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2012 Draft Prep: Kirwan's TE snapshot

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No position in football is growing faster than the tight end.

When high schools and colleges went to the spread offense, the basketball players came out for football. A smart 6-foot-4 basketball player playing small forward realized there was a better chance to be a professional football player than an NBA player, so he traded his sneakers for cleats. Gone is the image of the tight end as a third offensive tackle and enter a whole new kind of matchup problem for defenses. Tight ends that flex alignments and get vertical down the field are the players playing the tight end position. The issue in fantasy football isn't identifying Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski as top tight ends, but how low in the draft should a solid pass catching tight end be drafted.

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As good as the top two tight ends are, it's probably in your best interests to draft a couple of players at other positions before even considering a tight end. A good case could be made for Graham or Gronkowski based on what's expected but there is good depth at this position and solid producers lurking in the middle to late rounds.

Tight ends with upside in 2012

Jacob Tamme, Broncos: Tamme already proved in Indianapolis when he filled in for an injured Dallas Clark that he can be Peyton Manning's go-to guy. I visited with Peyton Manning and Jacob Tamme this summer and they have chemistry between them that will make them a lethal combination. The Broncos are going to use a lot of no huddle offense with a pass attack that could see 38-40 passes a game. To help the offensive line, look for the short to intermediate passing game to get going. Tamme should be targeted seven to nine times a game. I wouldn't be surprised to see him wind up with 65 receptions and seven touchdowns, even with an underwhelming preseason.

Coby Fleener, Colts: Fleener is only a rookie but he was Andrew Luck's go-to guy in college and they are back together in Indy. Reggie Wayne will still see rolled coverage and that leaves Fleener in a nice position from the slot to work the middle of the field. Figure the Colts are playing from behind most weeks and Luck is putting up close to 40 passes a game. With a questionable offensive line in front of him Luck will need the quick game and Fleener knows how to read coverage and get open. Just like Tamme, he should get close to the 65 reception mark and a half a dozen touchdowns.

Scott Chandler, Bills: Chandler was on his way to a big year until Fred Jackson got hurt and the Buffalo run game didn't hold the linebackers like it did earlier in the season. I sat down with Chandler at camp this summer and discussed what happens to his game when the linebackers are thinking run and a safety is down I the box. The Bills recognized Chandler's talent with a new contract this past offseason and Chan Gailey will increase his targets this year. The Bills added some deep speed on the outside with T.J. Graham which will open up the middle of the field. Look for Chandler to add at least 15 receptions to his 38 last year and up his touchdown total closer to 10.

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Jared Cook, Titans: Cook is not a blocking tight end by any means but he is a vertical threat and started to come on strong late in 2011. He averaged seven receptions and over 100 yards a game over the last three weeks. With Jake Locker under center he knows a tight end is his best friend. Chris Johnson will return to his 2010 form and that means lots of safety down looks. No linebacker can stay with the speedy Cook and his ability to get vertical in the play action game and the crossing routes in the bootleg game should push his reception total over the 50 mark and his touchdowns over six.

Kellen Davis, Bears: Gone is the seven-step drop passing game and the Mike Martz philosophy. Both things help the Bear tight end grow in the passing game. Brandon Marshall will get lots of rolled coverage and Matt Forte/Michael Bush will keep the run defense honest. Mike Tice is a former 6-foot-7 tight end himself and he knows the value of a big target down the middle of the field. Last year Davis caught a touchdown every 3.5 receptions which tells you he is a red zone target. I would be surprised if he doesn't finish up with 40 receptions and seven touchdowns this season.

Tight ends with question marks coming into 2012

Jason Witten, Cowboys: Jason is a fine tight end but he is coming off a spleen injury. He also is on the field with often injured wide receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant which means defenses can double him more than most tight ends, especially in the red zone. Jason will get his catches but his touchdowns are another story.

Brent Celek, Eagles: I am a fan of Celek and he did have a solid second half of the 2011 season. My caution flag is up because Michael Vick doesn't stay healthy for 16 games. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are the favorite targets of Vick anyway and there will be games were Celek disappears.

Fred Davis, Redskins: Davis is talented and clearly the go-to tight end in Washington. He is one strike away from a year suspension and that's a lot of risk. He also is lining up with rookie QB Robert Griffin and that could mean less receiving opportunities until RGIII gets comfortable in this offense. Young quarterbacks like Griffin tend to throw the ball outside and deep early in their careers as well as scrambling too much. Lots of people are projecting Davis to top his 12-game production last year when he caught 59 passes for close to 800 yards. I'm not one of them.

Heath Miller, Steelers: Miller is a fine tight end but his production was going down before Todd Haley got here as the new offensive coordinator. This summer the Steelers have served notice that they will be running the ball more than the 27 times a game they ran it last year. Figure the run game moves up to 32 times a game and those extra five runs a game takes 80 plays away from the pass game over the season. I don't think the Steelers are taking those targets away from Wallace or Brown so steer clear of Miller.

Dustin Keller, Jets: I am a big fan of Keller but after watching how poor the Jet offensive line is this summer it may be impossible to free release Keller as much as the team wants too. Tackles Hunter and Ferguson gave up 18 sacks between them last year and that will send Mark Sanchez running for his life. The Jets also claim to be returning to the ‘ground and pound' offense and that will reduce receiving opportunities. If Sanchez falters then its Tebow time and you can forget the passing attack. A hamstring injury in his third preseason game seals his fate.

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