Once upon a time, there was a tight end named Antonio Gates, who was head and shoulders above the next most valuable fantasy football tight end.
That scenario may repeat itself if New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham can continue his strong performance and couple that with an ability to stay healthy. Last season, Graham scored 54.5 more fantasy points than the 2nd ranked tight end, San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis.
While you are going to read that the New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski offers more upside than Graham does, we would like to note that Graham has outscored Gronk 566.7 to 469.1 over the last three seasons and 369.7 to 228.2 over the past two.
Staying healthy counts, and is the reason for the large difference in fantasy value between the two über-talented tight ends. In fact, those health concerns are reason enough for us to vault Denver Broncos Julius Thomas ahead of Gronkowski, who is coming off a torn ACL suffered in Week 14 last season.
There are four tight ends this year who have the potential to be major difference makers and it wouldn’t be an earth rattling surprise. That being said, Graham is the BMOC out of this group and to snag him, it will cost you a mid to late 1st round draft pick in a league of halfway progressive thinking owners. We’re fine with that price. The issue then becomes where the value is in drafting the others since we agree with the premise that you can get a big leg up on the competition by having a Tier 1 tight end.
Gronk is the boom or bust pick but with a high 3rd round ADP, the cost seems to be a tad rich. Thomas is the better value with a mid 3rd round ADP and huge touchdown upside in the Broncos offense since Eric Decker left town. With no proven quarterback in an offense that may struggle to move the ball, Cameron brings up the rear of the Tier 1 tight ends, but he may bring the most value with a late 5th round ADP. He is the Cleveland Browns’ primary receiver for as long as Josh Gordon is suspended.
Mike’s Take: Maybe we should have Graham in a tier by himself, but I don’t like doing that because raising a single player on a pedestal above all others at his position will invariably lead to disappointment. Always bet the field. I discussed Gronk in last week’s projection update notes. I do feel Thomas is a safer pick than a lot of experts are giving him credit for. Short of injury, could he possibly not hit double digit touchdowns? Only 13 receivers – WR and TE – hit that mark last year. I’m souring on Cameron, slightly.
Tier 2 features a trio of players not easily lumped together. While Olsen has never had a true breakout season, both Witten and Davis have, but expectations are lowered this season as Witten approaches the end of his career and Davis fights for touches in an improved 49ers receiving corps. At their current ADP and given the upside of players in the lower tiers, none of these players will be on my fantasy teams in 2014.
Mike’s Take: That is Dave talking. I will draft Olsen, if the price is right. I’ve never targeted Davis for my fantasy football teams, and I don’t see why I would start now. Witten I do have on one dynasty team and I’ll ride into the sun with him for old times sake. That said, if Witten comes at a reasonable price, I wouldn’t avoid him. We keep talking up how much passing the Cowboys are going to do this year in lieu of the apparently dismal defense they are going to trot out, and the receivers aren’t that deep Tony Romo can forget his good buddy. Just expect a low YAC from Witten. He’s better suited for PPR leagues.
This is where the decisions get tougher. While Reed has tremendous upside, his history of concussions and the plethora of receiving options in Washington make his current ADP of 7.05 somewhat questionable. Pitta rates a solid value as concerns about Owen Daniels eating into his target count seem overblown. Ertz has breakout potential in a solid offense. This just might be the sweet spot at tight end in 2014 since grabbing an option here allows you to stockpile running backs and wide receivers in the earlier rounds of your draft.
Mike’s Take: I dig what Dave is putting down here. This is the sweet spot if you passed on a Tier 1 tight end. Ertz is ending up on a lot of my teams. While you can expect one, maybe two, of the tight ends ranked below here to get drafted ahead of Ertz, don’t get too cocky and miss out on him, because we aren’t the only ones hip to his potential.
At this point in your draft, if you haven’t acquired a tight end, there just isn’t much point in reaching for one of these players. It’s a mixed bag of tantalizing skill, unproven players, players with injury risk, and Martellus Bennett.
Of particular interest here is Rudolph’s ADP in the late 8th round. Just because OC Norv Turner has helped talented tight ends reach their potential doesn’t mean he can turn a middling talent like Rudolph into an upper echelon threat. It’s also worth noting that while Antonio Gates (top of the next tier) may open the season as a decent fantasy starter, it won’t be a shock if he loses more and more touches to Green as the season progresses.
Mike’s Take: Green and Gates are an interesting case study this year. Those drafting Green on his potential may be in tough early in the season. Green may win some titles late in the season, but I think it is certainly plausible fantasy players are a year too early on a guy like Green while Gates is still in the picture. Dave and I are singing the same tune on Rudolph, but he’s looked good in preseason, so I’ll give him that. Another guy who looks really good is Travis Kelce. For a good team the receiving options on the Kansas City Chiefs are terrible. Good upside backup selection. Kelce’s value might spike as early as Week 1 with Dwayne Bowe out, suspended.
The upside for this group of pass catchers is as a back end TE1 but it is also a group loaded with risk. If you wait too long on tight end need to grab your starter out of this tier, Clay seems the safest bet after a solid season in 2013.
Mike’s Take: I prefer Delanie Walker and Heath Miller to Clay. Neither is too exciting and may not propel you to win you many games, but they should be fairly reliable and not lose them for you, either. Clay is ranked down here because he’s dealt with a knee injury all of training camp and preseason. As of a few days ago, he was still only 50-50 for the Dolphins next preseason game. Let someone else take the risk. You are close to punting the position if you are pulling your starter from the rest of this group.