Open Season on Tight Ends

Macon TelegraphAugust 31, 2012 

     Used to be near round 5 or 6 in fantasy drafts past, that one bold manager or two would be the one to pick the elite tight end or two off the board. Then the rest of us level headed folk would absorb a steady player and not worry to much about the position. The game could not be more different. Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham (both fresh off NFL record setting seasons for touchdowns and yards respectively) are safely gone by round 3.  It's so revolutionary to the game that you must accommodate your draft strategy around it. You have to ask yourself, am I going for one of them? If so, you've scratched off your second round pick or even late first. I'm in the minority in that I think this year's crop is so deep that you don't need to reach. A late ranked player like a Brandon Pettigrew or Fred Davis could easily still be game changers. Enough talk, let's rank:

1.  Jimmy Graham   - -   New Orleans Saints  ADP: 2nd round (1st TE overall) / Yahoo: 1st

     Nice and boring to start off this list too. Some may think Gronk should contend for the top tight end status, but I point to health and lack of other targets. Injuries were eating up the dancer left and right in the playoffs for New England, meanwhile Jimmy Graham has fewer elite targets on his team. Gronkowski has to fight for targets from his other tight end Aaron Hernandez who did get resigned, free agent Brandon Lloyd and slot maestro Wes Welker. Let's not forget that in his rookie year Rob Gronkowski was the red zone and blocking tight end while Aaron Hernandez broke out. Aaron Hernandez will get his yards and the team placed their faith in him to give him that extra cheese. I've always thought yards were safer bets than Touchdowns in terms of players too.

2.  Rob Grokowski   - -   New England Patriots  ADP: 3rd round (2nd TE overall) / Yahoo: 2nd

3. Jermichael Finley   - -   Green Bay Packers ADP: 7th round (6th TE overall) / Yahoo: 6th

     Can you tell I'm high on Jermichael? His first breakout year (and by that I mean 5 games before he got hurt) he looked unstoppable with Aaron Rodgers. He never really got to that level last year for whatever reason but I think that highlights his potential. Plus the Packers division foes Chicago and Detroit really improved themselves in the offseason, so Green Bay may somehow throw the ball even more. His hands are as reliable as they come.

4.  Jason Witten   - -   Dallas Cowboys  ADP: 9th round (8th TE overall) / Yahoo: 9th

     I've really gone off grid with my last two tight ends. Jason Witten quietly is a top 5 consistent producer in tight end world and were it not for a lacerated spleen I would nudge this stud even higher. Dez Bryant, as electrifying and exciting as he is, just isn't built for 16 games - he goes too hard and too fast. Jason Witten is the first redzone look and Romo's favorite checkdown. Every year Witten is a target for me

5.  Aaron Hernandez   - -   New England Patriots  ADP:5th round (4th overall) / Yahoo: 4th

     We may take it for granted but I seriously doubt that we'll ever watch a better tight end duo on the same team ever again. Not just in terms of talent but how masterfully Bellichick uses them. Now throw in Josh McDaniels (no pun intended) and Brady will be slinging it more often. On a Gronkowski-less team, Aaron Hernandez could be the top tight end in fantasy. But sharing the spotlight he must settle for five in my ranks.

8.  Antonio Gates   - -   San Diego Chargers  ADP: 5th round (3rd TE overall) / Yahoo: 3rd

     I'm glad this isn't an anatomy class because I would have trouble circling a Platia Faceiatus, but the foot injury plagued one of the NFL's tight end heritage stars last year.  Playing with little to no speed all he could rely on was his hands and produce he did. Now, the reports out of training camp have been glowing. If he has his wheels back he might have one truly dominant season left in him. The Chargers will lean on him too - the Bolts receiving corp hasn't looked this anemic in a long time. 3rd seems to me too high for a guy with his injury fistory.

9.  Vernon Davis   - -   San Francisco 49ers  ADP: 7th round (5th TE overall) / Yahoo: 5th

     You just don't see tight ends drafted in the top 10 spots in April. But you also don't see tight ends with his skill set - a vertical jumping terror with 4.4 speed. Vernon has always worked out well, but not until the playoffs have we seen his potential take over a game.  His touchdown catch against the Saints hopefully lends itself to this year but don't let that fresh memory make you forget who's throwing him the ball and all those meek games on statsheets past.

10.  Tony Gonzalez   - -   Atlanta Falcons  ADP: 11th round (11th TE overall) / Yahoo: 10th

     While the injured veteran Gates may be ranked a little high, this is great value with Gonzalez around round eleven. Tony Gonzalez, realizing the young stars in Ryan Rhoddy and Julio on the team decided against retiring for one last hoorah. Shoot, Atlanta needs to win 1 playoff game to even sniff a Superbowl, but Tony Gonzalez exceeded everyone's expectations last year being a remarkably consistent producer. In my eyes, consistency is better than multiple touchdown games every other month. He won't take the top off a defense but he'll catch your 7 yard touchdowns a plenty.

11.  Brandon Pettigrew   - -   Detroit Lions  ADP: 8th round (7th TE overall) / Yahoo: 8th

     What's that?  You believe in the Madden Curse. Sure go ahead and pass on the Megatron but draft this mega Okie State star instead. If indeed Stafford is Calvin-less Pettigrew will transition into the No.1 option for a pass fueled offense. Pettigrew's biggest enemy in recent memory has just been himself and his bum wheels. Injury risk for this great talent. 

12.  Fred Davis   - -   Washington Redskins  ADP: 10th round (9th overall) / Yahoo: 7th

     I think we would have heard something about his impending suspension or not. But after being suspended for the second half of last year most have forgotten about this game breaker who was really clicking with Rex Grossman. He's an athletic wonder, just a little bit faster version of Pettigrew, that might really develop something with RG3. Am i the only one surprised that Cooley was let go in roster cuts. And Hightower? The worry with Fred is one more offense he will get the death penalty (a.k.a. suspended for the year)

13.  Greg Olsen   - -   Carolina PAnthers  AFP: 12th round (12th TE overall) / Yahoo: 15th

     If you forgot to address tight end in your draft I give you a solid value pick late. I liked Greg Olsen as a sleeper even back when the Panthers were in a time share with Jeremy Shockey. Now on a team that lacks a true proven No.2 receiver, Greg Olsen will be Cam Newton's security blanket. Look for a bigger and better year for Greg this year and a sleeper I really like.

14.  Owen Daniels   - -   Houston Texans  ADP: undrafted (17 TE overall) / Yahoo: 16th

     If we're talking injury woes, no one is more maligned and bruised than Owen Daniels.  Again, 'when' he's on the field he is a reliable force. Last year after he battled back again from injury, many managers were too skeptical to pick him up on their teams. He rebounded for a respectable finish. Keep in mind this team cut loose Joel Dreesen, so unless Garrett Graham really breaks out Owen won't be in a timeshare like years past.

15.  Jared Cook   - -   Tennessee Titans ADP: 14th round (14th TE overall) / Yahoo: 14th

     Jared Cook has seldom the opportunities to really break out. Track uncertainty under center, but I'm just saying phew, imagine if he had a Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers throwing to him! He's an athletic freak and a safe bet for some of the best highlight plays at the end of the year for his position. But that one great catch may be the only one he makes for the game. He just gets too few targets otherwise I would love to rate him higher... perhaps Jake Locker will change that....

16.  Brent Celek   - -   Philadelphia Eagles  ADP: undrafted (18th TE overall) / Yahoo: 12th

     Yahoo feels rather different about Celek than I or most according to ADP. I remember when Brent Celek broke out back in the Donovan McNabb days, where Donovan would make stars out of any tight end. Michael Vick started off his green days targeting Brent likewise, then trailed off and then finished last year looking his way more and more. He had an ugly case of the dropsies for a game or three last year but he's a respectable talent.

17.  Jacob Tamme  - -   Denver Broncos  ADP: 10th round (10th TE overall) / 13th

    Clearly I'm down on Jacob Tamme. Why? This preseason Peyton hasn't showed a lot of confidence in his former teammate. I predicted Manning would use his tight ends often and aplenty with his weakened arm, but he still looks like he wants to sling to wide receivers on shorter ins and digs. If anything Joel Dreesen has seen as many or more targets with the one's in the preseason. That should make you worry enough not to draft him I say.

Still worth owning: Kyle Rudolph / Coby Fleener / Jermaine Gresham

No way: Ed Dickson / Martellus Bennett / Dallas Clark

Defensive notes on deck for tomorrow!

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