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2014 Fantasy Football: Top 6 Sophomore TEs

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Fantasy Football 2014: 6 TEs to Watch

Steve Mitchell- USA TODAY sports

The tight end position in the NFL boasts the most diverse set of athletes of all the positions in football. From physical stature to athletic ability, tight ends can come in many shapes and forms. In recent years some of the most successful tight ends have come from a basketball background, and with them came their height and leaping ability. This combination is a perfect storm for multiple red zone targets.

In today’s NFL the tight end is utilized in many different ways, and it is required for them to be capable of doing many different things to help their team win. He must have the intangibles of a wide receiver (good route runner, a great set of hands, quick off the line of scrimmage, leaping ability, and good footwork), combined with the qualities that all great tight ends possess (adequate blocking skills, superior on-field awareness, and the ability to go across the middle of the field with no fear).

One recent example of a tight end "coming into his own" in his second year came from the 2013 season as the Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas vaulted into the top five of fantasy tight end rankings. Thomas caught 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in his second season (he missed the entire 2012 season due to injury). Granted Thomas had the undoubtable advantage of being with Peyton Manning and the highest-scoring offense ever in 2013, but he still managed to be the best draft day value at the tight end position in fantasy drafts.

Other sophomore breakout tight end performances of the fantasy past include:

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
2010: 31 receptions, 356 yards, five touchdowns
2011: 99 receptions, 1,310 yards, 11 touchdowns

Vernon Davis, San Fransico 49ers
2006: 20 receptions, 265 yards, three touchdowns
2007: 52 receptions, 509 yards, four touchdowns

Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
2003: 35 receptions, 347 yards, one touchdown
2004: 87 receptions, 980 yards, six touchdowns

Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
2003: 24 receptions, 389 yards, two touchdowns
2004: 81 receptions, 964 yards, 13 touchdowns

Here’s a look at the NFL’s most intriguing second-year tight ends poised to make a difference for their team in 2014.

Matt Southall is a fantasy football writer for Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+.

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6. Gavin Escobar

Casey Sappio- USA TODAY sports

Gavin Escobar underwhelmed in relation to unrealistic Dallas Cowboys fans’ expectations in 2013, but playing behind a future Hall-of-Fame TE can limit one’s opportunities. Jason Witten isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t utilize both in a two TE set. Escobar only had nine receptions in his rookie year, but two of them were for touchdowns. Witten’s Achilles’ heel has always been his red zone production, a place where Escobar’s size is a big advantage.

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5. Zach Ertz

Bruce Kluckhohn- USA TODAY sports

Philadelphia Eagles first-year HC Chip Kelly proved his doubters wrong by successfully implementing his up-tempo, fast-paced offense into the “he can’t do that in the big leagues” NFL. The Eagles were second overall in total yards (6,676) and fourth overall in ppg (27.6), only one-fifth of a point behind the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots (27.8). Zach Ertz will improve on his 2013 season, and will likely become the Eagles number one TE.

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4. Ryan Griffin

Jennifer Hilderbrand- USA TODAY sports

The Houston Texans TE situation is currently up in the air, with TE1 Owen Daniels and TE2 Garret Graham set to become free agents. Ryan Griffin’s on-field percentage is sure to increase with the departure of either Daniels or Graham. In his restricted number of snaps Griffin snagged 19 receptions for 244 yards and one touchdown in his rookie season. Inexperienced QBs tend to rely on their TE, and many expect Houston to take a QB with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.

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3. Levine Toilolo

Robert Mayer- USA TODAY sports

With Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez officially retired, Levine Toilolo becomes the Atlanta Falcons number one TE. Toilolo didn’t get much action in his rookie season playing behind Gonzalez, but he did manage to find the end zone twice on only 11 receptions. The bulk of the targets will undoubtedly go to Roddy White and Julio Jones, but that didn’t hurt Gonzalez in 2012 when all three were simultaneously healthy.

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2. Tyler Eifert

Daniel Shirey- USA TODAY sports

The Cincinnati Bengals passing game in 2013 was inconsistent (see risky) but QB Andy Dalton managed to throw 33 touchdowns to Bengals RBs and WRs over the course of the season. Tyler Eifert grabbed 39 balls for 449 yards and two touchdowns in his first year, and is in position to rival teammate Jermaine Gresham for more snaps. If Eifert can improve his blocking during OTAs and off season drills there is no reason he won’t be utilized more in the Bengals new, run-first offense.

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1. Jordan Reed

Brace Hemmelgarn- USA TODAY sports

Jordan Reed’s rookie season was ended prematurely due to lingering effects from a concussion he sustained in week 11 versus Philadelphia. In the nine games he suited up for the Washington Redskins, Reed became a big target for Robert Griffin III. He caught 45 balls for 499 yards and three touchdowns. With fellow Redskin TE Fred Davis suspended indefinitely, Reed’s ceiling in 2014 is the highest it could possibly be.