Whether you do a full set of projections to compare players or put your rank lists together by gut feel, every cheat sheet can be broken out into tiers. The process is simple and the rewards are many. Breaking your rankings into tiers forces you to crystallize your opinions on players. It naturally lends itself to helping you make good strategic decisions during your draft. The process helps you stay on the right side of runs, shows you which positions can be sloughed a round longer than you thought or need to be targeted early. Perhaps most importantly, tiering and then running a few mock drafts leave you prepared for every contingency during your draft and will keep you from scrambling when you're on the clock in those all-important middle rounds.
This series will walk you through our tiering process position by position this summer, including IDPs, and offer our strategic insights along the way. We'll have thoughts on whether you should go with a top quarterback or QBBC, whether you should target a top tight end over your RB3 or WR3, whether you should prioritize defensive linemen over linebackers again this year and whether there are any defensive backs worth drafting early.
Note: We are assuming a 12-team league and PPR scoring when discussing draft round estimates and ADP data.
Bloom: Tight Ends of the Gods
Jimmy Graham Rob Gronkowski
Absolutely worth a first-round pick, especially Graham, who could shatter the tight end receiving records again this year. He's only in his third year as a pro and really, as a full-time football player. I'm not worried about Gronk's ankle or the “too many mouths to feed” argument in New England. Talent creates production.
Draft Outlook: If you can't stomach some of the riskier running backs in the late first/early second, and you want to wait on quarterback, either of these guys are perfect options for you.
Bramel: As I noted in the other installments, taking one of these players in the first two rounds will bring very good relative value. But it likely means that you won't be able to fit an elite quarterback on your roster without losing significant ground at the RB2, RB3 and WR3 roster slots. Plan accordingly.
Bloom: Elite with Moderate Risk
Gates could and should put up numbers just off of Graham/Gronk as long as he's healthy. All indications are that he is 100% and last year showed us that no one knows his body better than Gates.
Draft Outlook: With a late 4th/early 5th ADP, Gates is tough to pass on in the fifth round, and very viable in the fourth. He could have second round value if he plays 16 games.
Bramel: I'm totally behind this mini-tier. So much so that I may break from plan and draft Gates if he's available in the mid-fourth round or later and I've already rostered a QB. He's one of the most undervalued players at any position right now.
Bloom: Strong TE1
Aaron Hernandez Vernon Davis
Hernandez is in a terrific passing game, but he won't be higher than the third or fourth option in New England, and he does tend to get banged up. Davis came on late last year and could finish among the elite this year, but Alex Smith is the worst passer throwing to any of the top eight tight ends.
Bramel: I think Hernandez is much closer to Gates than Davis, but I'm not willing to take Hernandez at his current ADP. I'd combine these two players with the next three on the list (Finley, Davis and Witten) and plan on drafting the best value sometime after the sixth round.
Bloom: Mid-Strong TE1 with Risk
Jermichael Finley Fred Davis
The quarterback, talent, and targets should all be there for Finley and Davis to contend with all but the Graham/Gronk tier in terms of production. Finley had all of those same factors in his favor last year, but failed to come through, so there is risk here. Davis was actually producing at a top five clip last year before his suspension, but he is having a “quiet” camp.
Draft Outlook: Davis is the much more attractive proposition here in the late 7th round. Finley is going in the mid-6th, but worth taking if both are on the board in the 7th. If you draw a mid-round pick and you are torn about taking Graham in the first, let Davis's ADP make you feel better about passing the Saints tight end.
Bramel; I love Davis this year and am quietly pleased that his ADP isn't increasing thus far in the preseason. We know Shanahan will use his tight end and Robert Griffin is a perfect match for the bootleg – play action offense in which Davis will thrive. If you choose not to draft an elite tight end, Davis is a very strong value target.
Bloom: Strong TE1 with High Risk
The Cowboys issues at number three wide receiver and relative strength at offensive tackle made Witten an excellent tight end to target outside of the top four, but all of that has changed now that he has a spleen injury that could threaten his status for the opener, or even longer.
Draft Outlook: He was going late 5th, but who knows where his slide will stop now. If Witten is still there in the 9th or later, it is hard to pass on him, just make sure you get one of the strong TE2's with TE1 upside.
Bramel: There's a chance we won't see Witten until after the Cowboys' Week 5 bye. Those drafting late in the preseason will have the benefit of more information, but I'd pass on Witten until at least this range for now.
Bloom: Steady TE1
Tony Gonzalez Brandon Pettigrew
An unexciting duo, Gonzalez and Pettigrew will give you good baseline production at 60-80% of the top 3 tight ends, but they are highly unlikely to threaten to do more.
Draft Outlook: With Pettigrew going around the same time as Fred Davis, there is just no reason to consider him. Gonzalez isn't a terrible pick in the 8th/9th, but you might want to pair him with a tight end who has more upside in the next 2-3 rounds.
Low-end TE1 with Strong TE1 Upside
Brent Celek Kyle Rudolph
Celek's offseason surgery is still keeping him on the sidelines, but he finished like 2010 Celek once Michael Vick got on track last year. Rudolph has been the talk of Vikings camp and he could be the breakout tight end of 2012.
Draft Outlook: Celek is available in the 11th and Rudolph in the 13th. If you don't love the tight end value through the first 10 rounds, no worries, Celek and Rudolph are there to save you. They are even worth bench picks in deep leagues after a Graham/Gronk start to your draft for their trade value, or possibly freeing you up to trade Graham/Gronk.
Low-end TE1 with Steady TE1 upside
Jermaine Gresham Owen Daniels Jacob Tamme
This group presents some value and they can save your bacon if you wait too long to take a tight end while Celek and Rudolph go far earlier than ADP, but they won't flirt with the top 5 in any scenario. Gresham could help fill a vacuum at WR2 for the Bengals, Daniels was still productive with Matt Schaub last year, but he is getting up there in years, and Tamme just isn't that talented, no matter what kind of previous chemistry he has with Peyton Manning.
Draft Outlook: Word has gotten out on Tamme and he is going in the ninth round. Just take Fred Davis two rounds earlier. Gresham is going in the 9th/10th, which is not a deep discount. Daniels is the most attractive in the 11th/12th, but I still can't recommend him ahead of Celek or Rudolph.
Bramel: These three tiers morph into one big tier for me. All have TE1 upside, but the list of elite players above is deep enough that I'd prefer not to get caught with one as my every-week starter. Based on ADP and value, I've been drafting Rudolph or Daniels as my TE2 frequently, mostly because Gresham – who I think thrives in a joker role as Cincinnati's nominal WR2 this year – has just barely been out of reach with his TE12 / 10th round ADP.
Bloom: Theoretical TE1 without Trust
Jared Cook Dustin Keller
The talent has been there for both of these guys all along, and the role has been there for Keller. Yet they are still just teases who end up being a waste of a roster spot, at least thus far in their careers. You can't count on anything from them even though it's easy to convince yourself that they can solve your TE situation.
Draft Outlook: Cook is going in the 11th and Keller in the 12th. If you need an upside TE to go with Gonzalez/Pettigrew and Celek/Rudolph are gone, I wouldn't blame you for taking a shot here.
Bramel: The stat lines and game logs often look pretty for both of these guys, but I don't trust them either. If you get shut out of preferred targets, look to Cook if you like risk, Keller if you want a safer option.
Bloom: Rookies with Promise
Dwayne Allen Coby Fleener
Andrew Luck is going to throw a lot, and he could be looking to his rookie tight ends in the middle of the field to keep the chains moving. Allen will be on the field more (think Alge Crumpler), while Fleener is the better red zone threat and Luck's college teammate from Stanford.
Draft Outlook: Fleener is going in the 11th and Allen is not even getting drafted. No reason to take Fleener with the other options available around that time, but Allen could become a hot waiver wire pickup in week 2.
Bramel: I'm not investing in Fleener either and I very much agree that Allen could be an early must-have waiver pick. I'd feel strongly enough to recommend rostering Allen before the season if the Colts had poorer receivers than Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie.
Bloom: Not Gonna Fall For it Again
Greg Olsen Heath Miller Lance Kendricks
In terms of raw talent and situation, the potential is there for TE1 production, but each of these tight ends have promised that in the past and failed to deliver. Olsen is inconsistent and disappeared late last year, Miller is stuck blocking at the line of scrimmage too often, and Kendricks had hands of stone. It's not impossible that any of these three break out, but I wouldn't tie up an initial roster spot waiting for it.
Draft Outlook: Olsen still has his believers in the 13th round. I wouldn't take him over Rudolph, I know that. Miller and Kendricks are going later than the 15th round. Both are definitely worth picks in TE premium leagues.
Bramel: I still think there's upside in Olsen and it won't surprise me if he's consistent enough to be considered a borderline TE1 in a few weeks. But I'm higher on Rudolph, too. If I miss out on my preferred TE2 targets, Olsen and Kellen Davis are my fall back upside bets.
Bloom: Boring Bye Week/Injury Filler
Scott Chandler Marcedes Lewis Kellen Winslow
This group will get their share of targets, especially in the red zone. They will be a threat to put up top 10 numbers in any given week, and they will be the perfect one-week pick-ups to fill in for your stud on bye.
Draft Outlook: I don't love carrying limited upside players on my bench, so I still wouldn't take them at their 17th or later ADP.
Bramel: I never bought the Lewis hype, but the pendulum is swinging too far in the other direction now. I think he's undervalued but there are still targets I like better.
Bloom: You Never Know
Kellen Davis Tony Moeaki Julius Thomas Joel Dreessen Craig Stevens Jordan Cameron
Davis could click now that Martz is gone in Chicago. Moeaki could stay healthy. Thomas could assert himself as the clearly superior pass-catching talent at tight end in Denver. Dreessen could produce if Tamme is inconsistent and become a favorite of Peyton Manning's. Stevens could surprise as a two-way tight end in Tennessee. Cameron could be Jimmy Graham lite in his second year removed from being a basketball/football player. I'm to the possibility of minor breakouts here.
Draft Outlook: Don't draft these guys, but keep them on waiver wire speed dial in TE premium leagues and other deep formats.
Bramel: I'm willing to draft Davis as noted earlier. The presence of Brandon Marshall and the absence of Mike Martz could very much open the middle of the field and red zone for Davis. If he's left undrafted, watch him very closely in Week 1. Moeaki and Cameron fit a similar bill, particularly Cameron. If the Browns offense stalls and the receivers don't get on the same page with Weeden quickly, Cameron could be a 100 target player.
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