Here are my early rankings for tight ends, citing standard-scoring leagues, as the calendar flips to June:
1. Jimmy Graham, Saints
2. Jordan Cameron, Browns
3. Jordan Reed, Redskins
4. Julius Thomas, Broncos
5. Vernon Davis, 49ers
6. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
7. Greg Olsen, Panthers
8. Jason Witten, Cowboys
9. Martellus Bennett, Bears
10. Dennis Pitta, Ravens
11. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
12. Ladarius Green, Chargers
13. Charles Clay, Dolphins
14. Tyler Eifert, Bengals
15. Coby Fleener, Colts
1. We’re not concerned with Jimmy Graham’s middling production in his final five games last year (including two playoff outings) — totaling 16 catches, 35 targets, 221 yards and two touchdowns.
For Weeks 2 and 3 alone, Graham (86 catches, 1,215 yards, 16 TDs last season) notched 19 receptions, 31 targets, 313 yards and three TDs.
2. I won’t be holding my breath on Rob Gronkowski (torn ACL) being fully ready for Week 1 (against the Dolphins). Given the Patriots’ track record of patience and prudence with their tight end, recovery-wise, a return at Week 4 (@ Chiefs) or 5 (vs. Bengals) seems more doable.
3. As stated in our QB rankings, the Broncos’ passing offense will fall short of last year’s record-setting pace, given a tougher schedule in 2014 that includes four games against NFC West foes.
By extension, Julius Thomas (65 catches, 788 yards) isn’t a good bet to replicate his 12 touchdowns. In 2013, Thomas posted eight games of four or less catches and 11 outings of 50 receiving yards or less.
4. For September and October, Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron (80 catches, 917 yards, seven TDs) and Carolina’s (73 catches, 816 yards, six TDs) should be reasonable bets for 7-10 targets every Sunday — given the Browns and Panthers’ galling lack of name-brand receiving talent.
In Cameron’s case, he averaged eight catches, 11.5 targets, 79 yards and two touchdowns in Brian Hoyer’s two full games as a starter last year (before going down with a knee injury).
5. Jason Witten (73 catches, 851 yards, eight TDs last year) could garner a top-five spot with PPR rankings, come August. But even that’s a sketchy notion for Witten, heading into his age-32 campaign.
Check out this disparity: In 2013, the Cowboys tight end tallied seven games of eight-plus targets (including four double-digit outings) and collected three or less receptions seven times.
6. Dennis Pitta is a risky choice for the top 10. He only has one multi-touchdown effort and 100-yard game in his career (separate outings).
On the flip side, Pitta collected double-digit targets twice in his four-game cameo with the Ravens last year.
7. We’re taking a leap of faith on Ladarius Green (four TDs in his final six games last year) surpassing Antonio Gates on the Chargers’ depth chart. But then again, the kid’s a physical freak (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) and entering his prime as an NFL pass-catcher.
1. Eric Ebron (62 catches, 973 yards, three TDs at North Carolina last season) has Jimmy Graham-esque talent and a prominent role in one of the NFL’s most progressive passing offenses.
Ebron’s spot at No. 16 is a mere placeholder for now, allowing time for him to usurp Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria in the Lions’ depth chart.
2. The Texans may currently rank in the bottom 10 at quarterback, but that’s no reason to fully discount Garrett Graham as a weekly-starter option in 14- or 16-team leagues.
Of his final four games last season (Weeks 11-14), Graham notched 23 catches, 47 targets, 377 yards and two touchdowns.
3. The Rams’ Jared Cook is running out of time, in terms of being viewed as an "upside" pick in fantasy circles.
After crushing the Cardinals for seven catches, 141 yards and two touchdowns in the 2013 season opener … he tallied 50-plus receiving yards just once more from that point forward.
4. The Buccaneers might have the NFL’s best three-deep listing at tight end, with veterans Tim Wright and Brandon Myers competing with high-end rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Round 2 draft pick).
For Weeks 13-17 last year, Wright (32 targets, three TDs) and Myers (28 targets, two TDs) posted strong finishes for the Bucs and Giants, respectively.
5. It makes perfect sense to handcuff Cincy’s Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham in deeper leagues that start only one tight end. Even with limited reps, Gresham still notched five touchdowns in his final eight games last year (including the playoffs).