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Position Primer: Tight End

TIGHT END TIERS
Antonio Gates, SD (31.5, $24)
Tony Gonzalez, KC (45.4, $9)
Jeremy Shockey, NYG (53.7, $9)
Todd Heap, Bal (52.1, $8)
Alge Crumpler, Atl (58.1, $7)
Chris Cooley, Was (66.8, $7)
Vernon Davis, SF (68.2, $6)
Kellen Winslow, Cle (67.2, $6)
Jason Witten, Dal (80, $5)
L.J. Smith, Phi (88.9, $3)
Benjamin Watson, NE (112.7, $3)
Dallas Clark, Ind (117.1, $2)
Randy McMichael, StL (115.5, $2)
Heath Miller, Pit (128.4, $1)
Owen Daniels, Hou (135.4 ,$1)
* Numbers in () are (Y!ADP, AAV)
More Position Primers: QB | WR

The tight end position is like the PGA. You often will hear the question asked prior to, for example, The Masters or U.S Open, "Would you take Tiger Woods or the field." It's a fair question because Woods is such a dominating force on the Tour.

Antonio Gates is to tight ends what Woods is to the PGA – it's Gates and the field. Gates has finished each of his three seasons as an NFL starter atop the fantasy leaderboard at the TE position. The runner-up to Gates those three seasons has been different each time (Alge Crumpler in '06; Jeremy Shockey in '05; Tony Gonzalez in '04). We know that Gates will be the top fantasy TE – it's a near certainty. We don't know who'll finish second, though.

After Gates, it's like drafting kickers – we think we know who should finish near the top, but it's kind of a crapshoot. Will it be Gonzo, Crumpler, Shockey, Todd Heap or even Chris Cooley, Kellen Winslow, Vernon Davis … you get my point? Because Gates is very likely to offer something close to No. 1 WR numbers, he should be drafted accordingly – a top 35 overall pick.

If Gates doesn't fall your way, you're really better off waiting … and waiting … and waiting to fill your TE position. Because the guy you can get in the 10th round, say L.J. Smith or Benjamin Watson, isn't likely to be appreciably worse than the bottom of the tier of tight ends vying for pole position behind Gates – last year, the difference between the No. 5 TE (Jeremy Shockey) and the No. 13 TE (Dallas Clark) was less than two fantasy points per week.

Here are the risers and fallers at TE this year:

*Average Auction Values (AAV) are courtesy of Fantasy Auctioneer.

On the Rise
Player Team Y!RK06 AAV Y!ADP
Vernon Davis
189 $6 68.2
'06 Stats: 4.2 TGT/G, 20 rec, 265 yards, 3 TDs, 13.3 YPC
2007 Projection: 55 rec, 700 yards, 6 TDs
Lowdown: 4.3 speed … it's a tag that will stick with Davis for years. That's what he ran in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine prior to San Francisco taking him with the No. 6 pick in the first round of the '06 NFL Draft. He's still raw after missing six games his rookie season with a broken leg. But he made big strides in the final month of the season and showed an increased level of understanding of the offense during mini-camps. Because of his size, elite speed and the fact that San Francisco is an emerging offense, Davis might have a higher upside than any TE not named Gates. That's a nice thought considering he's currently the eighth TE taken on average in Yahoo! drafts.
Owen Daniels
131 $1 135.4
'06 Stats: 3.3 TGT/G, 34 rec, 352 yards, 5 TDs, 10.4 YPC
2007 Projection: 48 rec, 550 yards, 5 TDs
Lowdown: A bum shoulder derailed what was turning out to be a breakout rookie campaign for Daniels in '06. In his first seven games, he scored five touchdowns and averaged 27.5 yards per game. In his final seven games (he missed the final two games because of said bum shoulder) he failed to find pay dirt and averaged 22.7 yards per game. Still, those five touchdowns scored in the first seven weeks held up as the seventh-best total among TEs. In fact, Houston showed a preference for TEs in the red zone as seven of the Texans 14 TD passes found the hands of a TE. Daniels, now fully healthy, has no competition at TE in Houston. A new QB, Matt Schaub, offers hope that the passing game will improve. And given his excellent athleticism for his position, he could very easily wind up the No. 2 receiving producer in fantasy in Houston.
David Martin
230 NA 143.1
'06 Stats: 3.3 TGT/G, 21 rec, 198 yards, 2 TDs, 9.4 YPC
2007 Projection: 45 rec, 475 yards, 5 TDs
Lowdown: Gates' offensive coordinator now has the reins of the Dolphins offense. The easy conclusion to jump to is that Cam Cameron is going to look to transform Martin in the same way he made Gates a star. Obviously, Martin is no Gates. But he does share some characteristics with the Chargers' All-Pro. Like Gates, he's big (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) and athletic. But he's been injury prone. If he can avoid the training room, he has the head coach and QB – let's not forget that Trent Green proved adept at finding TE Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City – to be one of the biggest TE surprises in fantasy in '07. Take a flier on him late in drafts, or keep close tabs on him early in the season and be ready to pounce.
Marcus Pollard
1405 NA 145.2
'06 Stats: 1.1 TGT/G, 12 rec, 100 yards, 0 TDs, 8.3 YPC
2007 Projection: 44 rec, 450 yards, 4 TDs
Lowdown: Only one season removed from a 46-catch campaign, Pollard is being largely ignored in fantasy drafts because he caught just 12 balls in Detroit last season. Ain't nothing but a thing … And that thing is Mike Martz, who has never had a TE catch more than 38 passes under his watch as an offensive coordinator or head coach. Pollard actually feels revitalized after essentially taking the year off last season. Seattle has lost Itula Mili and Jerramy Stevens at the TE position, a position the team threw to 72 times in '06. Pollard will get more than a Lions' share of passes in '07.
Eric Johnson
199 $1 138.4
'06 Stats: 3.8 TGT/G, 34 rec, 292 yards, 2 TD, 8.6 YPC
2007 Projection: 40 rec, 440 yards, 4 TDs
Lowdown: Saints head coach Sean Payton was looking for a receiving threat at the TE position. Mission accomplished. Johnson once caught 82 passes from the TE position in San Francisco. QB Drew Brees once completed over 80 passes to a TE in San Diego. Put those hands together … Brees showed a knack for working all his weapons into the offense last season, and you can bet he'll be more than happy to welcome a catch-savvy veteran TE to the mix. With Joe Horn gone, Brees' receiving options, save Johnson, are very young – Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem all have less than three years of NFL service time. Johnson's experience could help him quickly gain a comfort level with Brees. His stat projections (above) come with the assumption that he'll stay healthy, pick up the offense quickly and pass Billy Miller on the depth chart.
Falling Down
Player Team Y!RK06 AAV Y!ADP
Desmond Clark
89 NA 126.5
'06 Stats: 5.0 TGT/G, 45 rec, 626 yards, 6 TDs, 13.9 YPC
2007 Projection: 38 rec, 420 yards, 4 TDs
Lowdown: The Chicago Bears rewarded Clark for a career year in '06 by selecting Miami's Greg Olson in the first round of April's NFL Draft. As the team's top pick and the first TE off the board, it seems highly unlikely that Olson will bide his time on the sidelines his rookie year. Olson offers wide receiver skills at the TE position, and Chicago is expected to give him time in two-TE sets alongside Clark on occasion. At any rate, his presence is going to infringe on Clark's playing time. There's simply no way Clark will see 80 passes like he did a year ago. Figure on roughly a 25 percent reduction in his numbers across the board in '07.
Jerramy Stevens
179 NA NA
'06 Stats: 4.4 TGT/G, 22 rec, 231 yards, 4 TDs, 10.5 YPC
2007 Projection: 25 rec, 250 yards, 3 TDs
Lowdown: A contender for the title of NFL's Most Colossal Waste of Talent, Stevens was cut by Seattle after a DWI incident during the offseason. It was the last straw for the Seahawks, who have either had to deal with, or have watched in their own backyard during his University of Washington days, a slew of run-ins with the law by Stevens. Physically, Stevens has the whole package needed to be an All-Pro TE. But he'll have to stop listening to the little devil on his shoulder if his star is to rise again in Tampa Bay. The Bucs already have a quality TE in Alex Smith, so Stevens' role will be shared in a Jon Gruden offense that typically does little to glorify the TE position.
Bubba Franks
1358 NA NA
'06 Stats: 3.3 TGT/G, 25 rec, 232 yards, 0 TDs, 9.3 YPC
2007 Projection: 12 rec, 100 yards, 1 TD
Lowdown: "I gotta save Bubba!" So yelled Forrest Gump as he ran back into the Vietnam jungle looking for his mortally-wounded best friend. Unfortunately, it's too late to save the fantasy football version of Bubba, as well. From 2001-2004, Franks was a frequent end-zone target for Brett Favre, scoring an average of 6.8 TDs in that four-year span. But over the past two seasons, Franks has found pay dirt just once – and, he was shut out in '06. Now Donald Lee is poised to pass Franks on the depth chart and send Franks into the fantasy abyss. R.I.P, Bubba. "That's all I have to say about that."
Jermaine Wiggins
196 NA NA
'06 Stats: 4.2 TGT/G, 46 rec, 386 yards, 1 TD, 8.4 YPC
2007 Projection: 25 rec, 225 yards, 1 TD
Lowdown: After averaging 62 catches, 553 yards and 2 TDs in a three-year stint in Minnesota, Wiggins has moved on to Jacksonville, where he's caught in a George Wrighster, Marcedes Lewis quagmire. As of now, Wiggins will fall behind them on the depth chart. But his familiarity with assistant head coach Mike Tice could help him secure a bigger role. That said, his role will be nowhere near what it was in the Land O'Lakes, so fantasy owners shouldn't even consider "gettin' Wiggy with it" on Draft Day.
Ben Troupe
255 $1 145.5
'06 Stats: 2.9 TGT/G, 13 rec, 150 yards, 2 TD, 11.5 YPC
2007 Projection: 25 rec, 275 yards, 2 TDs
Lowdown: Troupe was a top 40 pick out of Florida in the '04 NFL Draft. The Titans bought into his intoxicating physical features (great size and speed), but finally came to the conclusion last season that he may never grasp the X's and O's of the game enough to make the leap into the upper echelon at the position. Bo Scaife now rides squarely atop the team's TE depth chart while Troupe comes to terms with the title of role player. His '05 campaign (55 rec, 530 yards, 4 TDs) is likely to be the best we'll ever see from him. And in '07, he won't come anywhere near those numbers.