The first wave of preseason games are in the books and fantasy football drafts are right around the corner. In the coming weeks, we will prepare you ready for the upcoming fantasy season by breaking every position. Today we’re talking the top-heavy tight end position.
1. Rob Gronkowski, NE (9): He set positional records for receiving yards and touchdowns last year. He’ll be the first tight end off the board, and if you’re the owner picking him, you’ll be happy.
2. Jimmy Graham, NO (6): Graham’s spectacular season was overshadowed by Gronk, but he finished with the second most receiving yards by a tight end in NFL history. With Robert Meachem now in San Diego, Graham’s role in the offense could expand even more.
3. Vernon Davis, SF (9): Davis really came on for the Niners in the playoffs and showed fantasy owners what he is capable of. With new weapons like Randy Moss and Mario Manningham drawing attention on the outside, the middle will be open for Davis.
4. Jermichael Finley, GB (10): If he can stay healthy (and that’s a big if) Finley has the chance to put himself into the conversation with Gronkowski and Graham. But Finley also dropped 11 passes last season and is behind Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings in the pecking order. He’s a classic risk/reward pick.
5. Jason Witten, DAL (5): Started strong with through the first eight games of the season but his production tailed off dramatically towards the end of the year. Witten failed to reach the end zone in the final six games. He’s still productive but should not be drafted higher than the fifth round.
6. Antonio Gates, SD (7): Another aging superstar tight end, Gates missed four games due to injury, and just doesn’t have the speed to make plays in the open field. But with Vincent Jackson now residing in Tampa Bay, expect the Chargers to expand Gates’ role in the offense this season.
7. Aaron Hernandez, NE (9): On any other team, he’d be a top-flight fantasy option. Even with Gronk in front of him on the depth chart, the Patriots are creative in finding ways to get Hernandez the ball.
8. Fred Davis, WSH (10): Showed glimpses of what he is capable of last season with nearly 800 yards through the first 12 games of the year. But then he suspended the final four games for marijuana use. Still, with a rookie quarterback in the mix, Davis should see his fair share of balls.
9. Brandon Pettigrew, DET (5): Finished third in the league in fantasy receptions and was second in targets. The reason he doesn’t rank higher on this list is because he doesn’t put up a ton of yards, but is a great option in a PPR league.
10. Tony Gonzalez, ATL (7): Gonzalez is very well the best tight end to play the game and still has a lot left in the tank. Matt Ryan does a good job utilizing him in the middle of the field, but don’t expect the world from this 36 year old.
11. Jacob Tamme, DEN (7): Projecting this spot a little, but we saw what Peyton and Tamme could do together in Indianapolis. It’s well documented that Manning is a big fan of getting his tight ends involved. I expect that trend to continue with the Broncos.
12. Dustin Keller, NYJ (9): The Jets receiving corps is among the league’s worst. Someone has to catch the ball, and Keller is the most reliable receiving threat on the team.
13. Jared Cook, TEN (11): Cook has the physical tools to be an extremely good tight end. He’s 6-5, 250 and runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. He really blossomed in the final three games, going over 100 yards twice. If he can reach his potential, he’ll move way up this list next year.
14. Owen Daniels, HOU (8): Daniels has had a few down years and is no longer a top fantasy option. But he’s still a solid route running tight end in a play action offense. He’ll see his share of balls this season.
15. Martellus Bennett, NYG (11): No longer stuck behind Witten on the Cowboys’ depth chart, Bennett came to New York looking for a chance to shine. Because of injuries at tight end, Bennett should get a lot playing time. He’s certainly a player to watch.
16. Jermaine Gresham, CIN (8): Surprisingly solid for the Bengals last year. He will only get better as Andy Dalton develops, but might not become a fantasy starter until Cincy commits to featuring his athleticism in the fantasy game.
17. Brent Celek, PHI (7): Closed the season with touchdowns in his final three games, Celek was gold in the fantasy playoffs. However, his targets and catches the rest of the year where all over the map. Celek is a TE2, but likely not a starter.
18. Greg Olsen, CAR (6): His numbers should improve with Jeremy Shockey no longer on the team, but Olsen does not see the ball enough in the red zone to be overly enthused with him as a prospect.
19. Kellen Winslow, SEA (11): My fantasy sleeper last season, Winslow was fourth among tight ends in targets last year. With Zach Miller already in the fold in the Emerald City, you might want to pass on Winslow.
20. Kyle Rudolph, MIN (11): You can’t teach height, and at 6-foot-6, Rudolph is a big target. He takes over as the main tight end and his best friend is Christian Ponder. Gut call, but I’m expecting some very nice things from Rudolph this season.
21. Coby Fleener, IND (4): At the very least, Coby Fleener is familiar to QB Andrew Luck, as the two were teammates at Stanford. Indy’s offensive line leaves a lot to be desired, which could mean more check downs to Fleener.
22. Marcedes Lewis, JAX (6): Put together one of the better fantasy seasons in 2010-11, but followed it up by catching just 39 passes and no touchdowns. Buyer beware, the Jags QB situation is not good.
23. Ed Dickson, BAL (8): With Dennis Pitta out with a broken hand suffered in training camp, Dickson will not have to fight for playing time early in the season. Keep an eye on him. If he’s seeing the ball in the first couple of weeks, he might be worth a waiver claim.
24. Scott Chandler, BUF (8): Caught four touchdowns in the first three games last season, but just two after that. He’s a great red zone option for the Bills, but does not see the ball enough to be owned in most leagues.
25. Heath Miller, PIT (4): If the Steelers offensive line was better, Miller wouldn’t be a bad fantasy option. But too often he’s forced to stay in as a blocker to compensate.
26. Tony Moeaki, KC (7): Moeaki is returning from an ACL injury, but showed good chemistry with QB Matt Cassel during his rookie year. Keep an eye on his camp battle with Kevin Boss, but I’d be surprised if Moeaki didn’t put up good numbers this year.
27. Joel Dreessen, DEN (7): Peyton Manning likes to keep his tight ends involved in the offense, and Dreessen did catch six touchdowns last season. Still, Dreessen will be the backup in Denver, and should be drafted as such.
28. Dallas Clark, TB (5): QB Josh Freeman threw to his tight ends a ton last season (see Kellen Winslow). Clark has struggled with injuries the past two seasons, but was a superstar when healthy. Keep an eye on the situation; he could be worth a flyer.
29. Evan Moore, CLE (10): The more durable of the Browns tight end options, Moore is used like a wide receiver in the red zone. Rookie quarterbacks lean on the tight ends more, so Moore could be more involved in the offense this year.
30. Anthony Fasano, MIA (7): With Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson on the street and an underwhelming receiving corps, someone will have to catch the ball.
Stephen Kelley is a contributor at The Sports Bank where he covers Fantasy Sports and Pro Drafts. You can follow him on Twitter @stephen_tsb.Follow paulmbanks