Rankings are a good place to start your fantasy football draft preparation, but they don't convey the true landscape of a group of a players at a position without the added dimension of tiers. Tiers collect players of similar expected value and show how the difference between #5 and #10 on a list can be bigger than the difference between #10 and #25. An early look at the tight end tiers this year reveals a lot of quality at the TE2 level to mitigate taking a riskier TE1.
- Jimmy Graham, NO
The injured wrist that limited him in 2012 has been surgically repaired. Go back and look at his 2011 numbers to get the correct baseline for his 2013 projection. Remember that this is only his fifth year of big-time football. He’s worth a pick in the second half of the first round of PPR leagues, and I won’t argue against taking him #1 in TE premium leagues.
THE other TE1... Maybe... Probably
- Rob Gronkowski, NE
Yes, back surgery and we don’t know exactly when he’ll be ready to play. The Pats are still going to err on side of not putting him on the PUP, and it’s very easy to cover any early missed games because of the tremendous depth at tight end this year in fantasy drafts. His ADP is creeping back towards the top of the third round in drafts I’ve been doing lately. He’s worth a third round pick without a doubt, and with each piece of good news, the break point to take will move up.
Witten is safe, but not exciting because he doesn’t score touchdowns. Gonzalez is a little more exciting because he scores more often than Witten, but there’s always the risk of Father Time and “one more year” catching up with him. Gonzalez is still relatively safe and a good pick if you can get him in the sixth round. The sixth round is also the sweet spot for Davis, who has upside to separate himself from this tier if the 49ers follow through on using him more like a wide receiver.
This group should assure you baseline TE1 production this year. Something like four catches and 40-50 yards in most weeks, with a touchdown every other week or so. You can go high ceiling/low floor (Cook/Rudolph), or low ceiling/high floor (Olsen/Bennett). Pitta probably has the best floor/ceiling combination because he’s likely to be the #2 receiver in Baltimore, but he also has the highest ADP, about a round or two behind Gonzalez/Davis. Bennett is by far the best value, often falling to the double digit rounds. Cook is the best “swing for the fences” pick.
TE2 Upside Plays
- Dwayne Allen, IND
- Jermichael Finley, GB
- Brandon Myers, NYG
- Fred Davis, WAS
- Jordan Cameron, CLE
- Rob Housler, ARI
Any of the names on this list could assert themselves as low TE1’s this year. Allen’s arrow is pointing that way. Finley could return to past form (he better with what the Pack is paying him). Myers was a good pass-catcher last year and he inherits a good role in a good pass offense. Davis was a top receiver in the budding Washington offense before going down last year. Cameron has good hands and a tight end-friendly head coach, plus he’s on the potentially steep former basketball player growth curve. I’m not a Housler believer, but if Arizona has a lot of game scripts like Oakland last year, Housler will be a beneficiary. They are all great players to pair with a low TE1 in a PPR league. Allen is going the latest of any of these guys, and presents the best value. Finley is the priciest, but he also has the highest ceiling.
TE2 Depth Plays
- Owen Daniels, HOU
- Antonio Gates, SD
- Brandon Pettigrew, DET
- Jermaine Gresham, CIN
- Dustin Keller, MIA
- Marcedes Lewis, JAX
The floors are higher here than in the TE2 upside play, but it’s hard to get excited about any of these guys, except possibly Pettigrew. All of them project as low TE1/high TE2 plays, but Daniels and Gates’ arrows are pointing down because of age, Gresham’s because of the addition of a first-round rookie at his position, Keller’s because he’s at best the 3A target in a pass offense that is still coming together, and Lewis because, well, Jacksonville quarterbacks. Pettigrew is in the best pass offense, and one without a clearly established #2 target. The problem is that he has had multiple chances to establish himself as that #2 target and disappointed greatly.
- Heath Miller, PIT
- Delanie Walker, TEN
- Julius Thomas, DEN
- Zach Ertz, PHI
- Coby Fleener, IND
- James Casey, PHI
- Tyler Eifert, CIN
- Brent Celek, PHI
- Zach Miller, SEA
- Travis Kelce, KC
You shouldn’t be breaking into this list unless you are in a TE premium, 2 TE, or 16 team league, but they are names worth remembering and monitoring. Heath Miller tore his ACL in week 17, but nine-month recoveries are becoming more commonplace. Still, the Steelers had a bad experience with rushing Rashard Mendenhall back last year. Walker should get a chance to have the largest role of his career. Julius Thomas is a terrific talent, he just needs to stay healthy and gain the trust of Peyton Manning. If the three tight ends in Philadelphia don’t cancel each other’s value out, one could be worth rostering. Fleener’s draft pedigree and connection to his coach and quarterback imply a lot of upside, but I still see him as the fourth or fifth target in the pecking order in Indianapolis. Eifert could be an instant sensation (especially in the red zone), and the playoffs reminded us that Zach Miller still has the talent, he just needs the targets. NOTE: Travis Kelce added to this tier on 7/25 after a hot start to training camp.
TE Deep Sleepers
- David Ausberry, OAK
- Tony Moeaki, KC
- Kellen Winslow/Jeff Cumberland, NYJ
- Ed Dickson, BAL
- Scott Chandler, BUF
Ausberry is a former USC wide receiver and great raw talent on a team with a vacuum at tight end on the depth chart. Moeaki is a terrific pass catcher and Andy Reid made Brent Celek into a fantasy stud - injuries are a major concern though. Someone has to catch the ball for the Jets, right? Dickson is physically talented, but hasn’t produced yet. The lack of a solid #2 wide receiver could free up targets for him. Chandler is also rehabbing from a late-season ACL tear, but he isn’t the proven producer that Heath Miller is.
In Case of Starter Injury, Break Glass
All of these players have the requisite talent to produce at least TE2 numbers if the starters go down ahead of them.
More from Sigmund Bloom:
2015 Free Agency Winners and Losers - QB - March 26
Top 75 RBs in Dynasty Leagues - Pre-Free Agency - February 25
A Guide to Pre-Free Agency MFL10 Drafting - February 12
So You Want to Work for Footballguys.com? - February 10
Top 40 Dynasty Quarterbacks - February 4
Free Offseason Content Menu - February 3
Top 75 Players in Dynasty Leagues - Pre-Free Agency - February 3
Playoff Fantasy Rankings and Strategy - December 29
Week 17 Quarterback Tiers - December 24
Week 17 Running Back Tiers - December 24