In recent years, we have seen more passing and less running, which has really increased the importance of tight ends. We see a lot less run blocking and a lot more deep and intermediate routes out of tight ends in more modern systems. This forces us to think about these players as much bigger weapons than we did even 5 years ago, especially when it comes to raking up yardage.
#5. Jared Cook
The top end of tight end is a pretty solidified top 3 and then a 4th player that has vaulted up the board due to his situation. After #4, you will see a lot of different takes, including guys like Evan Engram, Eric Ebron, Hunter Henry, and David Njoku.
I think that a very good case can be made for all 5 of these options for #5, but I prefer Cook due to his situation. Drew Brees is still an elite quarterback and should be asked to throw the ball more without Mark Ingram in the fold this season.
Cook can come in and be the third option on an elite offense besides Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Ted Ginn can stretch the field, along with Tre’Quan Smith, but neither are heavy target guys in normal situations. I think Cook is an elite athlete that will thrive in an elite offense.
I prefer to avoid Engram and Ebron in most spots this season because I think they are much riskier picks. Engram is on a bad team, and I really try to avoid bad offenses at the top end.
Ebron was phenomenal last season, but he gets Jack Doyle back, along with a second-round wide receiver and Devin Funchess. I see many paths for Ebron to lose a LOT of targets
#4. O.J. Howard
Howard is an elite athlete that has not been used properly throughout his career. Now, he is locked into a new offense that should play faster and use him a lot more. Jameis Winston loves targeting O.J., and he is capable of breaking big plays and having red zone success. Last year, Howard produced per game averages above the TE5, and I only expect that to increase.
#3. Zach Ertz
I am never someone that goes up to get Zach Ertz in a draft because he is not really my type of play. However, Ertz is someone that has flashed a bit more upside in the last year or two, along with continuing to be Mr. Reliable from a week-to-week basis. Ertz is clearly cemented in the three spot coming into this season with his combination of safety and upside.
#2. George Kittle
Speaking of upside, Kittle should thrive in this Kyle Shanahan offense that loves to throw the ball efficiently. Kittle was not utilized at all in college, allowing the 49ers to steal him in the fifth round. Kittle’s incredible athleticism was something to note in the pre-draft process, and he has blossomed into an elite receiver.
Kittle has elite speed and size for the position, and the 49ers offense should be adding more weapons this season, along with getting their quarterback back. Kittle had a dominant 2018 season with multiple QBs that you had never heard of while the entire defense knew he was getting the ball. The surrounding talent the 49ers now have should only increase Kittle’s floor.
#1. Travis Kelce
Kelce is the epitome of a receiving tight end in an elite offense, and I think that he could be leaned on even heavier this season. We all know that Tyreek Hill is on thin ice and could be out for the foreseeable future at any time. This news would increase Kelce’s week-to-week floor and his overall ceiling, in my opinion.
Last season, the Chiefs were so dynamic in their play calling that Kelce was not always a focus of Patrick Mahomes. This season, Kelce may be the CLEAR #1 option every single week, which was not the case at all last season. Kelce’s touches may become less efficient in this situation, but we would almost never see 5 catches and no TDs either.