Through most of the prior decade, drafting a tight end in fantasy football consisted of paying a modest premium for Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates, maybe Vernon Davis, and otherwise waiting and setting low expectations at that position on your roster. Since the New England Patriots drafted Rob Gronkowski and Sean Payton unleashed Jimmy Graham starting in his sophomore season, both in 2011, tight end has become a key cog in a successful fantasy football season.
Not only is there a changing of the guard amongst the top dogs, but overall scoring is up, and more teams are utilizing the tight end position as an important offensive weapon. You may not need one of the very best, and expensive players, at tight end, but it pays to be on the lookout for the next great one.
More teams are using multiple tight end sets, trying to create mismatches against smaller defensive backs, giving us more players to investigate, including the rookies, now more ready than ever to contribute right away. Here are my post-NFL Draft Top 5 Rookie Tight Ends.
At 6’4”, 250 pounds, Eric Ebron is a big and athletic tight end that could fit right into this league. The Detroit Lions brought in Joe Lombardi, who served as the offensive assistant for the New Orleans Saints and in particular, Jimmy Graham, for the past seven years, to be the new offensive coordinator. The Lions boast a running back committee of solid pass catchers in Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, added WR Golden Tate, and that Calvin Johnson guy is pretty good. Is there anything left for Ebron? Absolutely.
Matthew Stafford led the league in pass attempts in 2011 and 2012, and finished fourth last season. Stafford has no qualms about slinging it around. While defenses focus on keeping Johnson in check, Ebron should see plenty of targets, especially in the red zone. Brandon Pettigrew is still expected to start at tight end in Detroit to justify his new, overpriced contract. However, Ebron was drafted highly to contribute to an offense that wants to produce on par with the Saints and Denver Broncos.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ASJ) joins the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an immediate weapon at tight end. Tampa Bay made a lot of moves this offseason starting with a new head coach in Lovie Smith, adding QB Josh McCown via free agency and drafting Mike Evans, one of the best rookie wide receivers available. Tim Wright produced well last year catching 54 receptions for 571 yards, 5 touchdowns, but with the drafting of ASJ, Wright could suffer from new regime bias. Not many would consider tight end Brandon Myers or Tom Crabtree much competition. To whichever player is the primary pass catcher at tight end, expect similar numbers to what Martellus Bennett produced in Chicago last year with McCown. That would be very positive for ASJ in his rookie year if he is the guy.
Jace Amaro landed in an ideal situation with the New York Jets. He should be immediately considered the number two receiving option behind free agent signee Eric Decker. Stephen Hill is a wildcard for the Jets due to his injury history and lack of consistency, and Jeff Cumberland hasn’t shown the coaches enough to be relied upon as the primary receiving tight end. From there, the Jets are filled with smallish wide receivers in Jeremy Kerley, Clyde Gates, Jacoby Ford, Jalen Saunders, and recently drafted Shaquelle Evans. Amaro should receive a healthy amount of targets and benefit as the most suitable red zone threat on the roster, regardless of whether Geno Smith or Michael Vick is the starting quarterback.
4. C.J. Fiedorowicz, HOU (teamed with sophomore Ryan Griffin)
Rumor has it head coach Bill O’Brien wants to run a similar offense to what he ran in New England with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. C.J. Fiedorowicz will be the “Gronk” role as he is the better blocker than Ryan Griffin. Griffin, along with veteran Garrett Graham, will be the tight end that moves between positions. Fiedorowicz and Griffin have the best opportunity to earn the starting jobs over Graham, who enters his fifth year in the league and hasn’t shown the ability, or durability, to be a regular starter. No matter who the quarterback ends up being in Houston, both tight ends should be heavily utilized in the passing game.
Traditionally, the Arizona Cardinals have not utilized the tight end position successfully. However, by drafting Troy Niklas, the Cardinals might be looking for a middle-of-the-field catcher. Niklas’ pass catching ability needs some development, however, he is a sensational blocker. Niklas should be able to slide into mid-field with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and Ted Ginn, Jr. stretching defenses on the outside, making him an attractive under the radar fantasy option.