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Rookie Impact
Tight Ends

The Tight End position in fantasy football has generally been one where there are two or three elite players, a tier of four to six starters grouped closer together, and everyone else gradually rounding out the top fifteen. The best tight ends are capable of seasons on par with a top-25 receiver, and in rare cases, even crack the top-10. While rookie tight ends have been known to make a fantasy impact, the chances of becoming an elite player in their initial season is quite rare:

80+ Range
Rec Range Years TEs Rec Rec Yds TDs Rush TDs FF Pts
80+ 1950-2004 1 81 869 6 0 122.9
80+ 1980-1989 1 81 869 6 0 122.9

64-79 Range
Rec Range Years TEs Rec Rec Yds TDs Rush TDs FF Pts
64-79 1950-2004 1 74 894 2 0 101.4
64-79 2000-2004 1 74 894 2 0 101.4

46-63 Range
Rec Range Years TEs Rec Rec Yds TDs Rush TDs FF Pts
48-63 1950-2004 3 55 871.33 8 0 135.13
48-63 1960-1969 1 56 1076 12 0 179.6
48-63 1970-1979 1 55 854 6 0 121.4
48-63 1990-1999 1 54 684 6 0 104.4

Since 1950 there have been 552 rookie tight ends in the NFL. Only 5 rookie tight ends in 54 years have produced in a range worthy of starting fantasy receivers. The best rookie performance ever for a TE was back in the 1960’s when Mike Ditka joined the Chicago Bears—even more impressive considering he had 1,076 receiving yards and 12 scores on only 56 receptions.

Although the statistical histories reveal that a rookie tight end with this immediate level of production has only come along one per decade, it doesn’t mean rookies don’t make a significant contribution. In fact, almost one rookie per year produces well enough to be a worthy starter in even 10-team leagues.

32-47 Range
Rec Range Years TEs Rec Rec Yds TDs Rush TDs FF Pts
32-47 1950-2004 42 37.4 489.93 3.48 0.05 70.14
32-47 1950-1959 2 37 651.5 5 0 95.15
32-47 1960-1969 8 37.13 589.25 3.5 0 79.93
32-47 1970-1979 7 38.43 542.43 3.57 0.29 77.39
32-47 1980-1989 8 38.13 461.5 4.75 0 74.65
32-47 1990-1999 10 37.6 446.2 2.7 0 60.82
32-47 2000-2004 7 35.71 372.71 2.57 0 52.7

42 tight ends in 54 years have been within a range that is generally the equivalent of a 15th-20th-ranked player at their position. In fact, the first five seasons of the millennium appears to be on track for at least one rookie making this type of impact per year throughout the remainder of the decade. While this may be the case, the trend also indicates the fantasy points for these rookies have steadily declined with every decade. Since the average value has declined as well, the ranking still makes these players depth for late round value in larger leagues with a slight chance of much more.

The 2005 draft class has a couple of big names and a couple of potential surprises, but the rest are wait-and-see prospects.

The Big Names

Heath Miller: The junior out of Virginia is the unanimous choice as the rookie tight end most likely to make a fantasy impact. Miller’s physical attributes don’t match those of recent top prospects Ben Watson, Randy McMichael, or Jeremy Shockey but NFL-types view the Steeler rookie as every bit the football player. Miller, known as “Big Money” for his knack for producing in the clutch, is a former high school quarterback that switched to tight end early in his collegiate career.

The rookie does a great job getting open with his route running and body positioning. He has adequate size to be an effective blocker at 6-5, 255 lbs., and this aspect of Miller’s game continues to improve. He’s known more as a blocker that gets in the way of a defender rather than holding his position or driving players off the ball. This is understandable as former quarterback, and for fantasy purposes it’s not necessarily a detriment to Miller’s playing time—TE Jeremy Shockey’s blocking was evaluated as a rookie in a similar way.

Pittsburgh has a fine offensive line and even if Miller demonstrates he needs more development to be an every down player, the loss of Plaxico Burress could mean offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt—a former H-back/tight end himself—has demonstrated the creativity to maximize the strengths of his players. This would mean Miller could get involved in two-tight end sets to exploit what may be his greatest asset: his hands. Miller’s hands were rated among the best in this draft along side receiving prospects Mike Williams, Mark Clayton, and Matt Jones.

Pittsburgh has been known as a graveyard for receiving opportunities when it comes to the tight end position. One may argue Mark Bruener and Jay Riemersma don’t compare to Miller as receivers, but Bruener was also a Steeler first-round selection in 1995 known for his hands and Riemersma was known as a capable receiver, at worst. While I don’t believe Miller will be an elite performer as a rookie, I think the belief of Pittsburgh’s system holding back tight ends is overblown. Ken Wisenhunt and Ben Roethlisberger have only been in their roles for a year, so previous history does not apply.

Look for Miller to have nice games as a designated redzone weapon, and possibly get enough looks as the season progresses to crack the top ten fantasy tight ends in 2005. Coming off hernia surgery and a lackluster mini camp, I expect Miller to have a slow start to the season, but have some big games later. Long term, Miller and Roethlisberger should develop into one of the better known QB-TE combos in the NFL—making Miller worthy of a late-first, or second round selection in rookie dynasty drafts.

Alex Smith: The Buccaneers found a promising weapon to stretch opposing defenses down the middle when they drafted the 6-4, 255 lbs., Stanford Cardinal. Smith is known for his ability to release off the line and his burst. Smith’s black belt in Tae Kwon Do is a reflection of the type of skills he has on the field: agility, toughness, and intelligence. The rookie should be a good fit with Jon Gruden, a coach that utilizes a quick-strike, passing game with players capable of making intelligent decisions. Brian Griese has played with one of the best tight ends in the history of the game in Shannon Sharpe, which means the Bucs’ starter won’t shy away from the rookie. Like Sharpe, Smith is known as a good runner after the catch.

The Stanford football team has not been a prolific offense lately and Alex Smith wasn’t a well-publicized prospect. This is an advantage to many fantasy owners looking for a late-round bargain that could make an immediate impact to start the season—ala Randy McMichael a few years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith outperforms Heath Miller when comparing Tampa and Pittsburgh’s offenses. If you are the kind of fantasy owner that doesn’t waste his time drafting tight ends or kickers until the end of his selection process, Smith is a decent late-round gamble. I would recommend owners to select Smith off the waiver wire, but I expect a nice start to the season and it won’t be easy to get him there. Although his ability is comparable to Miller’s, dynasty owners can wait until the 3rd-5th round of rookie drafts to land Smith due to his low profile in college.

The Surprises

Bo Sciafe: Sciafe is a great candidate to surprise as a rookie. The former Texas Longhorn was a late round pick due to chronic knee trouble, but when healthy, has nearly the same level of athleticism, receiving skills, and route running technique as the first two tight ends on this list. The Titans expect second year man, Ben Troupe to be available for the season after breaking his foot. Although the projected return is favorable, this is a similar injury that bothered former Titan Jevon Kearse. Sciafe would still serve as the #2 TE in this situation due to Erron Kinney. The Titans will be concentrating on a shorter passing game and Sciafe has just the type of skills that could remind McNair of his work with Frank Wycheck—both tight ends with a knack for find the open area in zone coverage. Kinney is a fine tight end, but if Sciafe can demonstrate the receiving skills and athleticism the Titans expect from him, he could be worth considering if there is a delay to Troupe’s return. Sciafe is a player that should not be drafted at this point unless injuries thrust him into the role. Even if Troupe and Kinney complete the season, dynasty owners may want to keep an eye on Sciafe over the next couple of years.

Adam Bergen: The 6-4, 265 lbs., TE from Lehigh is a player the Arizona Cardinals signed as a rookie free agent. Due to the lack of established players at the position, Bergen has a chance to contribute immediately because he possess the hands and powerful running style to be an effective receiver in the middle of the field. Bergen’s lack of speed and quickness, small-school background, and nagging injuries to his knees and ankles dropped him out of the NFL draft. This is the kind of player that could land a starting job and be a consistent point producer because he’ll be athletic enough to get open on an offense loaded with weapons on the outside and in the backfield. Even if Bergen gets this opportunity, he’ll be a short-yardage/check down option with minimal production. Bergen should be available on re-draft and dynasty waiver wires all season long.


Kevin Everett (BUF): Everett tore his ACL in Bills mini-camp, but for many owners seems like a decent bargain at the end of dynasty drafts because he’s an excellent blocking tight end with good hands. Everett reminds many scouts of his Miami predecessor Bubba Franks. Everett still hasn’t approached the ceiling of his talent-level due to his short collegiate career as a starter, so it’s possible Everett could surpass Franks as an NFL player. The Bills offense has all the young weaponry to give Everett this opportunity to shine next season, but the injury will likely mean Everett won’t make a significant impact until 2007. This doesn’t make him as good of a bargain as he might appear. If Everett is on waivers to begin 2006, that would be the best opportunity for value.

Jerome Collins (STL): The Rams’ rookie was a tight end at Notre Dame for only one season, but he’s a former linebacker that’s fast and agile. His experience on the defense side of the ball is a positive because it should indicate a player that will have a physical style of play. The Rams haven’t been known to involve the tight end as a major component of their offense, so don’t look for Collins to make an impact any time soon. That said, the rookie has enough physical skills to know about for the future.

Tony Jackson (SEA): Although Jackson was drafted he’s primarily a blocker much like Baltimore tight end Terry Jones. The difference is Jones is an underrated receiver.

Joel Dressen (NYJ): If the Jets didn’t replace now-departed Anthony Becht with Doug Jolley, Dressen could have been a surprise. The former Colorado State Ram is an all around tight end that had the hands, running skills, and blocking skills to contribute immediately. Although Jolley is a favorite sleeper tight end among fantasy owners this year, Dressen has the potential to develop into as good of a player over time. This is a good player to remember in case Jolley can’t last the season or under performs.

Garrett Cross (GB): Another fine, developmental prospect. Cross is more of an H-back type due to his light frame—233 lbs. What makes Cross a nice wait-and-see prospect is his hands, ability to read coverage, and relationship with rookie QB Aaron Rodgers. Cross and Rodgers have played together on three teams: Butte, California, and now Green Bay. In fact, the reason Rodgers wound up at Cal was because the college’s recruiters were working out Cross and realized the quarterback throwing Cross the balls wasn’t too bad, either. Cross is in a decent situation to grow into a role a few years from now.

Billy Bajema (SF): Bajema, from Oklahoma State is a player with the skills to develop into an NFL contributor but needs more refinement and experience. There are concerns about current 49ers starter Eric Johnson and his knee, but third-year prospect Aaron Walker is most likely the next in line.

Wesley Duke (DEN): Duke is a former college basketball player from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. This is the Broncos attempt at developing a prospect similar to Antonio Gates. Considering the Broncos had success at least to a minor degree with a variety tight end prospects such as former WR Billy Miller and Desmond Clark, it’s worth getting Duke’s name out there for future reference. Then again, Miller and Clark played football, so Duke’s adjustment to the game is still a big question mark.