Our final installment of post-draft dynasty rankings will cover the tight end position.
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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.
A broken (and re-broken) arm held Gronkowski to only 11 games during the 2012 season, but durability concerns (even ones that could stretch into the 2013 season) are not enough to keep the most-dominant tight end in football out of our top spot. Also an elite blocker, the 24-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, locked up through 2018, and with Wes Welker out of the picture, Hernandez will continue on as a target monster in New England for a long time.
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.
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. The only real concern here is the Vikings’ poor quarterback situation. Rudolph’s resume is short, but the upside here is massive…Like Rudolph, Davis’ 2012 season was the definition of a roller coaster. 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-six, but note that he’s the second-oldest player among our top-12 tight ends.
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… 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 now with the 49ers, Pitta is a contract extension away from being one of Flacco’s top targets over the long-term.
Cook signed a lucrative contract with the Rams during the offseason, locking him in as one of their featured offensive weapons. Poorly-utilized by the Titans, Cook is one of the most physically-gifted tight ends in the league. Starting in 2013, you can expect big receiving numbers from the 26-year-old…The Bengals made it clear that Jermaine Gresham is not in their long-term plans when they selected Eifert with the No. 21 overall pick in April’s draft. Eifert may need to wait a year before he’ll see every-down snaps, but it won’t be long before he’s heavily-involved as a pass-catcher in Cincinnati.
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 26-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…One of the league’s most-underrated all-around tight ends, Bennett is an elite blocker and a plus pass-catcher. He landed a long-term contract from the Bears this offseason, which will allow him a full complement of snaps, including heavy involvement in the passing game. Only 26, Bennett’s arrow is pointing up.
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…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 at wide receiver behind Andre Johnson and rookie DeAndre Hopkins, Daniels won’t have trouble finding targets over the next few years.
Housler and Cameron enter the 2013 season in very similar boats. They were drafted in the middle rounds of the 2011 draft as potential impact pass-catchers at the position, and are now in position to enter the 2013 season No. 1 on their respective team’s depth chart. Housler took over as Arizona’s starter last season; his involvement in the passing game progressed throughout the year. Coach Bruce Arians has already expressed his intentions of utilizing Housler as a pass-catcher. Cameron was buried behind Ben Watson last season, but the veteran is now with the Saints. New Browns head coach, Rob Chudzinski, and offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, have a history of heavily involving their top tight end in the pass game. Both players are upside TE2 options.
Gonzalez is back with the Falcons for one more year after briefly contemplating retirement. Although he’s a solid top-five redraft option, know that you’re only getting one year out of him in dynasty…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 productive years left in the tank.
Entering April’s draft, Ertz and Kelce were widely considered the top all-around tight end prospects not named Tyler Eifert. Both saw their post-draft fantasy value nudged in the right direction thanks to ideal landing spots. Ertz latches on with Chip Kelly where he’s in line to take over as the Eagles’ long-term (and potentially short-term) every-down tight end. Kelce heads to Kansas City where he’s likely to take over as the team’s top tight end at some point this year. Both players have potential to enter the TE1 conversation by the end of the 2013 season.