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Updated Deep Sleepers: Tight Ends

The Footballguys staff digs for deep sleepers at tight end

A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. This article specifically targets deep sleeper value (players that can be found very late in a fantasy draft). In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look deeper than the top 150 players and identify players that should significantly outperform their late draft position. These players should be your targets after the 12th round of your draft.

Player with 7 Votes

Dustin Keller, Mia

James Brimacombe: Keller finished as a top 10 fantasy TE in both 2010 and 2011 and then went on to battle some injuries in 2012. He has always had the potential to be in the TE1 tier discussion, and now coming to a fresh offense in Miami that seems to be on the rise is a great opportunity for him. He is an afterthought right now at his ADP but could prove to be a nice option as your TE2 with some major upside.

Adam Harstad: A silky-smooth receiver with a pair of top-10 finishes, Keller joins a Miami squad desperate for offensive weapons, and should quickly become Tannehill's new security blanket.

Jeff Haseley: Dustin Keller is a forgotten weapon, who the Dolphins went out of their way to acquire via free agency this offseason. Keller has two Top 10 finishes in two of the last three years in the Jets offense. He is someone who could very easily outperform his ADP of TE17.

Steve Holloway: Keller’s athleticism and play making ability was squandered on the Jets. He did finish as TE9 in two seasons and had two others at TE14 and TE20, so even there he had some success. However, 2013 was dismal, as Keller played in only 8 games and caught only 28 passes. Because of last year, he represents some of the best value at tight end and can be drafted very late. The Dolphins receiving options have been mostly slim for a while and now they have Mike Wallace, a very solid complementary guy in Brian Hartline and a much improved tight end in Keller. Miami will be a passing offense on the rise in 2013 and Keller could again threaten top ten tight end status.

Jeff Pasquino: Dustin Keller signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins, where he will look to rejuvenate and revitalize his career in 2013. Keller will be part of a much better receiving corps in Miami, along with former Steeler Mike Wallace for second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Keller is very incentivized to have a big year and play up to his Top 10 fantasy numbers from 2010 and 2011.

Aaron Rudnicki: Keller was a bust last year with the Jets but the former 1st round pick has been a top-10 TE as recently as 2011. The move to Miami gives him a chance to play in a functional offense again and I expect he’ll be posting TE1 type numbers for a bargain price on draft day. The presence of Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline on the outside should allow Keller to work the middle of the field and become a reliable target for Ryan Tannehill.

Jason Wood: Dustin Keller is a forgotten man this year, but it’s hard to understand why. Yes he is coming off a disappointing 28 reception, 317 yard season but he only played 8 games and was catching passes from arguably the league’s worst quarterback in Mark Sanchez. This year Keller is playing on a one-year “prove it” deal in Miami and QB Ryan Tannehill should appreciate having a big target in the middle of the field as a safety valve. Let’s not forget, Keller was a top 10 fantasy TE in 2010 and 2011 – it’s not like he’s washed up or unproven.

Player with 6 Votes

Coby Fleener, Ind

Sigmund Bloom: Fleener has been a focal point of the pass offense in the camp so far, and with Dwayne Allen sidelined for a few weeks (at least) due to a foot injury, that won’t slow down as the season approached. Fleener had a shoulder injury slow him down and make his rookie year look like a bust last year, but as long as he stays healthy this year, he’ll be the cheapest TE1 going in fantasy football.

Steve Holloway: Dwayne Allen was drafted by the Colts a year ago in the 3rd round, a full round after Fleener, but Allen had the most successful rookie season with 45 catches for 521 yards (11.6 ypc) and 3 TDs. The Colts’ new offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton was also Fleener and Luck’s offensive coordinator at Stanford and had previously indicated that he wanted to have both tight ends involved in the offense. With the injury to Allen and his potential to miss multiple games, expect Fleener to get many more chances in the passing game and produce in 2013 at the levels expected last year.

Chad Parsons: Historically, there is a strong connection between high-level tight end production and the play of their quarterback. Andrew Luck showed every indicator that he is well on his way to being a fantasy force. After a declining Reggie Wayne, who stands to benefit the most in Indianapolis? My bet is on the pair of second-year tight ends and more specifically CobyFleener, who is coming off essentially a red-shirt season. Fleeneris the best red zone option the team has and the team has indicated they plan to use Fleener has a seam-stretching vertical weapon. For a tight end that can be one of the last picks of the draft or an early season free agent pickup, Fleener offers considerable upside.

Jeff Pasquino: The Indianapolis Colts are another team with young talent on offense that is developing together towards a great future. Similar to New England, the Colts use two tight ends quite often, a scheme QB Andrew Luck is very familiar with since using it at Stanford. Both Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are big targets that can get open over the middle and in the Red Zone. While it may seem like Allen outperformed Fleener last year, Fleener missed four games - so both tight ends were comparable on a per-game basis. Head coach Chuck Pagano has also said that he expects Fleener’s reception total to double in 2013, which makes him a great TE2 with upside this year.

Kyle Wachtel: He was edged out by Dwayne Allen, who was simply the better all-around player, for playing time in their rookie seasons. However, Allen is now sidelined for a couple of weeks with a foot injury and the door has swung open for Fleener to recapture the chemistry with his former Stanford teammate, Andrew Luck. At 6’6” with great speed (4.51 40-yard dash), Fleener could prove to be a matchup problem for opposing defenses and has the potential to finish as a TE1.

Jason Wood: Fleener was overdrafted as a rookie because fantasy owners noted the connection between Fleener and QB Andrew Luck – college friends and roommates. Yet, they forgot two important considerations; one, rookie tight ends generally struggle, even the very best and two, Bruce Arians did not run the same kind of offense that allowed Fleener to flourish at Stanford. That’s where the good news comes in, because Arians has been replaced by Pep Hamilton, who ran Stanford’s offense. Head coach Chuck Pagano has already gone on record saying Fleener should easily double his reception total – which puts him in line for fringe TE1 numbers any way you slice it.

Player with 4 Votes

Tyler Eifert, Cin

Sigmund Bloom: The Bengals had a big role for Jermaine Gresham in the wild card game. He and the team failed, and they drafted Eifert (a far superior receiving tight end) in the first round this year. Eifert has been a sensation in camp, and it sounds like he is emerging as the #2 target in the Bengals pass offense. The old rule about rookie tight ends not being good fantasy plays could be blown up Eifert, in addition to Philadelphia second-round pick Zach Ertz and Kansas City third-round pick Travis Kelce, not to mention New England undrafted free agent Zach Sudfeld

Mike Brown: The big rookie from Notre Dame is expected to be an impact player right away. It usually takes tight ends a full year in the league before they start realizing their potential, but Eifert could be the exception because his game is NFL-ready right now. He's got tremendous skills, and is coming in a bit under the radar probably because some owners are afraid of Jermaine Gresham's presence. Gresham is there to keep the seat warm for Eifert, but the rookie should have the better stat line by season's end, and for almost no cost.

Adam Harstad: Rookie tight ends historically struggle, but early reports from Cincinnati are glowing. As Cincinnati makes greater use of two tight end sets, Eifert's natural talent gives him a great opportunity to dramatically outperform expectations, making him a great gamble as a late-round TE2 or TE3.

Mark Wimer: Cincinnati rookie Tyler Eifert is a guy I'm watching closely - he was drafted to push the under-achieving Jermaine Gresham, and I think Eifert could wind up winning the starting job outright. He's worth a look as a flyer pick late in the draft especially if TE scoring is emphasized in your league.

Players with 2 Votes

Dwayne Allen, Ind

James Brimacombe: Andrew Luck wasn’t shy when trying to get the ball to the rookie TE Dwayne Allen in 2012 as he targeted him 72 times for 45 receptions, 521 yards, and 3 TD’s. Heading into his sophomore season Allen is set to improve even more on those numbers and makes for a nice sleeper pick at the position.

Matt Waldman: The Clemson tight end quietly had a good season as a rookie and I think he’ll continue to show he’s the best all-around player on the Colts depth chart. He reminds me of a young Alge Crumpler and I don’t think Pep Hamilton’s scheme will hurt the versatile second-year player’s production. Allen lines up all over the formation and this presents mismatches in his favor as a receiver.

Ladarius Green, SD

Mike Brown: This one is more a case of watching star TE Antonio Gates break down before our eyes over the last two seasons. If Gates is truly back in shape and ready to assume his title as one of the league's best pass-catching tight ends, then Green will have a difficult time even seeing the field. But if Gates doesn't display health and the old dynamic ability we used to see from him with regularity, then Green's chances should become more and more. The team is already down Danario Alexander, and is relying on a few unproven kids in the receiving game as it is. Green's skill set suggests he is one day going to become an impact player at the position. If the team falls out of contention, they might as well find out if that time is now.

Chad Parsons: Antonio Gates has been a shell of his former self over the past two seasons. In addition, the San Diego offense frankly needs playmakers on the field any way they can get it. The entire wide receiver group is basically a who’s who on the injured list and Green has the size and speed of a big receiver. Whether it is a continued decline by Gates or a continuation of the wide receiver injuries in San Diego, Green will find his way onto the field more than the 33 snaps from his rookie season. At a tight end position where there is little delineation between TE5 and TE20, Green is a true wildcard with as much potential as most of the tight ends that will be late round selections this season. He will be one to watch for an expanded opportunity during the season to snag off the waiver wire.

Jermaine Gresham, Cin

Andy Hicks: Gresham has improved ever so slightly in each of his 3 years in the NFL and the drafting of Tyler Eifert will put the wind into his sails heading into the final year of his contract. Gresham cracked the TE1 category in fantasy leagues last year and given the dearth of quality receiving Tight Ends and the time it takes rookies to acclimatise he may have one more year of improvement in him before the Bengals turn it over to Eifert. At his current draft slot he can be taken with practically no risk.

Steve Holloway: Gresham has improved in all three years in the NFL. His catches have gone from 52 up to 64. His yards receiving have climbed from 471 up to 737 and he has averaged 5 TDs each year. However, he disappointed in the team’s playoff game last year and then the Bengals drafted Tyler Eifert. Gresham who has finished as TE21, TE13 and TE10 suddenly has a much lower ADP than past production. Expect the Bengals to use a double tight end set frequently and Gresham to out-produce his draft position.

Travis Kelce, KC

Heath Cummings: Kelce may not be the most talented tight end to come out of the 2013 draft, but no one else landed in a better position. His main competition for the starting role will be Tony Moeaki, who has a terribly difficult time staying healthy and has no connection to the coaching staff. Kelce should win the job outright and then excel in Andy Reid's version of the west coast offense.

Matt Waldman: If there is a tight end that I would spend a late-round pick on I’d love to say Jared Cook, but I just don’t trust Jeff Fisher’s track record with promising, athletic hybrids at the position and Cook hasn’t done enough to impress me. Cook is probably the smart investment, but when Andy Reid starts comparing the rookie Kelce to Jeremy Shockey, my ears perked up. Shockey’s first-year production of 74 catches and 894 yards was second only to Mike Ditka among rookie performances in these two areas. I already had Kelce as my top rookie tight end in terms of long-term potential. If I’m taking a second tight end in a draft, Kelce will be that guy.

Players with 1 Vote

David Ausberry, Oak

David Dodds: He is the starting TE in Oakland. Matt Flynn, with his weak arm, could be using Ausberry as a safety valve a lot this season. He is flying miles below the radar, but has a big upside. TEs accounted for 88 receptions and 907 yards for Oakland last year.

Fred Davis, Was

Ryan Hester: After missing most of 2012 with injury, Davis has returned healthy this offseason. Davis was lost for the season in the team’s seventh game last year. The totals of his first game, prorated to cover 16 games, yield 64 receptions and 868 yards. Jermaine Gresham, 2012’s TE10, had 64 receptions for 737 yards and five touchdowns. Although Davis had zero touchdowns when he was injured, his catches and yards totals (much easier to predict than touchdowns) signal TE1 potential. Davis is one of many tight ends that make waiting on the position a very viable strategy.

Tony Moeaki, KC

Jeff Haseley: Andy Reid loves to utilize the tight end in his offense. He drafted Travis Kelce to occupy that role, but the return on his investment may not come until next year. If Kelce is not thrust into the offense off the bat, look for Tony Moeaki to play an important role. He is coming off offseason knee surgery, but has impressed in his opportunities in training camp.