Matt’s Tight End Rankings
By Guest Writer Matt Campion:
Tight end is looking as shallow as ever in 2013. Fantasy owners may want to take a top tight end early in the draft before all of the talent is gone. Generally, owners want to take running backs or quarterbacks in the first few rounds, but waiting on a tight end could ultimately doom an otherwise playoff-bound team. Here are the top tight ends in fantasy this year:
1. Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints
Graham is by far the top tight end in fantasy football this year. He missed a mid-season game against Tampa Bay and still finished with the most fantasy points of tight ends in 2012. Graham has the whole package: youth (unlike Gonzalez), health (unlike Gronkowski), and touchdown potential (unlike Witten). Drew Brees will most likely throw for an absurd amount of yards once again, and Jimmy Graham will probably take on as large a role as possible to earn a new contract in 2014. Graham is the only tight end who can warrant being taken in the first two rounds of a fantasy draft.
2. Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys
Witten was the only tight end to have over 1,000 receiving yards in 2012. This marks the fourth time in the past six years he has had at least 1,000 yards, and the other two years he came within 60 yards. Witten is as consistent as they come in the yardage department, but will always be hounded by his lack of touchdown production. His three touchdowns last season were unacceptable for a top fantasy tight end, but his yardage allowed him to still finish in the top five in fantasy points. Even David Thomas, backup tight end for the Saints, finished with more touchdowns (four) in 2012. Although Witten has had injury concerns in the past few years, he has never actually missed a game because of injury, so he seems like a safe pick to get 1,000 yards and at least a few touchdowns.
3. Tony Gonzalez – Atlanta Falcons
Perhaps the greatest tight end the game has ever seen, Gonzalez enters what is believed to be his final season. He finished 2012 with the third most fantasy points despite being 36 years old. The top two fantasy tight ends were Jimmy Graham, who will go extremely early in all drafts, and Rob Gronkowski, who will sit out the beginning of the season due to injury. Gonzalez will almost certainly go later in drafts than he should because of his age, and looks to be great value in a weak tight end class. Gonzalez is a hard worker who will give everything he has in his final attempt to capture the ring he deserves in a career where he has watched it escape him time after time.
4. Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots
Gronkowski would probably be the top tight end if not for injuries. He has had four surgeries since the end of last season on his arm and his back, and will begin the 2013 season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. With former teammate Aaron Hernandez looking more likely to spend life in prison than another year on the field, Gronkowski becomes the clear-cut top option in the Patriots offense. He’ll have to replace the productivity of Hernandez and departed receiver Wes Welker, and will certainly put up huge numbers to do so if his body allows it. I expect Gronkowski to miss the first six weeks of the season and then play the remaining ten, but the amount he actually sees the field is a mystery as of now, yet to be determined by the injury gods.
5. Vernon Davis – San Francisco 49ers
Davis is maddeningly inconsistent. He will win you a game with 100+ yards and a touchdown and look great while burning the defense, just to follow it up the next week with a one catch for 20-yard performance that knocks you out of the fantasy playoffs. Momentum is on Davis’ side after a spectacular postseason in which he accumulated 210 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches in the team’s final two postseason games. Top receiver Michael Crabtree’s torn Achilles will sideline him for the season, making Davis the top option in the offense, along with newly acquired Anquan Boldin.
6. Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings
Rudolph has a lot of fantasy upside due to his effectiveness in the red zone. In just his second year in the league, he caught half of his team’s touchdowns (9 of the Vikings’ 18). He was named the MVP of the Pro Bowl with 122 yards and a touchdown. This is especially interesting considering his career high in receiving yards for a game with the Vikings is 67, and it came in an overtime win over the lowly Jaguars. Christian Ponder and the Vikings offense certainly don’t appear to be helping out Rudolph, but he still will pick up touchdowns as the one true red zone threat in Minnesota. If you’re looking for a tight end with high-scoring games and inconsistency, here’s your guy.
7. Dennis Pitta – Baltimore Ravens
Pitta’s role will increase with the departure of Anquan Boldin to the 49ers. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are both deep ball threats, stretching the field and opening up a lot for Pitta underneath the defense. Now that the organization is sold on Pitta over Ed Dickson, the fourth-year tight end should start off 2013 with the confidence and play time he needs to be a reliable fantasy starter. In a late-season game against Denver, Pitta had 125 yards and two touchdowns, displaying his ability to show up in games against quality opponents.
8. Greg Olsen – Carolina Panthers
Olsen led the Panthers in receiving touchdowns and finished second on the team in targets. He also gained plenty of yards, finishing fourth in the league for tight ends. Cam Newton went on an absolute tear in the second half of the season, allowing fans to speculate the possibility of him taking his play to the next level in 2013. With Steve Smith past his prime and the Panthers making little effort to find other receiving options, Olsen could very well become Newton’s top target in the near future.
9. Owen Daniels – Houston Texans
Daniels had a solid, under-the-radar performance in 2012. He had a career high in targets and touchdowns, which is encouraging going into 2013. Ever since sustaining an injury in 2009, he has improved his numbers each season. Now that he is nearly back at pre-injury form, it is time to start reconsidering him as a top-ten fantasy tight end. Playing Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Tennessee twice a year each won’t hurt either.
10. Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers
No longer the player he used to be, Antonio Gates is more reliable than exciting these days. Reliable may even be a stretch due to his injury history. He never seems to play every game, but he is still a future Hall of Famer, and possibly the top option for a San Diego offense that can only improve in 2013. Gates has been drafted earlier than he should in recent years by most fantasy owners due to name recognition, but at this stage of his career he can finally be obtained for a low enough price to be worth it. Gates’ stock is at its lowest, and he absolutely has the potential to be a top tight end. He has plenty of experience as a fantasy star.
11. Martellus Bennett – Chicago Bears
Bennett immediately becomes the most talented tight end to play with Jay Cutler. This is more of a knock of Kellen Davis and Tony Scheffler than praise toward Bennett, but Cutler will be sure to appreciate the upgrade in what looks to be a make-or-break year for the quarterback who now finds himself on the wrong side of 30. New head coach Marc Trestman is known for using quick passes to move the ball, and this should improve the significance of the tight end role in Chicago to a level not seen by the organization in the past decade.
12. Brandon Myers – New York Giants
Remember what happened when Randy Moss left Oakland for a better quarterback situation? OK, maybe Myers is nowhere near Moss, and he obviously won’t break any records like Moss did in New England, but Myers has to be excited about the opportunity to upgrade from a washed up Carson Palmer to a two-time Super Bowl MVP in Eli Manning. With Oakland in 2012, Myers caught for a team-high 806 yards. He also had 28 more receptions than the team’s second leading receiver. I expect him to benefit from the lack of defensive focus on him with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz on the outside. Also, Myers appears more talented than journeymen Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard, who were both legitimate fantasy options with Eli and the Giants.