Fantasy Tight End Rankings

  1. Rob Gronkowski: With Rob Gronkowski it all comes down to his health; if he can find a way to stay on the field he’ll almost surely be one of the most productive tight ends in football. The problem is that has become an increasingly difficult thing for The Gronk to do, as after playing 11 games in 2012 he only played in 7 in 2013. Even in that limited time, however, Gronkowski was third on the Patriots in receiving despite getting only the sixth-most targets. He enters 2014 as the focal point of the perpetually great Patriot’s offense, and if his fellow injury-plagued pass catcher Danny Amendola can return to health as well it could really open up what was relatively subdued (by Patriots standards) passing game a year ago. Still, it’s not a great sign that the first suggestion that comes up when you search for “Rob Gronkowski” is “Rob Gronkowski injury update.”
  2. Jimmy Graham: Graham and Gronkowski make up the top tier of fantasy tight ends, with a steep drop off coming after them. The projected 45 point gap between Graham at 2 and Julius Thomas at 3 is greater than the projected difference between Thomas and Heath Miller at number 15. If you don’t get Graham or Gronk, you’re probably better off waiting until the late rounds and grabbing one of the many mediocre to decent tight ends available. Graham is coming off his third straight stellar season of at least 85 catches, 980 yards, and 9 TDs. At 27 years old and 6’7, he’s a physical freak entering what should be his prime, and the early reports out New Orleans camp that Graham looks “faster and stronger” than he did a year ago only support that (http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/13232/jimmy-graham). He has also only missed one game in the past three years, so he doesn’t come with the health concerns that Gronkowski does. Expect another huge year from the huge tight end.
  1. Julius Thomas: Julius Thomas had a very good year in 2013, and all signs indicate that he should have a similarly productive campaign in 2014, but the fact that he is projected to be the third best tight end next year speaks to how weak this group is. Thomas had a grand total of one career catch for seven yards before last season. A fourth round pick out of Portland State, Thomas was largely an unknown before Peyton Manning turned him into a fantasy stud. With only one year of productivity, Thomas’s job isn’t as secure as most people seem to assume, if he starts slowly the Broncos could explore other options at tight end. Of course the far more likely scenario is that he has another solid year catching passes from Peyton Manning, it’s just that we don’t have a whole lot of evidence to support that assertion yet.
  2. Jordan Cameron: Cameron and Julius Thomas were the break-out tight ends of 2013, and together they make up the second tier of tight ends, under Graham and Gronk but ahead of the batch of mediocre options that follow 5 through 12. Cameron’s 117 targets in 2013 placed him third among tight ends, two behind the since retired Tony Gonzalez. With defending receiving champion Josh Gordon embroiled in off-the-field issues and out indefinitely, Cameron instantly becomes the Brown’s best receiving option by a mile. As of week 1 of the preseason, it still remains to be seen who will be under center for the Browns, getting Cameron the ball, which obviously will impact his fantasy value. Their offense in general probably won’t be that effective, but Cameron should be an enormous part of it.
  3. Owen Daniels: Starting at number five with Owen Daniels, the tight end position is basically a crapshoot. He is separated from Jason Witten at number 12 by less than eight points, which makes Daniels more closely ranked to him than Jordan Cameron at number 4. Owen Daniels follows former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak to Baltimore, where he takes over at offensive coordinator for the departed Jim Caldwell. While his familiarity with the offense should help Daniels be productive immediately, even at his peak he was never producing all that much. He hasn’t had more than 62 catches or 716 yards since 2008, and entering his age 31 season, it’s difficult to see why he would have a career year now, especially since he’ll be competing for targets at tight end with incumbent starter Dennis Pitta.
  4. Antonio Gates: Antonio Gates had a bounce-back year in 2013, his most productive in terms of both yards and catches since 2009. It was also his healthiest, as this was the first full season he has played since then as well. Gates has a reputation for being somewhat injury prone, but in the last four years he’s only missed ten total regular season games, and before that he played four full seasons in a row. At 34, you have to figure Gates will start to slow down soon, but a year similar to 2013 in terms of fantasy output isn’t out of the question. Even accounting for a decrease in yards and catches, Gates should find the endzone more frequently than he did in 2013, when he had only four touchdown catches, the first time he has put up less than seven since his rookie year.
  5. Garret Graham: There are a lot of things we don’t know about Garret Graham. He’s coming off his first real productive season, where he racked up 545 yards and 5 touchdowns for the woeful Texans as a second tight end and fill-in starter when Owen Daniels was hurt. He figures to enter the season as a starter with Daniels in Baltimore, but he will be playing for a new coach in Bill O’brien and in a new offense. O’brien figures to feature the tight end heavily in his offense, but until we see it, we really don’t know how, or even if, the Texans offense will work. The names at quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum, don’t make you think they are going to be a ton of passing yards to go around either.
  6. Dennis Pitta: Pitta gets a boost to his fantasy value with Gary Kubiak and his tight end friendly offense coming to Baltimore, but he also gets a knock to it with Owen Daniels subsequently making that same move himself, so I’m not sure where that leaves us. Baltimore’s offense missed Pitta’s presence in the middle of the field last year after his brutal hip injury caused him to miss most of the season. With the addition of Steve Smith to complement Torrey Smith out wide, there are reasons to believe that Baltimore’s passing offense will be fairly productive, it’s just a matter of how much a part of that production Pitta will be.
  7. Jordan Reed: Reed, a rookie third round pick out of Florida last year, looked like a nice surprise for the Washington Redskins before suffering a season ending concussion, racking up almost 500 yards in just over half of a season. The Redskins offense in general should be healthier and more prolific than they were in 2013, and Reed himself should improve as he gets more comfortable in the NFL. Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert basically split production at tight end for new Redskins coach Jay Gruden in Cincinnati last year, but if you combine their stats they make up a really nice fantasy season for a tight end. The only really concerning thing is that Reed is coming off of a “serious concussion,” which is about the worst injury you can have in today’s NFL.
  8. Vernon Davis: No 49er saw his production more adversely affected by the move from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick than Vernon Davis. Once Smith’s favorite target, Davis took until last season to develop a similar chemistry with Kaepernick, leading to a nice bounce back year after his personal nadir of only 41 catches for 548 yards in 2012. There are reasons to think that success will continue this year; while 2013’s output of 13 touchdowns is probably a bit of an outlier, people forget what a disaster the 49ers passing attack was in the beginning of last season, when Kaepernick would only throw to Anquan Boldin and Davis, almost literally (http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=331006025). With the addition of Stevie Johnson and Michael Crabtree’s return to health, the 49ers offense should be much more dynamic this year than last, and with injury concerns at the running back spot and questions about the secondary and their ability to keep points off the board, the 49ers offense shouldn’t finish 30th in total passing yards, as they did in 2013. The addition of other receiving options will mean Davis sees less targets, but the rising tide of a good offense lifts all boats.
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