When someone mentions the 2014 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, what immediately comes to mind? Do not say Deflategate!
As a fantasy football player the first thing I think of is Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski (Gronk) is the best tight end in the game. He is an absolute beast, worthy of a touchdown dance called the “Gronk Smash”.
Gronk is in an elite tight end tier by himself, while Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen are a tier below. Beyond those three guys, the tight end position is a bit of a toss up for fantasy production. Tight ends take more time to develop than most positions, and even a player who is very valuable to his team may spend more time blocking than catching passes.
Although history shows tight ends do not produce relevant fantasy stats their rookie year (2014 top rookie tight ends Eric Ebron and Austin Seferian-Jenkins scored a combined 54 points in standard scoring leagues), with NFL teams and coaching staffs searching for and pushing to create the next Gronk, you never know when someone may breakout.
Here is my list of top rookie tight ends for 2015:
1. Maxx Williams, Ravens
Clearly the best tight end taken in the 2015 NFL Draft, Maxx Williams goes to the Baltimore Ravens. With Dennis Pitta coming off his second hip injury, it is very uncertain if he’ll be ready at the start of the NFL season. That being said, it was very clear the Ravens were planning on adding a tight end during the draft regardless of Pitta’s status. The Ravens like to use one tight end who plays as a threat up the seam or in the flat. New Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, during his tenure in Chicago, relied heavily on tight end Martellus Bennett, with Bennett finishing in the Top 5 tight ends in 2014. The main competition for Williams is Crockett Gillmore. Any positive showings in the passing game from Williams during mini-camp and preseason could land him a starting position. With quarterback Joe Flacco constantly looking at the tight end as a check-down option, Williams should have a bright future with the Ravens, and perhaps even make an immediate impact as a rookie.
2. Clive Walford, Raiders
Chalk up another young weapon to the Oakland Raiders. Wide receiver Amari Cooper should gobble up targets and catches from sophomore quarterback Derek Carr, however, the Raiders offer Clive Walford the opportunity to become an integral part of their offense for the next few years. Many compare Walford to Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen. I believe Walford has more upside and athleticism in terms of pass catching. Mychal Rivera had a decent year in 2014 with Carr, however, there is much room for improvement at the tight end position and Walford has an opportunity to fill that void. With the Raiders still limited in offensive weapons, Walford might see a fair share of targets from Carr, making Walford a good investment for future years.
3. Jesse James, Steelers
With arguably the best fantasy wide receiver in the game in Antonio Brown, the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for more weapons to help spread the defense out. Veteran Steelers tight end Heath Miller is aging quickly, so Pittsburgh invested in Jesse James in the 2015 NFL Draft. Although Miller is getting older, he still was able to produce a Top 10 fantasy performance in 2014. James still has some development to work on, but he can offer quarterback Ben Roethlisberger an additional weapon in the red zone with his large size (6’7”). James’ price in fantasy drafts is extremely cheap, so his potential to surpass Miller makes for a worthy investment in dynasty leagues.
4. Tyler Kroft, Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals are in need for a consistent, healthy tight end. The Bengals’ first “Tyler” at the position, 2013 rookie draft pick Tyler Eifert, is close to being considered a bust. His rookie season was a typical rookie tight end season with 39 receptions for 445 yards and two touchdowns. In 2014, Eifert suffered a dislocated elbow in the first game of the season and was out the remainder of the year. The Bengals haven’t seen much production from Eifert for their investment. Tyler Kroft is an all-around complete athlete who could have a better pro career than his modest college stats suggest. With the Bengals affinity to run two tight end formations, Kroft should see the field quickly with a chance to earn valuable targets in the red zone.
5. A.J. Derby, Patriots
Any tight end playing with quarterback Tom Brady and opposite Gronk has a chance for success. A.J. Derby might not see the field immediately but Gronk sees double coverage every play and the wide receivers for the New England Patriots have not been spectacular, so the opportunity for a tight end to thrive in this offense is there. Derby is a speculative add for deep dynasty leagues.