Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen lead must-have TEs

After a couple seasons of being the thinnest position in fantasy football, tight end has seen a recent resurgence. But let's be honest, tight ends are still like the birthday cake in "Office Space." If you pass on the position too often, there won't be anything left.

(By the way, why did they cut the slices of cake so big? It was inevitable that someone was going to get screwed. Maybe giving Milton a piece of cake would have prevented Initech from burning to the ground. And maybe this was all masterminded by Peter Gibbons to help him get away with his scheme.)

Because you can't fill out a fantasy lineup without a tight end, you might as well find one that you can feel confident in for much of the season. Since we have no cake to offer you, we instead present our list of must-own tight ends for 2016 broken down into multiple tiers.

37 pieces of flair

Rob Gronkowski, Patriots: Gronk continues to stand alone atop Tight End Mountain. He's been the top scorer at the position for three of the past five seasons (in the other two, injuries limited him to 11 or fewer games) and continues to produce at a rate similar to some of the elite wide receivers in the game. The gap between Gronk and the rest of the tight end class is closing somewhat, but there's still no doubt that No. 87 is the best of the bunch.

One caveat about Gronkowski entering 2016: Tom Brady's suspension status to start the season. If Brady indeed does miss the first month of the campaign, it will undermine some of Gronk's early production. But you should remain confident that if Jimmy Garoppolo is at the helm, he'll know where to go with the football. Plus, when Brady inevitably returns, all systems will once again be go.

Chotchkies and Flingers

Greg Olsen, Panthers: Gronk might be the unquestioned No. 1 tight end, but there is some healthy debate about who should be second. For me, the answer is Olsen. The Panthers tight end has come into his own over the past four seasons when he became the full-time starter in Carolina. Olsen has averaged 116 targets, 76 receptions, and six touchdowns during that stretch. He's also posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and has earned Cam Newton's trust as the go-to pass-catcher in the offense.

Yet Olsen's greatest ability might be his availability. The only games he's missed in his career were the first two of his rookie campaign back in 2007. Since then, he's played in 142 consecutive contests. Injuries in the NFL are always unpredictable but a player's track record certainly can factor into your fantasy draft position and that track record has me targeting Olsen slightly ahead of ...

Jordan Reed, Washington: Based solely on athleticism and role in the offense, Reed is potentially a better option than Olsen. Despite missing two games last year, he was the third-highest scoring tight end and was second in fantasy points per game to Rob Gronkowski. It's not hyperbole to say that Reed is Washington's best offensive player. There's just one catch. Remember when I said he missed two games last year? Yeah, that's a recurring theme.

In three NFL seasons, Reed has missed 14 of a possible 48 games while dealing with a litany of injuries. It's true that you can't always draft to anticipate injuries. But it's also foolish not to completely take this into account when considering Reed on draft day.

Tyler Eifert, Bengals: Right now, we don't know how much time (if any) Eifert will miss to begin the season after having ankle surgery. Nonetheless, the Bengals pass-catcher has the talent to be an elite player at his position. Catching 13 touchdown passes in a single season will get you in the conversation. What makes Eifert so valuable is his work in the red zone. Among tight ends last year, the Notre Dame product was second in red zone receiving yardage and tied for second in red zone receptions. If you draft him, you'll need to be sure to pick up someone else to potentially help guide you through the first few weeks but without Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu on the field, there could be more opportunities for Eifert once he returns.

Delanie Walker, Titans: I truly don't believe Walker gets enough credit for what he's done the past couple of years. After spending his first seven NFL seasons as an afterthought in San Francisco, Walker's built himself into a top 10 fantasy option during three campaigns in Tennessee. He led all tight ends with 133 targets last season and while that might not happen again in 2016, he could still see close to 100 balls thrown his way. The Titans might have a young corps of receivers but until one of them gains any stature in Mike Mularkey's offense, it's a smart move to stick with a proven producer.

Travis Kelce, Chiefs: It might not be completely fair to call Kelce's 2015 campaign a bust. It's just that it wasn't much different than the 2014 season that started all the hype in the first place. That was certainly frustrating. But the upside is that Kelce had 22 percent of the targets last season -- second behind Jeremy Maclin -- and he finished with the sixth-most receiving yards among tight ends. There's still plenty to like here just so long as you don't get too excited and overdraft him. If he does end up having the breakout season we were expecting last year, then you'll look like a genius.

Jump to conclusions

Julius Thomas, Jaguars: Injuries and the task of adjusting to a new team kept Thomas from making a major impact last year. However, reports of the tight end spending the offseason working with quarterback Blake Bortles is reason to be optimistic. The worrisome part is that after a breakout season in 2015, the Jaguars offense could be in line for some serious regression -- especially if Chris Ivory helps Jacksonville solidify its run game. But considering where Thomas is coming off the board (Round 11 in most NFL.com leagues) compared to his potential ceiling, it's a risk well worth taking.

Gary Barnidge, Browns: If there's anyone on this list due for a major step back, it's Barnidge. He caught 79 passes in 2015. In his previous six seasons combined, he'd had just 79 TARGETS. The skeptic in me wonders if it's possible for him to duplicate the feat this season. Then I take a look at the rest of the Browns pass-catchers and, well ... yeah it seems very possible.

Ladarius Green, Steelers: Green seems to have everything going for him. He's finally out of the shadow of Antonio Gates and ready to line up in one of the NFL's most potent offenses. The only question is how exactly the targets will be divvied up this season. The upside is that without Martavis Bryant (suspension) and Heath Miller (retirement), there should be plenty of opportunity out there. We just might need to wait until the preseason to get a better idea of how things will shake out in Pittsburgh.

Coby Fleener, Saints: I've frequently said that opportunity is the lifeblood of fantasy success. As such, Fleener should draw a little more interest from fantasy managers. Saints tight ends have been targeted more than 38 percent of the time over the past five seasons. While the presence of Jimmy Graham skews that number a little bit, it's worth noting that Benjamin Watson was second on the club with a 17 percent target share in 2015. Worst-case scenario: Fleener stumbles into approximately 100 targets. That's about all you can hope for. What he does with them after that is out of your hands.

Why wait? CLICK HERE to get your 2016 NFL Fantasy season started.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who dreams of doing absolutely nothing and having it be everything he thought it could be. Follow him on Twitter @MarcasG.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.