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Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are very different players and they set themselves apart from the field in this year’s tight end rankings. Graham is likely to go in the 2nd round while Gronkowski could fall into the 6th, but he will usually go in Rounds 3-5 depending on how many Pats fans are in your league. Most fantasy squads will not draft either one due to draft position or the need to pounce on elite RBs. There are a lot of breakout candidates at the TE position and many can be had in Round 9 or later. Let’s see how they stack up.
20. Brent Celek (PHI) Celek has the ability to block and catch for Philly. He also has a rapport with Michael Vick which will keep him on the field. James Casey and Zach Ertz are both newcomers. That alone makes him worth drafting as a backup because Chip Kelly frequently uses multiple TE formations.
19. Coby Fleener (IND) Pep Hamilton leaves his post as the Andrew Luck Director of Offense at Stanford for the Luck and Fleener reprise in Indy. I don’t think Fleener is going to break out as a star this year, but the Colts will throw a lot and he and Dwayne Allen will be on the field together frequently.
18. Zach Sudfeld (NE) Even though he ended up in Belichick’s doghouse after his fumble in Detroit, Sudfeld will be a factor for the Patriot offense. Sudfeld will see the field even when Gronk returns since they play different TE positions. The rookie from Nevada has shown off great hands and body control as well as good speed and might even be a top 12 option until Gronkowski returns.
17. Brandon Myers (NYG) I may come to regret this, but I gravitate towards the more athletic TEs this year. Myers scored a lot of fantasy points in garbage time for Oakland last year and the Giants have more prolific weapons at every position. He goes up at least three spots if a top three New York receiver goes down.
16. Fred Davis (WAS) Davis has been in the league since 2008 and played a full season twice, however, in 2011 he amassed 796 yards on 59 catches in only 12 games. I believe he can produce along that same level this season with the overused ‘if healthy’ caveat.
15. Martellus Bennett (CHI) Even in Bennett’s career year last year, he had 55 catches and played every game. I don’t think his situation is so vastly improved with Marc Trestman at the helm in Chicago to warrant ranking him any higher than this.
14. Owen Daniels (HOU) Daniels suffers slightly in the rankings due to Houston’s proclivity to run the ball in the red zone. Owen Daniels won’t make anyone excited in the draft room, but you could do a lot worse late in the draft if you stock up on backs and receivers early.
13. Tyler Eifert (CIN) Cincinnati’s entire offense will be improved and I look for Marvin Lewis to allow Dalton more freedom in the passing game. Eifert was not the only tight end taken in the 1st round of the NFL Draft at 21 overall to sit behind Jermaine Gresham.
12. Brandon Pettigrew (DET) This one hurts. I always seem to end up with Pettigrew in at least one league only to watch him drop pass after pass at the goal line. Pettigrew is still young, has talent, and is in the most pass-happy offense in the NFL.
11. Jordan Cameron (CLE) Norv Turner knows how to use talented tight ends in his offense. I am not comparing Cameron to Gates in his prime in San Diego. Cameron has shown up in the preseason and is the second-best receiving option behind Josh Gordon for the Browns.
10. Antonio Gates (SD) Drafting Gates is like dating a flight attendant you really like. It’s great when they’re around, but honestly, is that often enough to make the experience worth it?
9. Jared Cook (STL) Cook has good size and a ton of potential, but never really got the chance to shine with sub-par quarterback play in Tennessee. He is a good complement to the quickness of Tavon Austin and the deep speed of Chris Givens in St. Louis.
8. Kyle Rudolph (MIN) You have to like a player who is enormous and scored 9 touchdowns in their season year with 5 of those coming in the fourth quarter.
7. Greg Olsen (CAR) Olsen is not as exciting as several other players in the top 10. He is easily Cam Newton’s second favorite target behind Steve Smith. The lack of other receiving options in Carolina lands him at No. 7.
6. Jermichael Finley (GB) Finley is in a contract year and plays with a top 3 quarterback. Greg Jennings is out of town, Jordy Nelson is hurt and Finley has reportedly shown a renewed commitment this training camp.
5. Vernon Davis (SF) Davis is the most dangerous receiving threat on the Niners with Michael Crabtree sidelined until November. I really like Davis this year and wanted to rank him a spot or two, but his tendency to disappear and the dependability of the next two TEs is unquestionable slots him here.
4. Jason Witten (DAL) Witten’s lowest receiving total since 2007 is 942 in the 2011 season and he has 1000+ yards in four of the past six seasons. He has played at least 15 games each season since 2004. He is a top three tight end in PPR leagues.
3. Tony Gonzalez (ATL) Gonzo’s last season should be another good one in Atlanta. He is top three because he receives more red zone looks than Witten. Gonzalez is no slouch in PPR himself, snagging 93 passes in 2012.
2. Rob Gronkowski (NE) He is the premier fantasy player at the position when healthy because he is a touchdown machine. His draft position is one of the more interesting storylines of 2013 fantasy drafts.
1. Jimmy Graham (NO) I would not take Graham before pick 20 unless it is a PPR league. However, his 2011 season stats and the return of Sean Payton makes him awfully tempting once pick 15 or so rolls around.