The tight end is no longer just an extension of the offensive line. Some of these guys are just as athletic as the flankers and split ends lined up beside them, Calvin Johnson notwithstanding. NFL teams have spent an average of 17 picks per draft on tight end in the past four drafts and there were just 12 taken in the 2012's weaker draft class at the position. What's more, teams like the Jets and Bills are focusing their offseason acquisitions on grabbing extra safeties that can help in coverage against twin TE sets.
Amazingly, three of the top eight pass catchers are listed at tight end. Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Brandon Pettigrew aren't your ordinary tight ends, especially the first two. It's not a coincidence that seven of the eight top passing-yardage leaders each had a tremendous tight end as a target. Those seven were: Brees to Graham, Brady to Gronkowski and Hernandez, Stafford to Pettigrew, Rodgers to Finley, Rivers to Gates, Romo to Witten, and Ryan to Gonzalez.
With regards to how to address tight end, it's a lot like drafting a QB. If you're in a league where you know your competition is on the ball, it's probably wiser to spend your earlier picks on backs and receivers. If, however, you find yourself dominating the waiver wire, then it's more logical to grab yourself an elite tight end. Similarly, it's going to be very hard to have quality backs and receiver if two of your top four picks are spent on QB and TE.
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|1||Rob Gronkowski||He led the league in receiving scores and it's very easy to make a case for him as a top-12 pick in shallow leagues.|
|2||Jimmy Graham||Third in receptions, fourth in receiving TDs and sixth in receiving yardage. He's not just a tight end. He's a play maker. He's not likely to be hurt by the Payton-less Saints.|
|3||Antonio Gates||Norv Turner said today that Gates is back to pre-injury form. Sure, talk is cheap, but Gates has a fantastic opportunity to be a target monster with V-Jax in Tampa Bay. That's especially true for end-zone targets. It goes without saying there is an enormous drop after those two fine fellow above Mr. Gates.|
|4||Jermichael Finley||Finley cracked double-digit fantasy points just five times in 2011. He was set to bust out last year and it just didn't happen. There's a great chance it happens this year even with the multitude of receiving options in Green Bay.|
|5||Vernon Davis||Another guy that gained some value in the playoffs, even though it's just a small degree. The additions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins shouldn't impact V.D.'s numbers in a negative capacity.|
|6||Jason Witten||Witten had a down year with 79 catches, 942 yards and five scores. Comparatively speaking, he had 94 catches, 1,002 yards and nine scores in 2010. The departure of Laurent Robinson should open things up a little bit for him.|
|7||Brandon Pettigrew||Pettigrew was third among TEs with 80 receptions last year and was only able to reel in five of Matt Stafford's 41 scores. That number figures to jump up by at least a few even if Stafford doesn't clear 40 again.|
|8||Aaron Hernandez||This will probably be the lowest you'll see Hernandez on any TE ranking. While Brady and Co. are likely going to be a tremendous force in moving the ball and scoring, Hernandez projects as the fourth option behind Welker, Gronk and brand-new Brandon Lloyd. Hernandez ran seam routes at will and from an offensive coordinator standpoint it wouldn't make much sense to run twin verts with Hernandez as the H-back and Lloyd lining up outside.|
|9||Dustin Keller||If the Jets line up with Stephen Hill at the flanker (which they should), that should open things up very nicely for Keller in the flat.|
|10||Fred Davis||Young QBs need a safety valve and Davis is likely going to be the hot read on the hundreds of blitzes that RG3 will see all year.|
|11||Jacob Tamme||Once again, it's all about Peyton. Tamme has huge upside and he is a good bet to make his way into the top 10 once we get some positive news.|
|12||Jared Cook||Cook erupted during the fantasy semis and finals with averages of 6.0 receptions, 132.0 yards and 0.5 scores. One of those scores came from Jake Locker and there's a good chance Locker can lock down the starting gig.|
|13||Coby Fleener||Everyone loves rookies and it seems that there's nothing in the way from Fleener becoming fantasy relevant in his first season. Besides Reggie Wayne (I'm high on Wayne, by the way), there's nothing much out there. Dwayne Allen was also drafted by the Colts at TE and he could take away some red-zone targets, but the 6-foot-6 Fleener has a shot at double-digit scores. He's ranked 13th, so it's not exactly a good shot.
|14||Greg Olsen||The Panthers have a solid line, so Olsen is going to run plenty of routes even on the not-so-obvious passing downs. Cam showed how phenomenal his down-the-field passing game can be and there should be a repeat.|
|15||Tony Gonzalez||He just turned 36 and Julio Jones will get his piece of the pie.|
|16||Owen Daniels||Surprisingly, O.D. took a hit with Andre Johnson going down. Joel Dreessen -- the primary culprit -- is in Denver, so maybe Daniels can get it going again.|
|17||Jermaine Gresham||The Bengals are all set up to have a balance attack on offense. Gresham caught six TDs and he should be able to pull down more than 56 balls in 2012.|
|18||Kellen Winslow||K2 caught an underwhelming two scores on 75 catches last year. He and Antonio Brown (62 catches) were the only players that were in the top 40 for receptions to only have two scores. K2 did have some inexcusable drops as well. All that said, his red-zone looks should go down with V-Jax in town. No thanks.
|19||Brent Celek||Celek got hot last year at the right time for fantasy owners in his last three games. He averaged 98 yards and scores one touchdown in each contest. The Eagles added some more depth at receiver and Celek is much less likely to be the first or second read for Vick.|
|20||Martellus Bennett||The Giants got slammed with injury bug at tight end in the playoffs and Bennett could be set up nicely with Eli. Jake Ballard might not even be able to return from his ACL injury in the 2012 season. The former Cowboy could be a sleeper in what figures to be a formidable offense.|
|21||Heath Miller||Todd Haley isn't exactly known for using the tight end in his offensive scheme. Although, it's not like Tony Moeaki and Leonard Pope are All-Pro players. Miller has upside.|
|22||Scott Chandler||Chandler was a 6-foot-7 man amongst boys with four TDs in his first three games. The predictable cliff-dive drop followed with only three scores for the rest of the year. He has a shot to duplicate his six-TD year though.|
|23||Ed Dickson||Dickson was all the talk at tight end as a pickup when he played Seattle during Week 10. He caught a team-high 10 balls for two scores and 79 yards. Well, he only had 14 catches in the final seven weeks of the year.|
|24||Kellen Davis||Hey, Mike Martz is out of town. Davis is going to be the main receiver at TE and with Marshall commanding double teams all day, he might be able to find some seams down the field. In the flat, too.|
|25||Lance Kendricks||The drops were killers for him. He's a talented dude though. St. Louis still doesn't have a great target in the red zone.|
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