Bye weeks are never fun for fantasy owners, especially when dealing with a position that has as much variance as the tight end. The thing to keep in mind is that during these heavy bye weeks, every owner is pretty much in the same boat. Running to contingency plan and having studs out of the lineup is never a favorable one, but with the right planning and execution, you won't fall in the standings.
Adding to that is the trouble of injuries. Jermichael Finley will likely be placed in injured reserve, and Jimmy Graham is dealing with a foot injury that leaves his Week 8 status in question. But the fantasy world can at least take solace in the return of a premier tight end after a seven week absence. As a result, that person just so happens to top our rankings this week:
WEEK 8 STUDS
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (vs. Miami Dolphins): So we knew that Rob Gronkowski would be back last week, but at what capacity? Well, pretty much full. Gronk was somewhat limited, playing 51 of 79 snaps, but he was as heavily targeted as it gets. Quarterback Tom Brady threw toward his tight end's direction 17 times, or once every three times Gronk took the field last week.
That's obviously an absurd rate that isn't sustainable, but there's no reason to believe that Gronkowski isn't going to be Brady's most frequently targeted pass catcher, and when he gets those kinds of looks, special things happen. Gronk finished last week with eight catches for 114 yards and nearly found the end zone on two occasions. When he faces the Dolphins, who have given up the most fantasy points to tight ends this season, it would be surprising to see him kept out of the end zone once again.
Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos (vs. Washington Redskins): Though his yardage total over the past two weeks has been modest, Thomas will have the benefit of playing the Redskins defense that just gave up 38 points to a Bears offense that was primarily run by Josh McCown. Furthermore, they will be without Brandon Meriweather due to a suspension, and potentially Reed Doughty due to a concussion.
That leaves the safety duties to Jordan Pugh, who was brought back this week, converted cornerback E.J. Biggers and possibly rookie Bacarri Rambo, who had been inactive for the past few weeks after a poor showing to start the season. Expect Thomas to not only find the end zone as per usual, but expect him to rack-up the catches and yards versus a defense that just won't be able to match up with him.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins (vs. Denver Broncos): I'm not sure what the record for most fantasy points in a game is, but that might be broken on Sunday during the Redskins/Broncos game. One of the names surely to pop out of the stat sheet once again is rookie tight end Jordan Reed, who has set career highs in catches and yards in each of the last three weeks. His nine-catch, 134-yard performance versus the Bears was his coming out party, and it was no fluke. Reed is a versatile chess piece with a big catch radius that has lined up all over for Kyle Shanahan's offense, and there will be plenty of ways to get Reed the ball. In the likelihood that the Redskins need to play catch-up to the Broncos, Reed will once again be a primary target.
WEEK 8 DUDS
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (vs. Green Bay Packers): Just as the hulking, pass-catching tight end started to get some looks with Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman under center, news of Christian Ponder starting on Sunday assuredly dooms Rudolph back to fantasy mediocrity. With Ponder under center in the first three games, Rudolph never had much of a chance to capitalize for sizable chunks of yardage, averaging just 32 receiving yards per game. Until the Vikings offense shows any signs of life, Rudolph should not be anywhere near fantasy owners' starting lineups. Despite a brutal bye week and recent injuries, several good matchups remain in store for tight ends as a whole, and fantasy owners are in trouble if their top option is Rudolph.
Andrew Quarless, Green Bay Packers (vs. Minnesota Vikings): With Jermaichael Finley out of commission, fantasy owners have taken to the waiver wire to see what backup Andrew Quarless will bring to the table. The fact is, it won't be much. Quarless is not a versatile, "move" tight end that Finley is, and he will not warrant mismatches that will draw the attention of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Quarless is a prototypical in-line, blocking tight end, who caught just three passes for 21 yards in Finley's early exit versus the Bengals. If anything, the routes along the seam that Finley used to run will potentially go to Brandon Bostick. However, there is no fantasy value to be had from him, either. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Let's take a look at the top 25 tight ends for Week 8: