An injured wrist sabotaged Jimmy Graham's third NFL season, but it shouldn't keep him from being an underperformer in 2013. It really didn't keep him from being a disappointment in 2012 either: Despite the injury, Graham still played 15 games and totaled 986 yards on 85 catches with nine touchdowns. Those numbers could have been higher had he played in good health for the final seven weeks of the season. Still, his numbers were good enough to lead all tight ends in Fantasy points last year. Graham's huge size, very good speed and excellent hands with the eyes of an All-Pro quarterback on him at all times make him an elite player for Fantasy purposes. The added bonus of playing in a contract year should further motivate Graham to post nice numbers. We are not at all opposed to taking him with a pick between 15th and 25th overall in standard leagues and 14th and 20th overall in PPR formats.
Rob Gronkowski continues to prove he’s the best tight end in the NFL. In 2012, he had a frustrating season. When he was on the field he was dominant with double digits in Fantasy points in seven of 11 games. But he broke his left forearm twice, missing five games, including the majority of the Fantasy playoffs (he returned for the regular-season finale in Week 17). Gronkowski had 79 targets in 2012, and this was the third year in a row he had double digits in touchdowns (he has 39 total in his three-year career). Some quick math: With 38 touchdown receptions in 43 career games, Gronkowski is scoring at an 88 percent clip. With 187 career catches he's averaging a touchdown every 4.9 catches. And Gronkowski has five-plus catches in 21 games. We consider Gronkowski the No. 1 player at his position, and hopefully he can stay healthy for 16 games. He is worth drafting toward the end of Round 1 or beginning of Round 2 in all leagues because it’s clear after three seasons that he’s a significant difference-maker at a weak position.
Most Fantasy owners would be giddy if you told them Antonio Gates, would play 15 games in a season. After missing nine games the previous two years, Gates appeared in 15 games in 2012. But the return to health didn't help his overall production. Gates had 49 catches for 538 yards, which was his worst output since his rookie year in 2003, including the years where he missed time. He scored seven touchdowns, but three of them came in the final three weeks of the season, which was too little too late. The good news is Gates comes into this year at 100 percent, and hopefully the three-game scoring streak will carry into this season. The bad news is he'll be 33 when the season starts, and he might not be the same player following two years of foot problems. Still, he has the potential to be a top 10 Fantasy tight end, and we consider him a No. 1 option. He should be drafted with a pick as early as Round 5 in all formats.
Aaron Hernandez is the No. 2 tight end for the Patriots behind Rob Gronkowski, but he still posts No. 1-like stats. Despite missing six games in 2012 with an ankle injury he still managed 51 catches for 483 yards and five touchdowns on 83 targets. He had double digits in Fantasy points in three games and at least nine points in two others. Over the last two seasons (24 games) Hernandez has averaged 5.4 catches per game but for just 58 yards per contest. He's also scored a touchdown, on average, once every two games (12 touchdowns). That's enough to make Hernandez the fourth-best tight end you can draft this summer behind Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez. He should be drafted by Round 4 in all leagues.
Will the real Vernon Davis please stand up? Davis was a huge disappointment in 2012 based on his regular-season stats, but he was a star in the playoffs. Davis finished the regular season with 41 catches for 548 yards and five touchdowns. They were easily his worst stats since 2008, the year before his breakout season. Davis struggled to develop a rapport with quarterback Colin Kaepernick -- until the postseason, when Davis took off. In his final two postseason games he had 11 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons and Ravens. We hope he can build on that performance, and Davis is too talented to overlook as anything but a No. 1 Fantasy tight end. He has a lot to prove based on last year's down stats, but he's definitely capable of being a standout option. Plan on drafting Davis with a pick in Round 7 or 8.
Jermichael Finley is sure to be considered a No. 1 Fantasy tight end even though he hasn't done much to prove he deserves it. He scored two touchdowns last year and has 17 over his 64-game career. The 667 yards he had last season were good enough for third-best even though he caught a career-high 61 balls. That's not bad considering he caught three passes or less in half of his regular-season games. And according to Stats, Inc. Finley was charged with seven drops though there was a point where it seemed like he had a bad play every week. He finished tied as the 17th best tight end in standard Fantasy play with the Jaguars' Marcedes Lewis. Obviously, there's potential for him to shine in the NFL, and it might come with another team, but with Finley in a contract year for the second time in three seasons, he's truly at a crossroads in his career. At best, he's a consideration to begin your year as your starting tight end but we'd take him and another high-upside tight end with mid- to late-round picks.
Jason Witten continues to prove he's among the best Fantasy tight ends, and he should post quality stats again this season. Witten had a career-high 110 catches in 2012, and he also added 1,039 yards and three touchdowns. This is the fourth time since 2007 he's had at least 94 catches and 1,000 receiving yards. The problem for Witten is his lack of touchdowns since he's scored more than five times just once since 2008. But that hasn't kept Witten from being an elite Fantasy option since he's been a top-5 tight end four times since 2007 (he was No. 5 last year with 115 points in a standard league). Witten also has Tony Romo's eye since he led the team and all tight ends with 147 targets, and we expect Romo to continue looking in Witten's direction a lot. He's worth drafting as early as Round 4 in the majority of leagues.
Fred Davis will return to the Redskins after re-signing with the team as a free agent. Davis is trying to come back from an Achilles injury, which ended his year after Week 7 last season. Davis also has to prove he can mesh with quarterback Robert Griffin III. Davis had 59 catches for 796 yards and three touchdowns in 2011, but he got off to a slow start in 2012 with Griffin as he had just 24 catches for 325 yards and no touchdowns in seven games. He was starting to pick things up before the injury, so hopefully he will start off the season playing well, but he's just a No. 2 tight end coming into the year. On top of his recovery, Griffin is also coming back from knee surgery. And since there are plenty of talented tight ends out there, Davis projects as just a high-end backup. He could turn into a solid injury or bye-week replacement, but let him prove himself first early in the season before adding him off waivers.
Brandon Pettigrew looks like he should be a dominant Fantasy tight end. He's 6-foot-5, built like a house, and he plays a ton in the Lions offense. But his stats don't reflect that. Pettigrew finished 2012 with 567 receiving yards on 59 receptions, with three touchdowns – all statistical lows for him since 2009. There's obviously potential for him to rebound in 2013, something that could help him land a large contract after the season, so he'll be focused on lowering his drops. If you're the last one to draft a tight end this summer, going for Pettigrew as your starter to begin the year shouldn't sting.
Retirement wasn't in Tony Gonzalez's plans when he agreed to return to the Falcons for his 17th season. Though he's an old man by NFL standards he's coming off a season where he posted his best stats yet with the Falcons, scoring eight touchdowns and catching 93 passes for an even 930 yards. In spite of his age, no one would really be surprised if Gonzalez put up similar numbers in 2013 given his role in the offense and lack of tight coverage thanks to playing with Roddy White and Julio Jones. Gonzalez had fewer targets than those two receivers but still had 139 passes go his way. This all should not change. Gonzalez is worth a pick in Round 6 in standard leagues but might slip a few rounds in long-term formats since he said in early April this will be his last season.
Jermaine Gresham's stats have trended higher, albeit slightly, over his three year career. He finished as the 13th ranked tight end in Fantasy points in 2011 and the 11th ranked tight end in 2012. But any room for a breakout year could have been squandered when the Bengals drafted tight end Tyler Eifert in April's draft. Immediately following the selection Bengals coaches inferred that Gresham would remain the starter and a valuable piece of the offense but there's no question Eifert could develop into a regular contributor as well. The two tight ends might ultimately play together for a majority of the time but some of Gresham's targets will head away from him to Eifert. Not that Gresham was a brilliant Fantasy option to begin with – he had only six games with 7 or more Fantasy points last season, a bit of a disappointment considering the anticipation many had for him. Obviously the big guy has found a way to improve over each of his last three years but 2013 could be a challenging year for him if Eifert develops quickly for the Bengals. Gresham is worth a late-round pick as a Fantasy starter, albeit one you might find yourself cutting if he doesn't produce big stats.
Greg Olsen posted career-highs in receptions and yardage in 2012, but Fantasy owners still cast the Panthers' tight end as a mediocre Fantasy option. Perhaps that's because he had only five games with seven or more Fantasy points, making him far more inconsistent than most elite tight ends. He also had five games with three Fantasy points or less. Olsen's salary jumps in 2013 by more than $3 million but he's expected to stick with the Panthers as a short-area target for Cam Newton. The later you can draft Olsen, the better off you'll be. We wouldn't chance a pick on him until Round 9 at the earliest.
Jacob Tamme didn’t have the breakout season many hoped for in 2012 when he followed Peyton Manning from Indianapolis to Denver. But Tamme still played well, and maybe this is the year his breakout performance will happen. Tamme had 52 catches for 555 yards and two touchdowns in 2012. He split playing time with Joel Dreessen, which hindered his production, and Tamme had just two games with double digits in Fantasy points. If you’re looking at Tamme and Dreessen, consider Tamme the better option just based on targets since Tamme had 85 compared to Dreessen’s 58. But if you’re comparing Tamme to other Fantasy tight ends, you might consider him a second-tier option, especially with the addition of Wes Welker. He’s not worth drafting in most formats and should be considered just an injury or bye-week replacement.
Expectations are for Owen Daniels to begin the year as a No. 1 Fantasy tight end. After proving he could be useful with a career-high six touchdowns in 2012 to go with 62 catches and 716 yards, Daniels finds himself in an offense void of elite receiving threats opposite Andre Johnson. Last year he had 128 targets, catching more than 60 percent of them, and this year he might be able to get more because of the Texans' thin receiver corps. It's enough to make Daniels a low-end No. 1 Fantasy tight end worth a middle- to late-round pick, just before the sneaky late-round tight ends start flying.
Brent Celek will be an interesting Fantasy tight end to keep an eye on this year. He’s coming off a down year in 2012 with 57 catches for 684 yards and one touchdown, and the Eagles brought in two new tight ends with James Casey signing as a free agent and rookie Zach Ertz. There’s a chance Celek could get cut as a salary cap move, or he could remain the starter. Even if he does start Celek’s Fantasy value is now limited. Keep an eye on his role coming into the season, but Celek is a No. 2 Fantasy tight end at best. He’s not worth drafting in the majority of leagues.