There's little variation at the top of the Yahoo 'expert' tight end ranks. It's Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Vernon Davis, Gronk and a whole bunch of interesting names. Out of that secondary group, Brandon Funston and Brad Evans believe they know what young, buzzy prospect to shoot for once the big boys fall off the board. Read. Reflect. And declare a winner in the comments section below.
Funbags flashes the Green: Looking for the next Julius Thomas, the next under the radar tight end breakout? Look no further than Ladarius Green, a 6-foot-6 athletic specimen that ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in '12. Last season, he was finally able to showcase his impressive talents, catching nine passes of 22-plus yards - that was more than half his season total of 17 catches. Only six tight ends had more catches at that distance or beyond, and they all ranked in the top 15 at the position in plays from scrimmage. Green ranked a lowly 49th in that category.
San Diego Union-Tribune Chargers beat writer, and friend of the Yahoo family, Michael Gehlken recently listed Green as his first choice when asked to name a Chargers offensive breakout player this year. It could be argued he already had a semi-breakout in the second half of '13, as he finished among the top 15 tight ends in fantasy points over his final eight games. But, again, we are talking about a freakish talent that hardly saw the field through the first 11 games of last season, when he averaged just 15 snaps. The light bulb finally went on for the Chargers in Week 13, as Green averaged 40 snaps per game over the final seven games of the year, including two postseason contests. He should finish inside the top 25 at TE in total snaps this season, and with his talent and that kind of workload, I've got bullish top 10 feelings for Green at the TE position.
As for Reed, I appreciate what he brings to the table, as well. But the recent news about his concussion issues – he suffered two at Florida and two during his rookie season last year, which cost him seven games – makes him a serious red flag. Plus, Jay Gruden's track record in terms of how tight ends have fared in his offenses is ho-hum – Cincy has finished 12th, 18th and 17th, respectively, in fantasy scoring at TE in the past three seasons under Gruden's offensive guidance. Last season, the first under head coach Mike McCoy, San Diego finished fourth in TE fantasy points and third in TE receptions.
When you get into the later rounds and are looking for a tight end with serious upside, pass on the one who also brings serious downside (Reed) and go Green!
Evans plants a seed for Reed: Largely lost in a stellar rookie class, Reed, when healthy, was an outstanding fantasy contributor in his inaugural season, an extremely rare feat for a first-year tight end. Over his first eight games, he thrived, attracting 7.3 targets per game while tallying a 44-483-3 line. His resulting 8.7 fantasy points per game in standard formats (11.3 for PPR) ranked top-eight during that stretch, ahead of notable names Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and Greg Olsen. Extrapolate that production over a full 16 games (88-966-6) and he was essentially Jordan Cameron.
And, again, that was only his first impression.
With Jay Gruden now holding the reins, Reed has significant odds of making a quantum leap in Year 2. The coach is a strong advocate of two-TE formations, sets he often featured in Cincinnati. Last fall, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert accounted for 128 targets, 85 receptions, 906 yards and six touchdowns. Logan Paulsen will also generate a few looks, but Reed is sure to be an integral part of the offense and a likely favorite target of Robert Griffin III, who reportedly looks revitalized. Secondaries will have their hands full attempting to corral DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Andre Roberts, presumably leaving Reed with several single coverage opportunities which he'll surely exploit. He's large (6-foot-3, 243 pounds), fast (4.72 40-yard time), blessed with reliable hands and is deadly after the catch.
His history of concussions can't be ignored, but he undoubtedly possesses top-five potential. For that reason, the upside outweighs the risk.
Green is a tantalizing player who is also primed to rise a tier. He, like Reed, is a physical specimen whose athleticism, size and speed presents a matchup nightmare for virtually any defense. However, Antonio Gates, despite his advanced age, will still play a prominent role, especially coming off a respectable 77-872-4 season. At best, I see Green doubling his output from last year, finishing as a borderline TE1 in 12-team leagues.
Given the limited competition, favorable offensive environment and probable resurrection of RGIII, the competition will concede to Reed.