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Harmon counts down the top 30 TEs
I shan’t bore you with another discussion about the depth of the tight end position. We’re all aware by now of how the position has changed in the past decade and how some teams have started to rotate players like a baseball manager does a bullpen.
You know. Your team has its run-blocking specialist and the tight end that splits out as a receiver and doesn’t engage much.
I’ll spare the history of an age in which new Hall of Fame inductee Shannon Sharpe and future Canton honoree Tony Gonzalez (he should commission some other dude to create his bust) were the lone viable tight end options … and all others were pulled from a hat.
I’ll spare you the story, but I’ll arm you with some numbers to roll around in the dome from the 2010 season.
• Thirteen tight ends finished the year with 50 or more receptions. Jason Witten led the pack with 94.
• Sixteen tight ends averaged at least 40 receiving yards per game. Antonio Gates led all tight ends with an average of 78.2 yards per game. Only nine of those players appeared in all 16 of their respective teams’ games.
• Fourteen tight ends caught at least five touchdown passes. Gates, Rob Gronkowski and Marcedes Lewis tied for the NFL lead with 10.
• Taken further, twenty-nine tight ends caught three or more touchdown passes.
30. John Carlson, SEA
Analysis: With an inexperienced receiving corps around him, Seattle fans and fantasy owners (and those who listened to Matt Hasselbeck) expected Carlson to produce a huge third season. He caught 13 passes in the Seahawks’ first three games. Carlson tallied only 18 receptions in his final 12 appearances, scored one touchdown (down from seven in 2009) and topped 48 yards once.
Carlson was reduced to filling a secondary role when the Seahawks signed Zach Miller away from Oakland in one of the free agent period’s biggest surprises.
29. Lance Kendricks, STL
Analysis: The Rams enter the preseason schedule with a bevy of wide receivers and tight ends at the ready. Kendricks represents a true downfield option and potential red zone beast. He caught 43 passes in his junior season for the Badgers, averaging 15.4 yards per reception with five touchdowns. Kendricks has received praise from Sam Bradford and coordinator Josh McDaniels during camp. He stands 6-foot-3 with a wide receiver build and has the ability to split the seams. Add him to the “Watch” list and monitor his progress.
28. Jacob Tamme, IND
Analysis: Tamme stepped in brilliantly for the fallen Dallas Clark, essentially matching the longtime fantasy hero’s production. He averaged 6.7 receptions and 63.1 receiving yards per game with four touchdowns. Tamme finished seven games with at least 60 receiving yards.
The fourth-year tight end out of Kentucky slides back into the second chair (six receptions in his first two seasons) with Clark’s return. He shan’t be forgotten entirely, but he’s a part-time, infrequent target unless Clark sustains another injury.
27. Anthony Fasano, MIA
Analysis: Fasano caught a career-high 39 passes on 60 targets in his fifth NFL season. He caught multiple passes in 12 games, and topped 40 receiving yards five times (107 yards in Week 10 against Tennessee).
The Dolphins selected Charles Clay out of Tulsa in the 2011 NFL Draft. Clay’s versatility may move him to the top of the depth chart and displace Fasano altogether.
26. Kevin Boss, OAK
Analysis: Boss became a consistent, reliable target for Eli Manning in New York. He nearly matched his 2009 stat line last season, catching just seven fewer passes with 36 fewer receiving yards. Boss will be intriguing to watch in Oakland as a possible top target for Jason Campbell. The running game remains among the league’s best with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush returning, but injuries, inexperience and poor play conspire to thrust Boss into a big role.
25. Brent Celek, PHI
Analysis: Celek set the fantasy world aflame in 2009 with his 76-reception, 971-yard brilliance. Fantasy owners anticipated a huge follow-up campaign, but he spent much of the year blocking and never rose to the top of Michael Vick’s options. He finished the year with 42 receptions for 511 yards. Ten of his receptions came in Week 16 against the Vikings, long after fantasy owners had returned the top-5 pick to the waiver wire. Celek likely start 2011 as a TE2 or waiver wire spot play.
24. Tony Moeaki, KC
Analysis: Moeaki appeared on the fantasy radar by scoring twice in the first three weeks. He caught three or more passes in seven of the Chiefs’ first eight games. Moeaki registered three or more receptions in his final eight appearances and logged one of the top catches of the year, a tremendous leaping grab in the back of the end zone. The arrivals of Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston within the receiving corps help to create space over the middle for Moeaki to create mismatches.
23. Todd Heap, ARI
Analysis: The oft-injured Heap posted his best overall season since 2006, producing 40 receptions for 599 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged a career-high 15 yards per reception and 46.1 yards per game in his 13 appearances. At present, Heap stands as the No. 2 receiver to Larry Fitzgerald for Kevin Kolb while the young receivers (Andre Roberts and Early Doucet) work out their roles.
22. Aaron Hernandez, NE
Analysis: Hernandez established himself as a PPR beast early in 2010 before a hip injury that later required surgery derailed his rookie season. He caught 33 passes in a seven-week period from Week 2 through Week 9, including three efforts with at least 61 receiving yards.
Hernandez is expected to be ready for the start of the 2011 season, although we never receive definitive injury information from the New England camp. He’ll remain an integral part of the offense between the 20s, but the addition of Chad Ochocinco will take away some of his looks. As such, he falls further behind Rob Gronkowski in the battle of New England tight ends.
21. Benjamin Watson, CLE
Analysis: Watson amassed a career-high total of 68 catches in his first season in Cleveland. In fact, Watson had caught more than 36 passes in a season only once in his six-year tenure in New England. Watson established himself as the safety blanket for Colt McCoy in a Cleveland offense replete with questions. Though the Browns drafted Greg Little to aid the McCoy’s development, Watson remains the young quarterback’s most reliable option (Watson caught three or more passes in 12 games).
20. Heath Miller, PIT
Analysis: Miller’s production regressed markedly from its 2009 heights. He’d established career marks in receptions and receiving yards during that season, only to produce numbers similar to his 2007 and 2008 efforts last year. Miller missed two games in their entirety and was limited to a single reception in Week 13 against Baltimore. He caught two or more passes in 12 of his other 13 appearances.
If he can stay healthy, Miller will benefit from a full season reunion with Ben Roethlisberger. The bigger issue is the health and continuity of the offensive line to allow Miller to get out in pass routes more frequently. The former fantasy hero is a potential “sleeper” from his TE2 draft slot.
19. Visanthe Shiancoe, MIN
Analysis: Shiancoe’s baseline stats didn’t change overall. He caught 47 passes for 530 yards in 2010, totals in line with his previous two seasons. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Shiancoe was a non-factor in the red zone last season. He watched helplessly as Brett Favre’s turnover count climbed. Shiancoe He finished the season with two touchdowns after terrorizing defensive coordinators to the tune 18 touchdowns in the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
The selection of Kyle Rudolph in the 2011 NFL Draft does cast a shadow over Shiancoe’s value. He may still pile up red zone opportunities, but his target count will be impacted somewhat. With that said, Donovan McNabb has effectively utilized the tight end position throughout his career.
18. Greg Olsen, CAR
Analysis: Olsen was fairly involved in the Chicago offense during the first half of the season, pulling down three or more receptions in seven of the Bears’ first 10 games. Olsen’s role dropped off markedly in the second half of the season. He caught a single pass in four of the Bears’ final six contests.
Olsen has the size, hands and all-around skills to become a dominant tight end. We saw it in spurts early last season, but there was no consistency in Chicago, particularly in 2010 under Mike Martz. Olsen gets a new start in Carolina and will be a primary target for Cam Newton in Rob Chudzinski’s system.
17. Jared Cook, TEN
Analysis: Cook emerged as a strong option down the stretch for the Titans in 2010. He caught three or more passes in five of the Titans’ final five games. With Matt Hasselbeck still learning the offensive vocabulary amidst a sea of middling receiving options (aside from the enigmatic Kenny Britt), the 6-foot-5 tight end out of South Carolina stands on the precipice of breakthrough season. He has the ability to work the seams and creates mismatches in the red zone.
16. Owen Daniels, HOU
Analysis: Every write-up of Daniels is required to use “if healthy.” He entered the 2010 season with injury concerns and took quite some time to ramp up. Daniels ultimately missed five games in the middle of the season before finishing with a flurry. He closed the season by catching 22 passes in the final four weeks, including touchdown receptions in Weeks 16 and 17. His ability to run down the seams and create mismatches made him a fantasy hero, as we’ve seen in years past.
Lingering injury concerns push Daniels down to a high-TE2 slot in my initial rankings.
15. Kellen Winslow, TB
Analysis: Winslow caught 66 passes for Josh Freeman in his second season in Tampa Bay. He stayed relatively healthy for a full 16-game slate, the fourth time Winslow has done so in the past five years. Winslow matched his career-high mark with five touchdown receptions with 730 receiving yards (four games with at least 65 receiving yards). The Tampa Bay offense continues to grow under Freeman in 2011. Winslow returns as the veteran leader for the youthful corps.
14. Dustin Keller, NYJ
Analysis: Keller started the season with a bang, producing 115 and 98-yard performances in the Jets’ first three games. He added a four-catch, two-touchdown effort against the Bills in Week 4 to complete a fabulous first quarter of the season. Unfortunately, Keller’s red zone dominance ended in Buffalo (he didn’t score again) and he topped 40 receiving yards only five times in his final 12 appearances.
Keller remains as a primary target for Mark Sanchez and could approach his 2010 numbers (his 55 receptions and 687 receiving yards established new career marks) in the new-look receiving corps. The team is relying on Plaxico Burress to shake off the rust in short order and for Derrick Mason to hold off time to move the chains. He ranked 11th in receptions among tight ends and ninth in receiving yards.
13. Rob Gronkowski, NE
Analysis: Gronkowski figured to be a monster in the red zone. The 6-foot-6 second-round pick out of Arizona didn’t disappoint, as he hauled in 10 touchdowns and became Tom Brady’s top target near the painted grass. He also quietly amassed seven catches of at least 25 yards, demonstrating a fantastic ability to shake coverage at the second level and run the seam. Gronkowski caught multiple passes in eight games as a rookie.
12. Chris Cooley, WAS
Analysis: Cooley rebounded nicely from his injury-ravaged 2009 season with his second-highest reception total (77) and matched his career-high yardage count (849). Unfortunately, the sputtering Washington offense did not afford Cooley many red zone opportunities and he finished with just three touchdowns. The Grossman/Beck won’t afford him additional red zone looks. He’s a threat between the 20s and a fantastic addition in PPR leagues, but his ceiling in standard leagues is much lower.
11. Jermaine Gresham, CIN
Analysis: Gresham caught three or more passes in 10 games last season and made occasional appearances on the fantasy radar. He logged 52 receptions and 471 yards with four touchdowns. Gresham caught four or more passes in five of the Bengals’ first six games.
The Bengals’ move to rookie Andy Dalton under center elevates Gresham’s status. If he can stay healthy, Gresham may just stand tall as the Bengals’ top receiver and a red zone beast.
10. Zach Miller, SEA
Analysis: Miller became a consistent contributor in the Oakland offense despite being surrounding by continually moving parts, poor quarterback play and weak receiver support. He’s averaged 60.7 receptions and 756 receiving yards in the past three seasons. Miller caught a career-high five touchdown passes in 2010.
I’m intrigued by the overhauled Seattle offense. Sidney Rice and Mike Williams are dangerous downfield targets on the outside and will draw safety attention, thereby producing ample space for Miller to split the seams. Now, it’s just a matter of Tarvaris Jackson backing up the support tossed his way by Darrell Bevell, Pete Carroll and the aforementioned Rice.
9. Marcedes Lewis, JAC
Analysis: I called for Lewis to break through for a couple season in Jacksonville. It finally occurred in 2010 when the fifth-year tight end out of UCLA worked down the seams and dominated the red zone. Lewis established new career marks across the board with 58 receptions, 700 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He caught multiple passes in every game in the 2010 season and was rewarded with a huge contract extension.
The Jacksonville receiving corps lacks depth. Mike Sims-Walker was released and signed with St. Louis. Mike Thomas is the lone proven veteran option (that’s stretching it) alongside Lewis. As such, Lewis will play a huge role for David Garrard once again.
8. Jimmy Graham, NO
Analysis: The third-round selection out of Miami stepped in nicely for the oft-injured Jeremy Shockey last season. He caught three or more passes in seven games (31 overall) for 356 yards with five touchdowns.
Drew Brees’ propensity to spread the ball around lowers his ceiling overall, but he’s definitely a strong option in the prolific New Orleans offense. He caught 31 of the 44 passes thrown to him.
7. Tony Gonzalez, ATL
Analysis: Gonzalez is one of the most intriguing players at the position for 2011. His personal production, in terms of receptions and receiving yards, dipped for the third consecutive season. Gonzalez’s total of 70 receptions was his lowest output since 2002 (63). His receiving average of 41 yards per game was his lowest since 1998, his second season in Kansas City.
However, Gonzalez stands to benefit immensely from the arrival of speedy wideout Julio Jones. Jones’ presence opposite Roddy White creates space down the seams and may allow Gonzalez to stop the downward statistical trend.
6. Brandon Pettigrew, DET
Analysis: The second-year tight end saw his role expanded in 2010. Pettigrew caught three or more passes in 12 of the Lions’ final 15 games. He eclipsed 60 receiving yards on six occasions, including his 108-yard performance in the Week 2 shootout against Philadelphia. The lone knock on his season was that Pettigrew didn’t factor into the red zone offense as frequently as anticipated (four touchdowns). A healthy Matthew Stafford returns to command a potentially explosive offense. Nate Burleson and Titus Young offers support to Calvin Johnson the edge, thereby opening the middle of the field for Pettigrew. He’s not a true sleeper following his 71-reception rookie season, but he may still slip in drafts.
5. Jason Witten, DAL
Analysis: Witten ended the 2010 season with frequent visits to the end zone (six touchdowns in his final five games). He caught three or more passes in 15 of his 16 games, including seven games with at least seven receptions. Interestingly, Witten only eclipsed 60 receiving yards on six occasions.
In the past four seasons, Witten has averaged 91.3 receptions and 1,032.3 yards. He’s caught 94 passes in back-to-back seasons and was targeted 128 times. He may be Tony Romo’s favorite target, but Jon Kitna certainly didn’t forget him.
4. Jermichael Finley, GB
Analysis: Finley Tweeted early this offseason that his surgically-repaired knee “feels brand new” and he’s taken aim at the media attention afforded Philadelphia and New Orleans. It’s safe to assume that Finley is ready to fulfill the promise he showed in 2009.
Green Bay fans and fantasy owners anticipated huge numbers from Finley following his strong 2009 campaign (55 receptions for 676 yards and five touchdowns). He started the season well, producing 21 receptions (four or more in each contest) for 301 yards (two 100-yard efforts) and a touchdown. Finley returns to the top of the pack as a potential monster in the explosive Green Bay offense.
3. Vernon Davis, SF
Analysis: As expected, Davis’ touchdown total took a hit in 2010 (from 13 in 2009 to seven in 2010), but the overall inconsistency in the maddening San Francisco offense could not have been anticipated. Davis recorded two 100-yard games and topped 70 receiving yards on nine occasions. Unfortunately, Davis also produced seven games with 36 or fewer receiving yards.
The 49ers will enter 2011 with embattled former first overall selection Alex Smith under center. Smith’s return as the starter portends to another big workload for Davis, who has logged 134 receptions in his past two seasons.
2. Dallas Clark, IND
Analysis: Clark was off to his usual dominant start in 2010, registering 37 receptions for 347 yards and three touchdowns in six games prior to sustaining a season-ending wrist injury. The longtime fantasy hero was on pace to essentially match his 2009 brilliance (100 receptions).
Jacob Tamme, who performed brilliantly in Clark’s absence, will have some role in the offense, but Clark remains Peyton Manning’s sit-down security blanket and sneaky downfield threat down the seams.
1. Antonio Gates, SD
Analysis: Gates did his best to gut through the pain of toe and ankle injuries and a raging plantar fasciitis on his right foot. He appeared in 10 games, producing 50 receptions for 782 yards with 10 touchdowns. Gates scored in eight of the 10 games in which he played.
In the seven seasons since his breakout 2004 campaign, Gates has averaged 72.1 receptions, 945.1 receiving yards and 9.6 touchdowns. I know that he starts the preseason slate on the PUP list, but the Chargers are merely being cautious. I’ve stood back from the computer and considered adjusting his ranking. Then, I think about the division and the state of the San Diego offense. Barring a changed medical diagnosis, he remains the top option.
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