Is Dez Bryant a top fantasy option?

Dez Bryant has struggled with injuries and in-season battles in the past two years. Bryant was once a top five receiver in fantasy. From 2012-14, he finished in the top five in fantasy points in the receiver group. But with struggles with injuries and a transition to a new Dallas offense and quarterback, will Bryant return to being the elite fantasy player that he was early in his career?

Throw up the X: 2011-14

After his rookie season, Bryant came to life. In 2011, Bryant became a top option for Tony Romo behind Jason Witten. He finished with 63 receptions, 928 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished in the top 20 that year in fantasy for receivers.

The following season, Bryant broke onto the scene. He had his first season over 1,000 yards and had over 90 receptions and double digits in touchdowns. He finished in the top 10 in receptions (92), yards (1,382) and receiving yards per game (86.4). His 12 touchdowns were top-three. Bryant finished third in fantasy that season.

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant and Tony Romo (Photo by: zimbio.com)

In 2013, he had another solid season. He saw his targets spike from 138 to 160. He finished in the top five in fantasy again under receivers and his 93 receptions ranked eighth. His 13 touchdowns again ranked third.

Bryant did see a small decline in receiving yards with 1,233 and his receiving yards per game (77.1) that both ranked outside the top 10.

However, Bryant did perform in the top two inside the 10-yard line of the red zone. He led the league in targets (16), receptions (11) and touchdowns (9). He finished second in yards (38) and target percentage (43.2).

Bryant developed into a red zone weapon and also ranked in the top 10 in receptions (13) and target percentage (29.9) inside the 20-yard line. He was also second in touchdowns with 10 inside the 20.

2014 was probably Bryant’s best fantasy season to date. He finished third in fantasy points among receivers, his third top five finish in a row. He led the league in receiving touchdowns with 16. Bryant also improved his receiving yards (1,320) and receiving yards per game (82.5), which ranked eighth and 10th respectively.

He did have less receptions (88) but averaged 14.3 fantasy points per game, a career-best that season which ranked third. He also had his best PPR fantasy points per game at 19.8. Bryant also doubled his catches of 20-plus yards with 22 that ranked fifth in 2014.

In those four seasons, Bryant totaled 4,863 yards and 50 touchdowns. During that time, just Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green had more yards than he did. His touchdowns were the most during that timeframe, and no other receiver had more than 43 touchdowns.

Injuries and quarterback issues: 2015-16

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: whatthebuc.net)

Before the season, Bryant resigned with the Cowboys on a five-year, $70 million contract that included $45 million of guaranteed money and a $20 million signing bonus.

In a game against the Giants on Sep. 13, 2015, Bryant had a foot injury. The x-ray revealed a fracture in the foot that required surgery. He returned in week eight and struggled, getting two receptions for 12 yards.

In a season in which he struggled with health issues, he caught 31 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns. Before the injury, part of Bryant’s success was having Tony Romo as the quarterback. They only played three games together in 2015 as Romo had a back injury.

Bryant played with two other quarterbacks (Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore) that season. All of his three touchdowns came from a different quarterback. On Jan. 6, 2016, he underwent foot and ankle surgeries.

In 2016, his favorite quarterback in the preseason went down with another back injury and rookie Dak Prescott became the starter. It proved again that Bryant missed Romo as the quarterback as he and Prescott only connected on 16 of their first 41 targets in their first five games together.

This led to inconsistent fantasy numbers, as Bryant had just three games with 10 or more points, but two games with less than two points. He also missed three games with a knee injury. However, removing week 17 where they played only one series, Bryant and Prescott came to life.

In the final eight games including the playoffs, Bryant had 66 targets, 43 receptions, 646 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s a 65.2 percent completion rate. It seemed that Bryant came back to being the receiver he once was.

2017 outlook

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: sbnation.com)

In 2017, there is some concern regarding Bryant. Besides adding no receiver help to complement him, Bryant will face Janoris Jenkins twice, Josh Norman twice, Aqib Talib/Chris Harris Jr., Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Jason Verrett/Casey Hayward and Richard Sherman.

In the two matchups with the Giants last year, he was held to just two catches for 18 yards on 14 targets and fumbled once that clinched the Giants win in the second meeting.

The last time he played against Sherman, he totaled just two catches for 12 yards on six targets.

And expect Norman to shadow Bryant this year after not doing so in 2016. In the first three games for Bryant, he plays the Giants at home and then goes to Denver and Arizona on the road. We could see again early season struggles for him.

He has missed 22 games in two seasons. He is also in a run-heavy offense with a great offensive line and a premier running back. The defense in Dallas hasn’t improved, especially in the backfield which could lead to Prescott throwing the ball more if they have to play catch up. That would benefit Bryant but the game plan will be to run the ball to protect Prescott.

But how good will Prescott be if he has to throw to win? That’s a question for another article.

Bryant is a top-10 fantasy receiver that should be drafted somewhere in the third round. Be cautious with his durability, and Prescott worries me this year as he is my top bust for quarterbacks. In some leagues he will be a top receiver for most teams, but he’s a high-end WR2 with a ceiling as a middling WR1.

 

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2016 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings

Top 20 Quarterbacks: Brady falls due to suspension, but how far?

Top 20 Running Backs: Lack of bellcows causes top RBs to be pivatol

Top 30 Wide Receivers: Brown, Jones lead the way

Top 15 Tight Ends: Who’s after Gronk?

All rankings are PPR rankings. Although some of my colleagues here at The Game Haus disagree, PPR is the way to go. I believe it, and you, the fans, believe it too (according to a Twitter poll). Here’s your 2016 fantasy football tight end rankings.

1. Rob Gronkowski

From Surefire Tight Ends: “Rob Gronkowski is head and shoulders above the rest of the tight end crop. In the four seasons in which Gronk’s played 15 or more games or more, he’s finished first in points among tight ends three times; the only time he didn’t finish first was his rookie campaign.

It seems to me that fantasy players are overly-concerned with Rob Gronkowski’s health. He’s only had two seasons in which he hasn’t played 15 games. The root of the concern seems to stem from the fact that the two seasons Gronk missed more than one game came back-to-back (11 games in 2012, 7 games in 2013). Sure, he’s had some minor issues in each season, but none of them have been severe enough to hurt his numbers.

Gronk has proved pretty durable since the start of 2014. He’s also enjoyed three huge years with his New England Patriots while he’s been a starter and stayed healthy. Looking at the table below shows just how explosive the Arizona product has been.

2011 90 REC, 1,327 yards, 17 TD (1 rushing)
2014 82 REC, 1,124 yards, 12 TD
2015 72 REC, 1,176 yards, 11 TD

There’s not really much that needs to be said about Rob Gronkowski. Barring injury, he’ll finish as the best tight end in football yet again this season. I still refuse to take him before the twelfth(ish) pick. However, grabbing a player with the Surefire Stamp of Approval (patent pending), and then picking Gronkowski will be huge for your team this season.”

2. Greg Olsen

2016 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings

Greg Olsen is Cam Newton’s favorite player to throw to. (Photo: buccaneers.com)

From Surefire Tight Ends: “Greg Olsen has blossomed since joining Carolina five seasons ago. He’s stepped into the role of being Cam Newton’s primary pass catcher, which isn’t something tight ends normally do. Olsen will be a great tight end this season.

There are no question marks surrounding Greg Olsen’s durability. Olsen has been a pro for eight years, and in each of the last seven, Olsen has played in all 16 games. To add to his toughness, Olsen has started all 16 games in each of his last four seasons.

Greg Olsen is also Cam Newton’s favorite face to throw to. Last season, Olsen reached his career mark in targets with 129. Two seasons ago, he had 126, even with Kelvin Benjamin playing in all 16 games. The Miami (FL) product has led the Panthers in receptions in each of the last three seasons, proving he’ll get a high volume of targets this season.

The most exciting and safe argument for Greg Olsen has been his consistency. Consistency is the name of the game when I select players to receive the Surefire Stamp of Approval, and Olsen fits the bill. Olsen’s best seasons have been in each of his last four. In those seasons, he’s finished as the eighth-highest scoring tight end or better, including being the fourth-best tight end for two seasons in a row.

2013 69 REC, 843 yards, 5 TD
2014 73 REC, 816 yards, 6 TD
2015 77 REC, 1,104 yards, 7 TD

I would suggest drafting Olsen over Rob Gronkowski as your starting tight end. He’s got a lot better value in terms of ADP, being selected at the 41st pick on nfl.com and espn.com. You’ll be able to stock up on other positions before selecting Olsen with your fourth(ish) pick.”

3. Delanie Walker

From Surefire Tight Ends: “The last player to earn the Surefire Stamp of Approval in our Surefire series is Delanie Walker. Walker’s career has taken off since joining the Tennessee Titans three seasons ago. He’s played in 15 games in each of his three seasons as a Titan, and his playing time has amassed strong numbers for the Central Missouri State product (go fighting Mules?).

With Walker consistently staying off the injury report, he’s been able to accrue at least 14 games in every season except for his rookie season. That said, he’s been able to finished as the 12th, 8th, and 5th tight end in 2013,2014, and 2015, respectively.

Walker also dominates red zone targets on his team. He saw 17 red zone targets last season, seven more than the second-highest target receiver. Walker also caught 14 passes in the red zone, an astounding 10 more than the second-highest receiver.

2013 60 REC, 571 yards, 6 TD
2014 63 REC, 890 yards, 4 TD
2015 94 REC, 1,088 yards, 6 TD

A starter for the last three seasons, Walker has also seen his best three career seasons each year since 2013. Last year, he caught 94 balls. That was first among tight ends, and more than Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, and Allen Robinson. Walker’s 1,088 yards were more than Amari Cooper, Sammy Watkins, or Eric Decker. Walker simply needs to maintain the numbers he’s put up in recent years, and just add a few touchdowns to his statline.

Walker is a less talked about and less drafted tight end. He’ll still be taken in every draft, but he won’t be taken as high as the aforementioned tight ends. He’s being taken as a low TE1 right now, which is great value. If you want to wait on a tight end until Walker, it could be a great plan. You’ll be able to really pad your other position groups before going tight end.”

4. Jordan Reed

From Surefire Tight Ends: “Jordan Reed celebrated this offseason by signing a 5-year, $47M extension. Washington hasn’t thrown around money like it grows on trees either, as they’ve been stingy with paying Kirk Cousins top dollar. This shows that the front office in Washington is confident in Reed leading the tight end position for years to come for the Redskins.

The money Reed received is likely due to his breakout season in 2015. He finished with 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. Reed looks to use 2016 as a springboard to elite status. After finishing with the third-most points among tight ends last season, Reed can cement himself as a top tight end with another big year.

The fun part about Reed is his touchdown scoring potential. He had the third-most red zone targets last season, totaling 23. Brandon Marshall (25), Antonio Brown (24), and Gary Barnidge (24), were the only players who had more targets, and Marshall was the only one with more touchdowns (14). Reed reached paydirt 11 times, which was tied for first among tight ends.

There is some concern with his ankle issues, but other than that, Reed will be a high-quality and safe draft pick. The University of Florida product will always be Kirk Cousins’ favorite red zone target, which gives him ample opportunities to have consistent and quality fantasy performances.”

5. Coby Fleener

Now a member of the New Orleans Saints, Coby Fleener could have a huge 2016 season. We know Drew Brees knows how to utilize tight ends. He helped Jimmy Graham become a star and even allowed Benjamin Watson to have a good season last year. Fleener is a pure receiving tight end. He’s a great fit to the Saints’ system, and is in line for a 65/900/6 statline by the time this season is over. Yes, Fleener hasn’t produced TE5 numbers in his career, but this season could very well be his first season doing so.

6. Ladarius Green

At this point, the common reader will blow me off, call me an idiot, and not read my reasoning on why Ladarius Green should be number six. Per Green’s first six games of the season, he was on pace to finish with 64 catches for 811 yards and eight touchdowns. In my book, that’s a solid season. Now getting all the starting reps in Pittsburgh, Green is poised to breakout. We saw how much Ben Roethlisberger loved Heath Miller, and it’s now Green’s turn to take over that role. In a pass heavy offense, look for Ladarius Green to break out this season.

2016 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings

Tyler Eifert’s inconsistency and high ADP scares me away. Regardless, he’s still a good tight end if it’s late enough in the draft. (Photo: AP/Gary Landers)

7. Tyler Eifert

Tyler Eifert is the most risky player that you can draft at any position right now. Being taken as the number four tight end right now, his asking price is way too high. The first red flag with Eifert is that he was incredibly touchdown dependent last season. He scored 13 touchdowns last season, which is great. However, if someone told you that Eifert had less catches and yards than Jacob Tamme and Benjamin Watson, I don’t think you’d believe it. Well, that stat is true. If you take out Tyler Eifert’s best two games (a combined 17/194/4), Eifert’s stats aren’t appealing at all. The most catches he had in a game was five, and the most yards he had was 69.

I cannot stress enough that you should buy into a player if a high volume of his stats came in two games or less. I’m passing on Eifert right now, as his asking price is too high.

8. Travis Kelce

Travis Kelce was the most consistent tight end last season. In an astounding 75 percent of the games Kelce played, he had 4-6 catches. However, the yards totals were’t as high as you’d like to see. Kelce also found the end zone just five times, and only three times if you take out the first game of the season. The University of Cincinnati product is the best tight end after the catch, as he averaged 12.15 yards per reception last season. Kelce will be a consistent but low level TE1 this season.

9. Julius Thomas

In his first season in Jacksonville, Julius Thomas battled injuries while trying to learn a brand new offense. That doesn’t add up to a great season. Thomas had 46 catches for 455 yards and five score last season. Jacksonville’s offense is turning into a fantasy relevant team at every position, including tight end. Thomas will be better this season, but he still probably won’t get much better than a middling TE1 this season.

10. Zach Ertz

Go ahead and light me up for this ranking too. Zach Ertz had 75 receptions last season- 75 in six games started. Ertz also had 853 receiving yards. Ertz would’ve been a solid TE1 last season, had he caught more than a mere two touchdowns. I’m all for guys who aren’t touchdown dependent. Ertz was far from it, and because of that, he has tremendous upside for this season.

11. Gary Barnridge

Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Duke Johnson, Isaiah Crowell- those are the players Gary Barnridge has to battle with this season for touches. With his breakout season coming at age 30, I don’t trust Barnridge has much left in the tank. He also won’t be the one of two respectable targets on the team like last season. His numbers will go down, so don’t overestimate Gary Barnridge this season.

12. Jimmy Graham

Healthy again, Jimmy Graham could be ready to get back to his old ways. A superstar in New Orleans, Graham started slow last season. Graham missed nearly half the season thanks to a torn patellar tendon, which ended an already disappointing 2015 season. The Seahawks will be passing more this season, which means Graham will have more opportunities. Still,  I’m not trusting Graham to be anything more than my backup.

2016 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings

Zach Miller’s upside is enticing for 2016. (Photo: Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

13. Zach Miller

Zach Miller is one of the few non-TE1s with upside. He’s taking over for Martellus Bennett this season, and Bennett did well in his time with the Bears. I think Miller can pick up where Bennett left off, as he hauled in 29 passes for 389 yards and four touchdowns in his final seven games last season. I like Miller’s situation and end to 2015, which paves way for him to have some upside for this season.

14. Jason Witten

Jason Witten has never finished worse than the TE13 since 2004. Witten will always have fantasy relevance as long as he plays, but he is trending downwards. He’s finished 11th and 12th in the past two seasons, and it’s hard to believe he’ll get much better this season. Witten is a great backup option, but I’m not trusting him to start for my team.

15. Antonio Gates

Somehow the Chargers let Ladarius Green walk, who I thought was the future of their franchise at tight end. San Diego must trust that Antonio Gates will be around for at least a few more seasons. Like Witten, as long as he’s around, Gates will be a fantasy producer. However, finishing no better than eighth in three of the last four seasons proves Gates is trending down.