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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
Tom Brady on Peyton Manning: 'I certainly hope he comes back'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:21 pm ET) While the football world anxiously awaits official word from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning about his playing status for the 2015 season, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- and longtime Manning rival -- said Thursday he hopes the five-time NFL MVP will continue his career.

"What a great player he's been for this league," Brady said Thursday, per NFL.com. "He's a great competitor, and I've been fortunate to play against him a bunch of times. I certainly hope he comes back, 'cause the league will miss him if he doesn't. But those decisions are up to him. I'm sure it's up to whether he's mentally and physically -- that's what he wants to do. But I certainly hope he's back."

Archie Manning, Peyton's father, told NFL Network on Thursday that his son hasn't made a decision yet.

"Well, Peyton evaluates things; he's pretty good at that," he said. "I can't tell him what to do, and he hasn't told me what he's going to do. But I do know that he's really giving a lot of things a lot of thought. He's thinking about where he is physically, he wants to see how he can do this some more, trying to get over an injury."

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"Yeah, but he loves Gary. He likes Gary," Archie Manning said. "He liked John Fox. He liked Adam Gase. All those things, I think, are considered with. But my deal is he's always made good decisions; he's pretty thorough. He's going to evaluate a lot of things, and I think he'll make a good decision."


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(12:04 pm ET) During a radio interview Wednesday night, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III indicated the dislocated ankle he suffered in Week 2 against the Jaguars hindered him the rest of the season. He missed six games due to the injury.

“I had never suffered an ankle injury of that severity before, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” Griffin said, per The Washington Times. “It just became more and more tough the more games that we lost, because you know how hard your guys work, and you want to get out there and help them win games.

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Griffin will be entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2015. The Redskins have until May 3 to decide if they want to exercise the fifth-year option on his contract for 2016. 

Griffin added his focus this offseason will simply be on getting healthy.

“Last year, I wasn’t healthy, and it sucked,” Griffin told ESPN 980. “There’s no other way to say it other than that. When you dislocate your ankle in the second week of the season, when you and your team had big things in mind. So I guess it’s just getting healthy, getting a mental break, getting a chance to spend time with family, and then formulate my plan going forward from this year so we can go out there and win games.”


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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was on The Dan Patrick Show on Thursday talking about his thought process heading into free agency. Murray obviously said all the right things about wanting to return to Dallas, and hoping the team can sign him and Dez Bryant, who will also be a free agent, to long-term contracts.

However, Murray was also very forthcoming about the notion of playing for another NFL team.

“Yeah. I understand the business aspect of it,” he said, per The Dallas Morning News. “There’s no hard feelings if we can’t reach a deal together. But hopefully we can and we’ll see what happens.”

Murray, who rushed for a career-best 1,845 yards in 2014, will likely sign the most-lucrative contract of his career this offseason. But he added money won't be the only factor in who he signs with.

“I don’t think about [the one big contract], I’m thinking about winning a Super Bowl,” Murray said. “What’s best for me to win a Super Bowl and win one now. At the end of the day, the money is irrelevant to some degree. But you definitely want to get what you’re worth and things like that.

“At the end of the day it’s about winning a Super Bowl.”


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(10:32 am ET) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has been dealing with a cold for about a week, said Thursday he is feeling "pretty good." Brady is still expecting to be OK for the Super Bowl.

"I've been through it plenty of times," Brady said of having a cold, per NFL Network. "But I'm glad it happened early in the week. I expect to be 100 percent by Sunday."

Brady is 3-2 in five Super Bowl appearances. He has completed 127 of 197 passes for 1,277 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has a 93.8 quarterback rating and hasn't had lower than a 86.2 quarterback rating in five Super Bowl starts.

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(10:21 am ET) Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell missed Pittsburgh's playoff game against the Ravens and the Pro Bowl because he suffered a hyperextended knee in the regular-season finale against the Bengals in late December.

It's been about a month since Bell suffered the injury, but he said he has been able to work out on the injured knee.

"The knee is close to 100 percent," Bell told NFL Network on Wednesday night. "I'm probably about 85-90 percent, been able to run on it a little bit. So I'm getting back to work out a little."

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(9:55 am ET) As Deflategate pushes into Day 11 on Thursday, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is the latest in the long list of current or former professional football players to weigh in on underinflated footballs being used in the AFC Champhionship Game. Although, his take on the issue might be a first.

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Oakland also is expected to part ways with 29-year-oold running back Maurice Jones-Drew, saving the team $2.5 million.

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"To me, there's a place for him," Jackson said, via ESPN.com. "But again, he's free, so that's going to work itself out for him however it works itself out."

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