Fantasy Football

Tight end preview: Upset your opponent with an eruption of points

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John Halpin

John Halpin has been a fantasy contributor for FOXSports.com since 2007. He has written and co-hosted webcasts about fantasy football for FOXNews.com, and managed websites for the NHL, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Network. Listen to his "Fantasy 15 Podcast" on FOXSportsRadio.com and follow him on Twitter.

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After you draft your quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers, you still might want to pick one of these guys.

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• Rankings: All | QB | RB | WR | TE | K | D/ST
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They’re usually second or third bananas on your fantasy team, especially if you don’t get one of the top three or four. Even with those guys, some weeks are great, and others are three catches for 34 yards. Such is life with fantasy tight ends.

Franchise Makers

Dallas Clark may have benefited from some injuries to the Colts’ receiving corps. But any tight end who catches 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns can play for me any day. A repeat campaign will be difficult, but if anyone can do it, it’s Peyton Manning, err, Clark.

Antonio Gates benefited from the Bolts’ poor running game to post his highest reception and yardage total since 2005. Philip Rivers will probably keep chucking it in 2010, and Gates should once again be his primary target.

Vernon Davis belongs among the elite at his position after a breakout season of 78 receptions, 965 yards and 13 touchdowns. The former first-round pick was targeted 129 times, behind only Tony Gonzalez (135) and Clark (132). So if Alex Smith (or Nate Davis) develops a little more accuracy, the sky is the limit.

Tony Romo still loves Jason Witten, and proved it by targeting his tight end 125 times last season, tying him with wide receiver Miles Austin for the team lead. Witten may have only caught two touchdowns to go along with his 94 receptions and 1,030 yards. But with opposing defenses sure to pay more attention to Austin this season, look for Witten to have more space in the red zone. He’s still a fantasy stud at this position.

POLL

  • Who is the top fantasy tight end?
    • Dallas Clark, Indianapolis
    • Vernon Davis, San Francisco
    • Antonio Gates, San Diego
    • Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City
    • Jason Witten, Dallas
    • Other

Sleepers

Brandon Pettigrew was the team’s second first-round draft pick last season, and seemed to develop a rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford as the season progressed. Before his season ended with a knee injury in Week 12, Pettigrew had caught 17 passes for 182 yards and a pair of scores in his previous four games. As long as he’s healthy in 2010, Pettigrew should reclaim his place as Stafford’s main non-Calvin Johnson option in the passing game, even with the offseason arrival of former Broncos Tony Scheffler. Pettigrew can put up strong numbers for a No. 2 fantasy tight end.

Fred Davis replaced Chris Cooley last season and did a fine job, catching 41 passes for 464 yards and five touchdowns in a little fewer than 10 games after Cooley was hurt. Cooley’s good, but new head coach Mike Shanahan doesn’t necessarily have any allegiance to him. If Davis can produce, he’ll play, and make a decent backup fantasy tight end.

Value Buys

Jermichael Finley is seventh in our rankings, but he’s talented enough to jump into the elite group at this position. He was arguably Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target down the stretch last season, and Rodgers threw the ball almost 34 times a game last season. If the Pack continues to air it out – and there’s no reason to think they won’t – Finley’s numbers could be fantastic. John Carlson suffered from a major sophomore slump after being popular in fantasy drafts last season. However, he’ll almost certainly benefit if Matt Hasselbeck doesn’t go through another season listed as questionable almost every week. He did catch a touchdown pass in each of his last four games. Let’s be optimistic and give Carlson another shot to help us out. This time around, he won’t cost you as nearly as high of a draft pick.

Buyer Beware

Gonzalez posted big numbers, just like always – except that they weren’t just like always. His 83 receptions were his lowest in three years. His 867 receiving yards were his lowest since 2002. And his 10.4 yards per catch were his lowest … ever. It’s hard to argue too much with a tight end who puts up these kind of numbers, but Gonzalez is 34 years old. He’s gotta slow down sometime, right?

You want to improve your receiving stats? Go play for the Saints and it’s virtually a guarantee, unless you’re Jeremy Shockey. He finished third on the team in receptions and fourth in receiving yards, He really wasn’t much better in his new home than he was with the Giants, and he missed some time because of injury, just like always. Shockey is what he is, and don’t fall for any hype that says, “This is the year!”

Final Thoughts

Try not to reach too high for a tight end. Gates has been the fantasy’s top tight end over the last half-dozen years, and check out where his seasonal averages would have placed him among the NFL receiving leaders in 2009:
 

  Gates’ 6-yr. avg. 2009 NFL rank
Receptions 76 22
Yards 972 26
TD 9.5 10


The point here isn’t to denigrate Gates or his fellow tight ends. It’s to show that you’ll be taking a risk if you fill this position before you take two running backs, a quarterback and at least one of your wide receivers. Elite tight ends are great when you catch them in the right season. When you don’t, you’re almost guaranteed to have wasted your fourth or fifth-round pick on an underachiever. Let someone else grab the top guys off the board, and wait until later to grab second-tier guys like Brent Celek, Finley or even Heath Miller. The dropoff probably won’t be too significant, and you’ll more than make up for it at the other positions.

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