What's On My Mind - Tight End
By Sigmund Bloom
August 10th, 2011

If you are into statistical analysis, there is plenty of that at Footballguys. However, sometimes, you have a nagging feeling about things. Sometimes, there is just something you can't get out of your mind. That's what this series is all about. Today, tight ends are on my mind.

Right now, the biggest question at TE is the condition of Antonio Gates' foot.

Here are a collection of quotes on the record about Gates health:

"At this point in my career, the preseason is all about fine tuning," Gates said. "It's like a car. You want to race, but you have to make sure everything is in working order before you get to the starting line. The only way to know for sure is to take a few practice laps. That's how I feel about my body. It's not like I don't want to go out there. I do want to test things out, but I'm not going to put myself at unnecessary risk. I've been playing for a while, and I wouldn't say I need a ton of reps, but I owe it to everybody to get ready, and I need to prove it to myself that I am."

"We're taking it slow," he said. "We're being smart."

"Certainly, there's not reason to push it if he's got soreness," Norv Turner said. "It's early August, and as I've said, our goal is to be playing in February so it's a long haul, and we're going to make sure we manage his situation and have him when we need
him."

Not the most optimistic picture as anything that makes a team want to take it slow means the player will probably never be 100% during the season. I still feel like I would consider Gates if he fell to 5th round, and I could see taking him in the late 4th of a 12 team PPR league if my leaguemates left none of my top 16 RBs, 20 WRs, and 7 QBs there for me.

Gates is one of only two TEs can really lap the field and the other hasn't ever played in 16 games or topped 60 catches, 700 yards, or five TDs in his career (Finley). Gates has an elite QB and was truly dominant (especially in the red zone) last year pre-injury. Post-injury, he still found ways to get open and produce, and he should be projected as the #1 TE in any week that he is playing.

Dallas Clark has to be 2nd in PPR because of his 100 catch potential, but his yards per catch and general threat to the defense diminished last year, and he's at the age that his skills could soon decline, so he's fourth in non-PPR. I'll think about him in the late 5th in PPR if my top 25 RBs, 23 WRs, and 7 QBs + Gates are gone.

Finley was on an 84/1204/4 pace last year with a very reasonable number of targets (only 26 in four games). The four touchdowns stick out as potentially disappointing, but it just doesn't compute that Finley wouldn't see his share of red zone targets over the course of a full season. His injury history is a yellow flag, but Finley also has the ability to take over games and put up numbers that no other TE can match this year to mirror that risk with a reward enticing enough to make him #3 in both formats. It's going to be hard to ignore him in the 6th.

I'm warming to Vernon Davis and have him 2nd in non-PPR, 4th in PPR leagues. He might not catch 80+ passes, but Davis should be the clear-cut #1 option in the passing game unless Michael Crabtree can create the chemistry and timing between him and Alex Smith that was lacking last year from the sidelines in training camp. Davis probably won't approach his 2009 levels, but he become a consideration if he happens to fall to the 7th.

Jason Witten might seem strange as the #5 TE because he finished #1 in all formats last year, but there is no denying that Tony Romo just doesn't look Witten's way in the red zone. Witten in general was leaned on by Jon Kitna more than Romo in 2010, and in 2009 he only scored twice and put up only adequate numbers even in PPR leagues more than half of the time. There is also the presence of two extremely talented wideouts who should be more prominent in the passing game than Witten. Witten is great for high floor drafters, but I prefer drafting high ceiling players and depending on waiver wire and trade abilities to patch things up if they go wrong. He'll go before I would take him in most drafts.

Owen Daniels clocks in a strong #6 in both formats and he is the sweet spot player to be your #1 target at the position in the 7th in PPR (or 8th if RB/WR value falls into your lap in 7th and you haven't been waiting around too long since Davis went), or 8th/9th in non-PPR., let the drafting of the first five dictate when to pull the trigger. He'll be the #2 option in a strong passing game, and he is more involved in the red zone than he was earlier in his career. He's a near-lock for 80+ catches, 900 yards, and 6-8 TDs if he plays in all 16 games. His injury flag is a underripe green-yellow banana, almost clean despite three ACL tears in his past because the Texans signed him to a long-term deal before the lockout.

I was a strong Jimmy Graham proponent in the offseason, and he could still be this year's Finley, but an inconsistent open to camp, general football inexperience, and the number of drops/mistakes he had last year make me hesitant to put him higher than seven. He is the target if you miss on Daniels though, and he should be a major red zone weapon even if he is so inconsistent that his game-to-game involvement between the 20s fluctuates, making him more attractive in non-PPR. I expect that Graham goes before Daniels in some leagues making timing your Daniels pick easier. Graham is a player who will inspire people to reach for him.

At this point, you're unlikely to find a top five TE, although there is potential for a few guys to outperform their ranking. Marcedes Lewis should remain a big-time red zone weapon and his catches could tick up with no proven #1 receiver in Jacksonville. Rob Gronkowski was looking like a beast in camp before an undisclosed injury sidelined him. He has the ability to be a top 5 TE, but his two of his best three games came with Aaron Hernandez out last year, and the addition of Chad Ochocinco just makes it hard to see Gronkowski as a consistent performer even if his year-end numbers are impressive.

To round out the top 10, Zach Miller has the same problem as Gronkowski, lots of ability, but stuck in a pass offense with too many mouths to feed. Oh yeah, his QB is Tarvaris Jackson, not Tom Brady. Perhaps Jackson will shock us all or injuries to Seattle wide receivers will remove some of Miller's competition for targets and inflate his numbers, and talent has a way of creating its own numbers.

Any of those three are good picks if you are playing the waiting game after Daniels/Graham, but none should be reached for. If no value falls into your lap or you miss a mini-run, don't despair. You might have to commit an extra roster spot to the position to feel safe, but you have plenty of candidates. You have vets perched on the ledge of decline who should still be solid firewall guys to hold the line with consistent contributions (Chris Cooley, Kellen Winslow, Tony Gonzalez) and players still on the upside of their career who could surpass expectations this year (Jared Cook, Jermaine Gresham, Brandon Pettigrew, Dustin Keller, Greg Olsen). Even deeper than that you have players who could bounce back from down 2010 campaigns to previous top 10 levels (Heath Miller, Brent Celek, Visanthe Shiancoe) and a plethora of players who could surprise and be low-end TE1s (Kevin Boss, Lance Kendricks, Evan Moore, Tony Moeaki). As long as your league is the type where most people don't draft a backup TE or carry one all year, the waiver wire could produce your eventual TE1 when you take a TEBC approach if you are an aggressive early waiver wire player, but try to err on the side of not going TEBC in PPR leagues, leagues with 14 or more teams, TE premiums, leagues with 20 or fewer roster spots, or leagues where you have also opted to go QBBC (except those very deep benches).

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to bloom@footballguys.com.

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