Sometimes, fantasy point totals can deceive.
Case in point. Jason Witten finished ninth in points among tight ends this past season. That seems pretty good, right? Well, he was a top-10 fantasy tight end in just 31.3 percent of his 16 starts. What’s more, Witten scored fewer than nine PPR points in 50 percent of his games. That’s a far bigger statistical factoid than his overall finish at the position. Anyone who had Witten on their fantasy teams knows that he was very hard to trust even at an inconsistent fantasy football position. So, who were the best players when it came to putting up solid totals on a regular basis, and who was more name than numbers?
Here’s a look at the tight ends who finished in the top 10 most often last season (minimum seven games), along with some interesting notes on players to watch in 2018.
1. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles (78.6 percent): Ertz missed a pair of games due to injuries, but he was highly reliable when he was out on the gridiron. Not only was he a top-10 performer in almost 80 percent of his games, but he also posted top-five numbers in 50 percent of his contests. Ertz started the season on fire, finishing no worse than 10th among PPR tight ends in each of his first eight contests.
2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (66.7 percent): The highest-scoring tight end in fantasy football for two straight seasons, Kelce was a top-10 finisher 10 times in 15 games. Here’s an amazing stat for fantasy fans to consider … Kelce finished no worse than 13th in all but three games, and he failed to post top-20 totals just once. He’ll be one of the first three tight ends picked in 2018 fantasy drafts.
3. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (64.3 percent): One of the best fantasy tight ends to ever grace the gridiron, Gronkowski posted nine top-10 finishes in his 14 games. The big man put up a ton of explosive stat lines too, as he finished in the top five more times (eight) than any other player at the position. Unless he decides to retire, which I doubt at this point, Gronkowski will be a top-40 pick in 2018.
4. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks (56.3 percent): Graham finished this past season with just 520 yards (32.5 YPG), which is his fewest since he was a rookie in 2010. Still, he was one of the most reliable players at his position due in large part to his 10 touchdowns in his 57 receptions. Scheduled to become a free agent this offseason, there’s a chance that Graham will be wearing a different uniform in 2018.
5. Evan Engram, New York Giants (53.3 percent): Engram put up one of the best fantasy seasons of any rookie tight end, as he ranked fifth in PPR points at the position. Not only did he rank in the top 10 eight times, but Engram was also a top-five finisher in six of his 15 games. While a sophomore slump is always possible, Engram’s first-year success will make him one of fantasy’s most coveted tight ends in 2018.
6. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans (50 percent): One of the more underrated tight ends in fantasy football, Walker finished fourth in PPR points this past season despite the fact that he scored just three touchdowns. Over his final eight games of the fantasy season, he finished in the top 10 six times and was worse than 15th just once. Entering a contract year, Walker will remain a top-10 fantasy tight end.
T-7. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (43.8 percent): Rudolph saw his catch and yardage totals decline compared to his 2016 totals, but he did score eight touchdowns and once again ranked in the top 10 at the position. On the downside, Rudolph had just one top-10 finish in this final four games. However, he’ll remain a top-10 fantasy tight end next season due in large part to his prowess as a red-zone threat.
T-7. Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (43.8 percent): This one came as a bit of a surprise, as Brate was a major disappointment overall last season compared to his 2016 totals. While he did have seven top-10 finishes, Brate also ranked 29th or worse in seven of his other nine games. I would expect O.J. Howard to be the top tight end in Tampa Bay next season, so Brate won’t be worth more than a late flier.
9. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts (40 percent): Doyle produced career bests in both receptions (80) and yardage (690) this past season, which helped him finish seventh in PPR scoring among tight ends. The veteran should benefit from the addition of new coach and offensive mind Josh McDaniels, so Doyle will remain a top-10 fantasy tight end next season. He’ll come off the board in the late rounds of 2018 drafts.
10. Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders (37.5 percent): The fact that the 10th-most consistent tight end was a top-10 tight end in just 37.5 percent of his games shows just how unreliable the position has been. In his 16 games, Cook ranked in the top 10 six times. However, he floundered down the stretch with just one top-20 finish in his final six contests of the fantasy season. Cook will be a late rounder in 2018.
Notes: Hunter Henry was a top-10 fantasy tight end just five times in 14 games, but he ranked eighth or better in each of his last three full games before he went down with a lacerated kidney. Even if the Chargers retain Antonio Gates, I still expect Henry to put up career numbers in 2018. … Charles Clay was a top-six PPR tight end in three of his first four full games before he went down with an injured knee. He ranked 15th or worse in five of his final seven games of the fantasy season after his return, however. The potential is there for a top-10 finish in 2018, but Clay could be a candidate for release because of his hefty contract. … Brate might have finished with more fantasy points, but O.J. Howard showed flashes of potential down the stretch as a rookie. In fact, he ranked in the top 15 in four of his final five games and was a top-nine performer twice. He’s going to be a popular breakout candidate in 2018 drafts. … Eric Ebron opened last season with just one performance better than 31st in his first six games. He would go on to rank in the top 15 among PPR tight ends in seven of his final nine games of the fantasy season. That included three top-eight performances during the fantasy playoffs. The Lions hold a club option on Ebron for 2018, so his value is a bit of a question mark at this point. … Want a sleeper? Watch out for George Kittle, who ranked in the top-seven in back to back games to end the regular season with Jimmy Garoppolo under center.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!