While this article may be premature, it’s always nice to review early 2017 rankings with some burning questions in mind for next year. This is typically an end-of-season habit for me, as I like to review these questions as the offseason and training camp unfolds. Naturally, it helps me to remember all the reasons why Gronk in the 1st round is a bad idea, and as always, it doesn’t help with the temptation to draft him anyway. I mean…who wouldn’t?
Using the top 10 tight end standard rankings from Pro Football Focus for 2017, I’ve outlined my burning questions to keep in mind for each player.
Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots)
- Can Gronkowksi stay healthy? He was out as of week 12 with a ruptured disk in his back, causing the third known back operation of his career. The other two surgeries were in 2009 and 2013. Furthermore, he’s had complications with his forearm surgeries from 2012 onwards, and a torn ACL/MCL in 2013. While he is undoubtedly the best player at the position when healthy, the injuries and surgeries are piling up, and they will start to take a huge toll on his body
- Is he worth the 1st round pick? Well, he’s turning 28 in May and has scored 68 touchdowns through 7 seasons with the Patriots. Gronk offers huge upside along with huge risk. I can’t recommend him as a first round value, even with the relative advantage at the TE position. Even with the entire offseason to heal and to recover by 2017 OTAs, he’s a hard recommendation for the first round price tag.
Jordan Reed (Washington Redskins)
- Can Jordan Reed Stay Healthy? Reed has had a myriad of injuries over his career as well, notably with concussions and shoulder injuries. The concussions issue is scary, given the punishing hits, a receiving tight end will take. He did avoid the need to have shoulder surgery this season, instead opting to rehab it through therapy. However, he has six KNOWN concussions since college, and there could have been various undiagnosed ones. One more concussion will sideline him for an indefinite amount of games.
- Is he worth the 3rd/4th round pick? I think I’m starting to see a trend with the top tight ends. They offer a lot of upside, with a similar amount of risk. Given Reed has an extensive injury risk, I’d personally rather take a flier on a mid-tier tight and focus on building other positions of my team in rounds 1 through 6. If do draft Reed early, you’ll have to make sure you draft a capable back-up at the tight end positions as well.
Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs)
- Will Kelce become a constant redzone presence? Kelce led the league in TE yardage this year, posting 1,125 yards through 17 games. He also had 85 catches, which was just one shy of Dennis Pitta for the league lead in receptions (86). The one drawback to Kelce is his lack of touchdown production. In the past three seasons, he’s posted lines of 5 TDs/5 TDs/4 TDs, respectively. I think he replaces Reed as the second best option at tight end, behind a healthy Gronkowski. However, KC seems to predominantly run the ball in the redzone, given that they had a near even split of passing TDs to rushing TDs. KC only threw for 19 passing touchdowns on the year, compared to 15 touchdowns. It remains to be seen if Kelce will ever become a true redzone threat
Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers)
- Will Cam Newton rebound after the 2016 season? Cam Newtown undoubtedly had one of his worst statistical seasons as a pro in the NFL. Greg Olsen still managed to weather that storm, posting a line of 80 rec/1,073 yards/3 TDs on the year. Olsen actually set NFL history by becoming the first TE to ever record three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. However, it remains to be seen if Cam returns to his rushing and accurate pass throwing form. Olsen is consistent, but he’s going to be 32 entering the 2017 season, and Cam needs to regain his form for Olsen to have more TD opportunities.
- Can the Panthers wide receivers be better? Normally, having stronger wide receivers would hurt the tight end’s value. However, if the WR group in Carolina improves, it should ease up on the double-coverage sets that Olsen had received throughout the year. Kelvin Benjamin does represent a TD poacher, but the strength of the WR group would help to free up Olsen far more.
Jimmy Graham (Seattle Seahawks)
- Will Seattle be able to fix their offensive line? The Seahawks easily had the worst graded offensive line in 2016. Any success they had on offense was due to Russell Wilson and the running back group, along with the pass catchers. Ultimately, the lack of an offensive line caused Jimmy Graham to block more than usual, to give Wilson milliseconds more to throw the ball. That being said, Graham still had a very productive year with 65/923/6 on the year. If Seattle manages to improve their offensive line, it should pay off immediately for Jimmy’s offensive stats in the 2017 season. He appears to be fully back from the torn patellar tendon he suffered in 2014 and played in all 18 games for Seattle this year.
Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals)
- Will Tyler Eifert stay healthy? Man, tight ends have it rough with injuries. Tyler Eifert is the closest thing to a redzone monster as Gronk, but he has the same issue with the injury bug. Eifert scored 13 touchdowns in his 2015 season, along on 52 receptions and 615 yards. Eifert underwent back surgery at the end of December 2016, which puts him on track to return for the 2017 season. Eifert suffered from ankle injuries all of last offseason and has broken his forearm as well. In a possible 48 games over the last three seasons, Eifert has only played in 22 of them. He could be a great mid-late round flier at tight-end but…boy, does he ever have some injury risk. It’s definitely worth monitoring his progression from surgery over the offseason.
Delanie Walker (Tennessee Titans)
- Does Walker have a solid role in the Titans offense? Walker has always had a role in the Tennessee offense, having at least 60 receptions and 4 TDs in all four seasons that he’s been on the Titans. However, going forward, the pass catching group is becoming more crowded. Rishard Matthews played incredibly well, establishing himself as a #1 WR in Tennessee. Tajae Sharpe and Kendall Wright are becoming to find their roles on this team as well. Furthermore, the Titans are a primarily run-based offense. The Titans had the third most rushing yards in 2016 and had the 25th ranked passing offense. Walker has been reliable over the years but will be 33 this season. It remains to be seen if the Titans ease up on his workload in order to have him healthy throughout the year.
Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles)
- Can Zach Ertz perform well in the first half of the season? Zach Ertz has shown he can be a productive fantasy tight end in the NFL but seems to only pile on stats in the second half of the season. Ertz finished the year red-hot, compiling 443 yards and 3 TDs over his last 5 games of the season. Ertz has shown the ability, but not the required consistency, to be every-week TE1. However, this is his first season working with the same quarterback for two consecutive seasons. Paying attention to the report he develops with Wentz over the offseason will help to gauge if Ertz can start producing early season fantasy stats.
Hunter Henry (San Diego Los Angeles Chargers)
- Where will Antonio Gates end up? Hunter Henry had a very impressive rookie season, producing a line of 36/478/8 in 15 games played. Even with Antonio Gates active, Henry was able to produce stats, especially in the redzone. While Gates is expected to be back with the Chargers, the move to Los Angeles has some of the players questioning if they’ll be there or not. With Gates in LA, Henry still has the ability and opportunity to be a back-end TE1. Without Gates, Henry has the potential to provide top 8 return at a shallow position, with a low draft cost.
Eric Ebron (Detroit Lions)
- Along with the other tight ends…can Ebron stay healthy? Ebron has publicly stated that his goal for 2017 is to stay healthy and reach 1,000 receiving yards. Well, the first part is staying healthy. He has missed at least 2 games in each of the last three seasons and is usually playing with some sort of ailment. Ebron has the pedigree of being a top ten pick (drafted #10 overall in 2014), so the talent is obviously there. He also stands 6’4” 253 lbs., so he has the size and mobility to be a redzone monster. Coming off the best career year with 61 catches and 711 yards, Ebron has to do a far better job and avoiding nicks and bruises to be a worthy top ten option.