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Fantasy Football 2014: Way-Too-Early Tight End Rankings

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It continues to change.

Back in the day (way before my day), the tight end position focused more on blocking and less on pass-catching. It’s strange to think about now, but we didn’t see tight ends post over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns very often. However, it’s evolved into versatile, dynamic pass-catchers who can post monster numbers. Via Tristan Cockroft of ESPN, the tight end position set a record for fantasy points in a season in 2013 (3,768).

It continues to change.

1) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints: He’s in a world of his own. Graham is the greatest tight end in all of fantasy, leading the position in fantasy points this year with 211. That was 55 points more than the second-best tight end. He finished as a top-12 tight end 11 times, the most at his position. His incredible 16 touchdowns lead any pass-catcher in football, including wide receivers. Graham led tight ends in fantasy points per game (13.2) and Drew Brees is throwing him the football. Need I say more? Oh, his 42 red zone targets lead his position, and a dominant body in the end zone, that shouldn’t change.

2) Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos: Thomas burst onto the scene in 2013, and largely benefited from Denver’s record-setting offense. I mean, whenever I see a big, athletic, former basketball player convert to tight end, I’m drafting him. Thomas finished third in fantasy points among tight ends (144) and Peyton Manning will continue to look for him in scoring situations. His consistency rating of 56.3 was the second-highest at his position, and if Denver lets Eric Decker, a huge touchdown machine, walk, Thomas should see more targets. He’ll be a top-three tight end selected in fantasy drafts.

3) Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers: Consistency isn’t his strong point, but the fact remains that Davis was the second-best tight end in fantasy land this season, scoring a strong 156 points. He’s now finished inside the top-10 among tight ends in four of the last five seasons, and has developed quite the rapport with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. An expected full season with Michael Crabtree on the outside will hurt his value a bit, but he’s still a top-five tight end on draft day.

4) Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: One of the most polarizing players in all of fantasy football, Gronkowski suffered another injury-plagued season in 2013. It took him until Week 7 to make his season debut, after undergoing multiple surgeries on his back and knee. When he’s on the field, he can easily serve as the best tight end in fantasy. In the six full games he played, Gronk scored double-digit fantasy points in five of them. He suffered a torn ACL/MCL back in Week 13, and is set to endure yet another surgery, making him a risk-reward player for the second straight season.

5) Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys: Old Faithful, Witten continues to produce, even during his 12th season in the league. In 2013, he finished as fantasy’s number six tight end, averaging a respectable eight points per game. He’s obviously more valuable in PPR formats, as he’s caught at least 70 balls in every season since 2006. During that same span, he’s finished no worse than 8th overall among tight ends in fantasy points. The touchdowns may not be there, but it’s a lock that Witten will provide top-10 tight end numbers.

6) Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns: In the beginning of the season, Cameron was behind only Graham in fantasy points among tight ends. He got off to a scorching start, averaging 16 fantasy points per game over his first four contests. However, as the quarterback situation altered, Cameron’s numbers dipped. When Jason Campbell was under center, he saw fewer than five end zone targets, which is uncalled for with a guy that caught five touchdowns in his first four games. He still finished as the number five tight end in fantasy, but it’ll be interesting to see if his usage changes without tight end-friendly head coach Rob Chudzinski out of town.

7) Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers: It wasn’t flashy, but Olsen was a top-10 fantasy tight end in 2013. He didn’t put up earth-shattering numbers, but he was one of only five tight ends to post a consistency rating of at least 50 percent. His season high point total was a solid 14, but he never exploded for fantasy owners, never providing them with a top-three finish. However, he was a weekly safe option for fantasy owners in a rather crapshoot of a position. As Cam Newton continues to progress as a passer, Olsen will benefit. I’m a believer in the talent, too.

8) Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins: Clay was one of the pleasant surprises in fantasy land this season. The injury to Dustin Keller opened the door for Clay, and he never looked back. Sure, he had his fair share of dud games, but he still finished as fantasy’s number seven tight end, catching 69 balls for 756 yards and six touchdowns. The talented H-Back earned himself a starting role for 2014, and considering the Dolphins passed the ball 65 percent of the time last season (3rd-most), Clay should see plenty of opportunity next season.

9) Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. New head coach Marc Trestman is a fantasy god. His new, uptempo offense provided the Bears with the third highest-scoring offense in the league, and allowed Bennett to record career bests in receptions (65), yards (759) and fantasy points (96). He may be the third or fourth option in the Bears passing game next season, but the opportunity will still be there, and he should be regarded as a top-10 fantasy option.

10) Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens: A serious hip injury kept Pitta sidelined for the majority of the 2013 season, hindering his expected breakout campaign. However, as long as he is healthy for the Ravens in 2014, I find it hard to believe he won’t finish as a top-10 fantasy tight end. Joe Flacco loves him some Pitta, as the tight end serves as his security blanket. And if the Baltimore running game doesn’t improve, Flacco may be dropping back to pass quite a bit. During his 2012 campaign, he was one of the most targeted red zone tight ends in football, and that won’t change next season. His 93 targets last season were 9th-most among tight ends, and with no Anquan Boldin, who often had great games when Pitta had bad ones, Pitta should be very productive.

Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.

You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.