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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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Player News
Report: Bills set to cut LB Quentin Groves
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:44 pm ET) The Bills are releasing pass-rushing linebacker Quentin Groves, a source has told NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport.

Groves has just 9 1/2 sacks over seven seasons, but did play in every game for Buffalo in 2014, when he contributed to 18 tackles.


Report: Steelers trade P Brad Wing to Giants
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:22 pm ET) The Giants have acquired punter Brad Wing from the Steelers for a future late-round draft pick, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. Wing will replace the released Steve Weatherford.

Wing averaged 43.7 yards per punt last season for Pittsburgh.


Buccaneers dump disappointing DL Da'Quan Bowers
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:55 am ET) Defensive lineman Da'Quan Bowers has been released by the Buccaneers after four disappointing seasons, NFL.com has reported.

The former second-round draft pick signed a one-year deal with the team in July, but struggled in exhibition play with just one sack in four games.

Bowers, who has also dealt with injuries since joining the NFL and lost two games in 2014 for violating the NFL drug policy, has recorded only seven sacks in his career.


Report: Giants waive P Steve Weatherford
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:28 am ET) The Giants have released veteran punter Steve Weatherford, a source has told NFL Network.

Weatherford has been a starter for New York teams - two years with the Jets and four with the Giants - since 2009. He averaged 45.5 yards per punt last season, which is higher than his career average.


Report: 49ers release DT Darnell Dockett
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:05 am ET) The 49ers have released veteran defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, a league source has told Pro Football Talk.

Dockett missed all of last season with a knee injury, but had been a mainstay with Arizona before signing with San Francisco. He was deemed ready to go with no limitations in early August.

He played in every game but two for the Cardinals from 2004 to 2013 and earned Pro Bowl berths in 2007, 2009 and 2010.


Report: Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi to make roster despite cracked rib
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:40 am ET) Dolphins rookie running back Jay Ajayi suffered a cracked rib in the second half of Thursday's preseason finale against the Bucs, according to The Palm Beach Post. Despite the injury, Ajayi is still expected to make the 53-man roster.

Before getting hurt Thursday, Ajayi rushed for 66 yards on nine carries. The fifth-round pick rushed for 91 yards on 16 carries (5.7 ypg) during the preseason. He added four catches for 41 yards.


Chiefs' Reid on rookie WR Chris Conley: 'I think he can help us'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:36 am ET) Chiefs rookie wide receiver Chris Conley caught his first professional touchdown during Thursday's preseason finale against the Rams.

The third-round draft pick, who totaled three catches for 38 yards on Thursday, has made a strong enough impression over the last few weeks of the preseason that Kansas City could look to him to have an impact at the beginning of the season.

“I’ve seen a couple of good things these last two weeks," coach Andy Reid said, per ESPN.com. “It looks like he’s improving. I think he can help us."


Pettine: RB Isaiah Crowell likely starter to open regular season
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) The featured back derby for the Browns has apparently been won by Isaiah Crowell - practically by default.

Mike Pettine has stated that Crowell will likely start in Week 1 against the host Jets. That became apparent when fellow competitor Terrance West played the entire first half of the final preseason game Thursday night.

The Browns had hoped that quick rookie Duke Johnson would rise up to earn the job, but a series of injuries, including a current concussion, has prevented him from playing extensively in camp or in the exhibition season.


Panthers CB Josh Norman sustains possible concussion
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9/3/2015) The Panthers declined to play most of their starters in the Thursday preseason finale against the Steelers. But one who did play suffered a head injury.

That was cornerback Josh Norman, who has begun concussion protocol, per ESPN.com. It remains to be seen if he can recover in time for the regular season opener.

Norman started the last nine games in 2014 and finished the year with two interceptions and 36 tackles.


Colts backup RB job complicated by injuries to Herron, Ballard
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9/3/2015) Injuries to Colts running backs Dan Herron (shoulder) and Vick Ballard (hamstring) marred the team's preseason finale Thursday night against Cincinnati.

Ballard actually re-injured the hamstring that had kept him sidelined last week against St. Louis. He was hoping to remain healthy against the Bengals in an attempt to land the backup job to featured back Frank Gore.

The injuries to the two backs complicates that competition.


 
 
 
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