First Tier: 1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots.
Commentary: “The Gronk” is in a league of his own, with the only thing that can stop him being an injury. Unfortunately, that seems to happen with increasing frequency. So, even though the margin between him and the second-best player is the greatest for any position, my advice is don’t go out of your way to draft him early. If he falls to you naturally, in a round you’re comfortable with (after you’ve taken a few running backs, a few wide receivers and a quarterback), that’s fine.
Second Tier: 2. Travis Kelce, Chiefs; 3. Jordan Reed, Redskins; 4. Greg Olsen, Panthers; 5. Jimmy Graham, Seahawks.
Kelce is tailor-made for Andy Reid’s offense and for QB Alex Smith, who isn’t keen on throwing to his wide receivers. Reed is certainly happy Kirk Cousins is still behind the center in Washington, another team that likes to move the ball through the air first. I think Cam Newton and the Panthers will bounce back from their Super Bowl hangover; even so, Olsen still thrived in a down season for Carolina last year. A few years ago, Graham challenged Gronkowski for top tight end, but that was when he was paired with Drew Brees in New Orleans. Seattle is a bit more conservative, but its lack of a proven running game means Graham will continue to play a big role in the offense.
Third Tier: 6. Martellus Bennett, Packers; 7. Zach Ertz, Eagles; 8. Delanie Walker, Titans; 9. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings; 10. Tyler Eifert, Bengals.
Commentary: While Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers will still look to a trio of talented receivers first from the 20 to the 20, Bennett could excel in the red zone. Ertz is good; he could become very good if Carson Wentz continues to improve at quarterback. Walker is a dependable veteran who experienced a renaissance with Marcus Mariota. In Minnesota, Sam Bradford doesn’t throw long (due in part to his weak offensive line), so Rudolph is always a target. Eifert would be ranked higher if he can stay healthy and if Andy Dalton can become more consistent at QB.
Fourth Tier: 11. Jack Doyle, Colts; 12. Julius Thomas, Dolphins; 13. Dwayne Allen, Patriots; 14. Hunter Henry, Chargers; 15. Cameron Brate, Buccaneers.
Commentary: The Colts’ Andrew Luck has always loved to throw to tight ends. In the past, two guys usually split time, but Doyle is the undisputed No. 1 tight end for Indy. Thomas was great with Peyton Manning years ago in Denver. Even though Jay Cutler has plenty of skeptics in Miami, he has a history of trusting his tight ends, especially around the goal line — that translates into good numbers for Thomas. Allen had a few nice seasons years ago with the Colts. And even though he’s the clear backup with the Pats, Gronk’s understudy has always caught his share of balls (i.e., Aaron Hernandez). Allen is a great insurance policy should that Gronkowski wind up on the IR (again). Henry exploded on the scene last year with stats that merited a higher ranking, but be wary since Antonio Gates is still around to cut into that production. Brate had a fine 2016 as part of Tampa Bay’s talented receiving corps, but now he’ll have to fend off rookie O.J. Howard for playing time.
Fifth Tier: 16. Jason Witten, Cowboys; 17. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Texans; 18. Austin Hooper, Falcons; 19. Coby Fleener, Saints; 20. Jared Cook, Raiders; 21. Eric Ebron, Lions.
Sixth Tier: 22. Benjamin Watson, Ravens; 23. Charles Clay, Bills; 24. David Njoku, Browns; 25. Antonio Gates, Chargers; 26. O.J. Howard, Buccaneers.
Seventh Tier: 27. Tyler Higbee, Rams; 28. Virgil Green, Broncos; 29. Evan Engram, Giants; 30. Jermaine Gresham, Cardinals; 31. George Kittler, 49ers; 32. Jesse James, Steelers.