Tight end is becoming the lamest position in fantasy football. It’s boring and unpredictable like kickers, but top-heavy and inequitable, like capitalism. There are studs, who give you wide receiver-like production, and then there are duds, who catch a rare touchdown once a month but on most weeks you’re just hoping for a single twenty-yard catch. When I first started playing fantasy football eight years ago, there was a solid crop of 10 to 15 tight ends, fairly distributed so that everyone got a decent player. (Of course, there was only one Shannon Sharpe, who I just happened to have on October 20, 2002 when he broke all sorts of records with a 214 yard game.)
Nowadays, there is Gates, Gonzalez, and Witten, and then everybody else. It’s hit or miss, and if you get a hit one week, you’ll probably have a miss the next. Rare guys like Owen Daniels or Vishanthe Shiancoe string together productive seasons one year, but can they be trusted as anything other than a 10th round pick? My philosophy is: If you don’t land one of the top guys, it’s probably best to wait until you aren’t allowed to draft running backs and receivers anymore, and then take whoever is left. RBs and WRs have upside; they might become starters due to injury or become the coach’s new favorite, but tight ends have no upside; they are already starters, and that doesn’t mean too much statistically.
Basically there are two methods of safety that I usually employ when it comes to tight ends. One is just draft a guy on a high-scoring offense, and hope the ball gets spread around. The other is to play the match-ups. Find a guy who play against easy defenses early in the year, drop him and pick up another guy who is facing the Bengals, then drop him and pick up whoever is facing the Rams, etc. It may lay you a goose egg, but it might earn you a bogus touchdown as well. It’s better than putting all your faith in Bo Scaife and watching him go up and down from week to week and being thrilled with a 30 yard performance.
The general rule for me is unless I believe a tight end will give me the production I want from a #2 fantasy receiver (around 6 TDs and 900 yards) I don’t bother drafting him until it’s too late. My last three rounds will probably be tight end, defense, kicker. Unless for some reason Gates is floating around in the seventh round, which he never is. If you want to gamble a third round pick on having the best tight end in the league, great for you. If you want to try to wait till later and locate the sleeper, (as I always do, and I always get it waayy wrong) best of luck. But in either event, here are my tight end rankings:
Tier One: The Studs
1. Jason Witten
2. Antonio Gates
3. Tony Gonzalez
4. Dallas Clark
Talent, good offenses, touchdowns, yards; these guys have it all and do it all. The drop-off from these four to the rest of the bunch is from the fifth round to the tenth round. It might be a stretch to include Clark in here, but I don’t think it is. I trust him; Peyton Manning trusts him; he was top 4 among tight ends in targets, receptions, touchdowns, and yards last year. Only Gonzalez can claim that. He lines up in the slot and sometimes as a wide-out in Manning’s offense and has the speed to pick up yards after the catch. In short, I love Dallas Clark. Of course, I trust Witten, Gates and Gonzo as well.
Tier Two: The Guys Most Likely To Join Tier One Someday Soon
5. Greg Olsen
Jay Cutler loves tight ends, and besides that has no trusty wide receivers to throw to. Olsen is big and fast and with Matt Forte’s running ability I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears in the red-zone looking for a passing target often. Olsen should be the guy. Big breakout potential.
6. Chris Cooley
A solid candidate mainly because I like the Redskins this year. He had only one touchdown last year (he’ll have more than that this year) so he might slide to the late rounds and be a good value.
Tier Three: Young Guys on the Rise
I’d draft any of these guys, but I wouldn’t jump out of my chair and pump my fist.
7. Dustin Keller
A rookie last year, Keller caught only 48 balls and 3 TDs, but was targeted often in the spread offense, and should see many more balls thrown his way now that Chris Baker is gone, especially if Sanchez starts, because rookie QBs tend to love tight ends.
8. Zach Miller
If he wasn’t on the Raiders, I’d love him. He has great hands and speed, and is basically a wide receiver who plays tight end. There’s a very teeny tiny chance that somehow the Raiders aren’t completely awful, and if that happens Miller could have a dream season.
9. John Carlson
The only reliable receiving threat on last year’s anemic Seahawks, Carlson is now hit-or-miss. Hit, if he repeats last year’s success and gets into the end zone another five times. Miss, if the healthy Seahawks receivers keep Carlson off the field.
10. Kevin Boss.
Eli seems to like Boss simply because he’s not Jeremy Shockey. With Toomer and Burress gone, someone has to catch the ball in New York. K-Boss might be solid this year.
Tier Four: Over-Rated
Success last year or the year before will make these guys drafted in most leagues, but they shouldn’t be trusted.
9. Owen Daniels
Only two scores last year. Both against the Lions. Both against me the week I was playing against him. Hilarious how that happens. He only produces when Andre Johnson is hurt, so if Andre stays healthy Daniels is not worth owning.
10. Bo Scaife
He was surprisingly decent last year, but the entire Titans team is about to get dumped on and that includes the already-lousy passing game. Scaife ain’t repeating last year’s 560 yards.
11. Tony Scheffler
He only did well because Jay Cutler loved him. Now he has a new coach who is shaking everything up, and has never shown any love towards tight ends. Scheffler is done.
Tier Five: A Few Touchdowns, but Nothing Else
If you draft these guys, you’ll be pulling your hair out week after week just hoping for one reception for a six-yard TD; but if you pick these guys up sparingly on good-matchup weeks, you could be in for a nice amount of touchdowns.
12. Visanthe Shiancoe
The Vikings big brute had seven scores last year.
13. Heath Miller
Mostly just a good blocker, but he scores from inside the ten-yard line a few times a year.
14. Donald Lee
He’s on a good offense and he’s a solid player so I would imagine he scores three or four this season.
Tier Six: Sleepers Worth a Very Late Draft Pick and Hope for the Best
15. Shawn Nelson, Buffalo
Has great hands and speed and looks like the starter in Buffalo. With TO and Evans drawing so much attention, Nelson might break free for some big plays.
16. Brent Celek, Eagles
Moves into the starting role in Philly and McNabb has shown an affinity for tight ends in the past. As I expect their offense to be stellar, Celek might make a sneaky sleeper for around 4 TDs and 500 yards.
17. Vernon Davis, 49ers
He is not only the strongest tight end in the NFL, but also the fastest. Yes, you read that right. He has wide receiver speed and linebacker strength, and that’s what made him the 6th overall pick just a few years ago. What Davis doesn’t have is: hands, route-running ability, competitiveness, or a brain. If he somehow develops all four of those things this summer, look out!
18. Travis Beckum, Giants
Rookie from Wisconsin with great receiving ability and limited blocking ability. Since the Giants other tight end is a great blocker but not a stud receiver, the G-Men might make Beckum their passing-downs tight end. And like I said before, Eli doesn’t really have anyone else to throw the ball to, so Beckum might be a super-sleeper.
19. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
I’ve watched enough Youtube videos of him to know that he has minimal talent as a pass-catcher, and the reason the Lions drafted him is for his blocking ability. But he’ll be on the field just about every play, so he should catch 30 or 40 passes by default. And maybe even more than that if Stafford plays, since Calvin will be quintuple-teamed and rookie QBs typically check down rather than look to their second receiver. I don’t want Pettigrew on my fantasy team, but I bet he’ll be drafted by some deranged Lions fan (my brother).
Tier Seven: Those Freaking Dolphins
20. Anthony Fasano
21. David Martin
If the Fins could pick one guy and stick with him, and call him Anthid Marsano, he would have had 10 touchdowns and 900 yards last year. But since they steal each other’s production, neither one is worth owning, unless the other gets hurt.
Tier Eight: The Has-Been’s … I Mean, Never-Were’s… I Mean, Total Douche Bags
Overrated, cocky, stupid, and injury prone. Just waiting to be arrested for some stupid reason.
22. Kellen Winslow
23. Jeremy Shockey
Tier Nine: Why Even Bother?
24. Todd Heap, Ravens
Man, he has fallen off the face of the Earth.
25. Randy McMichael, Rams
26. Ben Watson, Patriots
A total tease.
27. Leonard Pope, Cardinals
28. Ben Utecht, Bengals
A sleeper last year, who stayed asleep.
29. Alex Smith, Bucs
30. Jeff King, Panthers
31. Herman Moore, Lions
32. Michael Jackson, Dead
Just seeing if you were paying attention.
There is Nobody Else Worth Mentioning
Seriously, tight ends are boring. Stay tuned for kickers (which I will spend all of ten minutes writing) and defenses.