Drafting a Tight End

By Marcella Surra
Marcella Surra

One of the hardest positions to fill in fantasy football is the tight end position. Outside of New Orleans TE Jimmy Graham, from season to season, it is almost impossible to guess which NFL tight ends will put up consistent fantasy numbers. Moreover, deciding which round to draft a tight end is especially difficult.

TE Jimmy Graham is typically drafted in the first or second round because he puts up numbers that match most #1WRs. Last season Jimmy caught 86 receptions for 1,215 receiving yards and 16 TDs, making him the most targeted tight end in the NFL. Graham has established himself as QB Drew Bree’s #1 target. Draft him confidently at the end of the first round or beginning of the second round. Having Jimmy Graham on your team is like have four wide receiver positions instead of just three. He’ll give you leverage at the TE position; an advantage over other league managers. However, if you do draft him number one, make certain that you’ve done heavy research into RBs and WRs for the later rounds. If you don’t have good sleeper picks for the later rounds at these positions, I recommend staying away from Graham in the first round and opting for a more traditional draft approach such as RB, RB, QB, WR or RB, QB, WR, RB and so on.
The next tight end that usually gets drafted is Denver Broncos TE Julius Thomas, who last season caught 65 receptions for 788 and 12 TDs. Thomas is now a well-established tight end who has the trust and confidence of the league’s best quarterback, Peyton Manning. Thomas can go as early as the second round. However, if you are able to snatch him up in the third or fourth round, count yourself lucky because if any tight end besides Jimmy Graham can put up consistent fantasy points, it’s Julius Thomas.

The next tight end usually gets drafted in the third or fourth round based on what people think he is capable of if he stays healthy. Although New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkonski has great potential to put up spectacular points, he also has great potential to get injured. Last season, he played just seven games. The season before last, in 2012, he played only twelve games. Gronk’s last full season was in 2011, when he caught 90 receptions for 1,327 receiving yards and 17 TDs. However, since then he has suffered a torn ACL and MCL, there’s no guarantee that Gronk will have the same burst of speed he had before. This injury-prone tight end is either going to be a boom or bust. If you do decide to snatch him up, be certain to use the eighth or ninth round to pick up a good back-up tight end.

The next good tight end to look at is Browns TE Jordan Cameron. Last season he was targeted 118 times! He ended the season with 80 catches for 917 receiving yards and 7 TDs. With the Brown’s lack of depth at the wide receiver position, Cameron is bound to get abundant looks and touches, especially in the red zone. With the absence of WR Josh Gordon, his red zone targets could increase. Cameron is a great pick-up in the fourth or fifth round.

No one can argue that San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis put up great numbers last season with 52 receptions for 850 yards and a whopping 13. Despite his age of 30 years-old, year after year, Davis manages to put up good numbers. Last season he had a touchdown in almost every game, there were only four games he didn’t have a touchdown. He doesn’t get as many receptions or targets as some of the other tight ends ranked ahead of him, but he does get targeted in the red zone. In a league that awards TDs, Vernon Davis is among one of the top tight ends to own. Davis typically goes in the fifth round.

Another veteran tight end that continues to produce is Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten. Granted, at the age of 32, Witten isn’t the top tight end he used to be. However, he still puts up decent fantasy numbers and his quarterback, QB Tony Romo, still has confidence in Jason’s red zone prowess. Last season, he had 73 receptions for 851 receiving yards and 8 TDs. In leagues that award receptions, Witten is a great value in the sixth or seventh round.

Similar to TE Jason Witten, Carolina TE Greg Olson had 72 catches for 831 receiving yards and 7 TDs. Olson’s 2013 fantasy numbers were almost exactly the same as his 2012 numbers. You have to love an NFL player with consistency. Draft Olson confidently in the sixth or seventh round.

One of the last better tight ends to own is Miami Dolphins TE Charles Clay who went on to have a top-ten fantasy season last year after TE Dustin Keller injured his knee in training camp. Last season, Clay caught 60 receptions for 655 receiving yards and 6 TDs. Although he didn’t rack up many TDs, last season, he totaled 382 after the catch. He also had a team-leading 18 third-down receptions. Look for Clay to be a big part of the Dolphin’s offense this season. I’ve seen him drafted as late as the thirteenth round, but look for him to have a good season with the Dolphins, especially if he gets more targets in the red zone.

The following tight ends all put up similar numbers and tend to be drafted after the seventh round: Philly TE Zach Ertz, Baltimore TE Dennis Pitta, Washington TE Jordan Reed, and Minnesota TE Kyle Rudolph. On a side note, San Diego Chargers TE Ladarius Green has been a huge part of the first-team offense in preseason games; Ladarius could be a good TE sleeper pick.