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Preseason fantasy football rankings: Tight ends

08.16.13 at 1:46 pm ET
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WEEI_FantasyFootball_2013_hdr_v6Today we take a close look at the tight end position. There are similarities to the quarterbacks in that the depth of the position exceeds the needs of fantasy GMs in standard 12-team leagues. Tight ends are in abundance unless you are looking for a lock stud. In that case, you either take Jimmy Graham early or you opt to take the risks currently associated with Rob Gronkowski or perhaps Vernon Davis.

The good news is that no matter what you do and now matter how long you wait, you can usually find a solid option. In fact, guys like Zach Sudfeld, Rob Housler and Ed Dickson can be had at or around the 200th overall selection. As with the quarterbacks, there is little penalty for those who wait and load up on talent at positions with greater scarcity.  If you are looking for more information and an even deeper take on the tight ends, please feel free to join us at Rotobahn.com.

1. Jimmy Graham, Saints

The class of the position by a long margin, Graham has the talent and the quarterback to be an elite option. He also has been able to suit up consistently. Graham has shown an ability to play through pain, having missed only two games in his three year career. The Saints’ number one option is also our number one. Graham is the only tight end that should be selected in one of the first two rounds. He’s Rotobahn’s 12 overall player and our top tight end. His current ADP is 22, and he’s a great value that late.

2. Vernon Davis, 49ers

Davis is our next tight end, and that is due mostly to his upside as the 49ers’ number one option in the passing game. That mantle was previously held by the injured Michael Crabtree, but Davis should be Colin Kaepernick’s favorite option in 2013 and the hulking speedster has career year potential. That said, we don’t like him as a draft target until the late fourth round. The good news is that you can usually get him there as his current ADP is 52.

3. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

Gronkowski would be in a virtual tie with Graham if he had a track record of staying healthy and, more important, if he was healthy now. Gronk is very hard to value right now as we don’t know what his return date will be, nor do we know what level he will be playing at early on. The key right now for Gronk as far as fantasy value goes, is avoiding the regular season PUP list.  If he does that, we are comfortable taking him ahead of Davis, perhaps in round three or four. We all know what a monster Gronkowski can be and a healthy Gronk gives fantasy owners a weekly edge at the tight end position. He’s currently being drafted at 40 overall which is about right given his present situation.

4. Jason Witten, Cowboys 

If you want to play it safe at tight end, he’s your guy. If you can live without much touchdown potential, Witten will get it done for you. You can count on high catch totals and plenty of yardage, but he’s averaged less than five scores over his career, never once reaching double digits. He’s even more valuable in PPR scoring and carries an ADP of 53.

5. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons 

Should Gonzalez have stayed retired? We’ll find out, but we’re not going to bet heavily against his touchdown production in such a high-powered offense. He should tease ten scores and catch 70-plus balls. His current ADP is 60.

6. Greg Olsen, Panthers 

Cam Newton’s best red zone option is going to have fantasy value. Olsen is coming off of a career year, but he has the potential to have another in 2013. He has the upside to score ten times this season and to post career best across the board. Not bad for a player with an ADP of 87.

7. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings

I hear a lot of calls for regression when it comes to Rudolph, especially when it comes to touchdowns, but I don’t see it. Rudolph has solid red zone ability and he’s the top option down near the goal line for Minny. He should come in at or around his 2012 total of nine scores, while improving his catch and yardage totals modestly as well. I like him at his current ADP of 83.

8. Jermichael Finley, Packers

Jermichael disappointed a lot of fantasy GMs in 2012, but we like his potential to bounce back in 2013. I go into greater detail in a recent blog post on Rotobahn. With Greg Jennings gone and with injuries to key offensive personnel like Jordy Nelson. Finley is in for more looks, especially in the red zone. He’s a solid pick at his current ADP of 94.

9. Martellus Bennett, Bears

Bennett is a bit of a projection this high because he’s never posted TE1 numbers to date as a pro. Having said that, he was on his way to a breakout campaign in 2012 before a hyperextended knee slowed him down. The thing that impressed us is that, while Bennett’s offensive upside was heavily curtailed, he put on a brace and played through the pain without missing a game, giving the Giants quality blocking all the way through. Bennett has clearly matured and we love his potential in the new Chicago offense. Martellus is a good value at his current ADP of 118.

10. Jared Cook, Rams

If you want an upside option at tight end, Cook could be your man. The Rams’ newest weapon in the seam has been a fantasy tease for a few years, but when you look at the contract St. Louis doled out, it’s hard to envision Cook as just a decoy. He should make big plays on a weekly basis and set a new career high in touchdowns. Of course, the word is out, and you’ll have to pay a fair price for Cook, whose ADP is currently 98.

11. Jordan Cameron, Browns 

As with Cook, this ranking is about upside. If you frequent Rotobahn, you might remember my “Hello Cleveland!” column from back in May where I detail my affinity for the Browns’ offense in terms of 2013 value. Since then, Cameron has looked very good, including a pair of scores in the Browns’ second preseason game. The new Norv Turner-led offense will be very fertile when it comes to the tight end position. With ex-Pat TE Benjamin Watson having left the Browns for the Saints, it all belongs to Cameron now.  He’s worth a look as your starter in 12-team leagues and he’s a value with a current ADP of 177.

12. Fred Davis, Redskins

I could put any number of players in this spot. I could have done the same at the 10th and 11th positions too, because this is where the depth of the position seems to go on forever. I’m giving Davis the nod because he looks to be healthy and because he has major upside playing with Robert Griffin, a QB who is desperately looking for targets that aren’t named Garcon. Davis is a decent value right now with an ADP of 140.

13. Antonio Gates, Chargers

He’s moving well in preseason and if he stays on the board long enough, he can be a value. You’ll need to back him up with some youth, but Gates is looking like the number one option in the Chargers’ passing game. It may be by default, but with Danario Alexander done for the year, Gates is the guy Philip Rivers will be looking for both between the twenties and by the goal line. Having said that, he’s not much of a value at his current ADP of 90.

14. Owen Daniels, Texans

Daniels is a trusted fantasy option and there will be plenty of room to roam in 2013 with a stout grand attack and high-end weapons on the outside in the form of Andre Johnson and rookie DeAndre Hopkins.  Daniels posted about 100 fantasy points in most performance based scoring systems and we expect similar results in 2013. His current ADP is 100.

15. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions

The big man showed up to camp in the best shape of his career and it makes perfect sense since Pettigrew is a free agent at the end of the season. With all the brittle talent in Detroit, the big man has a chance to post numbers similar to what he did in 2011 which will make him a fringe TE1 in most scoring formats. His ADP sits at 135 as we speak.

16. Dustin Keller, Dolphins

A name familiar to New England fans, Keller has jumped from one hated rival to another. Keller was one of the Jets better weapons when healthy and he is healthy right now. The Dolphins have newly acquired deep threat, Mike Wallace, to stretch the field and Keller should be a beneficiary of that. The ex-Jet signed a 1-year contract and can test unrestricted free agency at the end of the season. He’s as motivated as he’ll ever be and he can be your starter if he’s healthy.  His ADP is 174.

17. Coby Fleener, Colts

He’s a player to monitor as he’s had some minor concussion symptoms this preseason. However, if he’s healthy, as he appears to be now, he could really take off. Fleener has the benefit of playing with his college quarterback, Andrew Luck, so there is positive chemistry and trust already baked into his situation. Fleener has to prove that he can stay healthy, but he has double digit touchdown potential in 2013 and a current ADP of 170.

18. Brandon Myers, Giants

I might be willing to write off Myers’ career year in 2012 if he wasn’t going to the Giants in 2013. Yes, it’s better to be with Eli Manning than Matt Flynn. It’s also worth noting that Myers is more receiver than blocker and that the Giants, under Manning, have used the tight end consistently. Myers is a nice value and start for you if need be. His current ADP is 111.

19. Rob Housler, Cardinals

Housler is one of our guys and he finally started to show off his skills in 2012. Now he has a legit quarterback in the form of Carson Palmer. He also has a pair of monster wide receivers that demand extra attention downfield. The stage is set for Housler to have his best year yet and that might just mean TE1 production. He’s a solid value right now with an ADP of 198 overall.

20. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals 

Gresham is coming off his best season to date, but his ADP of 152 says that fantasy GMs are put off by the presence of rookie Tyler Eifert, who was drafted by Cincy with the 21st overall selection in this year’s draft. We don’t see the problem as we expect a whole lot of two tight end formations from the Bengals in 2013 much like the Patriots of years past. Gresham can start for you and he can be had in the later rounds.

21. Ed Dickson, Ravens

The trick with Dickson is to make sure you have a strong second option, because the Ravens’ starter will probably miss a game or two with a hamstring injury. That being said, he’ll be the starter once he returns and Joe Flacco is desperately searching for secure options in the passing game with the losses of Anquan Boldin to San Francisco and Dennis Pitta to injury. Dickson is a nice pick if you want a TE2 with upside. His current ADP is 216 and falling.

22. Zach Sudfeld, Patriots

You’ve heard me talk about Sudfeld a lot if you’ve listened to Jim Hackett and I on the WEEI Fantasy Football Podcast. He’s tailor made for the Patriots’ offense and he will have early value if Gronkowski misses regular season time. In fact, for those who opt to roll the dice on Gronk, Sudfeld might be your silver bullet, because you can play him in place of Gronkowski early on and you’ll probably get TE1 production. In deeper leagues, you can keep Sudfeld rostered to protect against further injury to Gronk. I very much support this strategy. Sudfeld’s ADP is 279, but it’s rising fast.

23. Dwayne Allen, Colts

Allen’s stock took a tumble last week when he suffered a foot injury in camp, but he is expect to be back by Week 1 or soon thereafter. Allen is a two-way threat like Gronkowski and should end up with borderline TE1 production if he plays a full season with Luck. His ADP is 188 and falling and we think he’s going to be a nice value in the coming weeks.

24. Tyler Eifert, Bengals

The rookie curve will often hit tight ends hard because they have such diverse responsibilities, but Eifert’s a smart kid and they will often use him as a pure receiver. While I don’t recommend putting all your fantasy eggs in Eifert’s basket, I love him as an upside choice if he slips a little past his current ADP of 177. As I said with Gresham, we expect to see a lot of double tight ends in 2013 with the Bengals.

 25. Vance McDonald, 49ers

This one is all about upside. McDonald has a great set of skills as it relates to how the 49ers want to play. He’ll line up just about anywhere and he’ll block in space. While he’s been a work in progress in camp, we expect really good things from McDonald as the year wears on. I like him a lot as a high upside TE2. McDonald is currently an afterthought in drafts with an ADP of 396.  He’s a steal with your final pick in 12-team drafts.

26. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars

Lewis’s stock is down after struggling through disaster seasons in 2011 and 2012.  During that span, the Jaguars struggled with just about everything offensively. We like their chances of at least becoming functional in 2013 and we like Lewis to emerge as a consistent red zone and big play threat under new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. I’ve seen him available as late as the 20th round in 12-team drafts and that’s great value. His current ADP is 190.

27. Zach Ertz, Eagles

To me, Ertz can be a nice investment if you can get him late as your TE2 or TE3. The Eagles are insanely short-handed at receiver and new head coach Chip Kelly loves to play two and even three tight ends simultaneously. Ertz should gain steam as a fantasy option as we move through the season. He currently sports an ADP of 253, so he’ll likely be there late if you want to roll the dice on an upside option.

28. Travis Kelce, Chiefs

Kelce is an upside option and he’s having a bit of a quiet camp so far, but as new HC Andy Reid comes to the realization that his cupboard is bare at wide receiver, he will start pushing the rookie tight end as a weapon in the passing game. He is, by far, the Chiefs’ most dynamic talent at the position. I like the idea of rolling the dice with Kelce late in deep drafts as a high upside TE3.  His current ADP is 302, which means he’s usually going undrafted.

 29. Julius Thomas, Broncos

We like his talent and he may steal the starting job in Denver. If he pulls that trick off, he is worth a look for obvious reasons. You’ve heard of Peyton Manning, right? Well, with starter Joel Dreesen missing time with multiple knee scopes, the time may be right for Julius to snatch the reins take the job. If that happens, he has legit fantasy viability and plenty of value at his current ADP of 360.

30. Jeff Cumberland, Jets

Sure, he may be stuck behind Kellen Winslow Jr. for a few weeks, but do we really expect Winslow to last? Cumberland has serious speed and with the Jets lacking offensive punch, Cumberland could become an offensive staple in 2013. His current ADP of 243 means you can nab him very late in drafts though he’s probably a guy you are better off leaving for early season free agency.

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