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2013 Draft Prep: Tight end tiers and strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Tiers by position: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | K/DSTs

Kind of a quiet offseason for tight ends, no?

I mean besides the infected forearms, surgically-repaired backs, hurt wrists, torn-up knees, unretirements and franchise-shocking releases.And dislocated hips too.

Tight ends haven't exactly been set aside in the news cycle, nor have they been forgotten about by Fantasy owners either. Not by a longshot. A see-saw trend over the last six years saw tight end numbers rise one year, fall the next. Said trend continued last year but the drop-off in stats from 2011 to 2012 was minimal: Only three fewer tight ends had over 100 Fantasy points while the number of tight ends with at least 120 Fantasy points stayed level at four. It's safe to expect those numbers to stay the same in 2013, meaning the position will be top heavy but with a lot of talented threats getting close to that 100 point threshhold.

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It's the biggest threat of them all that has Fantasy owners nervous.

What to do with Gronk?

Rob Gronkowski -- Fantasy's favorite red-zone dominator -- missed all of training camp and all of the preseason on the Physically Unable to Perform list. If he's still on the list come Aug. 31, he'll be out for at least the first six games of the season, a debilitating blow not only for the Patriots but also to the owners who draft him. If the timetable laid out following mid-June back surgery is precise, he'll be ready for football on Sept. 10, two days after the Pats' Week 1 game against the Bills. There's a belief that Gronkowski, who is reportedly rehabbing diligently with the Patriots, will not be on the list come Aug. 31 but could still miss a couple of games to kick off the year. There's also the risk of him re-injuring himself like he did last season when he came back too soon from the first time he cracked his forearm, so there's no push to rush him back.

But the upside in a player like Gronkowski has to be taken into consideration, too. The guy has 38 touchdowns in 43 regular-season games with a 62-yard-per-game average. He had 10 or more Fantasy points in eight of 11 games last year, making him the most consistent player among tight ends and wide receivers. Gronkowski's only 24 and still is a tough mismatch for opposing defenses given his athleticism and toughness.

You'll see and read reports about Gronkowski leading up to your draft. Until you hear something that suggests he will start the season on the PUP list, it should be your goal to pick Gronkowski in Round 4 or 5 assuming you did not draft Jimmy Graham in Round 2 (which is where he'll end up going in most leagues). Putting it simply, Gronk's potential as a fountain of statistical dominance is too rich to pass up with a pick in the 40s. You can't do it.

Does drafting Gronk mean "handcuffing" him to another tight end? I don't think it does. You can actually get away with putting off having a second tight end on your roster until days before your Week 1 lineup is due. There are a number of tight ends that will go undrafted in your league that could have been picked and could easily replace Gronkowski if he's inactive for the start of the year. I love the Week 1 matchups for Fred Davis, Coby Fleener, Martellus Bennett, Tyler Eifert, Owen Daniels and whoever looks to be the top tight end in Philly. Most of those guys will be on waivers. Patriots rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld is another logical player to slide onto rosters.

Prioritizing tight ends

One of the decisions you'll make before drafting is figuring out just how important tight ends are to you. If you're looking for a difference-maker you'll have to spend an early pick on Graham or Gronkowski. If you miss on those guys, or if you just don't want to dedicate a Top 5 Round pick, you should follow this one simple piece of advice on tight ends:

You reach, you lose.

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Yes, it's the same piece of advice I gave last year. Yes, I'm recycling material (would you rather "don't reach or don't whine like a baby?"). But the same theory holds true -- there are just enough tight ends to go around and pulling the trigger for one when you could still draft a potential stud is a mistake. There will always be a good value at tight end on Draft Day. Wait for yours.

The quarterback-tight end dynamic

Because it's a new year, there's a second issue at play that ties into how you draft tight ends, particularly within the first few rounds. It should be considered a mistake to take a quarterback and a tight end within your first four or five selections in a typical snake draft. Both positions are super deep and offer great value while running backs and receivers will run dry. If you dedicate two choices to those spots and neglect starters at running back and receiver you're going to be disappointed when the draft is over.

If you take a tight end early, wait for a quarterback. If you take a quarterback early, wait for a tight end.

It's also not a bad idea to wait for both a quarterback and a tight end. But unless you can stash seven-plus players on your bench, don't take two quarterbacks and two tight ends unless all four players are Top 10 options. It's fine to start a season with one tight end and one quarterback, much less two of one and one of the other.

Four bargains

I'm hitting up Jimmy Graham in Round 2 assuming I land a running back in Round 1 in all of my drafts. But if I can't get my paws on him, these are the tight ends I'm looking for this summer.

Jared Cook, Rams: In Tennessee, Cook wasn't used to the fullest as the Titans leaned toward a seemingly stable ground game for years. This season's St. Louis Rams squad has anything but a stable rushing attack, opening the door for Sam Bradford to be more aggressive in the passing game. Cook fits in there and was paid receiver dough. Sounds like he'll be presented as a mismatch problem along the lines of Jimmy Graham. He should be able to succeed and his late July draft average of about 100th overall makes him a really good low-risk, high-reward Fantasy tight end. Cook will be on several of my teams.
I'm drafting him: Round 8-9

Jordan Cameron, Browns: Take a look at the track record of tight ends under Norv Turner and, by extension, Rob Chudzinski. While not every single guy they've had has produced mammoth numbers, many have caught around or above 50 passes and been otherwise involved in the offense. Cameron gave everyone a taste of how involved he'll be in the offense when he scored two touchdowns against the Lions in the Browns' second preseason game. Everything points to the Browns offense opening up in 2013 and Cameron should be a big part of it -- the simple facts that it will be more vertical and involve the tight end play to Cameron greatly.
I'm drafting him: Round 10

Tyler Eifert, Bengals: I'm drafting Eifert late in all of the leagues I can't get Graham, Gronk, Cook or Cameron in. The guy plays a lot like Rob Gronkowski -- at least he did in college -- and should be in line to be a popular part of the Bengals' offense this season. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden raved over Eifert and compared him to Jimmy Graham -- that's some high praise. The Bengals can become creative with their formations thanks to Eifert and the potential for him to be a fierce red-zone threat is impossible to ignore.
I'm drafting him: Round 13

Zach Sudfeld, Patriots: If there was no Cameron and no Eifert this year, I'd be intrigued by Sudfeld. He developed the chops to play in a pass-happy offense in Nevada, spending six seasons there ... and missing two because of injuries. In fact he had six surgeries in a five-year period. That's risky business but there's no denying his athleticism. He can hit the seam and block fairly well. Save for a fumble against the Lions in a preseason game he's been impressive. Will he stay that way once Rob Gronkowski returns? There's a chance his playing time doesn't decrease much, it'll depend on how well he does and how well other receivers do in the Patriots offense. He's also a fine low-risk late-round sleeper.
I'm drafting him: Round 13

Tight end tiers

Elite Tier Excellent Tier Great Tier Good Tier
1,000+ yards, 10+ TDs 850+ yards, 7+ TDs 750+ yards, 6+ TDs  
Jimmy Graham Tony Gonzalez Jared Cook Greg Olsen
Rob Gronkowski Jason Witten Antonio Gates Kyle Rudolph
  Vernon Davis Jermichael Finley Jordan Cameron
    Kyle Rudolph Tyler Eifert

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 .

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Player News
Lions DE Jason Jones back at practice Friday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:01 am ET) Lions defensive end Jason Jones should be fine for the Sunday game at New England after returning to practice Friday. He had missed the last two sessions due to a family medical emergency.

Jones has started every game this season with two sacks. He has contributed to 12 tackles.


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(10:29 am ET) Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount was not signed by Bill Belichick to replace Jonas Gray, but will likely leapfrog Brandon Bolden and James White on the depth chart to provide a powerful "thunder and thunder" duo moving forward, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe on Friday.

According to the paper, the move was made in case Gray, who exploded for 201 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in a Week 11, becomes ineffective, or if he suffers a second ACL injury. Gray suffered a torn ACL during his senior season with Notre Dame in 2011.

When asked about his role with the club, Belichick said it will be up to Blount.

"That'll be up to him, just like everybody else," Belichick said, per WEEI. "When he gets an opportunity, how much he can take advantage of it, how much he can be productive, what he can do with those opportunities will determine how many more there are. It’s totally up to him. He’s knows that. We've talked about that. He knows that's the way it is and I think he's excited about it."

Blount rushed for 266 yards and two touchdowns on 65 carries with the Steelers this season before getting waived by the club and reuniting with Belichick and the Patriots.


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(9:58 am ET) Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis remains confident that Blake Bortles will be targeting him often in his first game back against the Colts in Week 12, per the Florida Times-Union. Lewis will make his first appearance since suffering a high left ankle sprain Week 2, and his first with Bortles this season.

"He's not afraid to throw me that ball, period," Lewis said. "He threw me a couple passes in practice [Monday] that were good balls. He told me 'Look, now I know I can throw the ball up there for you.'"


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"I think Glenn's at a point where he's kind of stuck. I don't think he's taken any steps backward. Nothing negative has happened. Just hasn't taken that next step yet to where he feels like he can go out there and cut it loose yet," Fangio said. "I don’t think he feels he's close to being 100 percent to use it, the way you need to be able to use it down there in the trenches."


Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos hits both attempts Week 12
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(12:35 am ET) Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos hit both his field goal attempts Week 12 against the Raiders.

Santos managed to hit from both 24 yards and 25 yards during the contest. He also connected on two extra point attempts in the loss. Santos will take on the Broncos Week 13. 


Chiefs backup pass catchers do little Week 12
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:33 am ET) The Chiefs backup pass catchers did little Week 12 against the Raiders.

Anthony Fasano was the biggest winner, hauling in two passes for 30 yards and score. He hooked up with Alex Smith on a 19 yard strike in the third quarter. Albert Wilson also had two catches, gaining 27 yards. Frankie Hammond caught one pass for 7 yards. Fullback Anthony Sherman had one reception, but failed to gain any yards on the play.

They'll take on the Broncos Week 13. 


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(12:29 am ET) Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe caught three passes Week 12 against the Raiders.

Bowe finished tied for second on the team in receiving with 42 yards. Most of his production came on a 24 yard reception in the fourth quarter. Bowe had a chance to add to his total late in the contest, but a replay overruled a 13 yard reception. Bowe was targeted five times.

Bowe will take on the Raiders Week 13. 


Chiefs TE Travis Kelce leads the way Week 12
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(12:23 am ET) Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce led the team in receiving Week 12 against the Raiders.

Kelce hauled in four passes for 67 yards. Alex Smith was his usual self, spreading the ball to nine different receivers, meaning Kelce led the team despite an underwhelming total. Kelce did have two of the biggest plays of the night for Kansas City. He hauled in a 21 yard pass and a 27 yard pass during the contest. Those were the second and third longest passing plays of the night for the Chiefs. 

Kelce will look for more Week 13 against the Broncos. 


Sebastian Janikowski scores six points in Raiders win vs. Chiefs
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:08 am ET) Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski made his only field goal attempt Thursday, adding three extra points in his team's 24-20 win over the Chiefs in Week 12.

Janikowski's 40-yard field goal in the third quarter extended the Raiders' lead to 17-3 before the Chiefs scored 17 straight points to take the lead in fourth quarter. However, the Raiders offense didn't fold, retaking the lead with less than two minutes left, and the defense was able to hang on for the team's first win in more than a full calendar year. Janikowski is set to kick indoors in the team's Week 13 matchup against the Rams in St. Louis.


James Jones scores winning TD in first Raiders victory Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:05 am ET) Raiders wide receiver James Jones caught five of his six targets for 47 yards and hauled in a game-winning nine-yard touchdown in his team's 24-20 victory over the Chiefs in Week 12.

Jones benefited from his man slipping on the decisive play, hauling in a relatively easy pass to give his team a lead with less than two minutes left in the game. The defense was able to hold up, putting an end to the Raiders' 16-game losing streak. Jones' TD, which was his first since Week 6, gives him four scores to go with 54 receptions and 545 yards. The Raiders are set to face the Rams in Week 13.


 
 
 
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