The Port Arthur News
There are two strategies this year for drafting tight ends. Take Jimmy Graham in the first round or wait until the end of the draft to take a flier on a guy.
There is no middle ground, not if you want to maximize the position. Let’s run through some reasons for that.
First of all, begin with Graham. Last season, Graham was the second-highest scoring tight end in fantasy football. The third-highest player scored 28 percent less points than Graham. In other positions, the difference between the second and third players is more like five percent.
So, Graham provides a gigantic upgrade at the position from anyone your opponent will playing there. Add in Sean Payton’s return to the New Orleans offense and Graham may even be in line for a bigger year than in 2012, when he “only” caught 85 passes for 982 yards and nine TDs.
That was 14 less receptions, 320 yards and two less TDs than he had in 2011, so there was a performance dropoff without Payton around. But, Graham still had a monster season and should continue to be one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets.
The other side of this coin is Rob Gronkowski. He’s the other receiver at the top of the heap at tight end, but he’s got some serious questions around him. There’s the back injury that has kept him out for much of the preseason and might land him on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list by Saturday. There’s also the fallout of the Aaron Hernandez saga, which is a bad deal all around.
Losing those two targets, plus Wes Welker to Denver, means the Patriots are desperately thin heading into the season at receiver in that wide open passing offense. There is a chance that someone steps into that void, like rookie TE Zach Sudfeld or veteran Jake Ballard. But, until they do something, that whole offense is a big question mark.
Yes, Jason Witten should catch a ton of balls and yes and Tony Gonzalez is back. But, none of them have the upside of Graham. Yes, Witten would make a nice mid-round choice, but if he’s only getting you 20 more points on the year over the 10th or 11th-best tight end, is it worth it?
Instead, you could have grabbed a rookie running back who turns into Dougie Martin. Or a wide receiver who helps out if you have an injury. Or, you could simply grab a handcuff to your first-round running back instead.
It’s all about maximizing value, especially at a position this barren of true fantasy studs.
That being said, I wouldn’t sleep on Cincinnati’s Tyler Eifert. He’s gotten plenty of play on Hard Knocks this year, but he’s also very good and in an offense that needs that second or third piece for Andy Dalton to find opposite A.J. Green. Multiple draft analysts thought he was the most NFL-ready first round pick out there and he should easily slot into the top 10 out of all the tight ends this year.
Top 8 Tight Ends
1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans – He’s big, he’s fast and he catches a ton of touchdowns. Draft him and forget about the position.
2. Jason Witten, Dallas – You could take a chance on Gronk here, but that back injury is scary. Witten at least offers safety and plenty of PPR magic.
3. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta – He’s old as the hills, but he works well in this offense. Not a ton of upside, but he’ll get looks.
4. Vernon Davis, San Francisco – Dude may be San Fran’s best receiver for the dynamic Colin Kaepernick.
4. Rob Gronkowski, New England –Too much potential to slip too far. If he’s still around toward the end of the draft, he’d be worth a look.
6. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati – Some questions that come with any rookie, but he’s big and catches the ball very well.
7. Martellus Bennett, Chicago – I do enjoy Martellus, ever since he signed with the Aggies way back when. In Jay Cutler’s contract year, he should be targeted plenty.
8. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota – My only quibble here is with Rudolph’s ridiculous TD numbers from last year. It’s hard to predict TDs from year to year, which means Rudolph’s value could be highly variable.
David Coleman is a sportwriter for the Port Arthur News. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and found on Twitter at @MDavidColeman.