You think it’s hard to find a good tight end in the NFL? It’s just as hard in fantasy.
Luckily, you only have to start one of them on your team.
The tight end position has certainly evolved in the past two seasons, since the emergence of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. They have make Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates look like children in comparison to their fantasy impacts.
I’m not saying that Gonzalez and Gates are washed up, but Graham and Gronk have made owners consider taking them in the first or second rounds.
The new era of fantasy tight ends have become comparable to the production of wide receivers, primarily because of their red zone presence. Gronz and Graham scored 17 and 11 touchdowns respectively last season, almost doubling many of their peers’ totals.
The problem is that they had such tremendous seasons, it’s hard envisioning them repeating those performances this season.
When analyzing the tight end pool in your draft, you want to watch out for some key factors similar to receivers: how important are they to their offense? and do they catch more standard passes than touchdowns?
Every player is analyzed by how important they are to their offense, but tight ends are either heavily or rarely used in the passing game. You want to get a player that will be treated like a receiver, not a blocker.
What do I mean by a tight end that catches more standard passes than touchdowns? I’m talking about guys that are used as just a safety net, check down route kind of player. They’ll be very productive as far as getting their share of targets, but they’re not as effective in the red zone.
On the other hand, there are tight ends that are solely targets in the red zone. If you look at tight ends like Scott Chandler and Owen Daniels, they have a trend of only being targeted in the end zone because of their size. They don’t have eye-popping touchdown totals, but when you watch the games you’ll see that they aren’t the first option to stretch the field. Chandler was on fire to start the season, as were the Bills, and quickly became viewed as a must-add in the first two weeks. That’s pretty much as long as he lasted in fantasy conversations. He fell off so quickly, Chandler became an afterthought.
You have to treat this position as a high priority on draft day. You know how important it is to just lock down positions with a player that you don’t have to worry about upgrading in the future, so take advantage of it early.
Just how early? Let’s take a look at the top 10 Fantasy Tight End Options for 2012…
Jimmy Graham- He was the runner up for most touchdowns by a tight end in 2011, but led all tight ends in receptions. The Saints decided to let Robert Meachem walk in the offseason, pushing Graham as one of the top two targets for Brees. He’s utilized like a receiver, averaging six catches per game and favored near the red zone. Graham tripled his production from the previous season in yards and receptions, which is somewhat concerning. Owners must consider such a tremendous jump in production over just one season. The reason why I’m saying that Graham won’t drop off by much is because he has less competition to share targets with, he’s undoubtedly Brees’ favorite target, and he is a red zone machine. He will be the best option to draft between him and Gronk, primarily because New Orleans isn’t as crowded as far as receiving targets as New England is.
Rob Gronkowski-When you’re talking about a red zone threat, you have to mention this guy. In his rookie season, he was able to score 10 touchdowns. That season made quite an impression on fantasy owners, seeing as it’s difficult for a tight end to score in the double digits any year. He followed up with 17 in 2011 for, along with doubling his receptions and yardage totals. So what was the factor the previous season besides being a rookie? It’s not an unrealistic jump in production as far as receptions and yardage, but there wasn’t as many overbearing targets for Brady last season. Now that Brandon Lloyd is in town and Josh McDaniels takes over the offense, you have to take in those factors that his numbers could come back to reality this season. The Patriots will still throw the ball like it’s going out of style, but there are five targets to spread it around to: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, and now Brandon Lloyd. Doesn’t sound like there’s going to be room in the gameplan for running, much less just throwing to Gronk. Just keep in mind that his numbers could come back down to Earth this season and that you don’t have to necessarily spend a first or second round on him in drafts.
Vernon Davis- He went through his high and low points throughout 2011 as far as receptions were concerned, but has become more of a focal point in the 49ers offense. Davis actually had a drop in production from the previous season and has slightly declined since his best season in 2009. Even with Randy Moss in town, Davis remains the number one option in the Niners’ passing attack. He blew up in the playoffs, showcasing that he and Alex Smith continue to build chemistry, which is why Davis is primed to return to his typical 900+ yard season and possibly get back to scoring in the double digits. The NFC West is a weak division, Randy Moss will help open up targets for Davis, and he will finally get some sort of continuity in the offensive philosophy for the first time in his career. Davis is ranked around the top 5 options at the position, which makes him a great value pick around the fifth round.
Antonio Gates- He didn’t do owners any favors for five weeks of the 2011 season after going down with an injury in Week 1, but bounced back nicely in the second half. Gates obviously isn’t the same player that he was when Drew Brees was throwing him the ball, but the departure of Vincent Jackson sets him up to the unquestioned top target in San Diego. The problem is that he was more productive in less games during the previous season. Gates will look to have his first healthy season in three years, which could make him a very underrated pick on draft day. He has all of the great qualities you look for in a fantasy tight end: top target in his offense, good quarterback, has receiver-type qualities, red zone threat, and can stretch the field. If you don’t get a chance to draft the top two targets, you should feel confident in this selection.
Tony Gonzalez- He doesn’t come off as the no-brainer option to draft that he was during his days with the Chiefs, but all Gonzalez does is produce. If this really is his last season, you’d think that he would want to go out with a bang. Gonzalez is the third best target in the Falcons offense, with Julio Jones developing. He’s caught 80 passes in 2011, which is why you should want him on your team this year. Gonzalez won’t get you a lot of yard after the catch, but he’s still a great red zone target. Teams are going to be focusing a lot on the combo of White and Jones, leaving plenty of opportunity for Gonzalez. You can get him extremely late in drafts this year, so view him as a safe bet when you’re looking to fill your TE spot late.
Jason Witten- He teases his owners throughout the fantasy season, never knowing how he’ll perform. One game he’s the leading receiver, the next game he might only have three catches. No matter the numbers, he always contributes by either having a lone touchdown or a number of big plays. Witten barely missed producing a fourth 1,000 yard season in five years, but that level of production makes him as valuable as a receiver. This guy gets knocked around in pre-season draft rankings every year, no matter how productive he is. There’s no secret that Witten is Romo’s favorite target, especially with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin underachieving. He can stretch the field, score in the red zone, and be a solid contributor on a regular basis. He’s 50-50 to play in the first week, due to a spleen injury, so keep that in mind when you’re drafting him.
Aaron Hernandez He has the skill set to be an elite tight end, but unfortunately he’s not even the top tight end on his team. That being said, he was able to catch 79 passes last season for seven touchdowns. Those aren’t bad numbers for someone that’s not the top player at his position on his own team. Another impressive factor about Hernandez is the fact that he only missed having a 1,000 yard season by only 90 yards. He’s not the first name that you think of when drafting a tight end, but in fantasy the numbers don’t lie. You can get him extremely late and for a huge discount. Hernandez has the ability to produce receiver numbers, so why not take advantage of his rank instead of panicking when you don’t draft one of the top two options?
Brandon Pettigrew-He’s now produced back-to-back seasons of 70+ catches, but still has to work on getting his touchdown totals up. We all know about Calvin Johnson’s pending Madden curse, which could set up others to prosper. Pettigrew is the second best weapon in the Lions offense. If, or when, Johnson goes down, Pettigrew’s stock would skyrocket. He continues to develop as a safety net for Matthew Stafford, but it will take a lot for him to take over as the number one target in Detroit. You should view Pettigrew as part of the second wave of tight ends to draft. He’s not amongst the elite tight ends that can be counted on like a receiver, but this could be the year that he’s relied on more to assume that type of role. View Pettigrew as more of a second tier option with upside when you’re drafting him.
Jermichael Finley He’s coming off of his best season yet, but Finley is not amongst the top options to draft just yet. Finley’s best season consisted of only 55 catches, but did produce eight touchdowns. I say only 55 because the other tight ends to draft have anywhere between 70 and 80 catches on average. Those 20-30 extra catches mean a lot when you’re drafting for a PPR league. The other knock against Finely is the fact that there are too man quality targets to throw the ball to in Green Bay. He’s battling Greg Jennings and an emerging Jordy Nelson. The Packers love to throw the ball, so the strategy of the offense isn’t the issue. Green Bay made a note that Finley and Jennings both had underachieving seasons in 2011, so there is some upside to picking Finley. Once again, when you can’t draft upside. You have to go after the players that you expect to produce. There’s too much uncertainty on Finley’s importance, which is why you shouldn’t reach to get him. If he becomes the best available option to draft, fire away.
Jacob Tamme-Now we know that we’re really getting desperate when Tamme becomes the best available draft option. At this point in the draft pool, you’re basing your selection on potential. Tamme was brought in over Dallas Clark to reunite with Peyton Manning, which speaks volumes. He’ll be the top tight end in Denver, but will be the third best option to throw to. During his last season with Peyton, he caught 67 passes for only four touchdowns. They’re not eye-popping numbers, but his upside is what gets him into the top 10. Anytime you’re a receiver option for Peyton Manning, you’ve got instant fantasy value. This is when things are in desperation mode and you’re trying to convince yourself that this is a good move. When you’re looking at the rest of the draft pool, you’re basically saying to yourself “it’s not that he’s good, it’s just everyone else is that bad”. Tamme has upside, and you’re trying to fill a spot. You could do worse.