Here are my early rankings for the top 35 tight ends in standard-scoring leagues:
1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots 2. Jimmy Graham, Saints 3. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons 4. Jason Witten, Cowboys 5. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots 6. Greg Olsen, Panthers 7. Heath Miller, Steelers 8. Owen Daniels, Texans 9. Vernon Davis, 49ers 10. Dennis Pitta, Ravens 11. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings 12. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions 13. Dustin Keller, Dolphins 14. Antonio Gates, Chargers 15. Coby Fleener, Colts
1. Gronkowski (55 catches, 790 yards, 11 TDs last year) gets the top ranking here, based on two primary factors: Double-digit touchdowns in three NFL seasons … and a four-game run of 24 catches, 382 yards and seven TDs from Weeks 7-11.
The only lingering concern: Is Gronk one hard tackle away from breaking his arm again?
2. In Points Per Reception leagues, however, Graham bumps Gronk out of the top spot. These are the perks of averaging 92 catches, 142 targets, 1,196 yards and 10 touchdowns the previous two campaigns.
3. I don’t know how to characterize Witten’s career-best mark of 147 targets in his 10th NFL season. Is he getting better with age (like Tony Gonzalez), or were the Cowboys simply not prepared to handle the widening gap at receiver between Dez Bryant (92 catches, 1,382 yards, 10 TDs) and Miles Austin (only 20 TDs for 2010-12)?
4. Normally, I’d sound the warning bell from Heath Miller’s career-best tallies of 816 yards and eight touchdowns last year — with just his second campaign of 70-plus catches. But he deserves major props for posting rock-solid and consistent numbers from Weeks 1-15.
5. Let’s hold off on planning Antonio Gates’ retirement party: From an injury-plagued 2012, he tallied seven games of six or more targets … and one touchdown in his final three outings.
16. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals 17. Jermichael Finley, Packers 18. Brandon Myers, Giants 19. Delanie Walker, Titans 20. Fred Davis, Redskins 21. Brent Celek, Eagles 22. Martellus Bennett, Bears 23. Jared Cook, Rams 24. Dwayne Allen, Colts 25. Tyler Eifert, Bengals 26. Joel Dreessen, Broncos 27. Scott Chandler, Bills 28. Zach Miller, Seahawks 29. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars 30. Ed Dickson, Ravens 31. Luke Stocker, Buccaneers 32. Jacob Tamme, Broncos 33. Rob Housler, Cardinals 34. Tony Scheffler, Lions 35. Tony Moeaki, Chiefs
1. The Raiders were crazy to let Brandon Myers (79 catches, 806 yards, four TDs) sign with Eli Manning and the Giants, amid little fanfare. Of his four double-digit-target games with Oakland last year, Myers notched 35 catches for 288 yards and four touchdowns.
2. It’s hard to embrace Jared Cook (now with the Rams) as anything more than a backup tight end. In standard-scoring leagues, he produced one outing of double-digit fantasy points last season (Week 4 against the Lions).
3. From an interim standpoint, the 20th spot seems fair for Washington’s Fred Davis (24 catches, 325 yards), as he recovers from last year’s major Achilles surgery.
4. Three teams were not represented in the countdown — the Jets (Jeff Cumberland), Browns (Jordan Cameron) and Raiders (Richard Gordon).
5. The Denver tight ends (Tamme, Dreessen) will likely be red-zone window dressing for a Broncos juggernaut that already has Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Willis McGahee and a goal-line stud in rookie tailback Montee Ball.