As of late in the NFL, the tight end position has gone from one of solid blue-collar guys who went and did their jobs, much like Mark Bavaro, Jay Novacek, and Keith Jackson, to a position of young, brash, and talented offensive weapons. Names like Todd Heap, Jeremy Shockey, Tony Gonzalez, and Antonio Gates rule the position. How can you benefit from this in the fantasy world? Tight ends have become primary options for NFL teams in more plays and can provide you with recepitions, yards, and especially touchdowns that could swing a matchup your way. Check out my list of the NFL’s top tight ends. Some you may know, some you may not know.
Top 10 Fantasy Tight Ends
10.) Vernon Davis – San Francisco 49ers
2005 Stats: n/a
Notes: It’s funny. He has just recently signed his first NFL contract and he’s already the highest paid tight end in the league. But then again, we haven’t had this kind of hype for a TE coming out of college in years, even surpassing the type of hype that Kellen Winslow seen out of Miami a few years back. I can’t blame you, as a 49er fan, I get incredibly excited with the idea of him being Alex Smith’s security blanket as a dump off and a primary receiver. Some might say that him being in San Francisco limits his growth potential, but I think that it’s a good situation for him. With Alex Smith learning a new offense from Norm Turner, he’ll need Davis to be his main guy. He’s got amazing hands, the size and strength to power those smaller than him, and the speed to punish linebackers. He could move up quickly into the top 5 of tight ends in the league, which would be quite the accomplishment considering the names on the list.
9.) Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers
2005 Stats: 39 rec., 459 yards, 11.8 yard avg., 6 TDs
Notes: Miller had a very interesting rookie season. He won a Super Bowl with the Steelers and looks to see his role expand, much in the same way it did during the course of last season. Although his overall numbers aren’t much to look at, I believe he had a great rookie season and is looking to have a lot more to grow on as this season approaches. He will see added attention from Ben Roethlisberger and the Steeler offense as the departure of Antwan Randle El will get him more looks in the offense. He had a 4 week run from weeks 5-8 that saw him score 5 of his 6 touchdowns and catch 17 of his 39 receptions. Miller is a smart TE, very much a throwback to those old school guys mentioned at the beginning of this article, and should use his deceptive ability to get open and run precise routes as ammunition in order to improve upon all of his numbers from his rookie season.
8.) Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins
2005 Stats: 71 rec., 774 yards, 10.9 yard avg., 7 TDs
Notes: Some would say that Mark Brunell had a rebirth last season. If this is the case, then Brunell should send a gift basket to tight end Chris Cooley’s home. Cooley provided Brunell with another target in the offense. When you have Clinton Portis, one of the best running backs in the NFL, and Santana Moss, who had one of the best years for receivers in the league, you tend to forget about Cooley. Believe me, the Redskins offense didn’t. 71 catches for Cooley, including 7 for scores. He’s a bonafide threat, and his ranking and value only increased when Al Saunders came over from the Chiefs. Remember, Saunders has experience working with high quality TE’s in the past as he had Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City, a player you will most definitely hear from later on in this list. Cooley gives Brunell and fantasy owners the ability to rely on certain production consistently.
7.) Randy McMichael, Miami Dolphins
2005 Stats: 60 rec., 582 yards, 9.7 yard avg., 5 TDs
Notes: Chalk up another player who is going to benefit from a new quarterback in a system. McMichael welcomes into Miami Daunte Culpepper with open arms, because with Culpepper comes the prospect of a more “down-the-field” offense. McMichael will see more looks form a quarterback who can make the tough throws and get it to McMichael in those tight spots in the middle of the field. Ronnie Brown will be shouldering the entire load at running back, but he will be improved from last season and further open up the offense for McMichael. He’s a huge target for any quarterback, and Culpepper is a QB who is accustomed to throwing to big targets and having a lot of success. This could be a match in fantasy heaven for many of you when you think of Culpepper with Chambers, Brown, and McMichael.
6.) Alge Crumpler, Atlanta Falcons
2005 Stats: 65 rec., 877 yards, 13.5 yard avg., 5 TDs
Notes: One of the better blocking tight ends in the game, Crumpler provides Michael Vick with a great option to throw to when flushed out of the pocket or while on the move. Crumpler has such soft hands and rarely drops passes, even when Vick puts all of his might into a fastball right at his chest. He’s been the top threat through the air for the Flacons for the past couple of years and with the apparent loss of Brian Finneran and the departure of Peerless Price, he will be leaned on even more to be a contributing factor in the passing game. He did have a career season last year when it came to receiving yards and looks to improve upon those stats in the 2006. They need him to be great because Michael Vick needs to show some more improvement in the pocket or in the passing game in general or there will be grumbles about his ability to actually lead this team. Crumpler will be huge in that progress.
5.) Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City Chiefs
2005 Stats: 78 rec., 905 yards, 11.6 yard avg., 2 TDs
Notes: Here’s what I want to make stress of. 2 touchdowns last season. This would be considered an abomination and a rare slow season, except for one factor that I believe will hamper hiim this season again. The retirement of Willie Roaf, the almost sure Hall-of-Famer at the tackle position. This is big for Gonzalez because unless they get some good play from the offensive line, Gonzalez will have to stay in and help block on running plays and some passing plays. This will limit his ability to get downfield more often and produce as much as he has in the past. That’s a credit to Gonzalez that something that will affect his role on a team occurs and he is still ranked in the top 5 of fantasy tioght ends. The fact of the matter is that he is still one of the top in the game, and I still might take him over most TEs to play for me. But in his situation, he will see somre production drops, and I just can see taking him over my top 4 on this list. 78 catches and over 900 yards is incredible for a TE, but only 2 TDs makes me worry about added production.
4.) Todd Heap, Baltimore Ravens
2005 Stats: 75 rec., 855 yards, 11.4 yard avg., 7 TDs
Notes: Yet another player who is looking to benefit greatly from the arrival of a veteran quarterback. McNair gives the Ravens the best quarterback they’ve ever had in the Billick era, and maybe the best quarterback in their short franchise history. This means good news for their receivers, especially Todd Heap. Their most consistent option in the passing offense, he had a career year in 2005 even though it was Kyle Boller making the throws. Heap is a huge target who’s got incredible hands and dexterity and, if he can remain healthy, could be a Hall-of-Fame TE. That health has been a factor in recent years, but we’re looking at 2006 to give us more solid performances from the man Heap. Key note: Jamal Lewis is healthy now and if he somehow isn’t, they have another 1,000 yard rusher in Mike Anderson to run the football. This running game should open up the game for McNair and the passing offense.
3.) Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
2005 Stats: 66 rec., 757 yards, 11.5 yard avg., 6 TDs
Notes: Consistency has been Witten’s trademark over the past few seasons. Dallas is being lauded as an early Super Bowl contender, and it will be upto Witten to continue to provide his numbers from the position. It will help that they have Terrell Owens split wide now for Drew Bledsoe, but Witten is still one of the best in the league and Bledsoe will do well to get him the ball 5-8 times a game. Witten can provide a lot more catches now that they know they’ve got Owens, who can spread the field and take the ball downfield, opening up the underneath game for Witten. A big TE who’s got deceptive speed and great, soft hands, Witten emerged as an All-Pro TE and is still improving.There are also reports about the improvement of the running game, and if Julius Jones and Co. can provide even some lackluster imitation of a consistent running game, then Witten could very well surpass his best seasons.
2.) Jeremy Shockey, New York Giants
2005 Stats: 65 rec., 891 yards, 13.7 yard avg., 7 TDs
Notes: Maybe I have this bias for the Giants’ offense. I love their QB and RB, and think that Plaxico Burress is a top receiver. But Shockey at #2 might be a stretch for some people. But I don’t think so. He is the biggest beneficiary from the continued development and success of Eli Manning. He’s a scoring threat from anywhere on the field, not just inside the red zone. He’s a strong as an ox and doesn’t let up on anyone in his path. I think that he and Manning have developed the relationship of a QB and TE that you love to have, much like Aikman-Novacek or Montana-Jones. Shockey will continue to get intot he end zone with frequency, mainly because of the trust that he has from Manning and the attention that has to be paid to the rest of the offense, like Burress and RB Tiki Barber. Remember, Tiki himself is a huge threat out of the backfield and take away some of the linebacker support that will be covering Shockey in the underneath game. I see huge season for the Giants and for Shockey indiviually.
1.) Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
2005 Stats: 89 rec., 1,101 yards, 12.4 tard avg., 10 TDs
Notes: I guess it helps that LaDanian Tomlinson is in the backfield, but Gates is making a name for himself seperately from his all-world teammate. Gates is the best tight end in the league. This is as close to a fact that you can come to in the NFL. With all the other positions, the top spot is up for debate. Not here. Gates has had two straight seasons of 80+ catches, proving that his breakout 2004 season wasn’t a fluke by catching 89 balls. That number could have been higher had he not held out during the whole pre-season and missed the first game of the season. Is there anything that Gates can’t do? He’s big, strong, fast, runs great routes, and has soft hands. He has incredibly leaping ability from his basketball days, and a lot of times when he’s jumping up for a pass it looks like he is going for a rebound. The key is that Tomlinson is the best pass-catching back in the league as well, and with defenses stuck trying to account for LT at all times, Gates is just there… waiting for the ball. And unfortunately for most Charger opponents, he gets it. Even if Phillip Rivers has problems, Gates is the best drop-off TE in the league.
TEs to watch
– L.J. Smith, Philadelphia Eagles
– Benjamin Watson, New England Patriots
Fool’s Gold TEs
– Doug Jolley, New York Jets
– Marcus Pollard, Detroit Lions