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Updated Value Plays: Tight Ends

The Footballguys staff finds value at the tight end position

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. In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look through the top 150 players and identify players that should outperform their draft position.

Player with 5 Votes

Martellus Bennett, Chi

Sigmund Bloom: Bennett is comfortable with his buddy Brandon Marshall, and he should be comfortable as another big target for Jay Cutler in Marc Trestman’s offense. The Black Unicorn would have been a lot better last year if he hadn’t gotten banged up midseason, when he went eight games without a score. He had five in the other eight games, and Bennett should be a mainstay in the Chicago pass offense as long as he is healthy.

Mike Brown: Bennett parlayed a nice season with the Giants into a contract with the Bears. In Chicago, he won't be fourth in the pecking order like he was in New York. After Brandon Marshall, there isn't a lot of experience in the receiving game (aside from RB Matt Forte). Bennett probably won't be asked to do much blocking, and the Trestman system is expected to be valuable to a receiving tight end like Bennett is.

Heath Cummings: Bennett had a bit of a break out year with the Giants and now is moving to an offense where the tight end is likely to be more heavily utilized. Teams will focus all of their efforts on stopping Brandon Marshall and anything that's left over will go to Matt Forte. This is a great opportunity for the sixth year tight end to finally break into TE1 territory.

Will Grant: Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears have been looking for a solid pass-catching tight end since Greg Olsen left in 2010. Bennett come to Chicago after having the best season of his NFL career for the Giants, and seems to have turned a corner from his troubled days in Dallas. With Brandon Marshall drawing most of the attention, and Matt Forte catching passes out of the backfield, Bennett’s unique size and speed should make him a dangerous short to medium range threat who will catch quick dump offs and turn them into big gains. Look for him to finish in the top 10 for fantasy tight ends this season.

Mark Wimer: Martellus Bennett is vastly under-rated right now as the 12th tight end drafted (ADP) - he had a solid campaign in New York last year on a team that wasn't in synch offensively (89 targets for 55/625/5), and is now poised to be one of Jay Cutlers' favorite targets in Chicago. With offensive-minded head coach Marc Trestman now running the Bears, Bennett could see a huge bump in the number of targets he sees, which should translate into top-five fantasy tight end production. He may be the biggest value pick in the league right now, especially in TE-heavy PPR paradigms where tight ends get 1.5 points per reception.

Players with 4 Votes

Jordan Cameron, Cle

Heath Cummings: Cameron is a prime breakout candidate with two coaches that love to utilize their tight ends on an offense with possession receivers that have trouble catching the ball. He has better TE1 prospects than many of the tight ends being drafted much much earlier than him. His size and speed make him an excellent candidate to become Brandon Weeden's go-to-guy in the red zone.

David Dodds: WR Josh Gordon will start the year suspended and signs point to the team leaning on Cameron a great deal this season. Gifted with a basketball type frame, Cameron is built to succeed in a Norv Turner offense that has a history of utilizing the TE. He also gets to play on a team that has one of the best OLs ensuring that he should be able to release on a lot of plays as a check down.

Ryan Hester: Cameron was in my “Deep Sleeper” section during the first release of this feature, but since his ADP has crept into the Top 150, he no longer fits that criteria. Cameron’s skills suggest he’s capable of being a “move” tight end and making plays in multiple parts of the field. His size (6’5” and 254 pounds) makes his a tough assignment for a safety, and his speed will make it difficult for linebackers to keep up. Cameron also has a pair of offensive gurus working to scheme for him. Head Coach Rob Chudzinski (a former tight end and the man behind Greg Olsen’s resurgence in Carolina) and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner both have histories of yielding great seasons for their tight ends. Under Chudzinski, Olsen caught 69 passes for 843 yards last season. And Antonio Gates’ history with Turner in San Diego can’t be ignored either.

Mark Wimer: Brown Jordan Cameron could be on the cusp of a breakout season. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has had a lot of success in this league and his system has produced some outstanding tight ends (Jay Novacek and Antonio Gates among them). I'm definitely considering Cameron for my backup tight end slot on my fantasy teams this year - he could significantly outplay his draft position if he flourishes in Turner's offense.

Jermichael Finley, GB

David Dodds: The difference between the 2011 and 2012 stat lines for the talented (yet often under-producing) TE had to do with TDs. He scored 8 TDs in 2011 and just 2 in 2012. These TD numbers should easily improve this season with the departure of Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson not yet at 100%. The biggest positive to take away from last year for Finley is that he caught 6 more passes despite 7 less targets.

Adam Harstad: Last year, Finley had two touchdowns while James Jones had 14. This year, I expect both of those numbers to regress towards each other, which means if Finley can get his usual 700 yards again, he should be a great value TE for those who wait on the position.

Steve Holloway: Finley has come full circle from being the prince of hype to a level where he is undervalued. Last year was his least productive injury free season and he still ranked as TE17 because he only scored 2 TDs. He has scored 8 TDs and 5 TDs in his most productive years. He has to share the targets with the other talented receiving options in Green Bay, but each gets their opportunities as Aaron Rodgers excels at finding the open target. Look for Finley’s receptions and TDs to rise slightly and his yards per reception to climb closer to his 12.6 ypc career average.

Jason Wood: Finley lost his way last year, seeing his yards per catch fall from 13.9 to 10.9 while his TD total slumped to two from 8 in 2011. Yet Finley has been shockingly impressive during the Packers camp, both in terms of his physicality as well as his focus. It looks like Finley is ready to re-assert himself as one of the game’s top dual threat tight ends, and I think you can comfortably draft him expecting low end TE1 numbers.

Brandon Pettigrew, Det

Andy Hicks: Pettigrew should return to being a useful fantasy Tight End this year. The arrival of Reggie Bush will free up Pettigrew to once again become a leading target in the Lions offense. With Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles severe risks to contribute coming off bad injuries, Pettigrew should return to being behind only Calvin Johnsonand Reggie Bush as Matthew Stafford’s go to guy. If the Lions offense looks more like 2011 than 2012, then Pettigrew will be very good value.

Steve Holloway: Pettigrew’s production fell off for the first time in his career a year ago. He averaged about one less catch per game than in 2011, when he had career highs in catches with 83, yardage with 777 yards and scored 5 TDs. His numbers had improved for three straight years before last year’s dip. However, he remained the second favorite target of Matthew Stafford. Detroit selected defensive players, offensive linemen, and a punter with their picks through round five of the draft, so the Lion’s only expected offensive changes are the loss of Titus Young and the gain of Reggie Bush. Bush could siphon some of the tight end targets, but Pettigrew should continue to be one of the most targeted Lions after Calvin Johnson.

Aaron Rudnicki: Pettigrew slipped in 2012 and wasn’t as big of a part of the Lions offense as he had been in prior seasons. He posted 83 receptions in 2011, however, and should be able to bounce back. The addition of Reggie Bush is going to improve the running game and make the offense more balanced, which will help draw some attention away and also likely provide more red zone opportunities. I like Pettigrew to remain the #2 option in one of the league’s best passing attacks, which should help him return to TE1 status.

Kyle Wachtel: The veteran tight end is far from explosive, but is yet another Lions’ player that is being undervalued. He averaged a 77-745-5 line in 2010 and 2011, before experiencing a dip in production. His statistics should fall somewhere in between those numbers and last year’s line, which would be enough to make him a low-upside TE1 in PPR leagues.

Players with 3 Votes

Jared Cook, StL

James Brimacombe: The Rams offense is growing and shaping up, as they have another year with coach Jeff Fisher under their belt. Cook was signed in the off-season to be a weapon for this offense, and a much needed one for QB Sam Bradford who is coming up on a make or break type of year.

Bob Magaw: Jared Cook is one of the fastest , most athletic and physically gifted tight ends in the game, after the 49ers Vernon Davis. At 6’5” and nearly 250 pounds, he clocked a freakishly blistering mid-4.4 40 time at his Combine. Inexplicably underused by the Titans, the Rams signed the consensus top free agent at his position to a $35 million contract ($19 million guaranteed) to make him an integral part of their new post-Steven Jackson offense. Fellow speed merchants Chris Givens and coveted rookie Tavon Austin should make double teams problematic for defenses. QB Sam Bradford formerly featured tight end Jermaine Gresham in Oklahoma’s wide open, spread passing attack, which St. Louis increasingly resembles. Cook has top 3-5 upside. As the anticipated co-focal point with Tavon Austin of not just the Rams passing offense but offense in general, he has the kind of untapped talent if finally featured to explode for 80-1,000-8, and not many TEs other than a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham could we say that about.

Jeff Pasquino: Jared Cook moves from Tennessee to St. Louis, where he will become the move tight end for the Rams. Head Coach Jeff Fisher will use Cook early and often in the passing game, as he has surrounded quarterback Sam Bradford with more weapons this year. Cook should see far more targets and open spaces with the Rams, which makes him a valuable tight end to grab with huge upside.

Vernon Davis, SF

Mike Brown: With the injury to Michael Crabtree, there is a void for the top passing target in the Niners passing game. Well, enter the guy with arguably the best receiving skills on the roster. Yes, the team brought in Anquan Boldin but he is not nearly the same physical presence he used to be. Davis is the guy who can stretch the field, who can go up high for the scores in the red zone, and the mismatches he creates will no doubt be utilized to the maximum by head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Andy Hicks: Davis was a fantasy disappointment last year, but he had plenty of other responsibilities outside catching the ball. The injury to Michael Crabtree and the drafting of Vance McDonald in the 2nd round is a clear indication that Davis will be freed up to do more of what we saw in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl. Davis has worked well with Colin Kaepernick and outside the elite Tight Ends Davis is the best of the rest, with the upside to return to the top 3 fantasy tight ends.

Matt Waldman: The most dynamic receiver in San Francisco has always been its tight end. He’s the biggest, fastest, and most reliable receiver they’ve for years. With Michael Crabtree out, Mario Manningham in limbo, and Quinton Patton and A.J. Jenkins green as grass, Davis has an opportunity to return to prominence as a primary option. Based on last year’s playoff run, I don’t see how the 49ers can outsmart themselves this time around.

Players with 2 Votes

Rob Gronkowski, NE

Sigmund Bloom: Gronkowski is not a pick for the faint of heart, but he can make your whole draft if he doesn’t miss much time. He had only missed five games in his pro career coming into this year, and those came after a fluke forearm break on an extra point conversion. Back surgery can be scary, but Gronkowski in your lineup down the stretch and in the fantasy playoffs will be even scarier for your opponents. Tight end is very deep, just take Zach Sudfeld late to complete your Clark/Tamme combo and secure the top fantasy tight end from a great offense for the whole year.

Adam Harstad: Tight end is very shallow this season- outside of Graham and Gronkowski, most of the starting tight ends in fantasy should score pretty similarly. That's why Gronkowski is so valuable, even if he misses time - he's a difference-maker at a position that has no other difference makers. To date, Gronkowski has outscored even Jimmy Graham by a substantial amount, and even 10 games worth of his normal production (including the fantasy playoffs) is easily worth a late 3rd round pick. Remember, you play to win championships, and having a guy like Gronkowski in your lineup in the fantasy Super Bowl will help you do exactly that.

Brandon Myers, NYG

Jeff Pasquino: Brandon Myers was a PPR monster in Oakland last year, but he struggled to find the end zone until the second half of the season. Now with the Giants, Myers is likely to be the third-most popular target for Eli Manning after his top two wide receivers (Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks). Myers could make himself a very popular player for the Giants by working the middle of the field, moving the chains and getting open in the Red Zone. He is a high upside TE2 with TE1 potential.

Mark Wimer: Brandon Myers takes over Martellus Bennett's job with the Giants (Bennett posted 55/625/5 receiving on 89 targets with Big Blue last year), and Myers may be more talented than his predecessor. I think he's got top-ten potential but is currently the 13th tight end being drafted according to ADP.

Greg Olsen, Car

James Brimacombe: Every year Olsen seems to be pegged as a value pick, and in 2013 I see no reason not to do the same. The Panthers still only have one legit receiving threat ahead of Olsen, in Steve Smith. Olsen put up a 69/843/5 stat line in 2012 and ended up being ranked as the 6th best TE in the league. He is a solid option if you miss out on the top 3-5 TE’s on the board.

Heath Cummings: In his second year with Carolina, Olsen's involvement in the offense saw a major increase and he finished as the sixth best tight end in fantasy football. Cam Newton is continuing to develop as a passer and the only person ahead of Olsen in the pecking order is Steve Smith who is finally starting to show signs of age. Olsen could be the most targeted option in Carolina in 2013 and has an opportunity to crack the top three tight ends.

Players with 1 Vote

Fred Davis, Was

Kyle Wachtel: He’s currently being drafted as nothing more than a late-round flier. Robert Griffin III is being undervalued as a passer and outside of Pierre Garcon, the Redskins’ receiving hierarchy is far from established. Davis, who recorded 59 catches for 796 yards in just 12 games in 2011, has a chance to be the number two option for the promising quarterback. The injury concerns with Garcon could lead to even more opportunity and Davis has a real shot to perform as a TE1.

Antonio Gates, SD

Aaron Rudnicki: Although he’s slowing down and not the player he used to be, the Chargers are still going to rely on him heavily. At 33 years of age, he should have enough left in the tank to outproduce his current ADP and finish as a solid TE1. The position is very deep this year so I think loading up at RB and WR and targeting a player like Gates late is the way to go.

Tony Gonzalez, Atl

Matt Waldman: He was the top PPR tight end last year, but in our ageist subculture of fantasy football Gonzalez is barely ranked in the top-12. I suppose the wheels have to fall off sometime, but what’s going to change? He already came to the Falcons old, slow, and past his prime and continues to outplay his competition with great hands, guile, and the short-game skills of a great old forward in the lane posting up and dominating a greater athlete. You don’t want him? Thanks for handing me your money.

Jason Witten, Dal

Jason Wood: Jason Witten deserves more respect than he’s getting in PPR drafts. I don’t necessarily have an issue with his positional ranking (TE3), but I think he warrants drafting before his current ADP of 40th overall. Witten is a PPR monster, and given the questions at the TE position after the few elite options are off the board, Witten’s projected VBD justifies drafting him at least a round earlier.


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