Injuries are part of life and a career in the NFL, and tight ends have learned that the hard way during this offseason, training camp, and preseason.
Baltimore lost Dennis Pitta for the entire season with a dislocated hip injury, and Dolphin tight end Dustin Keller completely blew out his knee during one of the most controversial plays of the preseason.
The injury bug twice hit the Arizona Cardinals at tight end during their 24-7 loss to San Diego on Saturday. Rob Housler went down with what could end up being a high ankle sprain, and rookie D.C. Jefferson also suffered an injury, though its nature has remained undisclosed.
For fantasy owners, injuries give us pause to consider if a player can permanently fill a spot, or simply act as a band-aid. Below are five tight ends who could serve either purpose.
Ed Dickson, Baltimore Ravens
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Pitta emerged last year as Joe Flacco’s go to tight end, which resulted in far less playing time for Dickson. But when he had the targets in 2011, the four-year veteran out of Oregon had 54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns. He serves as Pitta’s main back up and could see his numbers make a huge jump.
Anthony Fasano, Kansas City Chiefs
Here's one that's undervalued, and hasn't dealt with the injury bug before. Fasano stays healthy, missing only four games in seven seasons, and is coming off a career-high 41 receptions. And those came from a rookie quarterback in Miami. This season he will have Alex Smith, one of the most accurate passers in the league, which could cause a jump in Fasano’s stats.
Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
You could go Joel Dreessen here as well. Other than his nagging quad injury, last year’s starter Jacob Tamme wasn’t expected to get the majority of looks at tight end this season. Thomas leads Denver in receptions this preseason with eight for 105 yards. His basketball skills honed at Portland State could help as well, like other tight ends.
Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins
Clay has played mostly fullback since entering the league in 2011. But he’s currently the only back-up in Miami, and as evidenced before with Fasano, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill looks for his tight end. This will be a very late pick, but he could blossom.
Zach Sudfeld, New England Patriots
The injury to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez’s indictment have left the Patriots two tight-end system in shambles. Sudfeld, standing 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, has terrific size and has already six receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. Many have caught on to the rookie who broke out in his senior year at Nevada for 45 catches and 598 yards, but he could be available in the ninth or 10th round.