Once upon a time, drafting a fantasy tight end was about as thrilling as, well … drafting a fantasy kicker.
But a banner 2009 football campaign thrust the tight end into true fantasy relevance. A slew of them were statistical difference makers. But what about 2010? How should they be ranked in dynasty leagues, with a look to the future?
Here are my dynasty tight end rankings for the 2010 season.
1. JerMichael Finley, GB. Several years ago, right before Antonio Gates broke out as a bonafide consistent tight end scoring option, if someone had told you to target him over the usual suspects on the list (including Tony Gonzalez, the Holy Grail of fantasy tight ends), would you have listened? Finley has almost the frame as Gates. Comes from a basketball background. Plays on a team with a strong QB who has no troule locking in on him when near the end zone. The difference is that Finley is six years younger. In dynasty leagues, I have him as a one-player top tier tight end.
2. Antonio Gates, SD. Starts a three-player second tier. Only detracting factor is he’s a little more seasoned at age 29. The Chargers will likely lean heavier on the passing game, including in the red zone, with a young running game attempting to learn the ropes.
3. Vernon Davis, SF. In the mold of Dallas Clark, Davis is a primary target on offense and a red zone threat week in and week out. Giving him the edge over Clark in this tier thanks to being four years younger and having less competition for catches.
4. Dallas Clark, IND. A major part of the aerial Colts circus last year, he is the oldest player on this list so far. With Donald Brown likely to get more involved in the offense in 2010, and Anthony Gonzalez competiting for catches with Clark, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, how thin with things get spread out?
5. Brent Celek, PHI. Start of a three-player third tier that has plenty of potential, but a good many questions, too. Celek was a nice surprise in 2009, and became a favorite weapon for Donovan McNabb. However, McNabb is gone, and questions surround what sort of chemistry will be formed between Celek and Kevin Kolb. Of course, a young, unproven running game and unproven QB could mean more check down passes to Celek.
6. Owen Daniels, HOU. Another big reward, big risk option. Daniels was a statistical beast throughout the first half of the 2009 season in a Houston offense primed to produce major aerial numbers. Daniels would be several spots higher on this list if he didn’t sustain a major knee injury that derailed his breakout campaign. It was the third major knee reconstruction of his career.
7. Kellen Winslow, TB. Finally came into his own last season for the lowly Buccanneers, Winslow’s TD numbers did dry up as the year went on, but his targets and yardage stayed consistently relevant. He is the main offensive weapon in this offense, and if offseason acquisitions and another year of seasoning for young Josh Freeman work out as planned, the 26-year-old tight end should see steady statistical improvement.
8. Jason Witten, DAL. I’d gamble that this is the lowest you’ve seen Witten in recent preseason rankings. Sacriligous? Maybe. However, Witten had his chance to shine last year as the Cowboys looked for offensive playmakers. Instead, Witten underperformed most of the season while Miles Austin became the go-to guy. Now Dez Bryant will demand Tony Romo’s attention, too, and recent reports from Dallas expect Felix Jones to see a significant increase in pass catching opportunities. Witten may have missed his opportunity. Would have ranked him below Gonzo if Tony G wasn’t so close to retiring.
9. Tony Gonzalez, KC. A grandpa among tight ends at age 34, Tony G saw a statistical dip last year with the Atlanta Falcons. Was that due to a declining skill set, or because Matt Ryan’s sophomore campaign was not as brilliant as his freshman season? My money is on the Matty Ice side, and I expect a nice uptick in Ryan’s stats, which will bode well for Gonzalez in 2010.
10. John Carlson, SEA. My personal favorite tight end option later in drafts this year, Carlson was disappointing in his second NFL campaign after kicking statistical tail in 2008. However, look closer at the reasons why Carlson was a non-factor during large chunks of the year … he was used to help patch holes in an offensive line that was extremely putrid. Things are changing in Seattle, however. Check out my soon-to-be-released breakout post on Carlson for more details.
11. Zach Miller, OAK. Another player that can be had later in drafts if you don’t want to spend an early-round pick on a TE, Miller set career highs in receptions and yards last year despite being the only viable weapon for the Raiders and despite having JaMarcus Russell under helm. The addition of Jason Campbell, who proved he can hit a tight end with Chris Cooley in Washington, only increases Miller’s potential for success.
12. Jermaine Gresham, CIN. There is little doubt that Gresham has all the skills he needs to be a top producing TE in the NFL … not to mention how NFL-ready he has proven in early preseason circles. The Bengals desperately need a playmaker on offense, and while Cincy offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski is well known for overlooking the tight end in previous playcalling, it is hard to believe that they won’t make an exception for Gresham. Just temper expectations for this season since it is very hard for receivers in general to be elite options right out of the gates.
13. Visanthe Shiancoe, MIN. Produced some nasty-good red zone numbers thanks to Favre’s tunnel vision near the goal line. There is no reason to think Shiancoe will see much of a dropoff as long as Favre is under center. The only thing holding the 29-year-old from being considered higher on this list is that the Vikings have no noticeable A.F. (after Favre) plans at QB.
14. Chris Cooley, WAS. Wonder how many bullets Cooley sweated out this offseason as the Redskins made some drastic changes on offense. Luckily for him and his fantasy owners, the Skins brought in a QB in Donovan McNabb who likes to chuck down to the tight end. Some are concerned about the emergence of Fred Davis, but recent reports suggest that Cooley will actually benefit from this, playing more of a third receiver-type role. Time will tell how that works out.
15. Dustin Keller, NYJ. The Jets are becoming the anti-Steelers this year in terms of philosophy. While Pittsburgh is grounding its aerial attack, the Jets are likely to air things out more in 2010 and beyond. Keller will directly benefit from this, as defenses are more worried about stopping Santonio Holmes, Shonn Greene and Braylon Edwards, opening up the middle for some juicy stats.
16. Brandon Pettigrew, DET. A young talent with much upside, Pettigrew was grounded last year by injuries and his status for the season opener is not yet clarified. Tony Schreffler was brought in as insurance, and it remains to be seen how Schreffler will eat into Pettigrew’s mojo, even when he’s on the field and healthy. Still, you have to like the upside in a young and improving Lions offense.
17. Heath Miller, PIT. A streaky option at times, Miller will be directly affected by the loss of Big Ben for six games, the overall loss of Santonio Holmes and the organization’s alleged re-investment in the running game.
18. Greg Olsen, CHI. Another tight end with plenty of talent, but a bad situation, Olsen was actually rumored to be dealt to various other teams, but looks more and more like he’ll stick in Chicago. Many are worried that Mike Martz will continue his trend of overlooking the tight end in the passing attack. Time will tell.
19. Kevin Boss, NYG. It isn’t that Boss can’t produce when he has the rock … and he is the bona fide starting TE for the Giants in 2010 … however, he doesn’t get used in a way that makes me feel excited about him long-term.
20. Aaron Hernandez/Rob Gronkowski, NE. Guess it is cheating to list two here, but it is hard to determine which TE will ultimately see the biggest boost in value during their rookie campaigns. Hernandez is fast and the Pats are already lining him up all over the field in various formations to exploit his skill set. Gronkowski is more of the straight-line goal-line threat, which may pay dividends for him over time as Randy Moss likely exits stage left from New England after this season. This is a situation to watch closely.
What are your opinions on the top tight ends in dynasty leagues? Would love to discuss the topic further.