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2012 Draft Prep: TE tiers and strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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• Dave Richard's tiers and strategies: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Kicker and DST

Tight ends are the deepest position in Fantasy this season, which opens the door to some interesting draft strategies. We'll get to that along with the single most important tight end rule to live by on Draft Day, regardless of your overall drafting approach. But first, a disappointing stat that we'll all probably ignore.

Last year wasn't when tight ends "broke out." Back in 2007 we saw six players get over not only 100 Fantasy points, but 120 Fantasy points. We thought the revolution was on! But in 2008 that number slid to four tight ends with 100-plus Fantasy points including one over 120 points. The revolution was off.

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But in 2009 tight ends rose to the occasion again as a whopping 10 had over 100 Fantasy points including four with 120 on the season. Tight ends were back, baby! Or so we believed as the number did a swan dive: Five hit the century mark with three getting over 120 points.

You already know last season was big for tight ends as 10 had over 100 Fantasy points, four had over 120 and two had over 175. But if this trend we've laid out were to continue, tight ends would falter across the board in 2012.

No one is buying this. And no one should.

Every coach and coordinator I spoke to this offseason spoke glowingly about tight ends referencing playmakers like Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and as Colts coach Chuck Pagano put it, those "nightmare" tight ends in New England. They're all enamored with the idea of finding big, physical players with good hands and deceptive speed to line up against smaller defensive backs or slower linebackers. Defenses still have yet to find an answer for corralling these behemoths and quarterbacks love hitting these big targets over and over. With more big tight ends expected to play regularly this season there probably won't be a regression, save for injuries derailing many of these guys.

Every team would kill to have one, and as such, every Fantasy owner wants to have one. Some might even reach for one. That's the urge you must fight.

It's all about value

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There's only one rule you must follow with tight ends this season, and it's applicable in all formats, all league sizes and all other draft strategies. Ready? Here goes: You reach, you lose.

Some secret, huh? You probably didn't need me to tell you to not reach for a tight end. Fine, then take (or leave) my advice: you should never panic on drafting a tight end this summer because no matter when you need a reliable one, one (or two) will be there. It's probably the only position in Fantasy Football we can confidently say that about aside from kickers and DSTs.

To Graham or to Gronk?

The top two tight ends to go off draft boards this summer will be Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, and not necessarily in that order. But what is definite is that it will take an unprecedented draft pick to land one of them. You should expect nothing less after they both set records for the biggest seasons by a tight end in NFL history. In Fantasy, Gronkowski finished third and Graham sixth overall among non-quarterbacks in standard formats. Expecting a minimum of 10 Fantasy points per week from them isn't out of line (Gronk averaged 14 Fantasy points per week last year, Graham averaged 11).

Everyone expects both to continue their dominance at the position in 2012. That's why their average draft position has been between 20th and 25th overall. Are they worth a second-round pick? In PPR leagues and leagues that count tight ends as receivers, most definitely. But in standard formats they might be worth a late second-round pick. What's funny is that their position sort of costs them some value -- most leagues only start one tight end, so there's only so much demand for them. Plus if you're spending a Top 25 pick on a tight end, you're definitely passing up on some great talent at the other key Fantasy positions. You will see others in the league get sick value on tight ends later in the draft, too. The smaller the league and the simpler the format (i.e. no points for receptions or special scoring for tight ends), the less emphasis there is on getting one of them. Remember: You reach, you lose.

Still need some guidance? Do this: Before you go into your draft, make a list of players you wouldn't hesitate to take before Gronkowski or Graham. That way when you're up in Round 2 (or 3) you'll have an idea of whether or not to take a tight end versus another position.

By the way, I'd take Graham over Gronkowski in every format. Gronkowski will remain a huge factor in the Patriots passing attack but expecting him to repeat his 90-catch, 1,327-yard, 17-touchdown effort from last season seems like a stretch even for him. The addition of Brandon Lloyd should take away some opportunities. Graham, meanwhile, could have more opportunities as the Saints have yet to replace Robert Meachem effectively in their offense. He seems to have a better chance to get close to the 99 catches, 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns he had last season.

Rest of the best

The smaller the league, the better opportunity you'll have to draft a quality starting tight end at a good value if you pass on the elite two tight ends. That's because the position is considered deeper than ever with talent that should put up stats close to each other.

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Here's an example from last year: Aaron Hernandez finished as the third-highest scoring tight end but was just 37 points higher than Fred Davis, who played two fewer games than Hernandez. Davis finished 10th among tight ends -- six other players scored in-between them. The takeaway is that there's not a ton of difference between this next crop of tight ends, just a matter of personal confidence you have in them.

Remember that we're looking for bargains here. If someone in your league chooses to take Aaron Hernandez or Antonio Gates before Round 4, let them. We've seen Hernandez fall to Round 5 and Gates to Round 6! These guys have 75-catch, 900-yard, eight-touchdown potential. Vernon Davis, Jason Witten and Jermichael Finley are projected to finish a touch south of the numbers for Hernandez and Gates and are accordingly Round 6 or 7 bargains (Witten's spleen might push him into Round 8, which is real nice). They're all very much worth owning but should only get picked up when the time is right.

When waiting is winning

Whether you purposely mean to wait for a tight end or just happen to go round after round without one, you shouldn't be disappointed. Because of the explosion of tight ends last year and the copy-cat nature of the league, there's an absolute slew of players with potential to put up some nice numbers. The types of tight ends who are left -- guys like Brandon Pettigrew, Jermaine Gresham and Jacob Tamme -- still have those fine qualities teams are looking for from the position. They just don't have the same expectations ... but that doesn't mean they can't outperform them.

In the quarterback tiers and strategy piece I floated the idea of waiting for a quarterback and then taking two in the middle rounds. The thinking behind it is to not only have some flexibility with starters from week to week but buy low on a couple of high-upside passers and hope to strike gold. It's good if you hit on one of them but if you hit on both, you've got some trade bait.

Point is, you can do the exact same thing and give yourself two shots at unearthing the next Rob Gronkowski. Wait and wait for one and then take two. You could even do a combination and go with a "safe" veteran like Tony Gonzalez and pair him with a young budding superstar like Kyle Rudolph. Both can be had with picks starting in Round 9. It's a low-risk strategy in that neither tight end will cost you a valuable pick, not to mention the majority of Fantasy owners tend to draft just one tight end, so there should be plenty of bargains left.

The only catch: It would be a challenge to wait until late on both quarterbacks and tight ends. You're probably better off picking one of the two positions to wait on and splurging on the other.

Tiering the tight ends

Elite Tier Excellent Tier Great Tier Good Tier
1,000+ yards, 10+ TDs 850+ yards, 7+ TDs 750+ yards, 6+ TDs  
Jimmy Graham Aaron Hernandez Tony Gonzalez Brent Celek
Rob Gronkowski Antonio Gates Jermaine Gresham Kyle Rudolph
  Vernon Davis Brandon Pettigrew Jared Cook
  Jason Witten Jacob Tamme Dustin Keller
  Jermichael Finley Owen Daniels Greg Olsen
    Fred Davis Coby Fleener
      Kellen Winslow
     

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
Texans' O'Brien: WR DeAndre Hopkins can 'be one of the best'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is very encouraged by the performance of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last season, per ESPN. O'Brien went as far as to say that Hopkins can be one of the best.

"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."

Due to the departure of wide receiver Andre Johnson, the progression of Hopkins will be under the microscope as he is now the focal point of the passing offense.

"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."

In two years with the Texans, Hopkins has reeled in 128 receptions for 2012 yards and eight touchdowns.


Giants won't rush WR Victor Cruz back to the field
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:12 am ET) Although Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is hopeful that wide receiver Victor Cruz will be ready by training camp, the team will not rush him back, reports ESPN.

"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon in week six of the 2014 season, causing him to miss the rest of the year. Coughlin is hopeful that he'll return to be the player that he was before the injury.

"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."

The former undrafted free agent has tallied 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Lions QB Matthew Stafford to take more chances through the air
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's system for the first time last season. The team plans on taking more chances down the field in Stafford's second season in the new offense, Lombardi said, according to the team's official website.

“In his second year (in the offense) he’s going to be that much more comfortable,” Lombardi said.

“We’ll be able to tailor the offense a little bit more to what he likes and what he’s good at. I thought he played smart football and sometimes to a fault. We’ll look for him to maybe take a few more chances this year with the football.”

Although Stafford didn't take many shots down the field, he did throw a career-low 12 interceptions in 2014. 

The former first overall draft pick has thrown for 21,714 yards with 131 touchdowns and 85 interceptions during his six-year career.


Colts OLB Robert Mathis plans to be ready for training camp
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is not ready to run yet, he told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL. Mathis added that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.

“It’s not going as fast as I would like to, but we are getting well and we should be clicking in camp,” Mathis told Sirius.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He then suffered a torn achilles, forcing him to miss all 16 games of the 2014 season.

During his 11-year career with the Colts, Mathis has collected 487 total tackles, 111.0 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 48 forced fumbles.


Lions TE Eric Ebron has been working out with Matthew Stafford
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that tight end Eric Ebron has been working out with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta this offseason, reports the Detroit News. Lombardi also said that the plan is to have Ebron be the No. 3 weapon in the passing game this year.

Ebron, 21, finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. 


Cowboys' Tony Romo: DeMarco Murray asked me to take a pay cut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was really hoping to remain with the Cowboys this offseason. So much so, he asked quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut to remain with the team, Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, per the Dallas Morning News.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


Giants QB Eli Manning wants to take offense 'to another level'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is entering the second year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Manning is ready to take the next step now that he is familiar with the system, reports the NY Daily News.

““This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” said Manning, who recently had been working out at Ole Miss with some of their receivers and alumni. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it.

“But there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

Manning has started all 16 games in each season since 2005, throwing for 39,755 yards with 259 touchdowns and 185 interceptions.


Saints TE Josh Hill wants to grow into new role
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) After trading trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, tight end Josh Hill is ready to step into his new role with the Saints, according to the team's offical website.

“I think it might open a few opportunities for me as I continue to grow in my role and just do everything they ask me to do,” Hill said when asked about the trade of Graham to the Seahawks.

Hill recognized that Graham helped him transition from college to the professional level.

“It’s a big difference, especially coming from a smaller school and a smaller city," Hill said. "He was always there for me. We became pretty good friends over the past few years so it will definitely be different without him.”

Head coach Sean Payton believes that Hill is ready to step up.

“Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said last week at the NFL annual meeting. "He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you, but he’s a real good tight end. He’s versatile in the running game, in the pass receiving game, a special teams player.”

Hill, heading into his third year in the NFL, has recorded 20 receptions for 220 yards and six touchdowns. 


Cowboys QB Tony Romo excited about this offseason
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is excited about what the offseason holds for him, according to ESPN.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo, 34, is encouraged by the fact that he is able to do a lot of different things during the offseason process while working out.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”

Romo has thrown for 33,270 yards with 242 touchdowns and 110 interceptions in his 12-year career. 


WR Dwayne Bowe looks to revitalize himself with Browns
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is looking to revitalize his career now that he has joined the Browns, reports ESPN. Bowe was cut by the Chiefs in the middle of March.

"I have a chance to revitalize myself," Bowe, 30, told ESPN.com via telephone Tuesday. "Just sit back and watch."

Browns general manager Ray Farmer has familiarity with Bowe from their time with the Chiefs. The two sat down and watched tape from the 2010 season when he racked up 15 touchdown receptions.

"Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that," Bowe said. "I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays."

The 30-year-old wideout appreciated his time with the Chiefs and he has no regrets.

"It's been up and down, but it's been fun," Bowe said. "I don't regret nothing. People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver -- I feel I still have a good four more years in me."

Over his eight-year career, he has totaled 532 receptions for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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