With the NFL season just around the corner, it is time to start thinking about players to target for your winning fantasy team. Tight Ends are arguably the most intriguing position – a Rob Gronkowski or a Jimmy Graham can win your fantasy league while selecting an oft-absent Antonio Gates may leave you with an unenviable seeding heading into the fantasy playoffs come December. Here is a look at some players that appear to be going too early in drafts and those who provide serious value in later rounds.
Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints
Average Draft Position: 2.05
You are right, Robert Meachem is gone so Graham should see more balls thrown his way in 2012. He did have 99 catches, 1310 yards and 11 touchdowns last season but step back a minute and take a look at the situation in New Orleans – a complete and utter mess! Drew Brees signed a historic contact and is finally happy but the perennial banged up running back situation will enter 2012 healthy for the time being. Graham is a stud for sure – he is my top tight end – he’s just not worthy of being picked ahead of Larry Fitzgerald… too many question marks for a second rounder. Waiting three rounds for Antonio Gates (5.05), or four rounds for Vernon Davis (6.02), Jermichael Finley (6.04), or Aaron Hernandez (6.06) would be your best move.
Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots
Average Draft Position: 2.08
I know, I know! Gronkowski was an absolute monster last year but being chosen in the first or second round may be over-optimistic. True he is an elite pass catcher who redefined the role of Tight End with 90 catches, 1327 yards and 17 touchdowns, but 19th overall? He is being drafted ahead of guys like Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Andre Johnson and A.J. Green to name a few. And, don’t forget Tom Brady has a new weapon named Brandon Lloyd in the mix this year. If you subscribe to the idea that a Tight End can win you a championship then you’ll need to commit an mid-to-late second round pick on Gronk but something tells me that the quarterback, an elite running back, or WR1 that you miss out on would be more beneficial in guiding you to the promise land.
Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys
Average Draft Position: 6.11
Witten had his worst season statistically last year with 79 catches, 942 yards and only five scores; in the final eight games he only scored once and fell below 50 yards in five matchups while averaging just 5.8 targets per game. A healthy Miles Austin and a better running game could eat into Witten’s production even more this year. He is being drafted a full round ahead of a healthy Fred Davis who is likely a better option. In the sixth round, Witten is a reach.
Fred Davis – Washington Redskins
Average Draft Position: 8.01
Only a positive drug test prevented Davis from having a great season last year. With a rookie QB and lack of bonafide weapons in DC, there is reason to believe he could be in for another good campaign. He had 59 catches, 796 yards and three scores last year and is projected by many to come close to 1000 yards this season which would rank him in the second tier of NFL TEs. As it sits now, Davis is the eighth or ninth TE off the board when his projections put him fifth. He may not seem like an eighth round pick but when the inevitable run on TEs leaves you scrambling, you could do a whole lot worse than Davis.
Jermaine Gresham – Cincinnati Bengals
Average Draft Position: 10.12
Gresham is an interesting prospect and clearly Andy Dalton’s second option in what should be a better season for the second year pivot. Some are projecting Gresham to be a top 10 Tight End and for good reason. With Jerome Simpson residing in Minnesota, the Bengals options opposite A.J. Green are unproven and lack experience. Gresham is being drafted late in the 10th round, but reaching for him in the eighth or ninth certainly isn’t out of the question after you have your other position players locked up. Gresham is arguably the best Tight End sleeper on the board.
Tony Gonzalez – Atlanta Falcons
Average Draft Position: 10.02
There is not much doubt that Gonzo’s skills are waning but at present he is the 11th Tight End being taken in most drafts. With Atlanta’s apparent commitment to throwing the ball this season, his presence should equate to more opportunities. He had 80 catches, 875 yards and seven touchdowns last year – not far from the numbers that made him a perennial Pro-Bowler in the past. To pick up a starter in the 10th round will certainly be a coup for you. He’s 36, finished in the top five among fantasy Tight Ends last year and he has recorded 80 or more catches in four of the last five seasons.
Greg Olsen – Carolina Panthers
Average Draft Position: 14.01
The Panthers brought in Rob Chudzinski (San Diego) in 2011 to run the offense and to say that he is Tight End friendly is an understatement. Add in the fact that Carolina passed up an opportunity to significantly upgrade their receiving corps in the off-season and you have to think Cam Newton will rely on his Tight End even more this year. Also, Jeremy Shockey has been jettisoned so it will be Gary Barnidge, yes Gary Barnidge that will be Newton’s second Tight End option. Olsen has caught at least 5 TDs in each of the last four seasons and should see increased targets in 2012. You can snatch him up with one of your last picks in the draft and he could realistically be starting for you every week this season.