With Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots setting a league record for touchdowns by a tight end and the Saints Jimmy Graham also enjoying monstrous production in his second year in the league, fantasy owners are for the first time faced with the prospect of selecting two tight ends within the first two rounds of their drafts.
The question is: is that a sound strategy?
Before we answer that, let’s decide who the top dog at tight end should be in 2012. Giving his 235 fantasy points last season, Gronkowski deserves that honor.
While Gronkowski has been a revelation in New England (and to his fantasy owners) with 28 touchdowns during his first two years in the league and 1,327 receiving yards in 2011, the odds of him replicating his 2011 production are unlikely. Brandon Lloyd joins the Patriots this season as a proven deep threat, defenses will adjust and increase their focus on Gronkowski and his high ankle sprain at the end of last season was a reminder of the injury issues that caused him to drop into the 2nd round of the 2010 draft.
If that turns out to be an accurate assessment, then he shouldn’t be taken in the 2nd round. In fact, there is a strong case that Graham should be able to significantly close the fantasy point differential between the two players, making him a potential better value as the second tight end off the board.
With the first wave of free agency over, here are my initial 2012 fantasy football tight end rankings:
The Top 12
1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots – He’s a beast but is he a beast that can stay healthy?
2. Jimmy Graham, Saints – Given his inexperience, you could make a strong argument that he has more upside than any tight end in the league.
3. Jermichael Finley, Packers – Is he a tease or the dominant player he appeared to be in 2010 and one who deserves more targets in 2012?
4. Antonio Gates, Chargers – The bad news is that he has missed nine games in the last two years. The good news is that he averaged 13.8 points per game in 2010 when Vincent Jackson missed most of the season and Jackson has left for Tampa Bay.
5. Vernon Davis, 49ers – Are you getting the Davis who dominated in two playoff games last season (292 yards and four touchdowns) or the one who averaged six targets a game in the regular season (792 yards and six touchdowns). Head coach Jim Harbaugh will decide.
6. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots – Doesn’t have the upside of the players ahead of him but managed 910 yards and 7 touchdowns in just fourteen games last season.
7. Jason Witten, Cowboys – With Laurent Robinson having a solid season as the team’s third wide receiver, Witten had just 117 targets, his lowest total since the 2006 season. It is nice that Robinson isn’t in Dallas anymore. Not so nice is Witten’s production over the Cowboys final six games (272 receiving yards and no touchdowns).
8. Fred Davis, Redskins – If you watched any Redskins games last year, it was readily apparent that Davis has major upside. Look no further than his 8.1 points per game last season, 5th best amongst tight ends. With better wide receivers in Washington this season, a rookie quarterback and his 2011 suspension, Davis carries some risk and that is why he isn’t higher on the list. However, it won’t be a surprise if he is in the top five by season’s end.
9. Brent Celek, Eagles – Persona non grata in 2010 and for the first six games of 2011, Celek re-emerged as a weapon for the Eagles over the final 10 games, catching 53 passes for 738 yards and five touchdowns.
10. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons – The Falcons figure to have a solid offense once again in 2012 but I am not sold that the 36-year-old Gonzalez can repeat his 875-yard, seven-touchdown performance from a year ago. Gonzo is going to need to increase his touchdown count to repeat as a top 5 tight end.
11. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions – Pettigrew had the 2nd most targets amongst tight ends last season with 126 but was the 11th ranked fantasy player at his position so you could make the argument that he has a lot of upside but you would be wrong. He catches a lot of passes (83 last year) but not for a lot of yards (10.0 career yards per reception). In Detroit’s offense, he gets few looks down the field and is mostly a check down option in the passing game.
12. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals – The 2010 1st round pick might be ready to bust out in 2012 provided he improves his route running. The talent is there, the light needs to come on.