Now it’s time for the fourth installment of our AFC North fantasy focus: The Tight Ends. There are some newcomers at tight end in the AFC North, and some familiar faces. I wouldn’t expect production similar to that of Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but there are some reliable and productive tight ends in this division. This year should be especially top heavy with running backs, so while the tight ends in the AFC North are solid players, their draft stock will probably decrease.
A solid pass catcher and route runner, the most important skill sets a tight end needs for fantasy. Gresham was able to haul in 64 receptions last year, for 737 yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s solid production. With AJ Green getting a majority of the passes last year, Gresham proved to be a very nice compliment within the offense. Since his debut in the league, Gresham has continued to improved steadily, receiving more targets and catching more balls each year. Based on the information, one could infer that Gresham could be primed for a breakout year. While this is very possible, I would avoid reaching on Gresham for now. With Tyler Eifert in the mix, Gresham could lose targets. Before increasing Gresham’s draft stock, I would wait to watch a few preseason games, as those games could be a good indicator as to the role Gresham will play this year.
Eifert was a playmaker at Notre Dame and throughout all of college football, as he led the FBS hauling in 63 receptions for 803 yards and 5 touchdowns. Eifert could see great numbers in the passing game, especially in the red zone. He is a great red zone compliment, and his ability in the red zone could be his greatest fantasy asset. Even outside the red zone, Eifert will give this team some versatility, as he can line up as a slot receiver, out wide, or even put his hand in the ground and set up as an H-Back. Eifert will provide Dalton and the Bengals offense with another great receiving threat. As the NFL has proven, and as I have said before, the jump from college to the pro’s is never easy, and it’s never guaranteed. However, I like everything the Eifert brings to the NFL, and I especially like the skill set he brings to the Bengals system. I wouldn’t reach on him, but should you draft him, you could be drafting one of the rising stars in the NFL.
HEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAATH!!!! Heath Miller was statistically the best tight end last year in the AFC North. Should this be a surprise? Not really. Miller has a great quarterback throwing to him, and he is basically the only tight end that produces on the team. The Steelers often utilize two tight ends strictly for running purposes, but not usually for passing. In recent years they have had reliable and speedy deep threats outside, so utilizing two tight ends in the passing game wasn’t much of their forte. Miller caught 71 balls for 816 yards and 8 touchdowns last year. However, Miller has just been declared out indefinitely following knee surgery. There are very strong indications that he will not be ready for the start of the season. Right now he still has a long window for recovery, so lets not jump the gun yet as everybody heals differently. For now, take him in the 11th round. Monitor his health with every source possible, as he is probably the most productive tight end in the AFC North when healthy. With the departure of Mike Wallace, Miller could be heavily relied upon if and when he’s healthy.
Normally, I would consider Speath strictly a waiver claim, a guy you pick up when there is an injury to your tight end. However, because Millers health remains an uncertainty, Speath could start the season at tight end. Last year he caught just 6 balls for 28 yards and one touchdown. Not exactly eye popping numbers. He’s considered to be more of a blocking tight end, which could be further validation for drafting Levon Bell. I wouldn’t get my hopes up for Spaeth, especially if Miller is healthy. However, if you’re desperate why not grab Speath in the final rounds to fill out your roster with some depth. If Miller is healthy come draft day, Spaeth should not be drafted.
Pitta Bread. He was a great contributor last season on the Ravens Superbowl run. Last year he had 61 receptions for 669 yards and 7 touchdowns. However that number should grow. He probably won’t get the love he deserves on draft day, but Pitta will be a major player this year. With the loss of Anquan Boldin, Joe Flacco will want another reliable target to help make up the difference. While he has some internal competition with Ed Dickson, I think Pitta is the superior of the two. He has shown steady progression in his three years so far, and I imagine that he will continue that trend this year. Hell, he may even become Flacco’s go to guy.
Dickson is known more for his in-line blocking, as opposed to being a pass catching tight end. His production has fluctuated over his career in the NFL, ranging from lousy to reliable. His production has never been mind blowing, which should speak to his inability to separate and get open. If he can get open he can be very productive, however Pitta proved last year that he was more capable of seperating and making plays than Dickson. Dickson could see a rise in production this year. Like Pitta, the loss of Anquan Boldin should raise Dickson’s fantasy stock ever so slightly. However, with Pitta as the major tight end target, Dickson could be a nice final round filler, with a high ceiling of capability.
These guys have been in the league now and have failed to make their presence felt. Cameron (2 years) and Davis (5 years) are still fairly young, but appear to be better fit to helping the run game while playing hard in the trenches. Last year the two of them combined amassed a little over 450 yards and 3 touchdowns. Combined their stats are still less than the individual stats of Pitta, Miller, and Gresham. I would not draft either of these guys, and I’d have to be extremely desperate to claim them off waivers. Norv Turner might be able to get the most out of these guys with his aggressive style offense, but Brandon Weeden is still throwing them the ball. This blurb is as far as I would read into Cameron and Davis.
That does it for this week guys. Stayed tuned for the 5th installment of my AFC North Fantasy Focus: The Defenses of the AFC North.