If your fantasy football draft is a great meal with quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers representing meat and potatoes, then tight ends, kickers and defenses represent salad and vegetables. They’re necessary for a complete meal.
Rob Gronkowski is arguably the best tight end in fantasy history. Unfortunately, his health concerns have always limited his draft potential.
Jordan Reed remains one of the hobby’s favorites also, considering he’s Kirk Cousins’ favorite pass catcher with Washington. But concussions, and now a toe issue, deflate his potential. He’s cheaper than Gronk (with a Round 5 average draft position rather than Round 2 for Gronkowski), but his injury risk seems greater. Injury risks like Gronkowski, Reed and Tyler Eifert will always be bust candidates. Still, great depth at the position allows owners to take a chance on these types of players early, since owners can find a quality replacement off the waiver wire in case of injury.
In 2016, Hunter Henry of the Chargers was the first rookie tight end to finish as a top-12 fantasy scorer since Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez did it in 2010. (Those considering drafting rookies like O.J. Howard, Evan Engram or David Njoku should beware.)
Second-year tight ends are considered breakout candidates, but history shows there are more second-year tight ends finishing in the top 20 at the position than in the top 12. That tells you that outside of Henry, sophomore tight ends like Austin Hooper and Tyler Higbee are better for daily fantasy rosters than yearly leagues.
Some sleepers to consider at the position, if you choose to wait to draft one, include Cameron Brate and Coby Fleener. Brate should continue to get targets in Tampa Bay while Howard is used more as a blocker in 2017, and Fleener is in his second year in the Saints offense. Drew Brees will be looking for other targets now that Brandin Cooks is in New England.
TOP 10 FANTASY TIGHT ENDS
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England
2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City
3. Greg Olsen, Carolina
4. Jimmy Graham, Seattle
5. Jordan Reed, Washington
6. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati
7. Delanie Walker, Tennessee
8. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia
9. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota
10. Hunter Henry, L.A. Chargers
You don’t need a column to tell you not to draft a kicker before the final round of your draft. But if you don’t draft one of the best fantasy kickers, like Stephen Gostkowski, Matt Bryant, Justin Tucker, Dan Bailey or Mason Crosby, you might wonder which types of players you should draft.
Look for kickers on teams that get a lot of first downs, which means they move the ball a lot, which can signify they own the field between the 20s. The Saints led the NFL in first downs last year, making Will Lutz a nice 2017 fantasy option.
Bad red-zone teams are good for kickers, too. Dustin Hopkins’ Redskins ranked as one of the three worst red-zone TD offenses in 2016.
Placekickers on teams with more offensive plays per game are good picks, too. Sleeper Phil Dawson takes over kicking duties in Arizona – the team with the second-most offensive plays in 2016 (67.9 plays per game).
TOP 10 FANTASY KICKERS
1. Stephen Gostkowski, New England
2. Justin Tucker, Baltimore
3. Dan Bailey, Dallas
4. Matt Bryant, Atlanta
5. Mason Crosby, Green Bay
6. Cairo Santos, Kansas City
7. Brandon McManus, Denver
8. Steven Hauschka, Buffalo
9. Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland
10. Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis
Unlike the two previous positions discussed, DSTs are tricky because there are many types of scoring setups that fantasy owners must consider. Some leagues heavily reward sacks and turnovers, whereas others give more points to defenses that allow fewer points or fewer yardage. Inside each of those scoring sets could be wide ranges of points. But generally, the Broncos, Chiefs, Seahawks and Texans rank among the best.
Different scoring systems can make a defense good in one format, but average in another. For instance, a setup that rewards sacks heavily, but not yards allowed, makes the Packers and Titans decent options. But with more points for better team stats as opposed to sacks, the Patriots and Rams look better.
Don’t rely on last year’s defensive touchdown numbers, as touchdowns are difficult to predict. Drafting a good defense with few DST touchdowns in 2016 is smart because they’ll likely regress to the average (2.4) this year. The Packers (one), Ravens (zero) and Seahawks (one) should improve in that category in 2017.
Are you hungry to draft yet?
TOP 10 FANTASY DEFENSES
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com