Thanks to Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski last year, a good portion of fantasy players are diving in on the tight end position far too early this season. I'm not discounting the seasons either of those players had last year, and, while they raised the bar of a typical ceiling for a tight end, the chances for repeating that kind of success is small.
If tight ends were scarce, I'd understand the motivation to go big or go home early on the position. The tight end position, however, is even deeper this year than it was a year ago. Some very solid tight ends are largely being ignored on draft day, which can put you in a position for success if you're willing to zig while others zag early to acquire a tight end during your fantasy football draft.
While others are taking tight ends too early, you can still find solid value later in your draft
Five tight ends to target late in your fantasy football draft
Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals - I was a Gresham fan a year ago and I'm an even bigger one this year. I have him on at least four fantasy football teams as of this writing, so I'm practicing what I preach, too. In two seasons, he's caught more than 50 balls each year and should be the second read on most pass plays while the team finds a sure option opposite A.J. Green at receiver. Last season (56-596-6) Gresham developed a quick rapport with young quarterback Andy Dalton; the two are even more on the same page this summer. He's going 104th overall on average, which is a pretty good value price for a tight end that should catch at least 70 passes in his third NFL season.
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons - Conventional wisdom is this old dude is going to slow down soon. If you crunch the numbers, you'll have a hard time finding anything to show he is. Left for dead by many fantasy footballers a year ago, all Gonzo did was post another 80-catch season while scoring seven times. With Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside, Gonzalez is an afterthought for most defenses and most linebackers can't keep up with him. That's a pretty good recipe for success, even if Father Time is shaking his finger at you. While he may be older, he is wiser along with being one of the smartest and most technically sound tight ends in the game. Going 114th overall, I have zero problems taking a rock-steady Gonzo as my TE1 around the 10th round.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers - Did you realize Jeremy Shockey (who is no longer in Carolina) was targeted 62 times last year while sharing duties with Olsen? If those looks go in Olsen's direction this year, he'll be seeing an extra 4.1 targets per game, pushing his opportunities close to 10/game. What if Shockey's four touchdowns are added to Olsen's five? OK, maybe I'm asking for too much now. Even if he gets an extra two looks per game, that would put him in the Graham (9.3), Gronk (7.6), Aaron Hernandez (8.1) and Brandon Pettigrew (7.9) territory in last year's targets per game. Going 159th overall on average, you're fooling yourself if you think you can find another tight end with as much potential to yield a high return at that point in the draft.
Ed Dickson, Baltimore Ravens - The third-year pro quietly caught 54 balls in his first year as a starter, putting himself on the radar with 528 yards receiving and five touchdowns. He has shown more confidence during the summer and it has resulted in more consistent play on the field. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he's a huge target for Joe Flacco to play catch with. If Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin do their job, Dickson is going to find plenty of open room to run over the middle of the field. Oh, and he's going 209th overall on average.
Lance Kendricks, St. Louis Rams - Kendricks was a fantasy darling last preseason when everyone was forgetting Josh McDaniels and his unfriendly tight end system were in town. A year later, with McDaniels in New England (look out Gronk and Hernandez!), Kendricks might not even be drafted by his mother. Why? Even in last year's disaster, he still caught 28 passes for 352 yards with a very healthy 12.6 yard-per-catch average. That's not bad for a rook in a system not known to be kind to tight ends. The Rams retooled their receivers during the offseason, but is anyone in this group going to scare you? Kendricks has a rapport with a rebuilding Sam Bradford, who could use a security blanket right about now, and excellent size (6-3, 243) to shield defenders away from the ball. A commitment
to the run can set up some very effective play-action and a quarterback needing to build some confidence needs to check down a lot for some easy completions. Throw in a 209th overall draft placement and I'm sold there is value to be found here ... and a lot of it.
Don't panic when others are snagging the Grahams and Gronks of the world too early in your fantasy football draft. Instead, crack a sly smile because your tight end gold will be found mining in the later rounds while you're stockpiling more talent at running back and receiver, which are not nearly as deep positions this season.
Are you ready for your fantasy football draft? Let us help you dominate your league; for more tight end sleepers and a complete set of free player rankings, you need to check out our fantasy football draft guide.
About Ryan R. Bonini
Founding KFFL in 1996, Bonini now serves as VP of Fantasy Sports Solutions for USA
TODAY SPORTS, KFFL's parent company. Bonini was named 2009 Fantasy Football Writer
of the Year by the FSWA,
received honors with the Best Fantasy Football Series in '10 and was named into their Hall of Fame in '13.
His work has been found in USA TODAY Sports, Yahoo!
Sports, FOX Sports, CBS Sports, NFL.com, and many others. He has also been featured
on numerous radio programs around the country. Bonini is a member of the PFWA,
FSWA and FSTA.
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