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2008 Rookie Impact
Tight Ends

Rookie Scouting Portfolio Note: This series contains excerpts and sample profiles from my 2008 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, an publication available for purchase here. The RSP provides play-by-play examples that back up my observations of each prospect’s performance. For my takes on previous rookie impact quarterback classes check here for impact articles from 2006 and 2007.

Last year’s class produced two top-25 rookie tight ends: the Raider’s Zach Miller, who ranked 16th as a fantasy tight end and started the entire season and the Bears’ Greg Olsen, who ranked 23rd among fantasy tight ends while splitting time with 12th-ranked Desmond Clark. I recommended Miller as a decent in-season waiver wire option. Olsen, my top choice, only started five games. Kevin Boss was the only other rookie worth mentioning because of two impressive outings in weeks 15 and 17. None of these players were ones worth contemplating as strong picks for your 2007 fantasy drafts. And this has normally been the case for 56 years. There have been over 600 rookie tight ends in the NFL during this span and only five of them were worthwhile starters.

When you consider that some of the all-time great tight ends weren’t immediate impact players, it’s best to be patient with this position. Just two years ago I was touting Vernon Davis as the best rookie prospect at the position and an impact player. Davis got hurt and then struggled in year two. Meanwhile, Owen Daniels was a guy I said not to take seriously “unless he matches up perfectly with an offensive system that allows him to sneak into the flat without much resistance—not likely.” Turns out it was more likely than I thought! Still, if you ask me who will have the better career, I’m still firmly in the Davis camp.

I remind people of this every year: 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:

 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

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—two years ago it was Daniels and last year, Olsen. 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 2008 is better than the 2007 crop and deeper than the 2006 class. The best fantasy player is Jets rookie Dustin Keller. The Purdue Boilermaker isn’t the freak of nature that Vernon Davis is, but he’s a heck of an athlete that can catch the football. There’s a reason Jets incumbent Chris Baker has been complaining. 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 Dustin Keller These are 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. Fred Davis gets honorable mention.
Kellen Davis
Routes Fred Davis All three players know how to adjust to the quarterback and run a variety of routes with consistently good results.
Dustin Keller
Kellen Davis
Receiving Jacob Tamme They demonstrate body control, good hands technique, and the ability to make difficult receptions with an impending hit.
Dustin Keller
Kellen Davis
Elusiveness Dustin Keller Keller has good stop-start quickness and some lateral movement. Davis bends runs in different directions with speed.
Fred Davis
Ball Handling John Carlson He consistently exercises good technique and demonstrated sound protection of the ball versus hard hits.
Balance Mike Peterson Multiple times I saw Peterson take hits, adjust his balance, and stay upright while continuing to move forward. Rucker is also good at breaking tackles in the open field, although I think he’ll struggle a bit more with linebackers.
Martin Rucker
Blocking Joey Haynos Both can take on a defensive lineman and win the battle. They have the size and fundamental technique to be assets to an NFL ground game.
Martellus Bennette

Although it’s a rarity for a rookie to perform like an elite fantasy tight end, they still make good investments in the upper portion of the middle rounds in dynasty league rookie drafts. In re-drafts, Keller is your best bet in the late rounds. Fred Davis might be a decent waiver wire selection because he will see time as a situational player in several two-TE sets. John Carlson will also likely get a shot to contribute in Seattle.

Likely Starter By October

Dustin Keller, Jets: What makes Keller dangerous is his ability to catch a ball in traffic in the teeth of the defense and gain yardage afterwards with his speed and lateral movement. The quality I like the most about this tight end is his comfort with physical contact. He doesn’t shy away from a hit and often gets the better end of a confrontation as a receiver or runner. Whether Keller can put these skills on display as a pro will be the determining factor for Keller’s immediate fantasy impact with a team that already has a solid tight end in Chris Baker, who was no doubt puzzled by the Jets selection of the rookie in the opening rounds. The lynchpin issue will be his blocking if Man-Genius doesn’t utilize him as an H-Back or in the slot.

This Year’s Top Waiver Wire Candidates

Fred Davis, Washington: The former high school running back is an impressive receiver who runs like an agile fullback in the open field. He does everything well, but nothing stands out as his signature skill. I think he can be as good, if not better than Chris Cooley—his co-star who has the billing at this point in Washington—in the near future. I think Davis is the best tight end in this draft if he can approach his life and profession with maturity he hasn’t always shown prior to the NFL. Thus far, the Redskins project Davis to be a part of two-tight end sets in Jim Zorn’s west coast offense. This automatically puts a rather heavy cap on Davis’ fantasy production before the season ever begins. However, if Cooley gets banged up, Davis could blow that ceiling—and that roof—off 300 yards and 3 scores.

John Carlson, Seattle: Are you a shell-shocked team when it comes to acquiring tight ends that have tons of talent, but lack professionalism (Jerramy Stevens) or proven veterans that were out of gas (Marcus Pollard)? Then you must be in the market for a steady but unspectacular player that can block in the running game and catch that 3-yard drag route. And I’ve got just the player for you, Mr. Allen. He’ll remind you of Jed Weaver who faced your ‘hawks twice in a season while working as a Niner. Don’t remember? Yeah, he’s not that memorable. I have a feeling Carlson’s fantasy production won’t be, either. You can say the same for Titans rookie Craig Stevens.

Gary Barnidge, Carolina: As dynasty owners tout the merits of a Notre Dame player picked too high, you can head down south and get a similar player at a much lower price. The training camp battle between Gary Barnidge and Jeff King will be about as exciting as Roger Goddell taking a gig as a late night talk show host. Still Barnidge is worth monitoring because he’s a more nimble athlete than King and could win the job just by staying healthy.

Benchwarmers With Skills

Kellen Davis, Bears: Based on what I saw on film, Kellen Davis has elite skills. He has the best combination of size, athleticism, and hands in this draft. He reminds me of a poor man’s Tony Gonzalez because he has excellent body control in the red zone. He aptly demonstrated this skill for Michigan State in the Champ Sports Bowl versus Boston College in a game where he also sacked Matt Ryan as a situation pass rusher.

The Bears were able to nab him late in the draft as a “developmental project” because of apparent issues between Davis and the John L. Williams regime in East Lansing, which Davis claims he wasn’t aware of any problem. Time will tell if Chicago got a steal they can either trade away or pair with Greg Olsen in two-TE sets. The way we seem to hear about two-TE sets lately, you wonder if it’s the wave of the future for NFL offenses. If it you’re buying it, I want you (yes, you Papa Smurf) to send me recent picture so I can make sure you’re not continuing to ingest any more of that colloidal silver. Instead, take Davis at the end of your dynasty drafts.

Brad Cottam, Chiefs: A 6-6 or 6-7 guy with good straight line speed. It’s just my two cents, but straight-line speed is good for four things:

  • Amateur football (high school and college)
  • Track
  • Drag Racing
  • The NFL Combine
The good thing about Cottam is he can block, which will give fantasy owners the opportunity to see if he can develop into Tony Gonzalez’s understudy. His catching technique needs work so he doesn’t deal with bouts of drops due to allowing the ball into his body and he’s not going to be dynamic after the catch unless he’s the far-side receiver sneaking off the line on a fake field goal where he can pretend it’s the combine all over again.

Martellus Bennett, Dallas: Put Jacob Tamme in this guy’s body and you get a Hall of Fame tight end. The rookie from Texas A&M has solid hands, a good burst, and can handle defensive lineman as a run blocker. The positive for the Cowboys is with Jason Witten as the starter, the organization can afford to wait and see if the light goes on for Bennett who hasn’t shown the work ethic to maximize his great athletic potential.

Jermichael Finley, Green Bay: He’s young, but talented. He’s not fast, but has a good feel for the game because he does the little things well. Finley still needs develop consistency and maturity. This is a good selection for the Packers, because the Texas alum has time to develop.


Jacob Tamme, Indianapolis: Last year the Colts took BYU’s Johnny Harline. Tammy is a very similar player, but with a higher profile and better athleticism. These are the type of receivers that Peyton Manning can do something with if the Colts struggle with injury: dependable route runners, sure-handed, and tough. The issue facing Tamme in training camp will be his blocking. If he demonstrates he’s an effective blocker—which based on the film isn’t likely—he might get a shot in two-tight end sets. I believe Tamme’s fate with the Colts will be similar to Harline’s.

Martin Rucker, Cleveland: Just imagine how great Kellen Winslow, Jr. could be if he weren’t having knee surgeries every off-season. Rucker has strong enough receiving skills to make an NFL impact, but he’s far from ready as an in-line blocker. Most of his success in the Missouri passing game came out of the slot or split wide. Although he possesses excellent hands, Rucker lacks the speed to be a viable primary threat in an NFL offense.