We wrap up our debate-style previews with the tight ends, a top-heavy group that can change your fantasy team if you play them right.
Differences in opinion
Brad Gagnon: The obvious difference is at the top. We both agree that Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis will have big years. I have Witten at the top because he’s consistently a force and has avoided injuries. You have Gates at the top, but there are some serious injury concerns with him and I’m afraid he’s going to begin to decline. You even have Davis ahead of Witten, which shocks me considering the situation in San Francisco. I know you mentioned in our quarterback preview that you were concerned about Gates’ health. So why take him and Davis above Witten?
Sean Tomlinson: I am concerned about Gates’ health, but only mildly, and only enough that it could cause slight damage to the fantasy value of Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson if he struggles again. But that doesn’t appear likely since we’re not talking about a player who’s been especially banged around and has a long history of injury problems.
Gates’ other major injury came in 2008 when he struggled with a toe ailment near the end of the season and during the playoffs that would eventually require surgery. That actually provided a blueprint for his healing powers and what we can expect this year. After his status for Week 1 in 2009 was in question, Gates not only played all 16 regular season games, but he also set a career-high with 1,157 receiving yards. What’s remarkable is that even though he missed six games in 2010 he was still second in fantasy points among tight ends (138) in most standard formats. The separation here is minimal, but I still think Gates is the clear-cut leader because he’s one of the two tight ends who are the primary targets in their respective offenses, with the other being Davis.
Brad: We’ll see if Michael Crabtree emerges to steal that spotlight in San Fran. Same with Vincent Jackson in San Diego and Miles Austin in Dallas. But you can’t go wrong with any of those three tight ends.
Brad: I’m expecting a lot from Kellen Winslow, a view we seem to share. He had 730 receiving yards despite only starting 11 games last year, scoring all five of his touchdowns in the second half of the season. He’ll pick up where he left off with an improving Tampa offense. I have him in my top five. You’re a little less excited, but still have him seventh.
Sean: My only concern with Winslow lies in his red-zone targets following the emergence of Mike Williams. The rookie wide receiver quickly became one of Josh Freeman’s favorite targets last year when 25.7 percent of his passes were directed in Williams’ direction, many of which were inside the opposition’s 20 yard-line. During his two seasons in Tampa Bay Winslow has only been looked at in the red-zone 18 times, while Williams had 15 looks in just his first year.
Despite the yearly worries about his wonky knees, Winslow will still come at a high price. But Jimmy Graham won’t, and the Saints’ replacement for Jeremy Shockey could also emerge quickly in a pass-happy offense to build on a successful rookie season. Maybe I’m drinking the Graham Kool-Aid a little bit here, but I can’t help it, because it’s delicious. Shockey’s yearly trainer’s room hiatus allowed Graham to start getting consistent looks around Week 7, and he still scored five times while finishing with 356 yards.
Brad: Stop making up statistics. Yes, Graham had a big second half last year, which has him on both of our lists. Here’s another: In only his second season and without quarterback Matthew Stafford for much of the year, Brandon Pettigrew took off with 71 grabs and 722 receiving yards in 2010. With a healthy Stafford, he’s bound to have a big season. I feel weird about having him down in 10th and admit that’s even a little conservative. But you have him 14th!?
Sean: Thanks for sabotaging my chance to finally get in the good graces of the fine people who call Detroit home. I had Pettigrew penciled in for discussion in this category as well, and felt fine with my 14th ranking, especially after seeing other major fantasy sites slotting him in the same neighborhood. He’s ready to go boom, but in a rare moment of conservative thought I’m putting other tight ends on offenses with fewer injury concerns ahead of him.
For Detroit, this is now about more than just the proverbial Stafford injury nightmare, and I would argue (in fact, I am arguing it) that tight ends are the most reliant on the offensive supporting cast they’re surrounded by. With Mikel LeShoure gone, the confidence in Jahvid Best to relieve pressure from the passing game isn’t high, and although they’ll be fine for Week 1, Titus Young and Calvin Johnson have already missed time during training camp.
Brad: I’m watching out for three young guys: Tony Moeaki, Jermaine Gresham and Jared Cook. None should start, unless you’re in a deep league. But they’re perfect TE2 options, especially in keeper leagues. Gresham and Cook will have lots of looks in new offenses, and Moeaki was fantastic in 2010 as a rookie.
Sean: All fine depth picks, although Gresham comes with the usual warning regarding Andy Dalton’s potential growing pains.
It feels like Anthony Fasano has been a consistent depth sleeper for the past several seasons, so why stop now? Fasano has been an exceptionally streaky option in the Miami offense, which makes him ideally suited for your bye-week fill-in. In 2008, four of Fasano’s seven touchdowns came during the final four weeks of the season, and last year 174 of his 528 yards were accumulated over two games (Week 4 against New England, and Week 10 against Tennessee). If you choose your spot right, Fasano is a sneaky spot starter.
Brad: Consider, too, that a lot of elite players are hurt late in the year, and Fasano seems to shine during the fantasy playoffs. I’d also like to throw Kevin Boss out there. If Oakland uses him in the same way it used Zach Miller, Boss’ numbers will increase on the west coast.
Brad: Chris Cooley‘s quarterback situation is even more of a mess this year. The guy accumulates yards, but he just doesn’t score touchdowns. It’s almost hard to believe that Cooley has just six touchdowns since 2007. And I don’t necessarily think Dustin Keller is going to fall off, but he’s not improving fast enough for me. Don’t believe that this will be a breakout season for the Jets’ tight end. Thoughts on those guys?
Sean: Cooley will get yardage no matter who’s in the captain’s chair to lead the imminent shipwreck in Washington, but his minimal touchdown production has prompted his status as a No. 1 TE to fade fast.
Tony Gonzalez will also continue his fade. Father time can be an absolute jerk, and Gonzalez’s days as the king of the tight end crop are long gone. He posted his lowest reception total (70) last year since 2002, and his lowest yardage total since 1998 (656). His yardage decline is especially glaring when we look at the past two seasons and the combined total of 1,523, while during his last year in Kansas City in 2008 Gonzalez had 1,058. Despite this nightmarish downturn and the likely decrease in touches due to the addition of Julio Jones, Gonzalez is still a reliable fallback option if you miss out on the top tier tight ends.
Brad: I actually have Gonzalez listed as my top bust, so I’m in that boat plus some. I think this is the year he loses relevance. Another guy I have little faith in is Visanthe Shiancoe, whose numbers dipped last year and might dip even more if the Vikings struggle in 2011 (which they will).
Sean: I’m also worried about Zach Miller’s value in the Seattle offense. Tarvaris Jackson has a painfully pedestrian 53.8 completion percentage during the Seahawks’ two preseason games, and although Miller showed us in Oakland that he can still produce in a sub-par offense, that has its limits. Jackson isn’t even Jason Campbell, and I fear a season filled with lowlights of his first read breaking down, and then the scrambling fire drill begins. Sometimes Miller will be the safety valve during the chaos, but more often the outcome will be a sack or a ball in the first row.
Brad: Kyle Rudolph doesn’t have any fantasy value in Minnesota, but he’s another small reason to stay away from Shiancoe. Jordan Cameron appears to be buried on the Browns’ depth chart. So unless you have anyone in mind, I’m thinking this will be a dead year for rookie fantasy tight ends.
Sean: The only other rookie tight end with fringe value is Lance Kendricks. The NFL is a league of imitators offensively, so after seeing New England’s success last year with their young dual tight ends, Josh McDaniels could opt to do something similar in St. Louis with Kendricks and Michael Hoomanawanui, who’s in his second season and is a blogger’s nightmare. Hoomanawanui had two touchdowns and 146 receiving yards in just seven games before his season ended because of an ankle injury.
The injury bug has also caught Hoonmanawanui early this year, and he’s currently sidelined with a calf injury. It’s only expected to keep him out for two weeks, but Kendricks could become an early sleeper if it lingers.
Brad: Not gonna lie, I wasn’t really paying attention to most of that. I’m sure it was compelling and rich though. That’s a wrap. Laura Diakun’s here tomorrow to preview fantasy kickers and defenses.
|1||Jason Witten||Super consistent and he hasn’t missed a game since ’04.|
|2||Antonio Gates||If he plays all 16 games, he’s the best TE out there. But will he do that?|
|3||Vernon Davis||Lack of quarterback isn’t an excuse to rank him lower.|
|4||Kellen Winslow||Big year coming for the Tampa offense.|
|5||Dallas Clark||If he stays healthy and has Peyton Manning, he’ll be a top-three TE.|
|6||Jermichael Finley||Another guy who’s unstoppable when healthy. When healthy.|
|7||Owen Daniels||Ignore 2010; he was still bothered by that knee injury.|
|8||Greg Olsen||They’ll be using the tight ends a lot in Carolina.|
|9||Marcedes Lewis||David Garrard’s favorite target might push double-digit touchdowns again.|
|10||Brandon Pettigrew||Dude had 722 yards in his sophomore season.|
|11||Rob Gronkowski||Tom Brady’s top red-zone target in 2010. But watch Aaron Hernandez.|
|12||Chris Cooley||Always flying under the radar, but watch his injury status. Never scores.|
|13||Kevin Boss||Takes Zach Miller’s role in Oakland.|
|14||Zach Miller||Will likely be targeted a lot in Seattle.|
|15||Tony Moeaki||Had 556 yards as a rookie. Could benefit from addition of Steve Breaston.|
|16||Benjamin Watson||Might be able to follow up strong 2010 in the west coast offense.|
|17||Jermaine Gresham||A new opening with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco gone.|
|18||Dustin Keller||Numbers improving slowly but steadily.|
|19||Jared Cook||Primed to break out in Tennessee’s wide-open offense.|
|20||Jimmy Graham||Emerged in second half of 2010.|
|1||Antonio Gates||His 2009 season proved that an injury shouldn’t make you shy away.|
|2||Vernon Davis||Crabtree could steal some red-zone looks.|
|3||Jason Witten||+1,000 yards in three of his past four seasons.|
|4||Dallas Clark||Back for a healthy season, and has 30 TDs since 2007.|
|5||Jermichael Finley||Also fully mended, and ready to showcase his exceptional speed.|
|6||Owen Daniels||Have I talked about health yet? The reward here is great, and so is the risk.|
|7||Kellen Winslow||Williams’ emergence could reduce red-zone touches.|
|8||Marcedes Lewis||In a position based on pay dirt, he tied for the lead last year (10 TDs)|
|9||Visanthe Shiancoe||Loss of Rice, and McNabb’s terribleness are concerning.|
|10||Greg Olsen||Newton will rely heavily on a safety valve.|
|11||Dustin Keller||Could be leaned on more due to departure of WRs.|
|12||Rob Gronkowski||One of three targets competing for touches up the middle.|
|13||Chris Cooley||Yardage will be there, but the touchdowns won’t.|
|14||Brandon Pettigrew||Will be edging towards the top 5 by season’s end.|
|15||Tony Gonzalez||The rapid fade will continue.|
|16||Jimmy Graham||Buy the hype, but just don’t buy too high.|
|17||Todd Heap||Leaves Baltimore for a more pass-oriented offense.|
|18||Benjamin Watson||Value tied to McCoy’s maturation.|
|19||Zach Miller||Little trust in Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst.|
|20||Brent Celek||Fringe No. 1 TE now after emergence of surrounding weapons.|