Adam Levitan

Offseason Low Down

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Off the deep end

Friday, July 22, 2011

Formulating a draft strategy is often an exercise in futility because we don't know what our opponents will do. The lockout has made preparation even more difficult.

However, the singular starting roster positions (quarterback and tight end) are two that we can attack. Because most owners will only draft one of each before the ninth round, it's crucial to understand the depth at the positions.

And this season, perhaps no position is as deep as tight end. If you asked five different people who will lead tight ends in 2011 fantasy points, you could very well get five different answers. That's deep. And that is going to lead to a cluster -- or position run -- when draft day arrives.

Here is the current average draft position (ADP) of the consensus top-5 tight ends, thanks to our friends at Real Time Fantasy Sports:

1. Antonio Gates: 34.4
2. Dallas Clark: 43.2
3. Jason Witten: 48.8
4. Jermichael Finley: 50.1
5. Vernon Davis: 58.9

As evidenced by the projections in our draft guide, the order of these five is up for debate. We have Gates on top, but none of the other four are in line with their ADP. The takeaway is clear: You can be patient on this top-tier run.

OK, now five of our 12 owners have tight ends. Back in the old days, when the position was filled with blockers and exclusive goal-line options, this would be a problem for the other seven owners. The only tight ends producing big fantasy stats consistently were Tony Gonzalez and Gates, creating all kinds of fantasy value in having one of them.

These days, it's a land of opportunity where the streets are paved with upside. The position has become a glamour spot, as evidenced by the rising production:

2000: 3
2001: 2
2002: 3
2003: 2
2004: 6
2005: 7
2006: 7
2007: 6
2008: 5
2009: 10
2010: 8

I'd expect that number to rise into double digits again this year, leaving the other seven owners in fine shape. And as I mentioned in the draft guide's Bold Predictions, Owen Daniels is someone I'm targeting. Now nearly two full years removed from his ACL tear, Daniels has a great chance to regain his 2009 form. That season, he was on pace for 89 catches, 1,136 yards and 10 touchdowns heading into his devastating Week 8 injury. Daniels' current ADP sits at an appetizing 80.3.

With Marques Colston's ability to get open in question thanks to yet another knee surgery, the highly athletic Jimmy Graham is ready to fill the void. The former basketball standout's elite red-zone upside can be had at 71.3. Veterans like Zach Miller (101.3), Marcedes Lewis (98.5) and Chris Cooley (114.1) are going in the same range as QB2s like Jay Cutler and WR4s like Julio Jones.

That makes 10 tight ends likely to produce at a TE1 level. The range of ADP stretches from the end of the third round to the middle of the tenth.

But we're not done yet with the depth at this position. The young, playmaking fliers can be had for pennies as TE2s. A look at their ADPs:

149.3 Jared Cook
143.2 Aaron Hernandez
159.1 Tony Moeaki

The point of understanding the unprecedented depth at this position is vital to decision-making on draft day. If my rankings leave me with a choice between Dez Bryant and Vernon Davis in the fourth or fifth round, it's an easy choice. While there won't be a player with WR1 upside available in Round 10, we've established that there will still be plenty of enticing tight ends to choose from.

Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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