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Rookie Impact
Tight Ends

Note: This series contains excerpts and sample profiles from my 2006 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, an publication available for purchase. For details, sample material, and testimonials for this compendium of game film study and dynasty league reports, go here.

Quick, 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.

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

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
Category Player Comment
Separation Vernon Davis Davis is as fast as a deep threat WR. Mills is the quickest.
Garrett Mills
Routes Joel Klopfenstein They run the greatest variety of routes and demonstrate good adjustment skills.
Garrett Mills
Receiving Vernon Davis Both prospects are capable of adjusting to the ball in the air like a wide receiver.
Garrett Mills
Elusiveness Vernon Davis Davis is an explosive runner after the catch and Mills will consistently move the chains.
Garrett Mills
Ball Handling Joel Klopfenstein Shows good fundamentals protecting the ball.
Balance Dominique Byrd Both make great adjustments to the ball while retaining their balance and are difficult to knock off their feet.
Joel Klopfenstein
Blocking Jeff King King is the best pass overall blocker among his peers. Byrd should make a smooth transition to the NFL.
Dominique Byrd

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 position!

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 a year.

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.