Note: This series
contains excerpts and sample profiles from my 2007 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
Last year was one of the better classes of
prospects for pass-catching tight ends, but the best performer
turned out to be Wisconsin-alum Owen Daniels of the Texans—ranked
14th overall in standard scoring leagues—it goes to show
you that rookies are not fantasy-friendly at this position.
To back this up, there have been 585 rookie tight ends in the
NFL in 55 years. Only 5 rookie tight ends during this span have
produced in a range worthy of a starter. And what was the best
rookie performance ever for a TE? It was Mike Ditka’s 1,076
receiving yards and 12 scores on 56 receptions when he joined
the Bears in the 60’s. Not Kellen Winslow (Sr.). Not Ozzie
Newsome. Not Jeremy Shockey. Not even Tony Gonzalez.
Statistical histories reveal that a rookie tight end making an
immediate impact as a starter only comes along once 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 part-time starter at some point in the season:
43 tight ends in 55 years have been within a range that is generally
the equivalent of a 15th-20th-ranked player at their position. In
fact, the first six 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—last year it was Daniels. Yet
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 worthwhile
depth for late-round value in larger leagues or at worst, a decent
mid-season waiver wire selection.
The class of 2007 isn’t nearly as strong as the 2006 class.
The best is Bears rookie Greg Olson. The former Miami Hurricane
is an agile receiver with enough intermediate speed and blocking
skills to start right away in the Windy City—he should become
a reliable target for Rex Grossman. Here are some of the players
I felt rated well in key areas based on film study.
|The Best And Worst By Category
the only two tight ends that consistently have the skill
to get open past the short range of the field from their
position on the offensive line.
know how to adjust to the quarterback and run a variety
of routes with consistently good results.
and Olsen can make receiver-like catches downfield.
H-back mobility after the catch.
||Sound technique that
held up under big time competition.
break tackles after the catch and gain decent yardage
in the open field.
blockers that can take on a defensive lineman and win
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 Olsen is
your best bet in the late rounds. Zach Miller might be a decent
waiver wire selection because he is the only likely candidate after
Olsen to get a shot to start for his team.
Likely Starter By Mid-Season
Bears: In the context of last yearís draft class, I would
have only rated Vernon Davis ahead of Olsen. Although the Bearsí
pick lacked great stats throughout his college career, he was
often the Hurricanes lone bright spot, toiling in an offense with
teammates who underachieved or lacked talent commensurate to his
ability. He was often the go-to guy who made key 3rd down or 4th
quarter receptions for his team.
Olsen has few weaknesses in his game and he takes a workmanlike
attitude as a player. Incumbent starter Desmond Clarkóa former
wide receiver at Wake Forestómay be more athletic than Olsen,
but the rookie demonstrates a level of savvy on the football field
that took Clark more time to gain at the position. Olsen is already
a better blocker and this will be the key reason heíll at least
cut into Clarkís playing time in 2007.
As with many rookies, playing with injury may factor into Olsenís
transition to the pros. If he can remain healthy or produce with
the typical bumps and bruises veterans play through, Olsen has
the best shot of any rookie tight end listed to produce as a fantasy
This Yearís Top Waiver Wire Candidates
Zach Miller, Raiders: Prior to studying Millerís performances
on film, I fully expected the former Sun Devil to live up to the
good reviews I heard about him early in his career. Miller has
the size and hands to be an effective blocker and short area receiver,
but I believe his speed and is suspect. On the surface it seems
this could be enough of an issue to be wary of him becoming anything
more than a some-time fantasy starter during his career. But Miller
was actually pretty fast in the short distance acceleration drills
at the combine, and it is these drills that come closer to indicating
he has the requisite athleticism than then 40-yard dash. But unless
he was playing with an under-publicized injury, I thought Miller
was a bit of a plodder on film after he got his initial release
from the line. So Iím not sure what to make of Miller in
this area until I see him in the preseason.
But what Miller lacks in top-shelf athleticism he makes up for
in grit and effort. Heís made a good impression in camp and thereís
no doubt that Lane Kiffin has seen enough of Miller to believe
the rookie can be a solid contributor to the Raiderís new system.
The Titans Bo Scaife wasnít a top-tier athlete after his injuries
at Texas, but the Titan has been a surprise in former Trojan offensive
coordinator, Norm Chowís offense. Miller doesnít have anyone on
the level of Ben Troupe ahead of him on the depth chart in Oakland,
either (although former Utah WR John Madsenís play last year was
a bit intriguing). At the same time, Iím not convinced the Raiders
will have the combination of solid play from their QB and offensive
line to make Miller a productive rookie starter. At some point,
I believe a healthy Raiders offensive unit will yield better than
expected play in 2007, but a player like Miller will be a free
agent in most re-draft leagues well into September. Donít jump
the gun on him.
Harris, Packers: I had a much higher opinion of Harris than
many and believe heíll surprise. As a 7th-round pick, Harris was
likely valued as a draft choice because he is a decent long snapper.
But the Rutgers tight end has good ball skills as a receiver and
runner after the catch. Heís not extremely fast, but he posted
one of the better 20-yard shuttle times in his classóZach Millerís
was the fastestóand this could make him an effective short-to-intermediate
option. Although he had an early case of he drops in mini-camp,
look for Harris to demonstrate his receiving skills during the
preseason and earn himself a job. If there is a player at this
position that I expect to outperform his draft position over the
course of his career, Harris is the guy. Bubba Franks has lost
his starting job to Donald Lee and neither of these vets are surefire
bets for Green Bay.
Benchwarmers With Skills
Chargers: The 6-7 Chandler is a good receiver with excellent
concentration and body control. If he had Ben Olsenís athleticism,
he could start for several NFL teams. Unfortunately for the former
Iowa Hawkeye, Chandler lacks this necessary component to be anything
more than a Bubba Franks-type of player, at bestóand Iím stretching
the possibility a bit far. If San Diego incorporates Chandler
into the offense as a red zone threat sneaking past coverage focused
on Antonio Gates, he might have a few nice games this year. I
believe this is a possibility because Chandler is a fine run blocker
and it is plausible heíll see the field in short yardage situations.
If Gates gets hurt, Chandler
could be worth adding to your roster, but he would only fill
a fraction of the void left by the best tight end in the game.
Steelers: Iím not sold on Spaeth as anything but a reserve,
but when healthy heís a fluid athlete who can catch the football
consistently. If Heath Miller gets hurt, Spaeth has a chance to
be a useful fill-in and possible bye week starter. Otherwise,
Spaeth isnít likely to see the field except as a special teams
performer. His blocking is a bit suspect, although he has the
physical attributes to get better. Spaeth is one of those players
that might find his way into a specialized role with another team
as he develops as a football player.
Joe Newton, Seattle: The Oregon
State alumnus signed a free agent deal with the Seahawks this
spring and with the departure of Jerramy Stevens to Tampa, Newton
has a shot to make the roster. Netwon is a wide-bodied player
whose game is similar to that of Scott Chandler. Newton has good
ball skills as a receiver and if he performs well enough, could
eventually see time as a second tight end in short-yardage sets.
The problem is Newton isnít nearly as good of a blocker as Chandler.
There is no guarantee Newton makes the team and even less likely
heíll make your waiver wire short list if looking for a tight
end during the season.
Tyler Ecker, Redskins: When I watched Ecker on film I couldnít
put my finger on it, but there was something about his play that
indicated to me the former Michigan starter should be better than
he is. I wouldnít be at all surprised if Ecker works his
way into a situational role with the Redskins somewhere down the
line, but it isnít likely to happen this year.
Johnny Harline, Colts: Harline
is my favorite player in this class because he is a savvy receiver
and plays above his perceived athleticism. He reminds me a bit
of Todd Christensen, a bit undersized and slower than the top
prospects, but knows how to get open and catch the football in
tight coverage. The Colts have a knack for developing tight ends.
Marcus Pollard and Bryan Fletcher were much smaller names in college
than Harline. The BYU tight end was John Beckís favorite receiver.
If the Colts starters remain healthy in 2007 itís improbable Harline
sees the field, but he does have the skills to develop a rapport
with Manning if pressed into service.
Anthony Pudewell, Jaguars:
The tight end out of Nevada has excellent hands and didnít seem
to have a problem getting downfield against
one of the speedier team defenses in college football. Iím
not sure what kind of chance Pudewell has to stick with the Jaguars
if Wrighster and Lewis remain healthy, but this is something Wrighster
has failed to do consistently in his short career. Pudewell can
catch the football and to this point the Jaguars receivers have
struggled to do so. I donít anticipate Pudewell will make any
impact, but heís a better player than his lack of draft status