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Offseason Extra: Top 12 TEs for 2012

Senior Fantasy Writer
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One of the biggest questions facing Fantasy owners heading into 2012 will be when to draft Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots tight end could have a significant impact on Draft Day.

Gronkowski just finished one of the best seasons ever for a tight end. He had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns, which set the NFL record for tight ends, and he added a rushing touchdown for good measure. He now has 28 touchdowns in two seasons and should continue to post outstanding stats in his third year.

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But is Gronkowski really worth a first- or second-round pick in standard leagues? That's the decision owners will have to make on Draft Day, especially the aggressive ones who like to be proactive and not follow the formula of taking running backs with your first two picks.

This season, the first tight end drafted was Antonio Gates in Round 4, and that's typically when most tight ends are taken -- when the run starts. Two tight ends were drafted in Round 4 (Gates and Jason Witten) and two were taken in Round 5 (Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley).

Gronkowski has proven to be an elite Fantasy option, and he had 233 Fantasy points this year. He would have been the No. 5 running back this season based on Fantasy points behind Ray Rice (285), LeSean McCoy (270), Maurice Jones-Drew (249) and Arian Foster (238) and the No. 2 receiver behind Calvin Johnson (254). All of those players are projected as first-round picks in the majority of leagues, so why not Gronkowski?

By taking Gronkowski early -- and the suggestion here is to draft him in Round 2 -- you lock up the best player at his position, and you should dominate the tight end spot every week. Gronkowski finished 46 Fantasy points better than the No. 2 tight end, Jimmy Graham.

But there is some risk involved with drafting Gronkowski early. What if he struggles? Of the Top 4 tight ends drafted, only Finley finished as a Top 5 option. Part of the reason Gronkowski was so amazing was because of his value since he was drafted in Round 9. Graham also was a Draft Day steal since he went in Round 7.

The Patriots could also improve their receiving corps, which would cut into Gronkowski's targets (he had 124 this year). Assuming that Wes Welker re-signs with the Patriots as expected, New England can also add another receiver to upgrade over free agent Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco, who will likely be released.

Tom Brady won't go away from Gronkowski, but with Welker, Aaron Hernandez and another legitimate weapon, Gronkowski might not score 18 touchdowns again, which would hurt his value, especially if he was drafted in Round 1. It's just something to consider.

You can also wait until Round 3 to take Graham, who is only going to improve as well, or load up at other positions and then draft a tight end later. You can take Hernandez or Gates in Round 4 or Witten, Vernon Davis or Finley in Round 5. The choice is yours on how you want to build your team.

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As for Gronkowski, he has played himself into first-round consideration. While we don't recommend drafting him in Round 1, don't be surprised when he comes off the board early in Round 2. We just hope he doesn't falter heading into the third year of his career.

Top 12 Tight Ends for 2012

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2011 stats: 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns (124 targets); rushing touchdown
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 233 (14.6)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 106 overall (Round 9)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 15 overall (Round 2)
Gronkowski wasn't just good in the regular season, but he was also a star in the playoffs with 17 catches for 258 yards and three touchdowns against Denver, Baltimore and the Giants. His magical season didn't end the way he hoped because an ankle injury ruined his Super Bowl appearance. He had surgery on his injured ankle five days after Super Bowl XLVI, so he should be 100 percent come August. He now has 28 total touchdowns in two seasons and unless the Patriots significantly improve their receiving corps, he should remain a top target for Brady and the No. 1 tight end in Fantasy leagues. He is worth drafting in Round 2.


2012 sleeper TEs
Jared Cook, Titans
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
Evan Moore, Browns

2. Jimmy Graham, Saints
2011 stats: 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns (149 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 187 (11.7)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 84 overall (Round 7)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 26 overall (Round 3)
Graham was a star this past season with double digits in Fantasy points in 11 games, and he led all tight ends in targets. He might present great value on Draft Day since most owners will reach for Gronkowski in the early part of Round 2, and Graham will be there for you most likely at the beginning of Round 3. To give you an idea, Graham would have been the No. 5 receiver this season based on Fantasy points behind Johnson, Jordy Nelson (210), Welker (206) and Victor Cruz (198). Graham could benefit greatly if Marques Colston and Robert Meachem both leave as free agents, but even if they stay we know Drew Brees will continue to look for Graham often, which is why he is a star Fantasy option in 2012.

3. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
2011 stats: 79 catches for 910 yards and seven touchdowns (112 targets); five carries for 45 yards; one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 127 (9.1)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 126 overall (Round 11)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 37 overall (Round 4)
Hernandez didn't have the same consistent season this year that Gronkowski or Graham did, but he was still a quality Fantasy option and finished as the No. 3 tight end in standard leagues. We hope Hernandez can remain healthy all year because he has missed at least two games in each of his first two seasons, but he was dominant in the playoffs with double digits in Fantasy points against Denver and the Giants. Like Gronkowski, Hernandez will benefit if the Patriots don't significantly upgrade their receiving corps, but he should remain a favorite target for Brady since he could do so many things, including take carries out of the backfield as a running back.

4. Antonio Gates, Chargers
2011 stats: 64 catches for 778 yards and seven touchdowns (90 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 115 (8.8)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 37 overall (Round 4)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 40 overall (Round 4)
Gates could easily re-emerge as the No. 1 tight end in all leagues, especially if Vincent Jackson leaves as a free agent, but health has been his biggest detractor. He missed three games this season and hasn't played in 16 games since 2009. We hope he will be 100 percent to start the 2012 season, but you never know with his nagging foot problems. If he does play 16 games he will present tremendous value since he's capable of reaching 75 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. And if Jackson is gone, we could see Gates post huge stats since he was a tremendous force in 2010 when Jackson was out for most of the season due to a contract dispute.


2012 bust TEs
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
Owen Daniels, Texans
Kellen Winslow, Bucs

5. Jason Witten, Cowboys
2011 stats: 79 catches for 942 yards and five touchdowns (117 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 117 (7.3)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 47 overall (Round 4)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 51 overall (Round 5)
Witten took a step back this season in his production as his catches, yards and touchdowns all declined from 2010 (94 catches, 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns). It could be a result of Tony Romo spreading the ball around to Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson, or Witten could be slowing down after nine seasons. We're not concerned about Witten heading into 2012 since he remains close with Romo, and Robinson might not return as a free agent. Witten might not be in the class of Gronkowski or Graham, but he should continue to catch 75-plus passes for 900-plus yards and five-plus touchdowns. That makes him a Top 5 tight end on my board, and I'll be happy to draft him in Round 5.

6. Vernon Davis, 49ers
2011 stats: 67 catches for 792 yards and six touchdowns (94 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 105 (6.6)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 61 overall (Round 6)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 55 overall (Round 5)
Davis was a beast in the playoffs with four touchdowns against the Saints and Giants in two games. It made up for an inconsistent regular season when he had seven games with double digits in Fantasy points and nine games with five points or less. The key for Davis could be who his quarterback is with Alex Smith a free agent. Smith has been good for Davis and vice versa since they are both at their best when he is getting Davis the ball. Still, we'd like to see Davis play with an elite quarterback (Peyton Manning perhaps), and his value could easily surpass Witten on Draft Day. I would move Davis ahead of Witten if he gets an upgrade at quarterback because his play during the postseason was inspiring.

7. Jermichael Finley, Packers
2011 stats: 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns (93 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (average): 118 (7.4)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 55 overall (Round 5)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 64 overall (Round 6)
Finley's Fantasy value is up in the air since he's a free agent this offseason and could leave Green Bay if he doesn't get the franchise tag. We'd like Finley to remain with the Packers because it's a tight end-friendly offense with a great quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. He could also look to play in Miami with former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, but where Finley ends up will determine how good he can be, as well as his health. He played 16 games this season for the first time in his career and posted new highs in catches, yards and touchdowns as he finished as a Top 5 tight end in standard leagues. If he plays 16 games with any team he should remain a Top 10 option in all formats and is worth drafting by Round 6.


2012 rookies to watch
Dwayne Allen, Clemson
Coby Fleener, Stanford
Orson Charles, Georgia

8. Brent Celek, Eagles
2011 stats: 62 catches for 811 yards and five touchdowns (96 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 105 (6.6)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 143 overall (Round 12)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 76 overall (Round 7)
Celek had a revival for Fantasy owners this season after he disappeared in 2010. Michael Vick said before the year he would get Celek more involved, and it showed with five games with double digits in Fantasy points, including three in a row to close the season. He could benefit if DeSean Jackson leaves as a free agent, which would give Celek more targets. He will remain risky since Fantasy owners don't fully trust him after what happened in 2010 and he has to stay healthy after having minor hip surgery in the offseason. But we can see Celek finishing as a Top 10 tight end in 2012, and he's worth drafting with a mid-round pick.

9. Fred Davis, Redskins
2011 stats: 59 catches for 796 yards and three touchdowns (88 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 90 (7.5)
2011 Average Draft Position: Not drafted in the majority of leagues
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 85 overall (Round 8)
Davis is a free agent this offseason, but he's expected to return to the Redskins after he was suspended for the final four games this year for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He was off to a great start prior to the suspension with at least nine Fantasy points in seven games. Based on his average, he would have finished with 120 Fantasy points, which would have made him a Top 5 tight end. We're not sure if he can reach that level again, especially if Chris Cooley remains with the Redskins and depending on the quarterback, but he has Top 10 potential and is worth drafting with a mid- to late-round pick as a starter.

10. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
2011 stats: 80 catches for 875 yards and seven touchdowns (116 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 123 (7.7)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 100 overall (Round 9)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 97 overall (Round 9)
Gonzalez is a tight end I would try to avoid because he's going to be 36 in 2012 and is nearing the end of his career. He was great at times this season with double digits in Fantasy points in five games, but he was miserable down the stretch with a combined 13 Fantasy points in his final five outings. With Roddy White still No. 1 in targets in the NFL, and the continued development of second-year receiver Julio Jones, Gonzalez will be the third option in the passing game. That's not a terrible place to be, especially with Matt Ryan playing well, but don't reach for Gonzalez before Round 8. He is not going to finish as a Top 5 tight end again like he did this season and might fall out of the Top 10 if White and Jones dominate the offense as expected.

11. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
2011 stats: 83 catches for 777 yards and five touchdowns (126 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 99 (6.2)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 117 overall (Round 10)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 106 overall (Round 9)
Pettigrew showed that he can be a successful Fantasy option with Matthew Stafford finally staying healthy all year. Pettigrew had at least nine Fantasy points in seven games and he closed the season with double digits in Fantasy points in three of his final four outings. He needs to be more consistent since he had eight games with five Fantasy points or less, and he struggled outdoors with only one game with double digits in Fantasy points in Week 17 at Green Bay. But Pettigrew is worth drafting as a starting option, especially if you wait to select a tight end with a late-round pick.

12. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
2011 stats: 56 catches for 596 yards and six touchdowns (92 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 87 (6.2)
2011 Average Draft Position: Not drafted in the majority of leagues
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 112 overall (Round 10)
There are several tight ends who could be drafted in this spot, including Clark, Dustin Keller, Jared Cook, Owen Daniels and Kellen Winslow. But all of them have flaws, while Gresham should continue to improve heading into his third season. He developed a solid rapport with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, and he should be the No. 2 target for the Bengals in 2012 behind receiver A.J. Green. Gresham missed two games due to injury this year, and if he hit his average he would have been the No. 11 tight end. He should finish around the same spot in 2012, but he can improve if he shows more consistency. We expect that to happen, and he's a tremendous value with a late-round pick on Draft Day.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
Texans waive DT Brandon Ivory
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7:13 pm ET) The Texans waived rookie defensive tackle Brandon Ivory on Thursday, according to ESPN.com

Ivory was arrested on first degree burglary charges in Tuscaloosa, Ala. just one day ago. Ivory's agent Jeff Guerriero said Ivory is not guilty of the charge. 

"I spoke to Brandon he is not guilty and his name will be cleared of all charges," Guerriero said. 


Chargers TE Antonio Gates suspended 4 games for PED use
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:09 pm ET) Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has been suspended four games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy, the team announced. 

It's unknown at this time what drug Gates tested positive for. Gates, in a statement, said he was unaware that he took a banned substance

"In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails," Gates said. "I have taken extreme care of my body with a holistic approach and I have never knowingly ingested a substance that was banned by the NFL. In an effort to recover from this past season, I used supplements and holistic medicines, and unfortunately, I have now learned that those substances always present a risk because they may contain banned substances even if the ingredient list doesn’t reflect them.

"As an NFL veteran and team leader, I should have done my due diligence to ensure that what I was taking for recovery was within the NFL guidelines. I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues. I take full responsibility for my actions. I’d like to express my sincere apologies to the Chargers, my teammates, coaches, fans and the league who have always supported me and expected and gotten nothing but the highest level of integrity from me."

With Gates out for four games, the Chargers will turn to Ladarius Green as the team's top tight end, though it was expected for Green to continue getting more looks in the passing game. Green is entering the final season of his rookie contract. 

The Chargers expressed disappointment in Gates for his suspension but plans to stick with the longtime veteran through the suspension. 

"We are tremendously disappointed for our team and our fans as well as Antonio, but no more disappointed than Antonio is with himself," the Chargers stated. "Antonio is a member of the Chargers' family and we will continue to support him 100-percent. We have the utmost confidence he will stay in excellent shape for the season and be ready to go when he returns in Week 5. While it's unfortunate to not have him to start the season, we have complete confidence our tight end group will continue to play at a high level."  


Packers' Datone Jones out 1 game for substance-abuse violation
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:01 pm ET) Packers defensive lineman Datone Jones will be suspended for one game for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, according to NFL.com. 

Jones will miss Green Bay's season-opener against the Bears. In 2014, Jones totaled 22 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in 13 games played. 


Cowboys LB Rolando McClain suspended four games for 2015
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2:56 pm ET) The Cowboys announced that linebacker Rolando McClain has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season due to violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. 

McClain hasn't been able to participate much in offseason workouts due to going under offseason knee surgery. McClain will be eligible to practice in training camp and is expected to be healthy by then. 

"I apologize to my family, the Cowboys organization, my teammates and Cowboys fans for my mistake. I will not break the rules of my profession in the future, and I regret my error," McClain said in a statement, via CSN Bay Area. "I look forward to returning to the field on week 5, when I hope to help my team beat the Patriots.

In 2014, McClain, who had previously retired twice before being traded from the Ravens to the Cowboys, totaled 81 tackles and a sack in 13 games played.


Jets DL Sheldon Richardson suspended four games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:22 pm ET) Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was suspended four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, the NFL announced Thursday.

“I apologize for letting down my family, teammates, this organization and the fans," Richardson said in a statement via the Jets, per Fox Sports. "However, words aren't enough. This is something that can only be addressed by how I handle myself from this point on. I don't want this to take away from what the team is trying to accomplish. While I won't be there at the start of the regular season, I will do whatever I can to support my teammates until I'm able to return to the field.”

Richardson, who was a 2013 first-round pick, is entering his third season in the NFL. He was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2014.

He has totaled 84 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks in 32 career games. He also has one safety.


Texans DT Brandon Ivory arrested on burglary charge
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7/1/2015) Texans defensive tackle Brandon Ivory was arrested Wednesday morning in Alabama and charged with first-degree burglary, according to a Tuscaloosa Police Department report obtained by SportingNews.com.

Ivory and another man were allegedly involved in a home burglary when the two entered the residence by kicking open the back door and then demanding money from the residents. The two stole money and two Ipads from the residence. Ivory and the other suspect were arrested at their apartment shortly after the incident with the stolen money and property.


Embattled Brandon Spikes pleads guilty to leaving scene of crash
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/1/2015) Former Patriots and Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes has pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a recent car crash and has received a fine and year of probation, per WBZ, which is further reporting that he has lost his license and will be forced to attend a driver's safety class.

Spikes has lost far more than his license. He has lost his livelihood, having been cut by New England for hitting another car and abandoning his vehicle on the highway. He later told the police that he had hit a deer.

No other teams have been rumored to be targeting Spikes for the coming season.


Terrelle Pryor ready to embrace new role with Browns
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6/30/2015) Terrelle Pryor once declared that he could not play football if he could not play quarterback.

Reality has since set in.

Pryor has been cut twice and is now playing on a Cleveland Browns team desperate for a quarterback, but apparently not desperate enough to give him a shot. He is instead embracing what he is calling a "slash-player" role.

"I'm going to give (it) a chance," he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I just want to play football. I'm a playmaker, and I believe if I can touch the ball, I can go to the house, especially if I have space. This should definitely open up some opportunities."

Pryor has already taken the first step by contacting Steelers receiving stud Antonio Brown and making plans to work out with him and Randy Moss so they can teach him the nuances of the position.

He also figures there's another reason he's ahead of the game.

"The thing that helps me is that I played quarterback, and I know what the quarterback wants," Pryor said.


Lions new DT Haloti Ngata too busy to think about new contract
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6/30/2015) Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata had his contract in mind in his last days with the Ravens, but he's too busy to think about it now that he's been traded to the Lions.

Ngata admitted that he suspected a deal could take place.

"The closer we got to free agency, I thought it could be a possibility," he told Monday Morning Quarterback. "It didn't surprise me ... since we weren't getting closer to any kind of contract stuff, I just figured there were a lot of things that could happen. I definitely started to have a trade in my mind as a possibility."

Ngata added that he's not thinking about a contract extension with Detroit.

"I'm just trying to get to know my teammates, get my playbook down, and my technique and terminology," he said.


Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon claims he'd pick himself in Fantasy
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6/30/2015) Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon doesn't have a Fantasy football team, but if he did...

"If ... I could take myself, I would," he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Never mind that Adrian Peterson has returned to the backfield. Never mind that Peterson has traditionally not yielded many carries to teammates. In 2012, for instance, he totaled 348 of his team's 401 rushing attempts.

The Vikings, however, are expected to use a more balanced approach in 2015. And McKinnon, who flashed as a starter with Peterson sidelined last season, is feeling dandy after undergoing lower back surgery in December.

"Two hundred percent," he declared in regard to his health. "If there is a 300, I feel 300. It's all good."

McKinnon averaged 4.8 yards per carry a year ago, which buoyed his confidence.


 
 
 
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