Note: This series
contains excerpts and sample profiles from my 2006 Rookie Scouting
Portfolio, an FFToday.com publication available for purchase. For
details, sample material, and testimonials for this compendium of
game film study and dynasty league reports, go
name the best ever rookie tight end in fantasy football history.
Tony Gonzalez? Nope. Jeremy Shockey? Guess again. Kellen Winslow?
Closer decade, but you’re still cold.
From 1950-2005 there have been 578 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 compiled 1,076 receiving yards and 12 scores
on only 56 receptions.
Statistical histories reveal that a rookie tight end with this
immediate level of production has only come along one per decade.
Yet 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.
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 class of 2006 may be the strongest group of rookie tight
ends ever. There are several fine receivers in this group. Those
that can’t cut it as in-line blockers may also have a chance
as H-Backs. The head of the class is 49ers rookie Vernon “Duke”
Davis. The former Maryland Terrapin has game-breaking, receiver
skills in a tight end’s body—Shannon Sharpe quickly
comes to mind when you see what Davis is capable of achieving.
Here are some of the players I felt rated well in key areas based
on film study.
|The Best And Worst By Category
as fast as a deep threat WR. Mills is the quickest.
the greatest variety of routes and demonstrate good
are capable of adjusting to the ball in the air like
a wide receiver.
an explosive runner after the catch and Mills will consistently
move the chains.
||Shows good fundamentals
protecting the ball.
great adjustments to the ball while retaining their
balance and are difficult to knock off their feet.
the best pass overall blocker among his peers. Byrd
should make a smooth transition to the NFL.
Although it’s a rarity for a rookie to perform like an
elite fantasy tight end, they still make good investments in the
upper mid-rounds of dynasty league rookie drafts. In re-drafts
this might be the year you’ll want to consider investing
a late round pick in one of the top rookies and possibly an even
higher pick in Davis.
Rookie Of The Year Candidate
Vernon Davis, 49ers: Vernon
Davis is a special player. He has the speed of a deep threat at
wide receiver, but the size of an outside linebacker. He’s
a terror in the open field and has enough quickness and acceleration
that he was actually used to run back kicks at Maryland. Remember,
this is the tight end part of the series—and I’m
talking about a player that effectively ran back kicks at this
Fantasy owners with rookie drafts are regularly taking Davis
somewhere between picks 5-8 and I believe that is just about right
for this player. I’m not sure how second year QB, Alex Smith
will fair, but someone on the Niners depth chart will find a way
to hook up with Davis early and often. I think San Francisco has
a good chance to be a surprisingly better offensive team than
last year. Antonio Bryant is growing up, Larry Allen is a nice
addition, Eric Johnson is healthy, and Frank Gore should be primed
for a decent sophomore effort. Add this up, and between Smith
and Dilfer, Vernon Davis should create some serious match up problems.
In fact, Davis is already demonstrating his special skills in
camp. Reports thus far say he’s frustrating the San Francisco
linebackers with his physical ability. I don’t believe Davis
will best Mike Ditka’s long-standing record season for a
rookie, but I do think he’ll come closer to that 56-catch,
1076-yard mark than we’ve seen in quite a while. If you
plan to draft him, I’d reach a bit for Davis to ensure you
get him—say, after rounds 7-8 because he won’t be
around in the last 2-3 rounds of most drafts. If he is, consider
it an early birthday present from your competition.
Promising Contributors This Year
Joel Klopfenstein, Rams: Klopfenstein
has a chance to be an impact fantasy tight end this year. I don’t
believe he’ll come close to what I expect from Vernon Davis,
but I’d say he’ll be in the range of Randy McMichael’s
rookie year in Miami—39 recpetions, 485 yards, and 4 scores.
In fact, I think he has a good shot at besting those totals with
the skills players surrounding him in St. Louis. You can see my
film analysis and profile here.
Pick Klopfenstein in the last few rounds of your draft and you
might wind up with a viable starter. The key is fellow rookie,
Dominique Byrd’s health and expected contribution to the
offense. If Byrd isn’t a prominent part of the picture,
and Klopfenstein goes undrafted, don’t wait very long on
the wavier wire because the rookie out of Colorado be a premium
free agent pick after he puts up some solid numbers in the opening
month of the 2006 season. In dynasty leagues, Klopfenstein is
a smart, mid-round choice.
Leonard Pope, Cardinals: No
matter how much he jovially argues about it, Pope is listed as
6-7 (he says he’s 6-8). It doesn’t really matter.
The point is Pope is a big guy with nice agility and good hands.
I think between Edgerrin James and Leonard Pope, the Cardinals
have significantly upgraded their red zone offense. Pope will
create mismatches with his height, but he’s not a stiff
player for his size—he’s very good at catch low passes.
The Cardinals think they got a steal in round four, and I agree
with them. I don’t think Pope will turn out to be as good
as his UGA predecessor, Ben Watson—a player I believe will
eventually become an elite NFL tight end—but he will be
as good if not better than Watson’s predecessor, Dolphin
Randy McMichael. I think Pope will have some nice games this year,
but I’ll be surprised if he isn’t anything more than
the 3rd option in the red zone offense. He’s still worth
a late round selection in re-drafts and a mid-round pick in dynasty
leagues. Pope sometimes goes even higher in rookie drafts, so
keep that in mind.
Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars: Lewis
isn’t as fast as the first three tight ends on this list,
but he’s a fluid athlete with good hands. I’m not
sold on his blocking ability but if he improves enough to see
the field in Jacksonville, he should be a viable fantasy tight
end this year. Byron Leftwich has been missing a second, reliable
option in the middle of the field and the red zone. If Lewis can
fulfill this need, the Jaguars could have a dangerous offense
with greater balance. Good tight end play is a key to a balanced
offense and Lewis should make it more difficult for teams to read
run/pass on Jacksonville. Lewis is not one of my favorites in
this rookie class of tight ends—I think he’s overrated—he’s
not a physical, football player and I don’t think he’ll
be more than a short-range option. Still, he’s good enough
to use those talents effectively.
Benchwarmers With Skills
Dominique Byrd, Rams: After
Davis, I believe Byrd has the best skills of any tight end in
this draft. His knee injuries and character were reasons his stock
plummeted in the draft. Scott Linehan gladly picked Davis a round
after Klopfenstein, and this made veteran Brandon Malemaleuna
expendable. When healthy Byrd can do it all. He’s a good
runner after the catch and blocking is not an issue. He reminds
me of a shorter Alge Crumpler in terms of his potential. Watch
Byrd and Klopfenstein’s camp to determine what to do in
re-drafts. If Byrd outplays Klopfenstein or the gets the job due
to injury, bump him up to the next part of this list. If not,
he’s a late round dynasty selection worth holding onto for
David Thomas, Patriots: Thomas
is a smart football player with enough athleticism to become a
nice receiving option for an NFL team. Playing behind Ben Watson
and Daniel Graham probably means Thomas will sit on the bench
for a year or two, but eventually he’ll get some opportunities.
How much is really the question. Thomas has looked good thus far
with the Patriots but I believe this sure-handed receiver will
likely be a utility player that won’t be of much use to
fantasy owners if he remains in New England. Still, injury is
the great equalizer and Thomas could get a shot. He’s a
late round dynasty pick and a name to be familiar with when scouring
the waiver wire.
Garrett Mills, Patriots: Mills
has disappointed thus far in New England with dropped passes in
mini camp. It is only mini-camp and based on the actually games,
Mills has a history of coming up big when the pads are on. He’s
the best receiver of this class after Vernon Davis. The problem
is Mills is more the size of an H-Back or Fullback so he won’t
be an effective in-line blocker. On the other hand, he runs very
well after the catch and plays well in the slot or the backfield.
I think Mills could develop into a good pass catching fullback
or H-Back that may have some value to fantasy owners in certain
leagues. He’s not worth drafting at this point, but depending
on how New England uses him or where he lands if cut, Mills may
be worth a flier down the line.
Owen Daniels, Texans: Some
people believe Daniels will be a good H-Back for the Texans. I
think Jeb Putzier owners have no worries about Putzier losing
any time to Daniels. The rookie isn’t someone to seriously
consider. The former Wisconsin tight end has decent hands and
enough after the catch agility to earn a roster spot. I just don’t
believe he has much big play potential unless he matches up perfectly
with an offensive system that allows him to sneak into the flat
without much resistance—not likely.
Tim Day, Bears: Many analysts
considered Day a fast-rising prospect earlier in his career at
Oregon, but his value dropped to the point where he wasn’t
even drafted by an NFL team. I liked what I saw out of Tim Day
at Oregon. He has good body control as a receiver and pretty good
hands. He’s not a very fast runner, but he could become
an effective red zone and short-range weapon—a poor man’s
Marcedes Lewis. The Bears offense hasn’t been a tight-end
friendly system since…Mike Ditka? If this changes, Day could
potentially benefit down the line. Don’t count on it, but
knowing his name and the fact he has a good shot to back up Desmond
Clark isn’t a bad thing.
Charles Davis, Steelers: Davis
was a basketball player at Purdue but converted to tight end during
his career. He’s not particularly fast, but he is athletic
and isn’t afraid to catch the ball over the middle. Heath
Miller’s job is secure, but if Davis can stick with the
team for a year or two, he might surprise if Miller gets hurt.
Jeff King, Panthers: King is
probably the best blocker of the class. He has good hands, but
he’s not going to be much of problem for linebackers in
coverage. I think King develops into one of those players is on
the field a lot, but doesn’t get a lot of looks as receiver.
T.J. Williams, Buccaneers:
Williams is an excellent receiver, but he’s built a little
like Dominique Byrd and he’s not as fast. Williams is also
sitting behind the promising, second-year tight end Alex Smith.
Former pro offensive coordinator and NC State coach, Mark Trestman
endorsed Williams as a player capable of having an NFL career.
He didn’t play in a very good offense this year and was
their primary target. I think he could produce in Tampa if players
ahead of him got hurt, but you can’t count on it. He’s
a waiver wire guy.