With Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski scoring well over 10 FPts/G, the market for the league’s two elite tight ends has heated up in fantasy drafts over the past two seasons. However, after Graham’s monstrous performance in 2013 and another injury-marred season for Gronkowski, that landscape will change in 2014.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Graham will be the first tight end off the board in all formats, going as early as the 1st round. In the second tier, expect to see the likes of Julius Thomas, Vernon Davis, Gronkowski and perhaps Jordan Cameron.
Once those players are off the board, fantasy owners can safely sit on their hands and grab a tight end in the later rounds of their drafts. And that is because the next tier of tight ends is separated by a handful of fantasy points.
Last season, the point differential between the fourth highest scoring tight end (Cameron) and the eight-ranked tight end (Greg Olsen) was 16 points. The difference between Olsen and the tenth-ranked tight end (Martellus Bennett) was less than 12 points.
To sum it all up: go big or wait at tight end in 2014.
Here are my initial 2014 fantasy football tight end rankings:
1. Jimmy Graham, Saints – While it was debatable entering the 2013 season whether Graham or Rob Gronkowski should get top billing as the league’s top rated fantasy football tight end, that is no longer the case. Graham’s consistent production and reliability give him a clear edge on the rest of the competition and it’s not even close.
2. Julius Thomas, Broncos – Not even considered a TE1 entering last season, Thomas emerged as a consistent playmaker in the Broncos dynamic passing attack, earning plenty of targets despite the presence of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. Despite missing two games with a knee injury, Thomas hauled in 65 of his 90 targets for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was also consistent, topping eight or more fantasy points in ten of fourteen games. Better yet, Thomas has room to improve and a 1,000-yard season in 2014 isn’t out of the question.
3. Vernon Davis, 49ers – Davis had a stellar season in 2013, bouncing back from a subpar campaign in 2012. With Michael Crabtree out for eleven games, Davis had a larger role in the 49ers offense with his targets increasing from 61 to 84. He finished the year with 52 receptions for 850 yards and 13 touchdowns, matching his career high set back in 2009. While a dip in touchdowns is likely in 2014, Davis remains a top five option at tight end.
4. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots – Let’s make the same comment regarding Gronk for the third year in a row. He’s a Beast but is he a Beast that can stay healthy? Back surgery caused him to miss the first six weeks of the season and a torn ACL ended his year in Week 14. While he was highly productive when he was available (averaging 11.9 FPts/G), his availability for the opening game of the season is once again in doubt and there are no guarantees that he can make it through the season healthy. High risk, high reward.
5. Jordan Cameron, Browns – Considered in the preseason to be a break out candidate, Cameron didn’t disappoint, hauling in 80 of his 118 targets for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, he was a tad inconsistent with eight games under seven fantasy points including a four game stretch from Week 9-13 where he caught just 14 passes for 108 yards and no touchdowns. Opposing defenses also focused on shutting him down in the red zone over the final half of the season, holding Cameron to just one touchdown in his last eight games.
6. Dennis Pitta, Ravens – When Gary Kubiak was introduced as the Ravens new offensive coordinator, he announced that Pitta would be a big part of the team’s offense in 2014. That’s pretty significant since Pitta wasn’t even under contract for 2014. A preseason hip injury caused him to miss twelve games last season but he was a stud over the final part of the Ravens Super Bowl winning 2011 campaign, hauling in eight touchdowns in his final twelve games including the playoffs.
7. Jason Witten, Cowboys – While Witten finished the 2013 season as the fifth ranked fantasy tight end with 851 yards and eight touchdowns, he certainly seemed to have lost a step by season’s end. He topped 60 yards just twice between Week 6-16 before finishing strong in Week 17 with a 135-yard performance. He will be 32 years old by opening day.
8. Greg Olsen, Panthers – After producing 843 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2012, Olsen had 816 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2013. Let’s give him another 800 plus yards and five to six touchdowns for 2014.
9. Jordan Reed, Redskins – The Redskins 2013 third round pick had a solid rookie season, posting 45 receptions for 499 yards and three touchdowns in nine games before a concussion derailed his season in Week 11. More wide receiver than tight end and not much of a blocker, it remains to be seen how big of a role he will have in new head coach Jay Gruden’s offensive scheme. His history of concussions raises a red flag but the upside is definitely there.
10. Charles Clay, Dolphins – Clay seemingly came out of nowhere to career highs in receptions (69), yards (759) and touchdowns (6) while replacing Dustin Keller, who suffered a season ending injury in the preseason. The 2011 sixth round pick was targeted a healthy 102 times but could see that number drop if Keller is brought back or another tight end is added to the mix.
11. Zach Ertz, Eagles – While Brent Celek posted slightly better numbers by season’s end, it was clear that Ertz was the Eagles most dangerous tight end. The rookie second round pick caught 36 passes for 469 yards and 4 touchdowns but struggled as a blocker. Since Chip Kelly’s offense is run heavy, Ertz will need to hit the weight room if he wants to see the field more in 2014. Bank on that happening.
12. Jared Cook, Rams – While Cook posted career highs across the board in his first season in St. Louis (51 receptions for 671 yards and 5 touchdowns), the simple fact is that he was a major disappointment. His poor route running, lack of understanding of the playbook and questionable hands were on display far too often. His lack of reliability likely caused the Rams to reduce his role in the passing offense. Here’s to hoping the talented Cook puts it all together in 2014. This one’s a clear roll of the dice.
13. Antonio Gates, Chargers – It was a tale of two seasons for the 33-year old Gates in 2013. After posting 32 receptions for 438 yards and a pair of touchdowns during his first five games, he mustered up just 45 receptions for 434 yards and another 2 touchdowns over the final eleven games of the season. He will be worth grabbing as an upper tier TE2 in 2014.