There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the emerging impact of tight ends in fantasy football, and much creed will be given to whether or not Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots and Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints are worthy of consideration as first-round picks and should be regarded as highly as the top tier wide receivers.
Owners that choose to wait to draft a tight end will find a deep crop of players to choose from, and two guys who belong firmly in the second tier of fantasy tight ends are Jermichael Finley of the Green Bay Packers and Brandon Pettigrew of the Detroit Lions. Both guys have prominent roles in pass-happy offenses, and thus should again see plenty of targets in 2012.
So which tight end that calls the NFC North home should fantasy owners target first in drafts and auctions? I’ll break down each guy, then give my choice.
Finley set career highs in receiving yards (767) and touchdowns (eight) along with tying his career-high in receptions (55) last season, as he also played all 16 games for the first time in four NFL seasons. Injuries had plagued Finley over the previous three seasons, and a quad strain prevented him from playing in the Packers’ first two preseason games this year. He has returned to practice since, but that injury as well as a concussion earlier in training camp serves as a reminder of his lack of durability prior to last season as well as his untapped potential to this point in his career.
Three of Finley’s eight touchdowns last season came in a September game against the Chicago Bears, and he also tied his season-high in catches (seven) and had his second-best yardage total (85) of the season in that same game. He also dropped the most passes of any tight end in the league last season with 11, so that lack of reliability limits his fantasy potential barring a correction.
The amount of opportunities Finley sees is likely to be fairly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis due to the plethora of capable pass catchers available to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but his size (6’5″, 247 lbs.) should push him toward the top of the list of options in the red zone on the team’s frequent trips to that area of the field. His overall athleticism makes him a tough matchup for opposing defenses, and it can be argued no tight end has as high a ceiling as Finley.
Pettigrew had 83 receptions for 777 yards and five touchdowns in 2011, and was also targeted 126 times (second in the league among tight ends). The yardage is a Lions’ franchise record for tight ends, and he improved his numbers across the board after a solid 2010 campaign (71 receptions, 722 yards, four touchdowns). His 9.4 yards per catch last season ranked 29th among 30 tight ends with a minimum of 30 receptions, but that can be chalked up to his usage as essentially an extension of the running game and Detroit’s lack of prowess in that area.
Pettigrew is not as athletically gifted as some of the better tight ends in the NFL, but he is still in line to be a prominent target for Lions’ quarterback Matt Stafford and the attention wide receiver Calvin Johnson draws from opposing defenses will benefit everyone else in the Detroit passing game. Fantasy owners should not look for explosive, highlight reel-worthy plays out of Pettigrew, as his career long reception is 35 yards, but there is something to be said for predictable production and he had at least three receptions in all but two games last season. His durability should also be noted, as he has played all 16 games over the past two seasons after seeing his 2009 rookie season ended early by a torn left ACL.
Pettigrew’s production last season looks largely like a product of pure volume, and that volume may come down some in 2012 with wide receiver Titus Young looking ready to take on a more prominent role in his second season. That said, there will still be plenty of opportunities to be had in the Lions’ passing game and Pettigrew should remain a primary option in the red zone (22 targets in 2011). Pettigrew is a nice option as a low-end TE1 in all formats, with more value in PPR leagues.
Finley will sit out the Packers’ third preseason game Thursday night due to the birth of his second child, so fantasy owners will be drafting him basically “site unseen” and hoping he has shaken off his preseason injuries along with some level of faith he is ready to take another step up this season.
All things considered, I choose Finley here. His upside is simply far greater than Pettigrew’s, even with potential durability and inconsistency concerns that Pettigrew does not have in a major way. It’s not ludicrous to think some of the scoring opportunities Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson had in 2011 (15 touchdowns) will come Finley’s way this year, which further enhances his fantasy potential.