by Inside the Redzone staff – Bill Seng
UPDATE: This is our 2.0 list for tight ends. I wanted to keep the original blog introduction intact of our 1.0 rankings (see below), so the reader can understand the two different philosophies on drafting tight end. IMHO, it is a deeper pool of talent this year. Greg Olsen or Tony Moeaki can be had in the very late rounds and the risk / reward is virtually the same for those two players. So, it probably sounds like I’m advocating draft a tight end late. Maybe, or maybe, I know you are in one of my draft and I’m trying to throw you off!
There are two polarizing viewpoints on drafting tight ends in fantasy football. The first believes it is better to be the one who starts the tight end run by taking the rare elite talent that can put up borderline star WR2 numbers, while the contrarian will want no part of it all together. Instead that mindset is to get value in the later rounds.
Among all the fantasy positions, tight end is the one where you can live week to week with a different face based on who is hot or what the match up is. In the past few years, the position is littered with one-year wonder performances brought in by the likes of Heath Miller, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Brent Celek to name a few. Like the true beauty of fantasy football, there is no exact science on drafting for a tight end. This post will outline the “expected best crop” at this position, but will also discuss the late round sleepers that many in 10 or 12 team leagues want to uncover.
Above all, the most important thing to get out of your fantasy tight end is touchdowns. Most tight ends can’t get downfield, approach 1,000 yards receiving, or don’t catch a lot of passes. Generally they make up for that, by being large, efficient at scoring targets at the stripe.
1. Antonio Gates, Chargers – Forget just the tight end position, Gates is everything you want in a fantasy football stud. With exception of last year’s foot injuries, Gates will tough out most pain and play effectively with it. In 10 games last year he put up 782 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 15.6 yard per catch shows he is a good downfield target and potential 1,000 yard receiving tight end.
2. Vernon Davis, 49ers – He is physically the most prime at this position. Vernon Davis’ ascent from hated, fantasy bust to one of the steady blue chip talents is remarkable. He leads all tight ends with touchdowns the last two seasons with 20. He’s got downfield speed, witness his 16.3 yard per catch in 2010 and has good chemistry with Alex Smith, who figures to be the starter for most or all of the season.
3. Jason Witten, Cowboys – Oddly enough Jason Witten had one of his best season fantasy seasons with Tony Romo standing on the sideline for most of 2010. A combination of Jon Kitna throwing shorter routes and the Cowboys ineffective run game madeWittenthe go-to target around the goal line. With Romo back, can he come close to his career high of 9 touchdowns that was put up just this last season?
4. Jimmy Graham, Saints – UPDATED – So far in trainingcamp Jimmy Graham has taken over as Drew Bree’s favorite target. In the third preseason game, Brees connected with Graham 5 times for 73 yards on 8 targets. As you can see, he also quickly ascended up our list. The New Orleans Saints have been trying to find a compliment for the creaky knees of Marques Colston for a while. Although the Saints would have probably preferred speedster Robert Meachem to be a counted on number 2, it was Graham who became a Drew Brees favorite as the 2010 season came to the close. He caught 54 passes for 502 yards and 4 touchdowns. Colston, who was once listed as a tight end on a major fantasy football site, isn’t getting any faster and the off-season knee surgeries are piling up. Look for Graham to be another red zone presence for the high powered Saints.
5. Jermichael Finley, Packers – UPDATED – No denying this guy’s talent, buy some he is the most physically gifted, despite all the big injuries he’s had so far in his early career. Because he was able to hold up after the more physically demanding third preseason game, we pushed up into the top 5. Jermichael Finley’s potential and the quarterback he plays for is so great, that fantasy pundits generally have him higher. That is going to be most of what we discuss for Finley here, his potential and opportunity. He has only been able to play 18 regular season games in the last two seasons, derailed by bad lower body injuries. This is his last chance to fulfill the fantasy upside most bestow on him, before more pundits begin to side with us.
6. Dallas Clark, Colts – The 8-year veteran is only a season removed from the monster, 100 catch, 1,100 yards, and 10 touchdown season.Clarkis coming off wrist surgery, but by all accounts, seems to be near full-strength. Despite that, the Colts appear to be planning more two tight end sets, which could mean less touchdowns and catches for a healthy Dallas Clark. “We have a number of different packages that we can utilize both of them at the same time, some of them separate from one another, but nevertheless, both guys are a real threat catching the ball and running with it for us,” head coach Jim Caldwell said. “Dallashas been great over the years, and Jacob had an outstanding year last year, very capable guy.”
7. Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers – There seemed to be a time when Kellen Winslow looked destined to burn out of the league quickly, due to injuries and off-the field issues. Times have changed a bit. Winslow has steadily racked up games played. He has suited up in all 32 regular season games (starting 25 of them) in the past two years, averaging 72 grabs, 807 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Winslow just turned 28, so despite the worn tread, he should have another solid year in 2011.
8. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars – Despite not being as fluid as an athlete as Jermichael Finley, we ranked him lower than Marcedes Lewis. Blasphemy, we know. But remember, it wasn’t too long ago that Lewis was drafted in the first round and has made real headway as a pass receiver in the last two years. Lewis is one of the taller tight ends in the league at 6-6. It helped him in his 2010 breakout season of 58 catches, 700 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Is this going to be his career year? Probably, as the quarterback position will remain volatile in Lewis’s prime years. That said with Maurice Jones Drew faltering a bit carrying a heavier load and the Jaguars with no established red zone receiving target, Lewis could be in line for 7 or 8 scores.
9. Brandon Pettigrew – Lions – No Jermichael Finley at 7 either. Instead, insert another talented young tight end. Brandon Pettigrew should get a slight up tick with expected designated goal line back, Mikel LeShoure out for the season. Pettigrew has established himself between the twenties with 71 and 61 catches the last two years, but only 6 touchdowns to show. Now entering his third year in the Scott Linehan offense, the comfort zone should be there for all parties, quarterbacks, coaches, and Pettigrew himself, to take on a bigger role in the red zone playbook.
10. Aaron Hernandez – Patriots – UPDATED – Had the Jason Witten syndrome early when we had everything going as a fantasy tight end, great quarterback throwing to him, targets, and good run after catch. Unfortunately touchdowns were going to the other star Patriots rookie TE, Rob Gronkowski. Hernandez bolted up this list, because of Chad Ocho Cinco’s struggles to pick up the offense, and his increasing use lining up as a receiver.
Borderline TE1 to Sleepers – UPDATED – We moved Tony Gonzalez out as it is becoming more apparent that Matty Ice will be looking downfield more often in 2011. Meanwhile, we also added a pair of AFC North and Washington Redskins tight ends to this list. Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski, Visanthe Shiancoe, Greg Olsen, Dustin Keller, Owen Daniels, Zach Miller, Ben Watson, Tony Moeaki, Ed Dickson, Jermaine Greshem, Chris Cooley, Fred Davis