Like a kid before Christmas, it is easy to see why any self-respecting fantasy football owner would go to bed the night before a draft with visions of Gronkowskis and Grahams dancing in his head.
But before you gulp down either of those sugar plums in the late first or early second round of your upcoming drafts, there may be a sweeter way to attack the tight end position this year.
First things first, it is easy to look at the tight end position and become enamored by the whole lot of statistical awesome represented by Gronk and Graham. Considering what they did last year, it may seem as though there is some huge Grand Canyon-like chasm between them and the rest of the field.
Personally, I am not as high as many on Gronk for this season. Yes, he offers a skill set few can match in the league and is a red zone beast. My concern comes back to the peanut butter analogy. As good as peanut butter is, if you spread it too thin on a slice of bread, you lose a lot of the effect.
The New England offense this year is crazy deep. Word out of camp is that Aaron Hernandez has honed himself physically and prepared for a bigger piece of the pie. Wes Welker, the PPR monster he is, still finds himself in a Patriots uniform. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead will combine for a decent amount of receptions out of the backfield.
And, perhaps the biggest clog in the proverbial drain, Brandon Lloyd has joined the circus. A Josh McDaniels mancrush, Lloyd has been the focal point for McDaniels-run offenses in the past. He offers a down-field threat that Tom Brady will likely hook up with on a regular basis.
Gronkowski will still get looks in this offense, but I just can’t picture how he’ll match what he did last year – or even come close enough to merit such an early draft pick.
Graham, however, is a guy I can justify taking early. He continues to be one of the main targets in an offense based on big-time passing.
My semi-concern with him is two-fold. First, his breakout 2011 campaign came during Drew Brees’ NFL record-shattering renaissance. How likely is it that Brees repeats such an amazing feat? Secondly, you have to expect at least a small regression based solely on the Bounty-Gate suspension of Sean Peyton, who helped orchestrate Graham’s emergence last year.
As with all drafting, my strategy comes down to immediate value. There are guys that can be had later who, if they take the next step in their respective careers, could come close enough statistically to the G&G duo to merit some serious value late – allowing you to stock up early on running backs or receivers.
A few of the tight ends I find myself drawn to mock after mock include:
Fred Davis, WAS. On a team that lacks super-elite talent, Davis could be argued as the best skill player on the Redskins.
Last year with a train wreck of a committee at QB, Davis notched five or more receptions in seven of the 11 games he played. He added 50 or more yards in eight of 11. His three TDs were a bit disappointing, but then again, the Redskins weren’t exactly in the redzone a whole lot, either.
This year, even if Robert Griffin III provides half of what Cam Newton did last year as a rookie, Davis could become a top-5 tight end, especially as the most reliable target for a young QB still learning the NFL’s intricacies. And you can get him in the seven or eighth rounds of many mock drafts.
Jacob Tamme, DEN. Reports out of Denver suggest what many of us expected for quite some time – that Peyton Manning has been quick to find his former teammate on offensive reads. In fact, those reports have gone a far as to suggest that the TE position is the first read by Manning most of the time.
Tamme was an elite tight end statistically after replacing an injured Dallas Clark in Indy back in 2010, and while the presence of Joel Dreessen has kept Tamme’s value in check among many fantasy owners, you can rest assured that Manning will lock in on his old friend enough times to make him well worth the 9th or 10th round pick you’ll need to spend to get him.
Jared Cook, TEN. Want an even later option with perhaps even more upside than Tamme or Davis? Look no further than Cook, who is going on average around the 122nd pick of various mock drafts at the moment.
Cook is a physical beast of a player who has shown flashes of brilliance on the field. The team finally decided to buy into that talent over the final three weeks of the season, where he hauled in 21 passes (seven per game) for 335 yards (112 per game). Throughout the season, he averaged 15.5 yards per catch. Graham had just 13.2 yards per reception. Gronk was at 14.7.
And that was with somewhat pedestrian Matt Hasselbeck under center. It is looking like Jake Locker is getting closer to winning the starting job, and many are quick to point out how well Locker and Cook jived when on the field together in the past.
One more bonus? Cook is playing for a new contract … this is the final year for his rookie pact.
My bold prediction for 2012? Cook is the best value you’ll see at tight end this year in fantasy leagues.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN. Perhaps a close second for those honors, in my opinion, will be Rudolph, who is finally capitalizing on his immense talent this offseason and drawing rave reviews from Vikings camp.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune went as far recently to say that Rudolph has “10-foot fishing nets for hands.” He has earned the trust and respect of Christian Ponder, a young QB who will continue to dump the ball off a decent amount this season when his other only real target, Percy Harvin, is double-teamed or comes down with another migraine or two.
There was some concern for Rudolph’s 2012 value when Minnesota brought in John Carlson as another tight end option … but a grade-2 MCL sprain has put Carlson well in the rearview mirror as we charge into the preseason game gauntlet.
Considering Rudolph is going as late as pick 145 overall (meaning he goes undrafted in a number of leagues), his value couldn’t be better.
Personally, I’ve found myself avoiding the TE position through much of the early and middle portions of mocks lately, loading up on WR and RB talent and then targeting a pair of upside TE guys such as Rudolph and Cook late. While it may burn an extra roster spot compared to those who take a more solidified option earlier, the move can pay for itself when you are drafting your flex starter a round before your opponent and still potentially getting similar TE output if the cards fall right.