Let’s get this out of the way. There will be more news coming from off the field than on when it comes to tight ends this year thanks to the alleged horrific acts of Aaron Hernandez. On the field, the talk will be quiet because the talent is quite shallow.
That shallowness will make it important to get one of the few quality TEs, but do not overreach for the production. Use the same strategy you would in baseball closers. If you miss out on one of the top guys, be prepared to get involved during the inevitable run. With the being said, here are my 2013 Tight End rankings.
Hall Of Fame Tier
Can't miss stud. Best of the best.
1 Jimmy Graham – New Orleans
Graham consistently lands in the pre-season rankings near the top, just as he consistently finishes near the top at the end of each season. He may not always be the best, but he’ll be up near the top again, even with last year’s wrist injuries. For such a inconsistent position, you’ll love Graham’s consistency within the Saints’ high-scoring offense.
Pro Bowl Tier
Minimal risk. Will consistently produce at top level.
2 Rob Gronkowski – New England
In 2011, Gronk ushered a supposedly new era of high-performing tight ends. 17 touchdowns and 1,300 yards received will do that to a man. Last year, he battled injuries and red-zone drops and ended up with only 11 TDs and 790 yards received. He is rehabbing now and should be back to top form soon. However, if there were any depth to the tight end position, Gronkowski would have fallen further down the list.
3 Tony Gonzalez – Atlanta
Yes, he’s so old (36) that he retired as a guaranteed future Hall of Famer. Don’t let that worry you come draft day. Gonzalez finished in third last year in touchdowns and targets. The Matt Ryan-led Falcon offense will be flying high again with the un-retired Gonzalez.
High Risk/High Reward
4 Vernon Davis – San Francisco
There is no doubt Davis was a good tight end, and he is still good. The question is how he fits into the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive scheme. All of his stats were down last year, including only five touchdowns and thirteen yards received per game. In the playoffs, he was used much more; call it the Kaepernick effect. A running quarterback needs a quality safety valve to dump passes to when defenses collapse. This could mean high points or could mean nothing. The very definition of high risk – high reward.
5. Jason Witten – Dallas
Quite possibly the most boring of the top five tight ends. He doesn’t score a lot of points, but has gotten between 940 and 1,145 yards each of the past six seasons. When it comes to tight ends, guaranteed starts and consistency are more important than sexy high risk options. Choosing Witten comes with the only hope that Tony Romo will start to look to his tight end more in the end zone.
The lower end of fantasy starters but still very serviceable.
7 Greg Olsen – Carolina
Being used as a wide receiver is a great way of getting a tight end some recognition. The Panthers don’t target him every week but when they do, he produces in a major way. He essentially is the poor man’s Gronkowski.
7 Dennis Pitta – Baltimore
In ’12, Pitta had six games with double digits points in ESPN leagues and ten games with six points or less. That sort of split will drive you nuts if you take him too early. However, there is hope that with a decrease in splitting time and an increase in looks with Boldin gone, that Pitta could have a Gronky-type breakout.
8 Antonio Gates – San Diego
He is an old man who only got seven touchdowns last year. But, he’s an old man who got a TD in each of the last three games. He only had three games with more than 50 yards received but he is still guaranteed playing time.
9 Owen Daniels – Houston
Name a body part and chances are Daniels probably hurt it last year. He won’t ever have an eye-popping week but he won’t have many skunk weeks either.
10 Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota
Keep the stock market advice in your head when drafting Rudolph, “past performance is not an indication of future performance”. While that’s true of all tight ends, Rudolph is especially tricky to project. He doesn’t catch many balls and doesn’t get much yardage – essentially he is replaceable each week with waiver wire match-ups. He does have one thing going for him; the sad pathetic receiving corps of the Vikings, which bodes well for his chances.
11 Jared Cook – St. Louis
If the Rams hadn’t gone after the free agent, I wouldn’t place him in the starting tier. There must be a reason they gave him a large deal. If you want a sleeper candidate in this group then Cook is your man. He is large and fast but has never produced much. Fun Fact — he had -2 points in week 9 last year.
12 Martellus Bennett – Chicago
I love big, fast guys playing TE. Bennett played most of last year hurt after he scored a touchdown the first three weeks. He is my sleeper candidate target this year with few people paying attention this far down the list.
Should hold the metaphorical clipboard for your fantasy team, only starting during your bye week.
13 Brandon Myers – New York Giants
Did Myers benefit last year because of the Raiders’ system or can he repeat his performance in the Big Apple (well, New Jersey Meadowlands technically).
14 Dustin Keller – Miami
Keller did nothing last year, but Miami is giving indication they will use Keller often. Rumors equate to big risks.
15 Brandon Pettigrew – Detroit
If you can’t get separation as a tight end you’re basically a blocker who occasionally lucks out.
16 Jermichael Finley – Green Bay
Don’t expect a malcontent that publicly questions poster-boy Aaron Rogers to get rewarded in the red zone when so many other options are available.
Practice Squad Tier
At this point you're just looking for a lottery ticket.
17 Fred Davis – Washington
Big upside, but only if he can shake the injuries.
18 Jermaine Gresham – Cincinnati
A hope of a failed promise returning is a hope best saved for other positions.
19 Zach Ertz – Philadelphia
No one knows how Chip Kelly’s NFL version of the Oregon Ducks will play out but there is a chance that Ertz gets a lot of looks. Of course, those looks may also be from the sideline.
20 Jordan Cameron – Cleveland
Because I had to pick someone in this spot (yeah, it is that bad out there). Cameron may get whatever offense they toss their tight end.
The absolutely do not draft under any circumstances tier:
A second tight end.
Don’t be that guy. Just don’t. Please. Even if you think there is value, just pass. Pick up bye week replacements from the waiver wire. This position is too shallow to waste the pick.
Brian Reddoch is a CraveOnline reporter and rabid fan of all teams Seattle. You can follow him on Twitter @ReddReddoch and at www.facebook.com/craveonlinesports.com.
Photo Credit: (J.Graham, A. Gates) Icon, (V.Davis) Getty