Tier based drafting is an important strategy to consider when drafting your fantasy football teams. It is a much more powerful tool than just looking at a rankings list cheat sheet because it forces you to draw lines in the sand on players and decide where the value drop offs are for each position. It is enormously helpful in deciding if you can wait to grab a certain position or if there is danger in waiting because you are nearing the end of a tier. These are fluid rankings and will certainly change as we enter training camp and the pre-season.
Our strategy for the TE position this year is very simple. Draft Jimmy Graham in the 2nd round. If you miss out on him then Rob Gronkowski in the third is worth the risk at that point. If you miss out on both of those guys then we recommend waiting for a guy you like to fall into your lap. Some guys that we like late are Martellus Bennett, Jared Cook, and Jermichael Finley.
Graham is the gold standard at the TE position. We know he had a “down” season in 2012 (still finished as the #1 fantasy tight end) after his breakout year in 2011, but he is still the top fantasy tight end for 2013 by a huge margin. With coach SeanPayton back we could easily see another 90 catch, 1200 yard, 10 touchdown performance this year. The gap between Jimmy Graham and the rest of the position is so huge that I wouldn’t even fault you for taking him in the first round. That will change if we get news that Gronk will be available for the start of the regular season
Rob Gronkowski is still recovering from back surgery and forearm surgery, but he is still worth the risk in the 3rd round and an absolute gift in the 4th round. Even though he may miss part of the 2013 season, we can’t put him any lower than #2 overall. If he plays 8 fantasy games for you this season then that will be 8 games of elite production. If you draft him just make sure you have a plan in place for the first several weeks when he could be out. 8-10 games of a healthy Gronk plus 4-5 of someone else lower on this list is still better than every other tight end than isn’t Jimmy Graham.
Jason Witten is as steady as they come at the tight end position. He continues to be Tony Romo’s security blanket. Witten is one of the best in the game at finding holes in the opposing defenses’ coverage. While he may not hit 110 catches again in 2013, he is certainly a threat to catch 85+, something he has done 6 times in his career. He has never been a huge touchdown guy, but in PPR leagues his reception numbers really help to ameliorate that.
Tony G is coming back for yet another season after considering retirement earlier in the off season. With Atlanta’s championship window still open, Gonzalez hopes this this is the year he can finally get a superbowl ring. From a fantasy perspective, Tony Gonzalez is still a top 5 option entering his 17th season in the league. He isn’t much of a threat after the catch any more, but at 37 years of age he is still an extremely effective and durable receiver. With Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside, there will be plenty of room for Gonzalez to maneuver in the middle as the safety valve for Matt Ryan. We’d expect no less than 60 - 70 catches and 800 yards and 6 touchdowns as a floor with a ceiling somewhere around 90 catches 1000 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Vernon Davis *should* have a good season in 2013. The Michael Crabtree injury *should* make him a necessary part of the passing offense. We all know the real story with Davis though. Every year is supposed to be his year. The real killer with him is the inconsistency issue. In 2012 he only had five games that you would have been happy with his production if he happened to be in your lineup. It seems that we have been chasing stats with him ever since 2009. There are some recent reports that the Niner will line him up at wide receiver in certain situations so there is some hope here. We've been burned too many times on him though and unless he is still sitting there after the 7th round Vernon Davis is unlikely to be on any of my teams in 2013.
Dennis Pitta emerged as one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets in 2013. With Boldin moving on to the Niners Pitta will be the primary target in the middle of the field and should be the 2nd or 3rd option in the passing game. The problem for us is that he doesn’t offer a lot of upside or separation from any of the other guys in this tier.
Last season it seemed like Greg Olsen and Brandon LaFell alternated having good games. If one of them had solid production than the other suffered. We’d expect similar things to happen in 2013.
Jared Cook was given a huge contract by the Rams this offseason. We have always thought that the Titans were a bad fit for Cook’s talents and that if he ever landed in an offense that wanted to feature him in the passing game he could be huge. he now has that opportunity. His physical talent is right there in the top 3-5 guys at the position so we will see if he can put it together this year after getting paid like a top 5 tight end. He has a ton of upside which is why if we miss on Graham and Gronk, he is our next favorite target somewhere in the 9th or 10th rounds.
Jermichael Finley has completely underwhelmed in recent years and has a hard time catching the ball sometimes. He was one of the most frustrating tight ends to own last year, but there is definitely upside there. This is also a contract year for Finley so that should motivate him to perform better because if he doesn’t the Packers will likely move on in 2014.
Martellus Bennett was a pleasant surprise in 2012 for the Giants. He did more last season than he did in the previous 4 with the Cowboys. We think that continues in 2013 with the Chicago Bears. Depending on the development of Alshon Jeffery, Bennett should be the 2nd option in the passing game behind Brandon Marshall.
Daniels is still a decent option but he is going higher than I am comfortable with and doesn’t offer the same upside there as the previous three guys.
Many of us who were Kyle Rudolph owners last season felt like the weeks that we needed him most were the ones he put up a goose egg. With Percy Harvin gone though Rudolph could see an increase in targets; especially in the redzone where he and quarterback Christian Ponder seem to have some real chemistry. If we HAD to rely on him as my starter we could, just know there will be weeks where he does absolutely nothing.
Dwayne Allen was impressive last year. While most fantasy owners were clamoring for Coby Fleener because of the Stanford connection with Andrew luck, Allen quietly put up one of the best fantasy seasons for a rookie tight end in recent memory. That should continue even with the hiring of Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton who was also at Stanford with Luck and Fleener.
Antonio Gates is old but we think he can still play. If I was going to take a 2nd tight end it would be someone like Gates who we know has top 5 upside. We think the Chargers’ offense as a whole is being undervalued for 2013.
Brandon Myers was another nice surprise from the TE position in 2012. He put up good numbers in Oakland last year as Carson Palmer seemed to lock onto him every game. Tight ends always seem to be productive for the Giants so we see no reason Myers can’t follow in the footsteps of Bennett last year and Jake Ballard the year before.
Brandon Pettigrew couldn’t break the top 20 in 2012 despite Matthew Stafford having an NFL record number of passing attempts. He is strictly a move the chains guy with little upside. Much better used as a blocking tight end.
Keller has moved to Miami and joined the Dolphins for 2013. We’ve never been a Keller fan, but perhaps with a much better quarterback he can be successful in Miami.
We feel like this is a little high for Fleener given what we saw out of him last year, but the hiring of Pep Hamilton has me intrigued for 2013. A high upside guy that you can take very late in your draft if you choose to take a 2nd tight end.
Tyler Eifert / Jermaine Gresham
We love Fred Davis but he needs to prove he can return from that Achilles injury.
Jordan Cameron is the new fantasy darling at tight end. With new OC Norv Turner who turned Gates into a star why not? We think his upside is low TE1 so if you are looking for a guy with elite upside look elsewhere.
We don’t know how the TE situation in Cincinatti is going to play out but we do know that EIfert is a much better receiver than Gresham. If we had to guess, Eifert becomes the move tight end with Gresham staying in to block most of the time.
Both Zach Miller and Marcedes Lewis have shown they can produce before, but it has been quite a while since either were truly fantasy relevant.
If you take Gronkowski, Jake Ballard is the perfect pick in the last round of your draft. He should be able to fill in nicely if Gronk in fact misses any time.
Delanie Walker was more productive at times for the Niners than Vernon Davis has been the last several years. He gets a real opportunity as a starter for the Titans in 2013.
We love Travis Kelce and he has a golden opportunity to shine in 2013. Tony Moeaki can’t stay healthy so if Kelce can keep the off the field issues to a minimum he could surprise. If things go the right way for Travis Kelce, we could be talking about him as a top 10 option in 2014.
Not a ton to say about the rest of these guys. You shouldn't be relying on any of them to start for you this season as anything more than a desperation or bye week/injury play.
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