Historically, tight ends have been the foot soldiers of fantasy football.
Sure, there was always one or two worthy of a top 25 or top 30 selection overall. Tony Gonzalez. Antonio Gates. And maybe a few other one hit wonders along the way.
And then there were the likes of Todd Heap or Dallas Clark or Chris Cooley or Wesley Walls who would pop up. They were nice to own, did something once in a while. But let’s be honest, they were seldom difference makers. In most drafts many owners were looking at getting some more depth at receiver or running back before filling out their final starting slot with a tight end.
Times are a changing though. The tight end has become a weapon in the NFL and in the fantasy game as well. This year there are four or five tight ends at the top capable of making huge impacts. And with the two tight end sets being commonplace there are some additional names farther down the list capable of being sleeper material.
It’s nice to see the hybrids come out of the background, and it is quickly making fantasy football more fun…
1. Jimmy Graham (NO)
Thought I’d throw a curve for number one. Graham has followed the same footpath of Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, coming from a basketball background to dominate in the league – with Graham and Gates doing it with very little previous football experience. Coming off a 99 catch/1300+ yard/11 TD season, Graham is a good bet to do it again.
2. Rob Gronkowski (NE)
He is number one on many boards and perhaps the most debated player in fantasy football going into the season. His 2011 stats were historic, identical to Jimmy Graham except he ended up with 17 TDs. What knocks Gronk out of the top spot for me is the possible carryover from the sprained ankle from the AFC Championship game, along with raising some eyebrows with his post-Super Bowl behavior.
Or Gronkowski could come into the season firing on all cylinders, and quite possibly wind up NOT being New England’s best TE statistically. If you want to go high (as in first round) based on those 17 TD’s, then follow it. But if another owner takes Gronk first, then that’s your signal to take Graham.
3. Vernon Davis (SF)
I’m going a little out on a limb with Vern. Statistically, Vernon was a bit behind the top two last year (67/792/6 TDs). However, it was the Niners two playoff games (292 yards/4 TDs) where Davis reminded us of his freakish skill set. And it isn’t like he has not done it before, 13 TDs back in 2009. However Vernon has never gone over 1,000 yards in his six years in the league, and he isn’t catching passes from Drew Brees or Tom Brady.
4. Aaron Hernandez (NE)
It wasn’t like his second year in the league was a disappointment – 79 catches, 910 yards, seven scores in just 14 games. If Rob Gronkowski misses time or is running down a cylinder this year, Aaron could easily have just as paranormal a season as Gronk had in 2011. Or put it this way, I like Hernandez’s value in Round 4 just as much, if not better, than Gronk in Round 2.
5. Antonio Gates (SD)
He’s trending downward and has had foot issues the past couple of years and is also now age 32. But make no mistake, he is still a factor, scoring 25 times in 39 games during the past three years. You’re not going to see All-World out of him again but still nice second-tier guy.
6. Jermichael Finley (GB)
For months on his social media platform he proclaimed 2011 to be ‘YOTTO,’ or ‘Year of the Takeover.’ Not quite. He wasn’t bad. He did score eight times but was only third on the Packers in receiving yards. He also had more than his share of dropped passes. What I do like is this: Finley is still a heck of a talent, and this year represents a great buy low opportunity. I like Finley much better in Rounds 5 or 6 this year than Rounds 3 or 4 a year ago.
7. Jason Witten (DAL)
I see him ranked a little too high (like number 3) in some publications. Witten will give you this: In nine years he has been incredibly consistent – only missing one game his entire career, catching at least 60 balls the past eight years while averaging 11+ yards a pop. What Witten is not is a red zone target. He did get nine TDs in 2010 but that was more of an aberration.
8. Jacob Tamme (DEN)
One of your draft day targets should be to get one of the seven names listed above here. It is quite a dropoff here at number eight. I’m reaching a little bit for Tamme at this spot only because he has had experience working for Peyton Manning, and having that on his resume could translate into some great numbers in Denver, like 80 or so catches. Jacob is an upside pick at this point.
9. Fred Davis (WSH)
When looking at last year’s numbers, keep in mind Davis missed his team’s final four games for breaking the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The final 12-game stat line (59 catches/796 yards) was more than adequate, the negative being that he only scored three times.
10. Jermaine Gresham (CIN)
This is another potential pick here. The OU product has been solid first two years in the league, going over 50 catches both years despite playing only 14 and 15 games. If Gresham approached 80 catches in Year Three, I would not be surprised.
11. Tony Gonzalez (ATL)
Has become the Carlton Fisk of the tight end position, Gonzalez will be four years older than any other starting TE in the league this year. In his three years with the Falcons, Tony has averaged over 75 catches per season while scoring six, six, and seven times. I have him ranked a little low only because there is no upside at this point of his first-ballot HOF career.
12. Brent Celek (PHI)
He does some things after making the catch and has averaged 12+ yards per catch last three years, which is very good for the position. But the chemistry between him Michael Vick seems to be hit or miss.
13. Dustin Keller (NYJ)
He’s beginning to sneak up there, improving from 45 to 55 to 65 catches the past three years. Now in his fifth year, Keller should be peaking just about now.
14. Brandon Pettigrew (DET)
What you will get are catches, 71 and 83 in the past two years. What you will not get is a high average per catch or a lot of touchdowns. A solid bye week fill-in in PPR formats.
15. Coby Fleener (IND)
Outside of Andrew Luck , Robert Griffin, and Trent Richardson, Fleener goes into the season as one of the top talked-about rookies in fantasy. I’m not expecting huge numbers from Fleener, at least in Year One. Yes, he was Luck’s teammate at Stanford, but he only caught 34 passes, albeit at nearly a 20-yard per catch clip. Is more of a swing at the fence than anything else this year.
16. Kellen Winslow (SEA)
The Soldier didn’t’ last long with new Tampa coach Greg Schiano during OTAs, and proclaimed he ‘had to roll’ after getting his discharge papers from the Bucs. The much-maligned did produce quietly in Tampa , going 77, 65, and 75 catches the last three years.
17. Jared Cook (TN)
If you want to go by his second-half splits in ’11 (30 catches/442 yards) and project that out, then you have potential for a low-end starter at the position.
18. Greg Olson (CAR)
With Jeremy Shockey now out of town we should finally get to see how Olson can do as a numero uno going into the season. Even in a timeshare role, Olson has scored an impressive 18 times last three seasons.
19. Owen Daniels (HOU)
Was money back in 2007-08 before he blew out his knee. Doesn’t catch as many passes these days, but still averages 12+ yards a catch. Has never scored more than five times in a season.
20. Dallas Clark (TB)
A 100-catch man just three years ago, Clark’s stats fell as mightily as anyone without PM last year. He’ll never get close to the Manning era numbers down in Tampa, but he still deserves late consideration.
21. Ed Dickson (BAL)
The Ravens are into a lot of 2-TE sets, and Dickson had a nice 54-catch season in his second campaign. I wouldn’t expect too much further improvement. Dennis Pitta can also be ranked around this range (always fear the BYU tight end factory).
22. Tony Moeaki (KC)
After catching 47 catches as a rookie, Moeaki wound up a casualty in that infamous pre-season finale in Green Bay when Coach Todd Haley threw out his starters like the world was on the line. Since the torn ACL occurred back in early September, it’s possible that Moeaki can work his way back into the starting lineup by Week 1.
23. Mercedes Lewis (JAX)
We knew even this time last year that his 10 TDs in 2010 was an aberration, but Mercedes even surpassed the lowest of expectations not catching a single touchdown in 15 games. Lewis also only scored two times in ’09, so that year and last year are the norms.
24. Kyle Rudolph (MN)
I have him as one of my deep sleepers. Did not stick out in any one game last year (not more than three catches) but a lot of people are high on the Notre Dame product.
25. Heath Miller (PIT)
Since the beginning of time, throwing to the tight end has never been a huge staple in the Steelers’ offense. Miller seemed ready to buck that trend with a 76-catch season a few years back, but his numbers have fallen into the 50-catch range since.