Chiefs and Steelers last year to question why they’re so highly drafted. I think these squads are here on scholarship, but I’m not sure they’ll hold their value this year. The Titans, on the other hand, are expected to be an ascending team. I’m not sure they’ll get there this year.
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