Our final installment of dynasty rankings will cover the tight end position.
Click it here for quarterback, running back, and wide receiver rankings.
As the league has evolved over the past few years, tight ends have been converted from extensions of the offensive line into oversized wide receivers. Like fullbacks, tight ends with little to no receiving skills are having trouble finding regular snaps. Instead, teams are sacrificing extra protection for their quarterbacks in exchange for another set of hands in the passing game.
The transition continues each year. Back in 2008, 19.7 percent of league-wide targets were directed at a player listed as a tight end. This past season, the mark was up to 21.5 percent. That may not seem like a huge boost, but had that 1.8 percent increase not occurred, a total of 308 targets would’ve been lost by tight ends during the 2012 season.
In fantasy circles, the increase in usage of tight ends as pass catchers has added depth to the position, but there are still a handful of superstars who stand above the rest. Of course, at the rate the league is going, it might not be long until our top tier grows even larger.
Note: Non-PPR scoring is assumed. Each player age listed is as of September 1, 2013, which will be near Week 1 of the upcoming season. The draft year and round is also shown for each player.
A broken (and re-broken) arm held Gronkowski to only 11 games during the 2012 season, but durability concerns are not enough to keep the most-dominant tight end in football out of our top spot. Also an elite blocker, the 23-year-old Gronkowski has an absurd 37 career touchdowns in 42 regular season games. Averaging more than one touchdown-per-game over the last two seasons, the massive 6’6/265 “Gronk” will be force-fed the ball in the red zone as long as he’s in the league.
Despite the fact that Graham was the top-scoring fantasy tight end, 2012 was actually a bit of a disappointing season. His catches, yards, and touchdowns all took a dive. Of course, coach and offensive guru Sean Payton was out of action. The boss returns in 2013 and Graham will, again, be Drew Brees’ favorite target. The 26-year-old is in the prime of his career.
Basically a wide receiver, Hernandez usually lines up in the slot, especially when Rob Gronkowski is healthy. Hernandez missed six games due to injury this past season, but finished fifth among all tight ends in fantasy points-per-game. A half year younger than Gronkowski and locked up through 2018, Hernandez will continue on as a target monster in New England.
Although he’s allergic to the endzone, Witten is a pass-catching machine, setting the all-time tight end record with 110 receptions this past season. That comes after not missing a single game while putting up 64-plus receptions each of the past nine years. Witten’s age (30) and bizarre touchdown deficiencies (three scores in 2012) are all that keep him from the top-tier conversation.
Davis’ 2012 season was the definition of a roller coaster, but the good news is that he and Colin Kaepernick finished the year up strong. There’s reason to believe that he’ll join Michael Crabtree as the young quarterback’s go-to targets going forward. Davis’ upside keeps him in our top-five, but note that he’s the second-oldest player among our top-12 tight ends…Like Davis, Rudolph had a volatile 2012 season, but he makes for a strong cornerstone dynasty tight end because of his skills, age (23), and heavy involvement in the Vikings’ offense. His resume is short, but the upside is massive.
Fresh of a season in which he played almost every offensive snap, Olsen will enter 2012 as one of Cam Newton’s top-two targets. With Carolina struggling to find competent long-term receiving options, it’s fair to expect a heavy dose of targets for Olsen over the next few years…Cook is a free agent, but some team is going to pay him big money to operate as a major contributor in the passing game. Poorly-utilized by the Titans, Cook is one of the most-athletic tight ends in the league. Expect big receiving numbers from the 25-year-old starting in 2013.
Gresham hasn’t quite lived up to expectations since the Bengals picked him in the first round of the 2010 draft. A lot of that has had to do with blocking, though, which isn’t much of a factor in fantasy. Still only 24-years-old, Gresham has continued to put up relatively strong receiving numbers, and appears to be in Cincinnati’s long-term plans…Pitta’s 2012 breakout season was a bit of a surprise because he had spent the first two seasons of his career buried behind Ed Dickson. The promotion led to Pitta quickly taking over as Joe Flacco’s No. 3 option in the passing game. With Anquan Boldin closing in on his mid-30s, Pitta is in position to be one of Flacco’s top targets over the long-term.
One of the league’s most-underrated all-around tight ends, Bennett is an elite blocker and a plus pass-catcher. He’s currently a free agent, but figures to end up somewhere that allows him a full complement of snaps, including heavy involvement in the passing game. Only 25, his arrow is pointing up…Finley is one of the most athletically-gifted players at the position, but inconsistent play has put his future with the Packers in question. Entering a contract year, the 25-year-old will surely garner a ton of attention on the open market, but he doesn’t figure to land in an offense as attractive as the one in Green Bay…Daniels is over the age-30 hump, but remains one of the league’s most-utilized receiving tight ends. Signed for another two seasons and with Houston struggling to find a competent No. 2 wide receiver behind Andre Johnson, Daniels won’t have trouble finding targets over the next few years.
Following the 2012 draft, Allen’s fantasy football ceiling was in question because of the team’s decision to also draft Coby Fleener. Although Fleener’s potential emergence remains a concern, Allen is simply too good to keep off the field. An elite blocker and good pass-catcher during his rookie season, Allen has carved out a role as a long-term every-down tight end in the emerging Andrew Luck offense…Miller was a strong TE1 option during the 2012 season, but he’s now 30-years-old and may miss a chunk of the upcoming season due to a torn ACL. One of Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite targets, Miller is worth stashing on your bench until his return. Assuming his knee heals as expected, he’ll have a few more years of production left in the tank.
Gates made it through the 2012 season healthy, but he’s closing in on 33 and the Chargers are no longer the offensive juggernaut they were a few years back. He’ll continue to see a ton of Philip Rivers’ targets, but Gates’ days as a slam dunk impact TE1 are over...Gonzalez is currently without a contract and contemplating retirement. If he decides to return, however, he’ll sign a one-year deal with the Falcons, making him a top-five fantasy tight end in redraft formats. He’s worth taking a chance on after the first 15 or so tight ends are off the board, but know that you’re getting no more than one year out of him.
Keller is expected to move on from the Jets this offseason, but he’s going to get plenty of attention from teams in need of a pass-catching tight end. He isn’t much of a blocker, but can hold his own to the point that an every-down role is possible. A decent receiver and still in his prime at 28, Keller makes for a decent dynasty TE2…Like Keller, Davis is a free agent who is expected to find a new home. Durability is a question mark, especially since he’s coming off a torn Achilles, but he’s only 27 and a very good pass-catcher…Pettigrew hasn’t quite lived up to expectations since Detroit selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft. He remains involved in the Lions’ passing game, but would be well off the fantasy radar if they didn’t throw the ball so often. Now 28 and having ranked in the top-10 among tight ends in drops each of his first four years in the league, Pettigrew’s arrow is point the wrong direction.