FANTASY PLAYS: TE, defense, kickers not to be ignored
A majority of fantasy football research tends to focus on running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks. But the other three positions are equally as crucial and can ultimately help you win your league. Knowing the right time to grab a tight end and when to keep waiting is key, as is your weekly strategy for defenses and even kickers.
Tight end is deep, with more than 20 players that could realistically finish the season inside the top 10 at the position. However, there are a few sharp drops in talent that make it better to consider drafting tight ends based on tiers.
The upper echelon is clear with Rob Gronkowski of New England, Travis Kelce of Kansas City and Zach Ertz of Philadelphia. In order to grab one of them, though, you need to be prepared to burn an early pick. Gronkowski offers upside that is head and shoulders above everyone else, but he also hasn’t played a full season since 2011. Kelce is coming off back-to-back years with over 1,000 yards and 80-plus receptions, along with a career high eight TDs. He was locked in with Alex Smith, so the QB change to Patrick Mahomes could hurt his outlook. Zach Ertz has been a consistent threat with at least 70 catches and 800 yards in three straight seasons. He doubled his career high in TDs and further red zone attention could push him past Gronkowski and Kelce this year.
The second tier has more uncertainty and not quite as much upside, but will still get you a “set it-and-forget it” type of player. Jimmy Graham switched from one great QB to probably the best in the game with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. He should continue to see a massive amount of red zone work but his production between the 20s will ultimately decide whether he’s an elite weekly option this year or a TD-reliant back-end starter. Giants tight end Evan Engram took advantage of Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall injuries to turn in an impressive rookie season with 64 catches, 722 yards and six touchdowns. He could end up the second receiving option this season for New York.
Tennessee’s Delanie Walker has been as solid as they come over the past four years, especially in point-per-reception leagues. Carolina’s Greg Olsen is coming off an injury-riddled season, but do not forget about the consistent TE1 production he provided in previous seasons. Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph should be one of Kirk Cousins’ favorite targets, particularly in the red zone.
If you wait on the TE position, you can target potential breakout candidates Trey Burton (Chicago), George Kittle (San Francisco), David Njoku (Cleveland) or O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay). Washington’s oft-injured Jordan Reed is more name than game at this point but he could be a viable weapon for Alex Smith. The same can be said about Tyler Eifert in Cincinnati.
Veterans Jared Cook (Oakland), Charles Clay (Buffalo), Ben Watson (New Orleans) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jacksonville) may not be exciting, high upside selections, but they all could finish as starting-caliber options. Jack Doyle could as well in Indianapolis, if Eric Ebron doesn’t eat into his upside. Streamers and deep leaguers that waited too long can also consider Ricky Seals-Jones (Arizona), Vance McDonald (Pittsburgh), Hayden Hurst (Baltimore), Nick Vannett (Seattle) and Austin Hooper (Atlanta). That’s a good amount of upside for going almost 30 players deep at the position.
Streaming defenses based on matchups is a strong method if you are active on the waiver wire. This is a great way to exploit weak offenses and cycle through available defenses on an as-needed basis. You should know going in that there is more legwork required if you go this route. It is also a great strategy that allows you to focus your draft capital on position players while waiting until the final rounds before investing in a defense. The Saints are home for two games against the Buccaneers (sans Jameis Winston) and the Browns to open the season. The Lions, Titans and Ravens also have attractive opening weekend matchups, though you may need to grab the latter two units before the last round.
If you feel more comfortable riding one consistently good defense throughout the year regardless of matchup, you may be forced to consider taking a top option earlier than the 15th round. The Jaguars defense rose to prominence last season and they should be just as dominant in 2018. The Vikings and Eagles also have the personnel to stay among the league’s elite fantasy defenses. The Texans should rebound after an injury-filled season and the Packers beefed up their defense with impact veteran and draft day additions. The Patriots are expected to rebound from a mediocre season to be a top 10 defense. Green Bay and New England are not quite in the same grouping as the others mentioned here and can be nabbed if you pass on the very elite defenses.
While it is often debated whether kickers should be eliminated from fantasy rosters, a majority of leagues still require owners to start one each week. There is too much variance from week to week in what becomes a gamble to determine which kicker to play. The best way to address the position is to wait until the last round before drafting one. Better yet, take a high upside position player in the last round and then cut someone from your roster prior to Week 1 for a kicker — if it’s allowable under your league rules. Depending on when your draft occurs, this buys you more time with your roster before deciding who needs to go.
When selecting your kicker for the year (or the week), a general rule is to focus on high-powered offenses. Yes, there will be outliers to this, but it will help you more often than not. If you are looking for the cream of the kicker crop, Greg Zuerlein, Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker, Matt Bryant and Will Lutz are great bets. Robbie Gould, Matt Prater, Jake Elliott and Chris Boswell are viable options as well. Otherwise, start streaming with a kicker that plays against a weak defense and cycle through the waiver wire as needed.
ROTOEXPERTS TOP 15 TIGHT ENDS
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Evan Engram, New York Giants
Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers
Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Ricky Seals-Jones, Arizona Cardinals
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Trey Burton, Chicago Bears
Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons
TOP 15 DEFENSES
Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Chargers
New England Patriots
Kansas City Chiefs
New Orleans Saints
TOP 15 KICKERS
Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots
Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
Josh Lambo, Jacksonville Jaguars
Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Wil Lutz, New Orleans Saints
Jake Elliott, Philadelphia Eagles
Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers
Caleb Sturgis, Los Angeles Chargers
Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons
Kai Forbath, Minnesota Vikings
Matt Prater, Detroit Lions
Robbie Gould, San Francisco 49ers
Phil Dawson, Arizona Cardinals
Ryan Succop, Tennessee Titans