When Should You Draft a TE? (Fantasy Football)
The majority of our drafts consist of stocking up on RBs and WRs. On a typical 16-player roster, more than half the team will be RBs and WRs. Teams may draft backup QBs or backup TEs, but rarely both. At some point during your draft, you have to make the decision to forego another RB or WR and pull the trigger on your starting TE. But when? Most of us have a bunch of RBs and WRs we like so it can be a challenge to figure out the right time to go the other way and take a TE. This season, the value of TEs is such that there is a bit of rhyme and reason as to when it is worth it to draft a TE.
Do not draft a TE in round 1. The highest ranked TE, Rob Gronkowski, currently has a late second round ADP. If you want Gronk, you can take him round 2.
The only TE you should consider here is Gronk. That all comes down to personal philosophy. No one doubts Gronk’s talent. He’s an elite WR1 masquerading as a TE. If he plays 12 games, you got a steal in the second round. If he plays all 16, you’re probably a lock for the playoffs unless you really botched every other pick. You know the risk that comes with drafting Gronk. If you’re willing to gamble, you can take Gronk at any point in the second round.
Obviously if Gronk is still there in round 3, he becomes increasingly worth the risk. Assuming Gronk is gone at his ADP of 21, you will find that Travis Kelce is the next TE off the board at an ADP of 32. I do not advise taking a third-round TE. It comes down to value and the advantage you gain by spending an earlier pick on a TE. Last year, Kelce was the second highest scoring TE at 13.9 PPR ppg, behind Jordan Reed. In 2015, Kelce averaged 11.8 ppg. In 2014, he averaged 11.1 ppg. For starters, you’re paying for his ceiling. Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs offense cannot do much better for Kelce than 2016. More importantly, Kelce’s 2016 wasn’t all that impressive. It was a down year for TEs. His 13.9 ppg would have been just seventh in 2015, a three way tie for third in 2014, and sixth in 2013. That’s not to say Kelce isn’t a great TE who had a great year; it’s just that his performance in almost any other year would not have him in the discussion to be a third-round pick.
This is Jordan Reed’s domain. His ADP is 40. Is he worth it? Kinda. I have owned Jordan Reed for enough of his career to make the decision that I no longer want to deal with the headache. It’s not just the concussions but the array of other maladies that seem to befall him. But on pure value, he’s “kinda” worth it. Reed’s ceiling is not that far from Gronk’s and he’s two rounds cheaper. Reed is far more worth it than Kelce because, when healthy, Reed is unquestionably the better player with the higher floor, higher ceiling, and better offense. In 2015, Reed played 14 games and finished number one at the position with 17.4 ppg. In 2016, Reed played in just 12 games, but again finished number one at the position with 14.1 ppg. Over the past two seasons, Reed has not only been healthier than Gronk, but he’s been flat out more productive. And comparing him to Kelce is just not even a comparison. Twelve games of Reed plus four games of a replacement is going to be better than 16 games of Kelce. If you don’t want to invest a second-round pick in Gronk, but want the same upside, Reed presents the same risk but at a cheaper cost. And if Reed plays most or all of the season, he has league-winning upside and provides you a significant edge at the TE position over everyone that isn’t Gronk.
This is about where Greg Olsen goes. To that I simply say: no. Olsen is an excellent football player. He’s a great real life TE. Why is he going in the fifth round with an ADP of 53? Last year, Olsen averaged 13.0 ppg. In 2015, he averaged 14.2 ppg. In 2014, he averaged 13.8 ppg. In 2013, he averaged 11.9 ppg. We know what Olsen is. 2015 was a big year for TEs – that was his ceiling. Otherwise, you’re getting around 12-13 ppg. Olsen has never finished higher than fifth in average ppg in his career. Last year, Olsen finished with near identical numbers (slightly behind) to the likes of Zach Ertz and Kyle Rudolph, both of whom are going three rounds later. I think the Panthers are a team in decline. Add in the fact that the team now has Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, Olsen and his dependency on volume may see less of it. He certainly isn’t scoring any touchdowns – he has just four in his last 22 regular season games. Simply put, there is absolutely no advantage to spending a fifth-round pick on Olsen when you can get the same caliber of player three rounds later.
This is Jimmy Graham’s domain. But should you take him here? Maybe. This one has less to do with Graham and more to do with how your draft plays out. In my experiences doing mocks, I have found that in most instances, I am not enamored with any of the RBs or WRs in the sixth round. There are guys I like, but enough of them that I’m confident I can grab in the next three rounds or so. Graham is an elite talent at TE. He used to be right up there with Gronk in the discussion for best TE in fantasy. The only thing that changed (aside from his move from New Orleans to Seattle) is he suffered what probably should’ve been a career-ending torn patellar tendon. I thought he was done. So did many others. But why are we still treating him like the injury matters anymore? He is now almost two years removed from the injury and we’ve seen him perform at a high level in the interim. He’s still got it. Graham only averaged 11.8 ppg last year, but, if you recall, he was eased into the offense the first two weeks and wasn’t really used until Week 3. Furthermore, he was dealing with a severely hampered Russell Wilson for most of the season. He now has a full, healthy offseason under his belt and is another year removed from his injury. He’s only 30 years old. Graham can provide you a number of things in the sixth round. He can return third-round value if things break right. At worst, you’ll probably get par value. He also likely won’t cost you at the RB or WR positions based on the caliber of players available. The sixth round appears to be the perfect spot to take a TE, and Graham is the perfect combination of floor and upside to make it worth it. Just be sure to survey the draft board before heeding this advice as a key component to its success is that you’re not passing up on any value at RB or WR.
Here we find Kyle Rudolph, Delanie Walker, Tyler Eifert, and Martellus Bennett. Once you get to Round 8, you are pretty much free to grab a TE as you see fit. I like Eifert in Round 7 simply because he has massive upside. The guy could easily finish top three at the position if he could ever stay healthy. Eifert has scored 18 touchdowns in the 21 games he’s played from 2015-2016. The man is a dominant red zone force. He is like Jordan Reed-lite and three rounds cheaper. Bennett is primarily a blocker but has steadily improved as a receiver over his career. He’s on yet another team, though, and while he does have Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, he’s the fourth option on the offense, at best (possibly fifth behind Randall Cobb) and will likely be very inconsistent from week to week. As for Rudolph and Walker, if either of them fell to Round 9 or later, then I’d be in. The thing with those two guys is they are solid, if unspectacular TEs – Rudolph specifically (my issues with Walker have more to do with the abundance of talent around him and his projected decreased opportunity). Rudolph is just very unathletic, but he somehow gets the job done. He’s high floor, low ceiling. There are plenty of other guys like that. I’m not opposed to you taking Rudolph or Walker in Round 8 or 9, but I feel that if you’ve waited this long, you should continue to wait for…
Zach Ertz has an ADP of 99. Eric Ebron has an ADP of 122. Jason Witten has an ADP of 157. Antonio Gates is barely being drafted. Austin Hooper and C.J. Fiedorowicz are not being drafted. Witten, Gates, and CJF are safe, boring options. The other guys all have decent ceilings given their cost. It would not shock me if Ertz, Ebron, or Hooper returned sixth-round value or better. Last year, Ertz was the TE3 tied with Rudolph at 13.1 ppg. He’s the best of the bunch and carries the most upside. Ebron benefits from the departure of Anquan Boldin and the natural expectation of some positive touchdown regression. Hooper was remarkably efficient last year, albeit in extremely limited snaps. He now takes over as the primary TE on the league’s top offense from a year ago. My main point on this group is they’re not too far removed from the 7-to-9 Round range guys such that if you’ve waited that long, you should probably continue to wait.
Making that decision to pass on a WR or RB to take your TE is always a tricky one. Take into account position scarcity and the relative value of the player you will be starting compared to the player you can expect to face on a weekly basis. If you’re not giving yourself an edge by taking a specific TE in a specific spot, then don’t do it. TE is a position where you can theoretically wait until the last round and still come away with a viable starter. Use that information to your advantage and pull the trigger on a TE when it presents the most value for your team.