For many fantasy owners, figuring out when to pick a tight end is the most difficult part of their draft strategy. Failing to scoop the right one at an opportune time could be the deciding factor in your squad’s success or failure.
Just ask owners who snagged Jimmy Graham in the third round this season. Fantasy insiders were critical of Graham’s draft position heading into the year; he responded by recording one of the greatest seasons for a TE in NFL history (1,215 receiving yards, 16 TD). Chances are, the team that had Graham in your league cruised their way to the playoffs.
Not only do I believe that tight ends are extremely undervalued within the scope of the entire fantasy realm, I believe they’re one of the most important positions on your roster. Anyone who was lucky enough to end up with Graham last year will tell you that.
I routinely hear stories of owners too hesitant to pick a top-tier tight end over a back or receiver. Don’t be that guy. Drafting a tight end is an art form, and if done correctly, can provide the boost necessary to propel you to a fantasy championship in 2014.
To make it easy, I’ve broken down all draftable tight ends into three designated classes below. Additionally listed are what type of numbers to anticipate and where you’ll likely be able to grab them in the draft. Enjoy, fellow fantasy-ers.
1. Jimmy Graham (late-first round to early-second)
2. Rob Gronkowski (early-fourth round)
Graham and Gronkowski have seriously separated themselves from the pack since 2011. If you wish to own a tight end that can win you games rather than just keep you in them, these are the guys you’re looking for in 2014. Assuming Graham re-signs with the New Orleans Saints, don’t expect much of a drop-off from his epic 2013 season. Head coach Sean Peyton has always enjoyed utilizing tight ends, and anyone catching passes from Drew Brees is always at an advantage.
Gronkowski has looked as good as, if not better than, Graham when he’s been healthy. The problem is that he hasn’t been healthy often. Gronk will be one of the biggest risks in the 2014 draft, but potentially offers the largest reward. His value is undeniable; just take a glance at the New England Patriots‘ stats with and without him on the field. If he’s out there, Tom Brady will find Gronk, and it’ll usually be in the endzone.
Assuming both remain injury free, expect at least 1,000 yards receiving and 10+ TD from each.
Just South of Elite
3. Julius Thomas (mid-third round)
4. Vernon Davis (mid-fifth round)
5. Jordan Reed (mid-fifth round)
6. Jordan Cameron (late fifth round)
If you don’t end up with Graham or Gronk, don’t freak out, there’s still options available that will help guide your team to the fantasy promised land. Three of the four in this subset are particularly young and possess the potential to ascend to the ranks of elite with an impressive 2014 campaign. But for now, they remain just outside of it.
These picks are a bit riskier and don’t necessarily come with the guaranteed numbers that the elite class does. For Cameron and Reed, the risk is highest. Both have shown that they have the capability to be top ends in the league, but Reed was injured for much of 2013 and Cameron struggled with consistency issues. Thomas and Davis are safer choices, belonging to offenses that are more conducive to their success. Still, you could do a lot worse than any of these four.
You can look for anywhere between 700-1,000 receiving yards and 7-10 TD’s from this group.
7. Jason Witten (mid-sixth round)
8. Dennis Pitta (mid-seventh round)
9. Greg Olsen (mid-seventh round)
10. Martellus Bennett (mid-eighth round)
If you don’t at least grab one of these guys, you might as well just play the waiver wire and not draft one at all. These guys won’t win any games for you, but they certainly won’t lose them either. If you’re in a standard league and just looking for a reliable six or seven points on a weekly basis, these should be your targets.
The ceiling is low for this bunch, but if you can field a formidable squad outside of them, you may still be alright in 2014. If there’s one end I like more than the others in this group, it’s Witten, but his age is surely beginning to become a concern.
Expect between 500-800 yards receiving and four to seven touchdowns from these men.