Welcome aboard the fantasy football train, express service directly to Knowledgeville, USA! Hopefully by now you’re caught up on all the free agent moves and are ready to join me for a deeper look at each position. Just to keep you on your toes, I won’t start my series of fantasy football primers with a glamorous position like quarterbacks. Instead, keep reading for a deep cut on tight ends for 2014 (and check back soon for other position primers).
As I’ve already mentioned here and here, I’m not crazy about the depth at tight end, and I don’t think TEBC is a good approach this season. Granted, a few late-round picks like Ladarius Green, Delanie Walker, and Zach Ertz have gobs of upside. However, the unforeseen 1/13/0 game can ruin a matchup, and repeatedly picking the losing end of a TEBC can lead to premature baldness.
With that said, it should come as no surprise when I tell you to grab a TE from the first two tiers. You’ll see below that this includes eight players. They’ll be gone by the 6th or 7th round, and after that things get dicey. So be careful not to end up on the wrong side of a run.
Tier One is short and sweet. Jimmy. Graham. His failed franchise tag grievance might have left a chip on his shoulder. But then, at the eleventh hour, he and the Saints agreed on a long-term contract. Now he’s the highest paid tight end in NFL history – and rightfully so. However, his deal is short enough (four years) that he can’t mail it in quite yet. If he continues to blow the doors off, he’ll get another monster deal when he’s 31 years old. The statistical difference between Graham and the field makes him easily worth a pick at the end of the first round. Even an injured Jimmy Graham can still outperform most other tight ends.
Tier Two is more debatable. I’m looking for players with both a high ceiling and a solid floor. Look for Pitta to bounce back in a major way (see: underrated). Davis has a ton of potential, but don’t bank on double digit TDs again. Cameron is getting rave reviews from OTAs and he’ll get a ridiculous amount of targets (and double teams) as the Browns’ primary receiving option. Reed has the risk of multiple concussions, and Gronk is fresh off an ACL tear – please back up either of them with a good TE2. Olsen has the lowest ceiling of the players in this tier (he won’t be breaking 1000 yds or double digit TDs), but I think he’ll have a career year and finish well above his floor of 65/800/5.
Some might argue for Witten or Ertz in the second tier, but their floors are too low. Witten is declining and has historically lean redzone production (see: overrated). Ertz will certainly improve on his 36/469/4 rookie season, but he’s not going to double those stats with Brent Celek still in Philly. Gates still has some gas left in the tank and should hold off Ladarius Green for one more season. Bennett and “the other Graham” are also good (but not great) options in Tier Three.
Several TEs in Tier Four can probably be picked up later on the waiver wire, but a few of them should be stashed on benches based purely on their upside. Ladarius Green is probably still a year away, but a Gates injury could present an enormous opportunity. Cook’s upside is worth the bargain basement price (see: sleeper). Also, Charles Clay is coming off a breakout season and he could reach even greater heights as Ryan Tannehill matures.
Jason Witten is being drafted in the 6th round during July drafts, which is too high. In his case, I am prescribing to the cliche that I’d rather pass on him a year too early than draft him a year too late. His 2014 touchdown total of 8 is an aberration, well above his career average of 4.7 TDs/season. I also expect his catches and yards to wane a little. I see a 66/750/4 stat line in my crystal ball.
Kyle Rudolph is being drafted as the 10th TE, unwisely ahead of Ertz, Bennett, and Gates. He missed half of 2013 with a broken foot and he’s always been too TD dependent. His inconsistent yardage totals will leave you with some painful 1 or 2 point weeks. While there is a “Norv Turner: Tight End Whisperer” hype train gaining steam, I have more modest expectations. I think Gates in is prime would make ANY coach look like a genius. If Teddy Bridgewater develops a man crush on Rudolph, then I’ll draft him in 2015, but until then I’m saying “no thanks.”
Dennis Pitta’s ADP puts him in the 8th round of 12-team drafts, while he should be gone in the 5th. I’ve got him ranked neck-and-neck with Vernon Davis. Pitta’s hip injury is ancient history and the Ravens are ready to feature him in the passing game, just like they did during their Super Bowl run (look at the contract he just signed). With Smith and Smith stretching the field, Pitta will tear up the middle. Expect over 850 yards and 8 or 9 TDs.
Last but not least, Garrett Graham is a STEAL at the end of the draft (ADP = Rounds 15/16). Some people are obviously scared off by the Texans’ 3rd round draft pick C.J. Fiedorowicz, but they shouldn’t be. Owen Daniels is long gone and C.J. will spend most of his snaps blocking while Graham does what he’s being paid to do: catch passes. Graham would make a great TE2 to back up Gronk/Reed, or part of a TEBC if you defiantly ignore my advice.
Many analysts are prematurely excited about Ladarius Green, and Eric Ebron is getting a lot of love despite his inexperience. If I’m taking a flyer on a TE at the end of the draft, it’s going to be Jared Cook. Last season he flashed his potential in a monster Week 1 performance (7/141/2). Sadly, he fell off the map after that impressive game, and that’s where the bargain price comes from. His production was inconsistent, but he actually led the Rams in receptions with 51. If you want an explosive TE on your bench that could pay dividends, Cook is your guy.