It’s fantasy football time, ladies and gentleman. After looking at the projections for the top 10 fantasy football quarterbacks for 2016, we now turn our attention to the pass-catchers, and touch on tight ends next. While tight end can be a tough position to judge, there’s a few obvious players who stand out from the bunch. Here are the 10 best fantasy football tight ends for the coming season.
10. Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars
We’ll admit it, we believe the hype. After Julius Thomas’s first season with the Jaguars in 2015 — when he missed four games and caught just 46 passes for 455 yards and five touchdowns — there’s reason to believe he may not be the right fit in Jacksonville. But, we’re not there yet.
There’s reason to believe in a Thomas turnaround in 2016. For the man who scored 24 touchdowns between the two seasons prior, we expect him to receive plenty of targets and benefit from having a full offseason to work with Blake Bortles.
9. Ladarius Green, Pittsburgh Steelers
Will this be the year that Ladarius Green, who’s only 26 years old, can finally live up to the hype? He’s expected to take over for Antonio Gates in San Diego for two or three seasons now, but he wasn’t able to do it.
Green had a solid 2015 campaign, catching 37 passes for 429 yards and four touchdowns, but he’ll land in potentially an ideal spot, now working with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. This should result in him seeing plenty of space against opposing defenses. You have to love Green’s upside in 2016.
8. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
For the last two seasons, the hype train for Travis Kelce has been loaded with people. This season, we’re going to cool it just a bit. While it wouldn’t be shocking to see a repeat of 2015 — Kelce caught 72 passes for 875 yards and five scores — it’s hard to envision him doing much more.
The Chiefs are just too run-heavy of an offense, and while Kelce may tack on another touchdown or two to that total, there’s no reason to believe that he’ll post top-five numbers just yet. At least, not better than 2016’s potential top five.
7. Gary Barnidge, Cleveland Browns
Gary Barnidge broke out in a huge way in 2015, catching 79 passes for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns. The question now becomes, can he do it again? Better yet, can he do it with Robert Griffin III potentially under center?
There are obviously a lot of question marks in Cleveland, but they also added more weapons as well. Barnidge should still have a big year, but we think more along the lines of 900 yards and six to eight touchdowns or so.
6. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Over the past three seasons of Delanie Walker’s career, he’s taken major steps forward. Four years ago, Walker caught 21 passes with the San Francisco 49ers. Then over his first three seasons with the Titans, he’s caught 60, 63, and 94 passes respectively.
The 2015 season was the first of his career in which he topped the 1,000-yard mark, and tacked on six scores as well. Walker seems to have found a home in Tennessee, and the connection between he and Marcus Mariota will only improve this offseason.
5. Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints
We’re risking it with this pick, but there’s a reason behind it. Drew Brees loves throwing to tight ends, and last season he connected with veteran Benjamin Watson 74 times for 825 yards and six touchdowns. Now, he has a young playmaker in Coby Fleener, who has shown flashes of being a serious threat, specifically in 2014.
That season, the former Indianapolis Colt caught 51 passes for 774 yards and eight touchdowns. If he’s able to be that type of option in this offense, then Brees and the Saints may have just struck gold, and we’re willing to bet that’s the case.
4. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
While Tyler Eifert had a superb 2015 season, injuries wound up derailing a year that could have been completely monstrous. He played in 13 games, totaling 52 receptions for 615 yards. Not great, but not terrible, right? Yeah, except that he caught 13 touchdowns and was literally a red zone monster last year.
Eifert had four multi-touchdown games, and with Andy Dalton healthy again, he should be able to piece together a season that features more yardage and double-digit touchdowns once again in 2016.
3. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
That’s back-to-back years now with 1,000-plus yards receiving for Greg Olsen. It’s widely apparent that he and Cam Newton have a connection that can’t be overlooked. His 2015 season was the most impressive of his career, and he did it without Kelvin Benjamin out wide to take some of the pressure off.
Now, Benjamin is back, but we shouldn’t be worried about Olsen losing targets. If anything, this situation is even better for the veteran tight end. Expect a huge year from both Olsen and Newton.
2. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Remember before the 2015 season, when it sounded like Niles Paul may have wound up being the No. 1 tight end in Washington? Unfortunately a dislocated and fractured ankle cost Paul his season, and also gave Jordan Reed another chance to keep his job.
Reed stepped up massively, catching 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. It was far and away his best season, and now Redskins fans hope he can keep on improving. Obviously, we think he’ll be just fine. Seeing him top the 1,000-yard mark while hitting double-digit touchdowns sounds plenty realistic for Reed in 2016.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Even if Tom Brady winds up missing four games, it won’t impact Rob Gronkowski being locked in as the No. 1 fantasy football tight end in 2016. As a matter of fact, we can probably just go ahead and lock him into this spot for the next five or so years.
Gronkowski had just 72 catches last year, which was 10 fewer than the season before, but it didn’t matter. He had more yards (1,176) and one fewer touchdown (11) than the 2014 season.
To this point in his career, Gronk has failed to hit double-digit touchdowns just once in his career — back in 2013 when he played in just seven games. Expect Gronkowski to score somewhere around 12 touchdowns and top 1,100 yards.