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Offseason Extra: TE tiers for 2012

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Dave Richard's tiers and strategies: QB | RB | WR

I know you want to read about how great tight ends are going to be in 2012, but let's start with an unsettling trend.

In 2007, tight ends "broke out" with six players racking up at least 100 Fantasy points (actually, all six had at least 120 points). In 2008 that number shrunk to four with only one getting over 120. Then in 2009 we saw 10 tight ends top 100 Fantasy points (four over 120 points), only to see the number yo-yo back to five hitting the century mark and three exceeding 120 points.

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Last season was obviously an up year: we had 10 tight ends get over 100 Fantasy points -- four over 120 and two over 175! But if the trend continues and defenses go back to the drawing board and find a way to contain tight ends, we'll see those numbers shrink in 2012.

But who needs substantiated trends anyway?! The tight end revolution is here thanks to the new prototype for the position.

You can ask any offensive coordinator in the league and 30 of 32 of them will tell you that they'd like to find the next Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham. They're not even really tight ends, they're offensive monsters: Gigantic athletes with good speed and hands matching up with smaller linebackers and defensive backs, dominating opponents week in and week out. Defenses were powerless: They were too big and strong to jam at the line of scrimmage or box out for a jump ball in the end zone, and too fast to cover with marginal defenders. Assign two guys to one of them and you'd get burned by receivers on their teams. It's a no-win situation for defensive coordinators, which is why every team wants to get in on the action and find a dominating tight end.

Every team would kill to have one, and as such, every Fantasy owner wants to have one. Some might even reach for one.

Consistency Counts
The average Fantasy point total per game among Top 12 TEs was 7.9 (standard scoring). Here's who had at least eight Fantasy points in 40 pct. or more of games played.
Player No. of
8+ FPTS
Player No. of
8+ FPTS
Jimmy Graham 75% Tony Gonzalez 44%
Rob Gronkowski 69% Jason Witten 44%
Fred Davis 58% Vernon Davis 44%
Aaron Hernandez 50% Brandon Pettigrew 44%
Antonio Gates 46% Jermaine Gresham 43%

Paying up

It will take an unprecedented draft pick to land an elite tight end in 2012. This is the direct result of the record-breaking seasons by Gronkowski and Graham. They finished as the top receiving tight ends in NFL history last season, and in Fantasy they finished third and sixth overall, respectively, among non-quarterbacks. If you want one of them, you're going to have to be prepared to spend at least a Top 25 pick.

If you buy into the whole 'supply and demand' thing, the price tag is idiotic. There are 32 teams and they all have tight ends of varying productivity. Moreover, most Fantasy leagues have 10 or 12 owners, certainly a select few have more than 14 owners, so there's plenty of tight end talent to go around. Supply outweighs demand, so why spend a high pick for one when you can get one later?

But if you buy into the whole 'Fantasy points are good for my Fantasy team' thing, the price tag is actually reasonable. Gronkowski averaged over 14 Fantasy points per game in standard formats and Graham had over 11 per week. Not only were they mostly consistent and productive in 2011, but they both were on the map as rookies in 2010, making it impossible to call them one-year wonders. Plus they are young, their quarterbacks are pretty darn good, and their targets (124 for Gronkowski, 149 for Graham) aren't going to dwindle.

Aside from supply and demand, there are two valid arguments to passing on them: One, defenses could catch up with them, as evidenced by the trend we led off this story with. Any drop-off in production might still make these guys good starters but not at the second-round price tag. Two, by taking a tight end with a Top 25 pick, you're probably leaving some really good talent on the table, and with tight ends fairly deep, you don't have to spend a pick that early to get a no-brainer starter.

So here's your pre-draft task: Make a separate list of the players you wouldn't hesitate to take before Gronkowski or Graham. If any of those players are there when you pick in Round 2 and beyond, take them. If they're not there but Gronk or Graham are staring you in the face, then go with one of the tight ends. Not everyone's lists will be the same because not everyone values these guys the same. Let your list dictate how you go about drafting these tight ends.

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What if your league doesn't require drafting tight ends, meaning that tight ends are eligible as wide receivers? The answer is simple: They're still Top 25 picks. That's an example of how valuable these two have become -- they're right on-par with the elite tier receivers out there.

Quantity of quality

Not everyone can get a piece of Gronkowski or Graham, and not everyone wants to. The depth at the tight end position is good, and with so many players capable of helping out Fantasy owners from week to week, there doesn't have to be a mad rush to get one in your draft.

So now is the perfect time to rehash the 'You Reach, You Lose' strategy from 2011: Assuming you do not take Gronk or Graham, take your time to pick a tight end from the second tier below. The difference between a guy like Aaron Hernandez and Fred Davis is very negligible. For example, Hernandez scored 37 more Fantasy points than Davis, but played in two more games. What's more, six tight ends finished within that 37-point span between Hernandez and Davis in 2011, so there's not a lot of difference between these guys.

Keep in mind, the tight ends we're talking about are pretty much on par with Gronkowski and Graham as far as role in the offense and a mismatch waiting to happen. These aren't jabronies who will give you two or three Fantasy points every week. Getting them as late as possible while collecting good talent at other positions is a really good plan of attack.

Once the top two tight ends are gone you might not see a tight end get picked until Round 5, and that's a good time to consider taking someone like Hernandez or Antonio Gates (who, with all his troubles, averaged 0.3 fewer points per game than Hernandez in 2011). And remember to draft smart -- if you're up to pick but the owners picking after you already have tight ends covered, you can probably wait a round before getting yours. No one should take two tight ends within the first 10 rounds of a draft unless tight ends are eligible as receivers.

Winning the waiting game

There will be two types of people in 2012 drafts: Those who purposely wait to draft a tight end late, and those who just happen to wait to draft a tight end late. You either refuse to buy into the position and will just take a good player with upside starting in Round 8 or 9, or you miss out on the top-two tier tight ends because other owners draft them, leaving you with what's left.

This isn't necessarily a recipe for failure. The types of tight ends who are left -- guys like Brandon Pettigrew, Dustin Keller and Jermaine Gresham -- still have those fine qualities teams are looking for. They just don't have the same expectations, which does not mean that they can't reach them.

So here's an idea: Instead of settling for one of these tight ends in the middle-to-late rounds of your draft, take two. Give your roster two shots at unearthing the next Rob Gronkowski, who was picked on average in Round 9 last year. And the best part is that maybe half of the owners in your league would consider taking two tight ends -- everyone who takes a tight end in the early going won't need to draft another. The quality of talent left toward the end of a draft won't be phenomenal, but it will be plentiful.

This transitions nicely to ...

Tight end tiers

Putting tight ends into tiers might not be as important as doing so for other positions because of the limited number of tight ends expected to go in every draft. So feel free to borrow ours, maybe make a change or two based on your own preferences, and be done with it. Also, don't forget to make that rank list of players you want before Gronkowski and Graham in drafts -- it will save you a lot of headache during your drafts this summer.

Elite Tier Excellent Tier Great Tier Good Tier
Rob Gronkowski Aaron Hernandez Brandon Pettigrew Dallas Clark
Jimmy Graham Antonio Gates Dustin Keller Greg Olsen
  Jason Witten Jared Cook Kellen Winslow
  Tony Gonzalez Jermaine Gresham Owen Daniels
  Vernon Davis   Ed Dickson
  Jermichael Finley   Kyle Rudolph
  Brent Celek   Scott Chandler
  Fred Davis    

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

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Player News
Chargers' McCoy: Philip Rivers had 'outstanding' practice Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:44 pm ET) Chargers coach Mike McCoy indicated that quarterback Philip Rivers (back, chest) "had an "oustanding day" in Thursday's practice, NFL.com reports.

"A ball did not hit the ground in all the throws he made today," McCoy added. "Philip was Philip, so he'll be ready to roll."

Rivers was a full participant in Thursday's practice after sitting out Tuesday and Wednesday. He should be ready to roll for Saturday's matchup with the 49ers.


Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald progresses to full practice Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:34 pm ET) Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee) was a full participant in Thursday's practice after being limited Wednesday, the team announced.

Fitzgerald has racked up 11 receptions in two games since his two-game absence but has managed just 64 yards and no touchdowns during that stretch. He's on track to resume his regular role in his team's Week 16 matchup with the Seahawks.


Cardinals' Kerwynn Williams limited Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Cardinals running back Kerwynn Williams (knee) was limited in Thursday's practice, the team announced.

Williams has shared touches with Stepfan Taylor with Andre Ellington out for the season but has amassed 175 rushing yards on 34 carries over the last two weeks. If his knee issue keeps him out Sunday, Taylor and Marion Grice would likely handle most of the touches at the position.


Cardinals QB Drew Stanton (knee) limited in practice Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:27 pm ET) Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (knee) was a limited participant in practice Thursday, the team announced.

Stanton hurt the knee Sunday against the Rams and appeared destined to miss Week 16's matchup with the Seahawks, but coach Bruce Arians indicated Wednesday that Stanton could play this Sunday in a best-case scenario. Arians did say Wednesday that Ryan Lindley would start against the Seahawks, and he's still the favorite to line up under center, but Stanton's absence isn't a foregone conclusion at this point.


Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch doesn't practice Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:18 pm ET) Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (back) did not practice Thursday, the team announced.

Last week, Lynch was able to take part in practice in a limited fashion Thursday after taking his customary day off Wednesday. This week, he's looking at two DNPs heading into Friday. Lynch was listed as probable in Week 15 but could be facing a questionable tag (or worse) in Week 16. If Lynch isn't able to play Sunday, the Seahawks would likely expand the roles of Robert Turbin and Christine Michael.

Joining Lynch on the sidelines for Thursday's practice were tackle Russel Okung (chest), guard J.R. Sweezy (ankle), center Max Unger (knee/ankle), tight end Tony Moeaki (shoulder), wide receiver Paul Richardson (hamstring) and defensive end Demarcus Dobbs (ankle).


Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker good to go for Titans
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:11 pm ET) The Titans will have both Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Both players came into the game listed as questionable. Wright is dealing with a hand injury. Walker has a knee issue. Both players will attempt to play through their injuries.

The team will also have Byron Stingily and Kamerion Wimbley. Both Stingily and Wimbley were listed as questionable. Daimion Stafford, who came into the contest listed as probable, will also be available. 


Titans list inactives for Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:07 pm ET) The Titans have listed QB Zach Mettenberger, DB Jemea Thomas, LB Zaviar Gooden, LB Dontay Moch, OT Terren Jones, OT Taylor Lewan and DL Mike Martin as inactive Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Both Mettenberger and Lewan were listed as doubtful heading into the contest. Neither was expected to take the field. Gooden was listed as questionable due to a hamstring injury. The other four players listed are healthy scratches. 


Jaguars' Blake Bortles, Marqise Lee active vs. Titans Week 16
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:02 pm ET) Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (foot) and wide receiver Marqise Lee (elbow) are active for Thursday night's Week 16 matchup with the Titans.

Bortles was listed as questionable to play on the team's final injury report but was reported to be starting earlier Thursday. Lee was listed as probable to play after catching four of his 10 targets for 14 yards in Week 15.

Players who were on the team's final Week 16 injury report who are also active include defensive end Ryan Davis (hip) and safety Josh Evans (foot), both of whom were questionable to suit up Thursday.


Jaguars list Week 16 inactives vs. Titans
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:01 pm ET) The Jaguars listed the following players as inactive for Thursday night's week 16 battle with the Titans: wide receiver Tommy Streeter (abdomen), defensive tackle Roy Miller (knee), defensive end Andre Branch (groin), cornerbacks Teddy Williams and Jeremy Harris, safety Matt Daniels and guard Tyler Shatley.

Streeter and Miller were listed as questionable to play Thursday on the team's final injury report, while Branch was previously ruled out. The Jaguars have three quarterbacks active for the game, including first-stringer Blake Bortles (foot), who was listed as questionable to play.


You'll want to stick with Tre Mason
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(6:31 pm ET) In two games since blowing up for 164 total yards and three touchdowns, Rams running back Tre Mason has a total of 99 yards on 33 carries. Neither performance was good individually, and Week 15 against Arizona was especially bad. Subtract the fumble from his 33 yards, and he scored a grand total of one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues.

So why would you consider using him in your championship game with the Rams hosting the Giants in Week 16? For one thing, the matchup is a night-and-day difference. You had to expect Mason to struggle against the Cardinals, who rank sixth against the run, allowing 90.4 yards per game, but would have guessed the Redskins, his Week 14 opponent, rank seventh? It's not a matter of teams choosing to beat them through the air either. They're one of 10 teams that have allowed less than 4 yards per carry.

The Giants, meanwhile, rank 30th against the run, allowing 135.1 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. It doesn't mean Mason is a lock for big numbers. The Redskins' Alfred Morris, who most would consider a superior running back, had just 49 yards on 14 carries against the Giants last week. But after splitting carries early on, Mason has become the clear workhorse of the Rams backfield. You don't sit a running back with that role when he has a favorable matchup, especially when he's performed as Mason has this season.

Jamey Eisenberg agrees, naming Mason the CBSSports.com Start of the Week for Week 16.


 
 
 
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