Jimmy Graham (Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
This past season was the year of the tight end. Two players — Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham — broke the previous record for receiving yards at the position, each accumulating more than 1,300 yards. Gronkowski became the first tight end to lead the league in touchdown receptions (with 17). They’re tall, they’re strong, they’re fast. This new breed of tight end is asked to do much more than just block and catch the occasional short pass. Can we expect another big year from the position?
Here are the top 10 tight ends to consider in your fantasy league:
1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Perhaps under-appreciated last year because of the numbers Rob Gronkowski posted, the 6’7” former power forward is a force in the red zone. Only five players (all wide receivers) were targeted more than Graham last season. Even with an interim coach, the Saints offense should roll, so look for Graham to continue putting up big numbers.
2. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski (Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)
Can he do it again? Expecting a repeat of 2011 may be asking for too much. But even if Gronk can’t match those numbers, he is still a safe bet to be among the most productive tight ends in the league. (Remember: that’s Tom Brady back there throwing to him.) He is coming off ankle surgery, but that shouldn’t be enough to scare fantasy owners who recognize a potential drop-off to the next group of tight ends.
3. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
Another college basketball player, Gates has been a top fantasy tight end for eight seasons. He is 32 years old and coming off his least productive season since his rookie year. But given the expected draft position of the two tight ends ranked ahead of him, Gates could provide great value in the fourth or fifth round of your draft. It’s yet to be seen how Vincent Jackson’s departure will affect Gates, but here’s betting it leads to more targets and touchdowns.
Vernon Davis (Photo Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
4. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
If you believe in Alex Smith, who made huge strides last year, you should believe in Davis too. He had a solid season (67 catches, 792 yards, 6 TDs) and finished very strong. Maybe you remember those big playoff performances? San Fran’s conservative offense will limit him, but he’s reliable and consistent.
5. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers
Any skill player in the huddle with Aaron Rodgers is a fantasy threat. He managed 55 catches for 767 yards and eight TDs in 2011. But Finley needs to reduce his dropped passes if he wants Rodgers — who has plenty of other options — to continue targeting him.
6. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
Brandon Pettigrew (Photo Credit: Leon Halip/Getty Images)
His 83 receptions last year were third among tight ends, making Pettigrew extra valuable in points-per-reception scoring formats. Matthew Stafford’s continued development — and Detroit’s willingness to use Pettigrew on more than just short passes — are critical to Pettigrew’s production. Look for him to be just as active this year.
7. Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots
New England’s schemes are unpredictable, and it’s hard to imagine both Gronk and Aaron Hernandez having huge years again. Even so, Hernandez still figures to be more productive than most at his position, due to his speed and athleticism.
8. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
It’s all about value in fantasy football drafts. So if others dismiss Gonzalez as too old (he’s 36) or a victim of a crowded receiver corps (Roddy White and Julio Jones have top 10-receiver potential), remember this: Gonzalez had 80 catches for 875 yards and seven touchdowns last season. That made him the fourth-best fantasy tight end. He’s past his prime but he’s still a red zone threat.
Jermaine Gresham (Photo Credit: Larry French/Getty Images)
9. Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals
Gronkowski and Graham are praised for their athleticism, and Gresham (6’5”, 265) is of a similar mold. So his upside earns him this high ranking. He improved last year, his second season, and should improve again, especially with Andy Dalton’s expected leap.
10. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
No longer as productive as he used to be, Witten is still very reliable. You know what you’ll get with him: around 90 catches and 1,000 yards. The touchdowns are less predictable; he didn’t score after Week 10 last season.