The tight end position has enjoyed a renaissance the past couple seasons thanks to the NFL's increased enforcement of downfield contact rules. Since the '04 season, when the defensive contact crackdown really took hold, there have been 17 60-catch seasons from tight ends (past two seasons). In the five years prior, TEs produced a combined total of just 18 60-catch seasons.
In addition to rule enforcement, the tight end position has also been bolstered by the evolution of the position in terms of athleticism. Whereas tight ends with wide receiver skills like Kellen Winslow (the original), Ozzie Newsome and even Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez used to be the exception to the (sixth offensive lineman) rule, now the league has combine warriors in ample supply – Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, Kellen Winslow (the unoriginal) to name the most obvious.
Despite the upward trend over the past two years, the TE position has had a modest fantasy start to the '06 season, with only five TEs currently on a 60-catch pace. However, odds are that most of the top of the crop slow starters – Chris Cooley, Jason Witten, Randy McMichael, for example – will turn things around. And even if some of the expected big earners fall off the pace, players like Winslow, L.J. Smith, and Benjamin Watson appear poised to take residence in the position's upper class, and the tight end position should continue it's evolution as an important chess piece in fantasy leagues.
With the bye season now upon us, and with most fantasy owners employing just one tight end, that also means fishing season for tight ends on the waiver wire has officially begun – those with Witten, Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez are first in line for replacements for Week 3. Let's take a look at a six-pack of oft-available tight ends that are worth consideration over the next few weeks as fantasy owners look to plug holes:
1. Marques Colston, NO – OK, so he's not really a tight end, but he's built like one and, more importantly, he has eligibility at TE in the Yahoo! game. For that reason, he's a must pickup, if the opportunity to do so still exists in your league. The rookie from Hofstra has seen the second-most pass targets on the Saints (behind rookie RB Reggie Bush) and would rank second among TEs with his 17 looks. He's scored in each of his first two games and has a good chance to find paydirt any given Sunday because of his size, which is a major advantage in the red zone against typically smallish corners. For those with TE byes this week, I really like Colston in a spot start on Monday night in the team's home opener against Atlanta. Expect the Falcons to put Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall (maybe the best cover corner in the league) on WR Joe Horn, and dedicate safety help to stopping Reggie Bush. In single coverage, Colston has a good chance at a TD in his third straight game to start his career. And if you can keep him around for WR/TE depth in the weeks that follow, all the better.
2. Desmond Clark, Chi – The league's sixth-most targeted tight end is also first at the position in fantasy points through two weeks – 10 catches, 162 yards and a TD. The Bears have opened things up with QB Rex Grossman and an offensive line that has afforded him ample time to explore all his options in the passing game. Grossman has completed 26 percent of his passes to Clark, and the team wants to continue to spread the ball around in the passing game so as to keep opposing defenses from keying on the run like they have in the past. Said Clark, "Rex is playing great right now. He's distributing the ball all around the field, and as long as we keep doing that it's going to be hard for a defense to pinpoint who they want to roll their coverage to. Right now they can't roll it to anybody." Clark is one of those tight ends that can make like a wide receiver, and the Bears appear to be finally ready to take advantage of those skills. He entered this week available in 93 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but that window will close significantly this week.
3. Jerramy Stevens, Sea – He's no use to fantasy owners now – he's likely out until after Seattle's Week 5 bye because of a knee injury – but owners looking to plug bye-week holes from Week 6 on should be ready when Stevens does return. The Seahawks offense has sputtered out of the gate, and at least a part of the problem has been the fact that the team has no viable threat at the tight end position. This team needs the matchup problems that Stevens' height and speed bring to the position. The team is likely to waste little time taking advantage of him upon his return.
4. Jermaine Wiggins, Min – Wiggins is available in 87 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but he may not be the best pickup for this week as he'll face the Bears. However, I think he's capable of helping fantasy teams in the weeks following. Although he has just seven catches for 53 yards, thus far, he's averaged 70 catches the past two seasons and was at least very active in Week 1. I expect things to pick up with him and Brad Johnson very soon.
5. David Martin, GB – Martin picked up 44 yards on six catches in Week 2 and now goes against a Detroit defense that allowed Chicago three TDs at the tight end position in Week 2. Martin's a big target with soft hands in an offense that throws heavily – not a bad flyer candidate this week.
6. Owen Daniels, Hou – OK, I don't know a ton about this guy, but color me intrigued. Daniels went to the University of Wisconsin as a quarterback, but switched over to tight end, where he was drafted with the first pick in the fourth round by the Texans this past April. He's considered an H-back type with solid pass-catching skills and 4.6-4.7 speed, which puts him among the elite at his position in that department. Considering how little experience he has logged at the position (just three years), it's noteworthy that he played a significant role in the team's passing offense as early as Week 2 of his rookie season – 4 catches, 45 yards, 1 TD. While you might not want to buy in just yet, Daniels' upside makes him worth tracking.