Ranking the importance of each position in fantasy football can be rather intriguing. The list would probably begin with running backs, then one group favoring quarterbacks, and another for wide receivers, and then tight ends. However, many fantasy experts are high on taking tight ends in the first three rounds of their draft this year. This leads to the question: Why spend a second or third round pick on a Jimmy Graham when there are plenty of serviceable tight ends available later?
Before Graham, owners were unlikely to select a tight end before the third or fourth round. Now the player responsible for 85 receptions, 982 yards, and nine touchdowns last season is going in the mid-to-late second round of most drafts, similar to the first wide receiver off the board in Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. The next tight end taken in most leagues is New England’s Rob Gronkowski, but on average he’s being selected in the fourth round.
Benefiting from the New Orleans Saints voluminous passing offense in his first three years in the league, Graham has more catches, yards, and touchdowns than Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez had early in his career. Will Graham surpass the player who’s second all-time on the career receptions list?
That’s impossible to predict, but Graham is clearly the best fantasy tight end in the NFL. He’s essentially a more athletic version of Jason Witten, the other top tight end coming off the board. But it doesn’t seem like a smart move to select a tight end, the fourth most important position on your team, with a second or even third round pick.
It’s probably far better to spread your picks around running backs and wide receivers, and find your quarterback and tight end in the mid to late rounds.
Check out five tight ends who can allow you to spread the wealth around.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (2012 Stats: 69 catches, 843 yards, 5 TDs)
Olsen has been Cam Newton’s best option underneath since the quarterback entered the league two years ago. Olsen’s stats made a huge jump last year with 69 catches for 843 yards and five touchdowns. That appears to be his ceiling, considering he had a similar year in 2009 in Chicago, but that still makes Olsen a terrific option as your starting tight end. Look for him in the fourth to sixth round range.
Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams (2012 Stats: 44 catches, 523 yards, 4 TDs)
He spent the first two seasons of his career in Tennessee where current Rams head coach Jeff Fisher drafted him in the third round of the 2009 draft. The Titans expanded his role for an average of 46 catches, 641 yards and a rounded up four touchdowns the last two years. St. Louis’s corps of receivers is a little underwhelming, and quarterback Sam Bradford could check down to Cook plenty of times this season. He might be a huge steal in sixth or seventh round in most PPR leagues.
Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers (2012 Stats: 49 catches, 538 yards, 7 TDs)
In two of the last three years, Gates had 49 catches in 2012 and 50 in 2010. A far cry from the tight end that was good for 70-plus catches and 900 yards a season. He’s scared off plenty due to a fear of wear and tear, but consider Philip Rivers has so few targets to choose from, with the doubts surrounding the health of receivers Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal. Also consider Gates has averaged nine touchdowns a season since 2004. A seventh or eighth round selection is very likely.
Brandon Meyers, New York Giants (2012 Stats: 79 receptions, 806 yards, 4 TDs)
Meyers had career-highs across the board with 79 catches for 806 yards and four touchdowns last year when he actually had a capable and competent quarterback in Carson Palmer in Oakland. Now he’s got Eli Manning, who managed to squeeze out a career-year with previously under-performing tight end Martellus Bennett. The Giants also have injury issues with receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, issues that could translate into more production from Meyers.