So far in this series I’ve looked over the ADP/Reality ratio of quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Today I’m going to take a look back at tight ends and how we thought they’d finish versus how they actually finished. For a while now tight ends have been changing their roles in fantasy football by becoming much more involved in producing actual fantasy football points. There were always stud tight ends, but now there are stud tight ends that can put up top five wide receiver points. When that starts happening, you have to take notice.
In 2011 Rob Gronkowski put up 240 fantasy points with Jimmy Graham coming in second with 195. If they had been wide receivers that year, they would have ranked second and fifth. The tight ends that followed would have finished in the 20’s and below. That kind of outpacing of the field gives your team a big leg up if it can be recreated, so in 2012, we hoped and dreamed that it could. And it couldn’t.
Jimmy Graham – ADP 1 (Finish 1) – As I talked about in the intro, Graham was the second best fantasy tight end in 2011 and would have finished as the fifth best wide receiver with his 195 fantasy points. In 2012 he was the number one tight end and would have finished as the 19th best wide receiver with 152 fantasy points. If you owned the #1 tight end in 2012, you weren’t as happy as you thought you’d be, because it took a late first round or early second round pick to get him.
His 2012 led all tight ends, but was marred by an injured wrist and 15 drops. He had surgery in the offseason to correct the problem and should be back to near normal by the start of the season. If he can lead the league while playing injured, he should be worth your early pick this season.
Rob Gronkowski – ADP 2 (Finish 2) – The best fantasy tight end of 2012 probably still has to go to Gronkowski due to his insane production while healthy. He just missed being the number one fantasy tight end after missing five full games. That is no easy feat. He averaged a touchdown in all of his 11 games. In fact, he has 31 touchdowns in his last 29 games, which is beyond crazy. He is tied with Randy Moss for the record of receiving touchdowns in the first 43 games played, both had 38 touchdowns over that span. So I think we can say with confidence that Gronk is in elite company and he is a tight end!
His injury kept him from having another huge season, so if he can get over his setbacks and be ready to go for game one, there is no reason he can’t have another season for the record books.
Antonio Gates -- ADP 3 (Finish 12) – The hype machine was hitting all cylinders for Gates last preseason which drove his ADP up and ended up disappointing those who drafted him.
Philip Rivers has declined and Gates has lost a step. Those two factors don’t bode well going into 2013. He’s still the starter and will get his work, but the huge upside of the past is gone. His name recognition most likely will help him go earlier than he should in drafts.
Aaron Hernandez – ADP 4 (Finish 16) – Hernandez finished as the third best fantasy tight end in 2011 while missing two games and finished as the 16th best in 2012 while missing seven games. In his last 6 games after coming back from his injury, Hernandez was the third best fantasy tight end in the league.
Over his last two seasons he’s averaging 5.7 receptions per game, 61 yards and .5 TDs. If he can put together a full season, that’s 91 receptions, 976 yards and 8 TDs. And I think his ceiling is higher than that. He’s risky with his injury history, but he’s the last tight end I would take early this season.
Vernon Davis – ADP 5 (Finish 15) – How does someone who can absolutely dominate one game, fall of the face of the earth in the next? Over the last six games of last season Davis caught a total of 6 passes for 61 yards and wasn’t even injured. And then in his three postseason games he had 12 receptions for 254 yards and three touchdowns. This means that at the very least, we know that Colin Kaepernick knows he is alive and is able to throw the ball to him, but we don’t know if he’s capable of doing it in the regular season.
Delanie Walker is gone, but Anquan Boldin has been added to the roster and he’s really just a slow tight end. So I’m not going to bet the farm on Davis, but we know what he can do.
Jermichael Finley – ADP 6 (Finish 19) – Mr. Finley has plenty of talent, but so far has lacked the ability to bring it all together. He had 86 targets last season and only scored two touchdowns, that number is low and should change next season. His upside is still too good as the starting tight end for the high flying Packers to completely give up on him now.
Jason Witten – ADP 7 (Finish 5) – Witten started last season with his spleen leaking from his side, but still managed to put up good fantasy numbers. He actually destroyed Tony Gonzalez’s record for tight end receptions by 8, finishing with 110. Of course his main downfall was lack of touchdowns. He finished with a paltry three. So his value was great in PPR leagues and just good in non-PPR leagues.
This season I think we can expect him to remain a consistent PPR player with some upside for a few more touchdowns. When you look at his past touchdown numbers they vary wildly. For his career he’s scored 1, 6, 6, 1, 7, 4, 2, 9, 5, and 3 touchdowns. He’s never hit double digits, but six or seven compared to three makes for quite a difference at the end of the year in fantasy leagues.
Fred Davis – ADP 8 (Finish 44) – Fred Davis was suspended four games in 2011 and still finished 12th for fantasy tight ends with 59 receptions for 796 yards and three touchdowns. Last season he missed nine games with an Achilles tear, which coupled with Robert Griffin III learning the ropes, didn’t make for much production early in the season.
His injury is the main concern going into this season. If he has no setbacks and is their starting tight end week one, he could be a steal for fantasy where he is currently going as the 20th tight end off the board.
Brandon Pettigrew – ADP 9 (Finish 22) – I was really high on Pettigrew last preseason and I shouldn’t have been, as you can tell by his finish. His numbers aren’t even serviceable in two tight end leagues. Pettigrew had 102 targets which ranked him seventh for tight ends, yet he caught only 59 of those which ranked him 11th. While that 57.8% catch rate ranked him 35th with tight ends with over 30 targets.
Of course Matt Stafford wasn’t the best quarterback in the league last season, but Pettigrew made his fair share of beds to sleep in. But the fact is, Pettigrew is still young and still the starting tight end for a pass happy team (they led the league in tight end targets) and his touchdowns are sure to go up from his miniscule three from last season. It’ll be hard to trust him, but it will also be hard for him not to have some value with an ADP that is surely to be closer to 20 than 10.
Tony Gonzalez – ADP 10 (Finish 3)– The old man isn’t quite using a walker yet and it seems like he could run a 14.5 40 and still catch 80 passes for 800 yards and 6-8 touchdowns. He came out of retirement so you could draft him again in fantasy! But his upside is still nothing compared to the Patriots tight ends and Jimmy Graham, so don’t overspend based on his strong 2012.
Those were the top 10 tight ends in ADP, and now I’ll take a look at who went from outside the top 10 ADP to finish in the Reality Top 10.
Heath Miller -- ADP 19 (Finish 4) – Miller was one of the more surprising players of last season with a career year for yards and touchdowns. He saw the most red zone targets of any tight end in 2012 with 20, which accounts for his high touchdown numbers. He tore about every ligament known to mankind in the last game of the season, so his chances of starting the season are tough. I wouldn’t look for a repeat performance even if he were healthy, so I’m avoiding him this season.
Greg Olsen -- ADP 16 (Finish 6) – Olsen had a nice season after finally getting the starting job to himself. His 69 receptions for 843 yards was a career high, which seems about right going forward. He had five touchdowns for the third year in a row, but he had his most targets ever with 102. That could easily convert into a few more touchdowns this season as long as he sees similar looks.
Dennis Pitta -- ADP 35 (Finish 7) – Pitta had to share targets with Anquan Boldin and Ed Dickson last season, but still finished as the seventh best fantasy tight end. With Boldin gone he should see an uptick in targets, as well as red zone targets which Boldin had nine of last season.
Owen Daniels -- ADP 13 (Finish 8) – Daniels saw the fifth most targets for tight ends with 104 last season, but only caught 62 of those for a poor 59.6 percentage. He finished with 716 yards and six touchdowns and with DeAndre Hopkins coming to town, it seems that Daniels will have a little more competition in an offense that much rather run when it gets near the end zone than not.
Kyle Rudolph -- ADP 21 (Finish 9) – Rudolph caught 14 of 17 red zone targets for nine touchdowns last season. That was by far the best percentage in the league and the reason he finished in the top 10. Now, if only he can get more targets on the other parts of the field, he’ll have a lot of room to rise in the fantasy rankings.
Brandon Myers -- ADP Undrafted (Finish 10) – Of the tight ends that had over 45 targets, Myers led them all with his 75.2 catch percentage by catching 79 out of 105 targets. That just nosed out the king of catch, Tony Gonzalez.
He now goes to New York to have Eli Manning throw him the ball, which should be a good thing.
So four of the top 10 ADP tight ends finished in the top 10. After the top guys it becomes pretty shaky and the total fantasy points don’t vary too much and a slight change in scoring can move them around quite a bit. For the most part tight ends were mediocre last season. In retrospect, streaming tight ends probably would have worked better than starting one of them over and over, i.e. beating your head against a wall.