We’re now just two weeks away from the beginning of the 2016 NFL season, which means fantasy football sleepers are all the rage as drafts are taking place at a rapid pace.
Identifying and selecting sleepers is paramount in fantasy football because the stars typically perform as expected, so it’s the guys that fill out your roster who ultimately decide whether you will flounder in obscurity all season or bask in championship glory.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the top five tight end sleepers in 2016 fantasy football.
Jimmy Graham – Seattle Seahawks
Considering Jimmy Graham used to be a lock top three tight end every season, it’s incredibly strange to be including him on a sleepers list. However, there’s no telling whether or not the Seattle Seahawks will elect to hurry him back from the knee injury he suffered last season, so many fantasy football enthusiasts are apprehensive about rolling the dice.
Seattle relied heavily on RB Marshawn Lynch in recent years, but he’s retired and the Seahawks offense now fully belongs to QB Russell Wilson. Thus, you can expect Wilson to do an abundance of passing this season and despite the fact that he and Graham have struggled to develop chemistry in the past, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll be targeting Jimmy early and often when he finally makes his triumphant return.
Graham is the No. 17 tight end according to the Fantasy Pros consensus rankings but carries the upside of a player in the top 10. Thus, he’s impossible to ignore in the late rounds.
Jesse James, TE – Pittsburgh Steelers *Update*
As reported by CBS Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to place Ladarius Green (head) on the PUP list on Tuesday, which will keep him out of action until at least Week 6. NFL sophomore Jesse James, a fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft, is now expected to begin the season as Pittsburgh’s starter.
James caught five passes for 25 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 of the preseason against the New Orleans Saints, and is said to have developed a solid rapport with Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger this summer. In a pass-happy offense that should spend an abundance of time in the red zone in 2016, Jesse will have every opportunity to prove himself and could be a nice pickup on the waiver wire, as he’s not likely to be drafted in many leagues.
Martellus Bennett – New England Patriots
The New England Patriots obviously love to utilize the tight end position with Rob Gronkowski, but Gronkowski’s presence didn’t stop them from making the overwhelmingly wise decision to acquire Martellus Bennett from the Chicago Bears over the offseason.
Bennett had a down campaign in 2015, finishing with 53 receptions, 439 yards, and three TDs. But just a season prior, Martellus tallied 90 receptions for 916 yards and six TDs, which is far more indicative of the talent he possesses.
Bennett is going to get plenty of opportunities to score in 2016. The Patriots wide receiving corps isn’t incredibly impressive outside of Julian Edelman, and there were plenty of targets to go around back when Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were lighting up NFL gridirons in two-TE sets just a few years ago.
There’s simply nothing to lose when taking a flyer on Bennett as he could easily accumulate over 650 yards with six TDs in 2016.
Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers
Antonio Gates is a future Hall of Famer and at 36 years old hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down on the field. Gates dealt with some injuries in 2015, but still managed to tally 56 receptions for 630 yards and five TDs in just 11 games (four starts).
It’s no secret that San Diego’s offense runs through quarterback Philip Rivers, and Gates is the man he trusts the most in the red zone. Antonio’s demise has been prematurely reported and if he’s able to stay somewhat healthy, you can expect over 700 yards and six TDs from one of the best to ever play the position in 2016.
Take Gates over Zach Ertz every single time.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins getting first-team reps again https://t.co/U387VSEyYq— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 21, 2016
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Austin Seferian-Jenkins possesses the talent to be a top 10 tight end, but he simply hasn’t been able to put it all together on the field in his young career thus far as injuries have plagued his time in the NFL.
Despite playing in only seven games and starting just three of them, Seferian-Jenkins managed to tally 21 receptions for 338 yards and four TDs in 2016. If you were to prorate his performance over a 16-game campaign, you’re essentially looking at a total of 700 yards and eight TDs which is rather impressive.
With Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston coming off a stellar rookie season, all signs point toward Austin finally having the breakout campaign we’ve been expecting from him since he entered the NFL in 2014. Seferian-Jenkins will go undrafted in many fantasy football leagues, so you’ll have every opportunity to obtain his services and should do so in all settings.
[Photo by Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images]