Welcome to the second part of a four part series that will preview fantasy rankings for the upcoming NFL season. Each part will rank the top 15 players at specific offensive positions (QB, RB, WR, and TE) needed for fantasy football.
Part Two: Tight Ends – Dallas puts the “D” in derrière (and tight ends).
The tight end position has transformed itself in the past decade to a point where tight ends may be some of the biggest offensive weapons in the league. Ten years ago tight ends focused on run blocking and pass protection. Today they are often primary receiving targets who run wild in the open field. For proof, look at the numbers: TE Rickey Dudley, who had the third highest fantasy points in 1999, would have barely cracked the top ten in 2010. Every year there seems to be a new tight end that showcases his talents, but the top spots have been filled by the Dallas Clarks and Tony Gonzalezes of the world. Will this year be more of the same, or will there be new names taking over at the top? Let’s take a look at my top fifteen tight ends heading into the 2010 season:
1. Dallas Clark (Indianapolis Colts) – Bias does get in the way sometimes. Dallas Clark is coming off one of the best receiving seasons a tight end has ever had in the NFL. He’s been hampered by an undisclosed injury but latest injury reports indicate he’ll be good to go week one. His 132 targets last season cemented his spot as Peyton’s number two guy behind wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Clark is the poster-boy for tight ends of this era — a receiving tight end.
Prediction: Best QB + best offense + Clark’s skill-set = best tight end in the league.
2. Antonio Gates (San Diego Chargers) – Over the past six seasons, Gates has been the most consistent threat at the tight end position. He has been a top five fantasy producer during that period. Going into 2010, the Chargers are without running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who is now a member of the New York Jets, and without wide receiver Vincent Jackson for at least three games, or possibly longer if he gets traded. All of this indicates that Gates will start the season as the number one option for Philip Rivers, and he might end the season as the ONLY option for Rivers.
Prediction: Philip Rivers has no choice but to use Gates in 2010.
3. Vernon Davis (San Francisco 49ers) – Vernon Davis was an absolute monster last season. He was able to score at least once in six of the last seven weeks of the season, giving his fantasy owners an added boost. Once wide receiver Michael Crabtree came onto the field, it opened things up for Davis. He scored ten touchdowns in the ten weeks that Crabtree played.
Prediction: Another season like 2009 and Davis will be able to vault himself to the top of this list.
4. Jermichael Finley (Green Bay Packers) – Finley has taken over as the number one tight end in Green Bay. Donald Lee had been splitting time with him over the last two seasons but the two players are going in opposite directions. Aaron Rodgers will continue to put up points with this high powered offense, and Finley is going to be one of his prime targets.
Prediction: Look for Finley to have a breakout season. He could be a steal if he starts to fall as others below him on this list get drafted first.
5. Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys) – The one constant in the Tony Romo era has been Jason Witten. Witten has constantly provided Romo a pair of sure hands ready to haul in every pass possible. The reason that Witten is not higher on this list is the emergence of Miles Austin as a bonafide threat, as well as the introduction of Dez Bryant to the receiving corps.
Prediction: Guaranteed to be the #1 TE taken in a ton of fantasy drafts. That would be a mistake this season.
6. Tony Gonzalez (Atlanta Falcons) – In the introduction there was mention of the transition the tight end position has taken. One of the men at the forefront of this change was Tony Gonzalez. Over a decade later, Gonzalez is still one of the best at what he does. Winning became more important to him, and rightly so, thus he brought his game to Atlanta. Last year, without quarterback Matt Ryan during parts of the season, he was able to grab six touchdowns and over 800 yards, proving that his game is not on the decline.
Prediction: If all the skill positions are healthy and Ryan can stay on the field, Gonzalez should be a surefire top ten tight end.
7. Owen Daniels (Houston Texans) – Owen Daniels was running neck and neck with Dallas Clark in terms of yards and touchdowns through the first half of 2009. During a week eight trip to Buffalo, Daniels tore his ACL and was on the shelf for the rest of the regular season. While Daniels should pick right up from where he left off, it is hard to judge the efficiency players will have when coming back from a serious injury. That being said, most defenses will be busy deciding how to contain Andre Johnson and that will open things up quite nicely for Daniels.
Prediction: Another possible “sleeper” as fantasy owners are trending away from drafting him coming off the injury.
8. Chris Cooley (Washington Redskins) – Chris Cooley is another tight end coming back from an injury. He broke his ankle seven weeks into the season and was shut down for the rest of the year. Cooley has been one of the more consistent tight ends in the league but a lack of touchdowns in 2008 (one) and the injury-shortened 2009 season have put negative thoughts in the minds of fantasy owners. Add in the fact that Fred Davis emerged last season after Cooley went down and will play a significant role in the offense. The lack of a true number one wide receiver will give the Redskins the ability to run many two tight end sets, so Cooley should have his share of opportunities.
Prediction: McNabb has always had a knack for using his tight ends as a safety net and things should be no different in Washington.
9. Brent Celek (Philadelphia Eagles) – Brent Celek’s numbers in the two games that quarterback Kevin Kolb started last season: 16 catches, 208 yards, and one touchdown. Kolb looked to Celek as his safety net just like McNabb used to. It will still take a little bit of time before the connection takes off as the Eagles need to see how their offense works in the post-McNabb era, but the potential is definitely there.
Prediction: Over 900 yards. Touchdowns are up in the air. With wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, as well as running back LeSean McCoy, the Eagles have a lot of options so Celek may go touchdown-less in more than a few games this season.
10. Visanthe Shiancoe (Minnesota Vikings) – Visanthe Shiancoe was a touchdown vulture last year. With Brett Favre (I know – he was not on the quarterback list, I was actually naïve enough to think he would retire) back in the mix, Shaincoe is the last “certainty” at the tight end position. With Sidney Rice’s injury and with Percy Harvin week-to-week, Shiancoe could be Favre’s number one target at times this season.
Prediction: Last season was the exception, not the rule, when it came to touchdowns for Shiancoe. He is still a productive tight end but do not expect the same gaudy fantasy numbers.
11. Dustin Keller (New York Jets) – When Dustin Keller was drafted by the New York Jets in 2008, he was called “Dallas Clark-lite.” If he wants to live up to that, he has got to prove himself this season. Luckily, the Jets lack a number one threat and Sanchez seems to be the type of quarterback that is going to depend on his tight end to make plays for years to come. Sanchez shined late in the season last year but he is still very green and needs play-makers like Keller to come through in 2010 to progress as a quarterback.
Prediction: This will be a breakout year for Keller. Major sleeper in all fantasy leagues.
12. Zach Miller (Oakland Raiders) – Zach Miller has always been a tight end that fantasy owners have thought highly of — the problem was that he always played on a poor offense which did not put up many points. This season should be a little bit different. With Jason Campbell coming to town, the Raiders must feel like they are getting Peyton Manning after the debacle known as JaMarcus Russell. Campbell’s strong arm and already brewing relationship (on field) with Miller will allow Miller to flourish and be a great tight end.
Prediction: Miller has never had more than three touchdowns in a season. Look for him to have more than double that amount.
13. Kellen Winslow (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – Winslow, when healthy, has been consistently good at the tight end position. Putting up over 800 yards and five touchdowns last season proved that he has not lost a step after coming back from an injury in 2008.
Prediction: Quite simply, there are not many other options in Tampa Bay.
14. Greg Olsen (Chicago Bears) – Olsen was one of Cutler’s favorite targets last season. With all the terrible play in Chicago, Olsen was still able to rack up a pretty productive fantasy season last year. The Bears have finally developed a receiver corps as well as Olsen at the tight end position that Cutler will work with to put up the points this season.
Prediction: Look for Olsen to have similar, if not better, numbers than last year. More targets are definitely in his future.
15. John Carlson (Seattle Seahawks) – Carlson steadily improved in his second season. Injuries to his quarterback put a damper on what could have been an even bigger season. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, while not the same as he was during their 2005 Super Bowl run, is coming back from an injury and should be rejuvenated.
Prediction: Last year’s numbers: 574 yards and seven touchdowns. 575+ and even on the touchdowns in 2010. [table id=3 /]