Which TEs will stand out this year? Will there be any new faces that have break out years? There are so many opportunities for players to stake their claim as a top end TE in the NFL, but who will seize that opportunity? Let’s take a look at who the top 5 fantasy football TEs will be in 2015.
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5. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
With his first season below 100 targets and 70 catches since 2006, the season that Drew Bledsoe gave way to Tony Romo, you might think that Witten has finally begun the big fade. But a quick look at what might be different between last season and this one could change your mind.
The Cowboys dedicated themselves to running the ball, which was easier to do when there was DeMarco Murray toting the ball. The Cowboys sank in pass attempts from 36.6 per game in 2013 to 29.2 in 2014 with Murray getting almost 400 carries.
With Murray gone and Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden replacing him, the prospects of keeping up such an attack seem grim. We expect that the passing will go back towards the 2012-2013 levels as a result of that change of talent at the position.
Even with less overall pass attempts, Witten maintained his usual 19.2% of Romo’s targets. So it wasn’t a fade from Witten, just less volume. With an expected rise back towards previous levels, his forecast is for 111 targets, 80 catches for 876 yards and five touchdowns, making Witten a solid target at tight end once again.
4. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Olsen has suddenly morphed from a up and coming tight end to the old reliable model. Hiding in the obscurity that is Carolina Panther football, Olsen continues to put up excellent numbers in Charlotte and is a sneaky play if someone doesn’t want to pay up for one of the top three.
Last season, Olsen spiked up to 122 targets and over 1000 yards. This season, we have Olsen down for 110 targets, 78 catches for 937 yards and six touchdowns. Olsen has averaged around a quarter of Carolina’s TD passes the last four seasons, so that’s the one item that keeps Olsen from jumping into the top end for tight ends.
As it stands, Olsen will have to settle for continuing to excel in all areas, remain an unsexy play for fantasy owners and remain just a whisper below the top three tight ends in the league.
3. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
Graham is every bit as talented as the two guys above him, but the move from New Orleans to Seattle is going to deflate his numbers somewhat significantly just by the sheer offensive philosophy employed by Pete Carroll.
No team put up more passes than the Saints in 2014 (41.2) and no team put up fewer than the Seahawks (28.1). Sure, it makes sense they will get Graham the ball in Seattle since they traded for him, but it also makes sense that the Seahawks aren’t going to change their very successful formula either just to accommodate a new acquisition. Even with a gentle bump up for the passing attack, Graham will likely come in around 100 targets in 2015, down almost 20 percent from New Orleans in 2014.
This leaves Graham with a forecast of 67 catches for 838 yards and ten touchdowns, which is terrific for most tight ends, but a significant downgrade for Graham. Seattle will benefit greatly from having Graham as their tight end in 2015, but fantasy owners expecting the Saints version of Graham will not.
2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
People may think Kelce’s production in 2014 did not meet the hype, but considering his QB situation, Kelce came through very well with 67 catches and 862 yards. He was second behind Gronk in yards per pass route run, on his own little island at 2.26.
This being an indicator of yards per catch, we believe Kelce will extend to 13.55 yards per catch, leaving him with 74 catches for 1003 yards. It’s a bold production forecast, but Kelce has the talent to challenge Gronkowski, only he’ll be limited by Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense, which simply won’t be able to provide the opportunities that Gronk gets in New England.
An area where this is painfully obvious is the lack of touchdown opportunities. The Chiefs last season averaged 1.1 touchdown passes per game, which means that forecasting Kelce for the six touchdowns we have him down for is sadly optimistic.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
At the tight end position, there is Rob Gronkowski and then there is everybody else. In the past the only thing you could knock down Gronk with was his availability and he conquered that in 2014, shredding the TE competition with his excellence over his 15 games played.
The Patriots aren’t going to change what they do with Tom Brady at quarterback and will be a top ten team in pass attempts again this season, meaning Gronk is going to get a superstars share of those pass attempts like he did in 2014, when he had 131 targets. Gronk also led the league in yards per pass route run for tight ends with 2.53 yards, which lead to his nearly 14 yards per catch number.
With all of that, for 2015, we have Gronkowski down for 89 catches, 1278 yards and 12 touchdowns, which will lead all tight ends. Don’t overthink it. He’s the best and it’s not even close.