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2012 Draft Prep: Tight end Fantasy trends

Senior Fantasy Writer
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No position has made a bigger leap in terms of Fantasy points or Fantasy prominence than the tight ends over the last nine years.

In that time, tight end points have almost doubled, from 2,081 in 2003 all the way to a record 3,961 last year. That is 88.2 percent growth from the tight ends, which is even more amazing when you consider that quarterbacks (30.7 percent) grew at the second fastest rate at 88.2 percent! So how did we get to that massive jump in tight end scoring? Let's take a look.

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Back in 2003, the position was dominated by Tony Gonzalez. He was the only "modern" tight end in a prominent role at the time as both Antonio Gates and Jason Witten were just beginning their careers. That year, Gonzo was also the only tight end to top 100 Fantasy points and paced the way with 151. In fact, only Gonzalez and Todd Heap (who would have finished 12th last year) even managed to break the 80-point barrier that season.

Fast forward to 2011, and Gonzo's 151 Fantasy points would have placed third behind only the record setting seasons of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. While the 2003 Gonzo was elite for any era, the depth at the tight end spot has exploded. Last year there were 11 different tight ends who scored more than 100 Fantasy points and a total of 19 tight ends who produced at least 80 points. In fact, those 19 tight ends actually outscored every single tight end combined from 2003 by the final tally of 2,208 points to 2,081.

Offenses are changing and tight ends are now valuable weapons in the passing game as opposed to serving as just an extra offensive linemen who can catch the ball every now and then. In 2003, Gonzalez was the only tight end who caught more than 60 passes, topped 700 yards receiving or scored at least six touchdowns. The only one! Last year, 11 tight ends topped 60 receptions, 14 bested 700 yards receiving and 11 scored at least six touchdowns. Even when compared to 2008, last year's numbers are ridiculous. In 2008, there were six tight ends with at least 60 catches, seven over 700 yards and six found the end zone a half dozen times. There has been a massive explosion of productivity across the board at the position and I don't think it will slow down anytime soon.

Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (three of the best four tight ends last year) are ushering in an era of unprecedented tight end involvement and production as pure pass catchers. Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Jared Cook, Kyle Rudolph, Brandon Pettigrew and Jermaine Gresham are just some of the new blood at the spot who will make their way into the Top 12 in the near future.

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In reality, of the elite tight ends, only Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and the ageless Gonzalez can even be considered to be on the backside of their careers. We could be headed towards a year with 20 tight ends scoring more than 100 points in the very near future. So what does that mean for you on Draft Day? Let's take a look at the point spread at the position and come up with the best strategy for you.

In 2003, Gonzo outscored the 12th-ranked Fantasy tight end by 94 points, 151 to 57. However, if you were to look at the spread between the No. 3 tight end and the No. 12 tight end, the spread was a meager 16 points, or one per week. Last year, Gronk outscored Fred Davis by a ridiculous 145 points in his record setting season, but that will not happen again. Looking at the spread from No. 3 to No. 12 saw just a 40-point gap between Aaron Hernandez and Davis (who only played 12 games). From Hernandez to the 10th-ranked tight end, Dustin Keller, was just a 26 point gap or less than two points per week. Graham and Gronk were the outliers last year, but for the most part the top tight ends were a tightly bunched and very productive group across the board.

Look for Graham and Gronk to come back to the field this year and I expect another season of tightly bunched, yet explosive tight end production. Given that this has been a very consistent position in terms of the draft and the Top 12 carry over during the tight end explosion, you can have many options on Draft Day.

In each of the last two years, eight of the first 12 tight ends drafted have finished in the Top 12. That means there is some room for the depth to sneak in near the bottom of the Top 12, but for the most part, the studs are the studs. Of last year's Top 12, only Jimmy Graham, Jermichael Finley and Fred Davis made their first appearance, as the other nine tight ends had all shown up in the Top 12 a minimum of two times in the last three years. In fact, eight of the Top 12 tight ends from 2010 repeated again in 2011, which has now been the case in three of the last four years. You know who to target on Draft Day and then you can also mine the uspide at the position from the No. 12 tight end all the way through the No. 18 tight end to find those hidden gems.

So how should we attack the tight ends in our drafts?

I prefer that you end up with Graham, Gronk, Gates, Hernandez, Witten, Vernon Davis, Finley or Fred Davis, who are the elite eight at the position. Even if you do not, you still have plenty of great options and outside of Graham and perhaps Gronk, it will cost you less in total points to miss at tight end then it will anywhere else. In addition to those eight you have Brent Celek, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Gonzalez, Owen Daniels, Keller, Jacob Tamme, Coby Fleener, Jared Cook, Jermaine Gresham and Greg Olsen all with legitimate Top 10 potential. That's 18 tight ends right there, not to mention sleepers like Rudolph and veterans like Dallas Clark, who are trying to produce like the big boys.

If you stay in the elite eight, I think the best value lies with Gates through Davis, who can be had 3-5 rounds after Graham and Gronk. If you wait at tight end to load up at quarterback, running back or receiver, you still can put together an excellent tight end tandem with upside after the 10th round. Any way you shake it, you should get very good production from this position at a cost effective price 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 Nathan at @nathanzegura .

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