Okay, so the obvious part of this list is the one guy that should actually get even more fantasy value out of his quarterback being out the first few games of the season. Beyond that, there are some guys on the downside of their careers as well as guys that need to turn things around after a tough year. So here we have the top 10 (because everything past that is exhaustive and who’s really going to have more than one productive tight end this year unless you draft stupidly or get lucky?)
Rob Gronkowski. Whether you like him, his quarterback, or his team; the guy just continues to produce. He’s the one consistently relevant offensive player the Patriots will have week to week (aside from Tom Brady when he gets back). There’s weeks where Brandon Lafell, Julian Edelman, or one of the various running backs will have a big game. But there aren’t any go-to superstars besides Gronkowski. If anyone goes before him in a draft it will be because something catastrophic happens after I write this.
- Jimmy Graham. He wasn’t as good last year as years past. There was once a time when no one was safe until Graham was done all 4 quarters. And it was at a time when the Saints were playing primetime games that were usually the last player or two in a fantasy matchup. But last year after struggling through an injury there wasn’t much of a burst in his route-running and he never really made many unbelievable plays. He’s going to be a security blanket for Russell Wilson and they don’t have many dynamic options on offense. Still, he’s better than any other option.
- Travis Kelce. When your best receiving threat is your running back somebody else has to get the ball. Eventually emerging last year was Kelce as a big play type guy. He’s more athletic than meets the eye and even with Jeremy Maclin on board he’s due to get a healthy number of targets as Jamaal Charles can’t get the ball every play.
- Martellus Bennett. Perhaps a day or two ago Bennett wouldn’t be ranked this high. Then again maybe he would have. Still, the injury to Kevin White (the Bears probable #2 wideout) leaves a huge void in potential production. And this comes after the offseason trade of Brandon Marshall to the Jets. Bennett is a big, athletic player with tons of ability. He probably won’t get 90 catches like last year only because the Bears offense likely won’t be on the field as long or as often (even if the Bears defense is as historically mediocre). But 80 isn’t an unrealistic number. Jay Cutler needs to throw the ball to someone.
- Greg Olsen. You might think that the addition of Devin Funchess to the receiving corps that Olsen would get less looks in the passing game, but I’m not so sure that’s gonna happen. With DeAngelo Williams gone (for however pathetic he was), the running game will lean heavily on Jonathan Stewart and he can never stay healthy. So to help along with all that, it’s likely that Olsen will see a fair amount of looks especially if Kelvin Benjamin drops the ball as often as he did last season. This is the year for Cam Newton to step it up. Olsen might get to 1,000 yards this season, but probably not.
- Dwayne Allen. Andrew Luck is going to be a beast again this year. There will be a fair amount of players with solid stats all over the field, but Allen was a great talent last year when healthy. He outplayed Coby Fleener who has a connection via college with Luck. The Colts will have tons of opportunities in the red zone. Even if time is split with Fleener, Dwayne Allen will get his fair share of opportunities.
- Jason Witten. Along with fellow long-tenured veteran Antonio Gates, fantasy owners have been waiting for Jason Witten to fall off the map. But with just over 6 targets a game last year and a receiving corps that hasn’t been improved upon much since last season and a backfield that lost some talent, there will be looks if Witten wants them.
- Julius Thomas. If Blake Bortles makes big strides in his second year Julius Thomas might have a lot to do with it. Justin Blackmon might have been a big play guy for the Jags. And the running game isn’t likely to be something they rely too heavily on, especially if they are down a lot like basically ever year since Fred Taylor was their starting running back.
- Jordan Cameron. Is he a better football player or actor on The League? Well he doesn’t get hurt in the TV show anyways. With Ryan Tannehill set to make a big step in becoming a top quarterback (or at least that’s what Miami is hoping), he’s going to need more than a few options in the passing game. Assuming Cameron stays healthy, he should get plenty of targets as a reliable guy across the middle of the field. While he’s a high risk/high reward guy, he’s one of the few that could be a game-changer.
- Zach Ertz. The Eagles have a new QB but won’t change the system. It feels like every year Ertz is expected to make a big jump and he continues to underwhelm. But this has got to be the year, right? With Jeremy Maclin gone to Kansas City and no one proven at the wide receiver, Philly won’t be dumping the ball of to DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews all day. Ertz will get up to 750 and a handful of touchdowns but don’t expect him to set the world on fire.