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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
Michael Oher wants to bounce back with Panthers
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:29 pm ET) Panthers left tackle Michael Oher thinks he's in the perfect place for his career to bounce back, per the Charlotte Observer.

Oher, who is coming off his worst season as a pro, signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Panthers this offseason. Now on his third team in three years, Oher doesn't want to let any of his new teammates down.

“It seemed like they wanted me,” Oher said. “I got the (same) feeling going into my rookie year of not wanting to let guys down and guys with a winning culture. For me, it’s about getting back to the basics and fundamentals of doing everything right. Looking myself in the mirror knowing what I have to do and getting better from within.”

Oher started his career with four solid seasons as a Raven before nagging injuries began to hamper him in 2013. He signed a four-year deal with the Titans last offseason but injuries continued to plaque him while there. The Panthers gave Oher another chance to prove himself this offseason, and currently list him as their starting left tackle.
“I’m doing everything in my power to make that happen,” Oher said. “I know that I have the abilities and I’m going to put in the correct amount of work to get the job done. It’s just being around more guys who are willing to do the same.

“It’s definitely about culture in the NFL. That wins you football games alone.”


Report: Broncos will sign offensive tackle Ryan Harris
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:22 pm ET) The Broncos have agreed to terms on a contract with offensive tackle Ryan Harris, according to a report from ESPN. 

This move is a necessity now that left tackle Ryan Clady is likely lost for the season due to a torn ACL that he sustained in practice on Wednesday.

This move brings Harris back to the organization he started his NFL career with as he played with the Broncos, which drafted him in the third round, from 2007-2010. 

Harris was with the Chiefs a year ago and started 15 of the 16 games he appeared in. 


Standout snags Thursday give hope to Panthers WR Stephen Hill
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:15 pm ET) Panthers wide receiver Stephen Hill flashed some of the potential Thursday that he never reached with the Jets. He caught three deep balls, beating starting cornerback Josh Norman on one of them.

But such achievements are quickly forgotten in May. If Hill doesn't produce when training camp and the preseason games roll around, he will be in the same predicament he has been in since August.

That's when he was waived by the Jets and landed on the Carolina practice squad. And that is not where a player with his talent belongs. But Hill, a second-round selection in 2012, only caught 45 passes for the Jets in his first two seasons combined, so he must prove his worthiness all over again.

Quarterback Cam Newton ran downfield to congratulate Hill on his catch against Norman, which pleased the wideout. He was encouraged by his performance.

"Today was pretty good," he told the Charlotte Observer. "I made a couple big plays, but still need to work on some things when it came to individuals."


Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin: 'Right now, it's about getting healthy'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:09 pm ET) Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is taking his time while rehabbing his injured hamstring. 

Benjamin, who was turning heads at OTA's this time last year, is concerned with getting back to the field 100 percent healthy.

"I'm getting a lot of mental reps right now," Benjamin said. "Right now, it's about getting healthy and getting back on the field.

"It's up to the trainers. Right now they're just taking their time with it."

The Panthers want to be careful with their second-year player.

"Kelvin tweaked it a couple of weeks ago. Coming out of a break, he slipped a little bit on the wet turf and strained it," coach Ron Rivera said. "We're being a little bit cautious, but the unintended consequence that's been a plus has been getting [Devin Funchess]snaps."

Benjamin set a rookie record with 1,008 yards receiving last season.


Jets announce release of quarterback Matt Simms
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:01 pm ET) The Jets released quarterback Matt Simms, the team announced on Thursday.

Simms, who was buried in the depth chart with the Jets, has played in four career games, completing 19 of 39 passes for 195 yards a touchdown and an interception.


Game slowing down already for Steelers rookie LB Bud Dupree
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:00 pm ET) Steelers rookie linebacker and first-round pick Bud Dupree needed all of three practices to sense a difference in his development as an NFL player.

The game is already slowing down.

"The first day was kind of fast for me and the rest of the rookies, but I feel like we are adjusting well and learning the plays on the go," he told the team website. "I think I am adjusting fast to the playbook. I know a lot of it right now, but I want to keep on learning."

Much has changed since rookie minicamp. The game definitely speeds up when the veterans arrive.

"All the vets already know where they are going, know their assignments already," Dupree said. "They have been through a lot of game experience so they know what to expect. Me and the rest of the rookies are just going on what we see right now."

Dupree is especially tuned in to what his fellow linebackers are doing. He is taking their advice in adjusting to a new defense.

"All the fundamental things you need to learn playing football and learning the plays more precise so you don't have to think about it while you're on the field. Just small things like that."


WR Lance Moore hopes to revive his career with the Lions
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(3:52 pm ET) Wide receiver Lance Moore is used to defying the odds.

He went undrafted in 2005, he was signed and cut by the Browns, the Saints signed him but thought so little of him they sent him over to NFL Europe. Moore overcame all of that to enjoy nine seasons with the Saints, which included a pivotal role in the team's Super Bowl championship in 2009.

Moore is now trying to revive his career after finding himself on his third team in as many seasons, per ESPN.com.

Moore signed with the Steelers after the Saints released him, but after not being able to establish a role within the Steelers' offense he was released. The Lions signed Moore to a one-year contract in early May. 

“At this point in the game, I just want to play,” Moore said. “I’m not really exactly looking for the biggest pay day. I’m looking for an opportunity to go in and play and help the team win. Detroit made sense for me for numerous reasons."

Moore has 360 career catches for 4,479 yards and 40 touchdowns in his 10-year career.


Packers' Mike McCarthy wants Matthews to play multiple positions
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(3:29 pm ET) Packers coach Mike McCarthy emphasized during organized team activities that outside linebacker Clay Matthews will play multiple positions this season, per the Journal Sentinel.

"Clay Matthews is a great pass rusher. He's going to continue to play as many different positions as we can get out of him," McCarthy said. "We need to utilize him as much as we can. Talked to Clay a couple times early in off-season program and meetings he's been through. He's moving around."

Matthews spent a lot of time playing on the inside of the defense last season and in his exit interviews he said the coaching staff discussed keeping him at multiple spots.

Matthews recorded 61 tackles, 11 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Packers last season.


Broncos go with rookie Ty Sambrailo at LT on Thursday
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3:27 pm ET) With Ryan Clady sustaining a torn ACL on Wednesday, the Broncos put in rookie Ty Sambrailo at left tackle during Thursday's practice, according to the team's website

Sambrailo was selected in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft out of Colorado State. If he's the guy the Broncos have to go to with, he will need to not play like a rookie immediately. 

"He's not a rookie anymore," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said after practice. "As of today he's about a four-year veteran."

Michael Schofield, a 2014 third-round pick, still remains an option for the Broncos at left tackle. For now, it appears Chris Clark will stay at right tackle. 


Giants WR Odell Beckham: Double teams 'not going to work'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(3:10 pm ET) In a PSA to NFL defenses, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham warned opponents that using double coverage on him this season won't work, per NFL.com.

"I definitely expect to receive a lot more attention," Beckham said. "But it's just not going to work."

The 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, despite playing in just 12 games.

Beckham said that the receiving corp next season will be much improved and it will be harder for teams to gameplan against just him.

"You know you have [Victor Cruz] and [Reuben Randle], it's going to be hard to double or have a safety over the top with the stuff that we have going on," Beckham said. "I don't think it's going to be beneficial for them."


 
 
 
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