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Faceoff: TE Most Hurt By Free Agency

August 12th

Clayton Gray: Is there a tight end whose fantasy prospects were really hurt by free agency? If so, expound on what happened and how it decreases his 2011 outlook.

Sigmund Bloom: Zach Miller went from a mediocre passing offense with an unproven, injury-prone group of wideouts in Oakland to what will probably be a terrible pass offense with two big quality wideouts in their prime in Seattle. He was on pace to put up close to 70/1000/8 in the first half of the season, but an injury slowed for him a month - although Miller did bounce back to catch 22 balls in the last four games.

Now Miller will be lucky to catch 60 balls for 800 yards because he's on a team that is committed to running the ball and only the third best option in the passing game when they do throw. Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst could be the worst starting and backup QBs in the league at creating passing production so Miller has gone from the second tier of fantasy TEs to a massive third tier filled with uncertainty.

Other Losers: Dustin Keller went from having the two wide receivers from last year dangling in free agency to looking at the return of one, plus the addition of two grizzled vets to cut into his fantasy upside, not to mention show that the Jets didn't want to put the burden of a big part of the passing game in him. Rookie Rob Housler in Arizona has the skills to be a viable target for Kevin Kolb, but the signing of Todd Heap will delay his arrival and development. Jeremy Shockey was poised to squeeze out one more decent fantasy season with fellow TE from the The U Rob Chudzinski running the offense, but the Panther traded a third-round pick for Greg Olsen and gave him a generous contract extension.

Jason Wood: Bloom is certainly right to highlight Miller, but let's also not forget about his new teammate John Carlson. Carlson was a fringe top 10 fantasy QB just two seasons ago, and now is a backup playing out the last year of his contract with very little chance of fantasy relevance.

Other "losers" at TE include:

  • Tony Gonzalez -- Julio Jones is a big, physical receiver and will give Matt Ryan a viable alternative in the red zone. At Gonzalez' advanced age, having not one, but two wide receivers to contend with bodes ill for another season of turning back the clocks.
  • Anthony Fasano -- Fasano wasn't a high priority fantasy pick to begin with, but the addition of Reggie Bush stands to decimate his value, even as a #2 fantasy tight end. Bush is going to catch a ton of balls out of the backfield and in the slot, and Fasano makes his living catching passes just a few yards away from the line of scrimmage.
  • Aaron Hernandez -- Hernandez remains a chic sleeper pick and I think that's misguided. The Patriots adapt to their personnel each year and with Wes Welker, Deion Branch and now Chad Ochocinco in the fold, the Patriots are going to go back to more traditional 3-WR sets versus the 2- and 3-TE formations they toyed with last year. Hernandez stands to lose because his game is more akin to a wide receivers, whereas Rob Gronkowski will stay on the field as the TE, because he's not only a great offensive weapon, but he's a determined blocker.

Mark Wimer: Jason picked most of the guys that I wanted to highlight, so I'll add to his thoughts.

On John Carlson - the arrival of Miller has me worried that the serious concussion Carlson suffered in Chicago during the playoffs had more detrimental effects than were first known. Carlson said back in June that he did not have any symptoms a few days after the injury and was cleared to work out about a week later, but I think the move to get Miller may indicate that there is more going on with Carlson than is publicly acknowledged.

Regarding Tony Gonzalez - he is clearly on the downslope of his Hall of Fame career - and all the news out of training camp so far has been that Julio Jones is playing like a 5-year vet (SI's Peter King tweeted that the first day of Falcon's training camp). Even Gonzalez is singing the kid's praises: "This kid Julio Jones is the real deal. He's the best incoming receiver I've ever played with. Come to think of it, it's not even close." I think Jason is right that Jones will eat into Gonzalez's touches - and I also think that rookie RB Jacquizz Rodgers will also negatively impact his touches. Gonzalez may be lucky to catch 50 balls this year, not the 100+ we got used to when he played for the Chiefs.

On Hernandez - all the reports out of training camp so far is that Rob Gronkowski has been dominating defensive backs and looking extremely sharp. I think Hernandez's role will be more as a backup to Gronkowski than as a more-or-less equal partner in 2-TE formations this year (like we saw in 2009).

Sigmund Bloom: I'm gonna have to disagree with Colin here and say that this signing has more to do with supporting the running game and giving more options in two TE sets than any indictment of Cook. Cook is like Jermichael Finley, the Titans aren't fooling themselves about his major contributions coming as a receiver, not a two-way TE. New offensive coordinator has already talked up Cook, and if anything, he's a winner with the addition of Matt Hasselbeck at QB. If Cook had rookie Jake Locker or a second-tier FA QB like Matt Moore throwing to him, that would be more troubling than the addition of another two-way TE to the roster.

Jeff Pasquino: Despite Colin's close eye on Tennessee, I tend to agree with Bloom here on Cook. He's now going to have some room to roam with Bo Scaife gone and weakness at WR2. Add in Matt Hasselbeck to get Cook the ball in a good spot over the middle and I am high on Cook's breakout potential.

Jeremy Shockey was a nice sleeper tight end right up until Greg Olsen wound up in Carolina. He still has some modest value as the Panthers are starving for wide receiver talent, but Olsen really steals away most of Shockey's value for this year.

Greg Russell: I would like to echo some of the other staff members' opinions on Dustin Keller. After a red hot start last season, Keller's role declined upon the return of Santonio Holmes to the lineup. Sanchez clearly trusts Keller, but the Jets' signings of Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason could be the death knell for Keller's value. I would severely temper expectations for him in this offense.

Of all the places for Zach Miller to end up, Seattle would not have been one that fantasy owners would have been wishing for. Miller enters a situation where the best option at quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson. There is little to get excited about on the ground for Seattle, and I can see Miller continuously suffering from poor and unpredictable quarterback play. The one glimmer of light is the fact that he managed to be productive even when JaMarcus Russell was the starter in Oakland, so maybe Jackson can muster up something. That said, I wouldn't count on it.