Free Agency Winners and Losers - TE

A look at how free agency changed dynasty value at tight end

It’s nearly impossible to wrap your mind around the player movement that took place over just a few days in March. Thankfully, fantasy football gives us an angle to break this cacophony of change into micro movement on our dynasty rankings board. When we isolate the net effect of the plate tectonic movement around the league on one player, we can make some sense out of it, or at least what we expect to come of it. The tight end crop was not deep in free agency, but it was still one of the positions that created drama and some big moves on our dynasty board.

UP

Travis Kelce, KC - Jeremy Maclin will put some fear in opposing defenses of vertical passes. That can only open things up for Kelce in the middle of the field. He’s already poised for a third year leap, so the addition of Maclin will only enhance the size of that leap.

Zach Ertz, PHI - Someone has to get all of the targets freed up by Jeremy Maclin leaving and not being replaced by another credible downfield threat. I won’t be surprised in the least bit if Ertz’s 2015 numbers disappointingly look like his 2014 numbers because I’ve been all that impressed with his game, but the opportunity for a big leap in production is there.

Larry Donnell, NYG - Donnell didn’t benefit from any specific personnel moves, and the addition of Shane Vereen could actually steal some targets from him, but the Giants also appear to be very high on Donnell’s future, and Vereen’s arrival should signal a more dynamic and aggressive pass offense with all hands on deck in 2015. Donnell likely has more staying power and a higher ceiling than the general perception is right now.

Josh Hill, NO - Drew Brees had the highest passer rating when throwing to Hill last year of any of his targets. Jimmy Graham is gone, and so is Kenny Stills, with only CJ Spiller added to take up any of the slack, so Sean Payton’s public proclamations of love for Hill could portend a new addition to the TE1 ranks on the horizon.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TB - It’s only a small incremental gain, but the rising tide of Jameis Winston’s likely arrival in Tampa in the draft should lift all of the passing game ships.

Charles Clay, BUF - There’s no doubt that Buffalo is a desert for passing game stats, and perhaps Clay landing there should be the most important takeaway of his offseason. Still, Clay just turned 26 and is obviously held in higher regard around the league than most of us would have expected at the end of the season. Perhaps the returns won’t come this year, but Clay is a more of a heavyweight among fantasy TEs than I had given him credit for.

Owen Daniels, Virgil Green, DEN - Most likely, Daniels and Green will split up the targets left behind by Julius Thomas’s departure. Daniels knows the Kubiak offense like the back of his hand, and Green was kept by an organization that knows him well. The tight end role in the Kubiak offense is more than ample. All of this results in a net gain for both, but that split could make the weekly profile too difficult to nail down so we can benefit from it in fantasy leagues of all types.

MAYBE UP/MAYBE DOWN

Jordan Cameron, Dion Sims MIA - Cameron gets to play with the best QB he’s had in his short career in Miami, although he also is joined by a deeper group of passcatchers than he’s had in his short career. Injury worries loom over his stock, but Cameron is square in his prime (turning 27 in August) and he could easily post his best year yet if he stays healthy. If he doesn’t stay healthy, Cameron could be permanently seen as damaged goods. Sims was poised to be the #1 TE when Charles Clay flew the coop, but Cameron’s presence put a stop to that momentum. If Cameron is back on the injury report, Sims could emerge anyway. This will be an important situation to monitor during the season.

Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta, BAL - The Ravens have no other options at tight end this year. While the draft could bring help, tight end has a tough learning curve and that help will likely not be of the immediate variety. The Ravens weak WR corps would indicate that the tight end is going to be a favorite target, but Gillmore is inexperienced and Pitta is no sure thing to ever play in the NFL again. Someone could emerge here, but the weak firepower of the offense as a whole could make it a dud of a situation.

Mychal Rivera, OAK - Rivera was going to have his role usurped by Julius Thomas or Jermaine Gresham, but neither of those moves came to pass. Gresham could still end up in silver and black after he recovers from back surgery, but for now, Rivera remains in place to get a good number of targets in a pass offense lacking real cornerstone talents.

DOWN

Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, SEA - But don't slide Graham down as far as the most pessimistic have. He's still a premium fantasy player. Graham goes from one of the most pass happy offenses to one of the most run heavy offenses, but one would think that Seattle would trend towards more balance with the addition of Graham, especially in goal-to-go situations. Bottom line is that the gap between Graham and the #3 TE is still bigger than the gap between Graham and Gronkowski. Willson flashed his size/speed combo to make some big plays late last year, which generated some excitement about his fantasy prospects in an offense with a paucity of reliable options, but that evaporated once Graham showed up.

Julius Thomas, JAX - Thomas didn’t slide down in my rankings mostly because I had already factored in a less than sexy destination for his fantasy prospects, and because the number of young TEs worth investing in long term is very small, and Thomas will continue to be above the limited window options at tight end. Still, going to the lowest scoring team in the league and from Peyton Manning to Blake Bortles is brutal. Thomas could surprise and take over the pass offense, but it’s more likely that he’ll only resemble 2010 Marcedes Lewis even in a best case scenario.

Vernon Davis, SF - Davis’ value was dinged by the arrival of Reggie Bush and Torrey Smith, but more than that he appears to be falling off of the radar as an important part of the 49ers passing game, which is somewhat meager to begin with. It might have been injuries more than an impending decline that sapped his value last year, but then again, the injuries could be the most prominent sign of that decline.

Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks STL - I’m not sure how much value Cook had left, but the re-signing of Lance Kendricks to a deal with pretty nice terms for Kendricks signals to us that Cook’s value is going to continue to cool off. Kendricks had a chance to become the #1 tight end in the Atlanta pass offense and instead stayed in St. Louis, polar opposites in terms of fantasy opportunity, even if Kendricks was promised a larger role upon signing with the Rams

Jermaine Gresham, FA - Tight end was a highly coveted position in free agency mainly because of few proven options being on the market, and Gresham was one of the few. His market went dead after it was discovered that he needed back surgery. He could still end up in Oakland or another situation tailored for fantasy relevance, but that’s all up in the air for now, and his ceiling wasn’t that great to begin with.

MarQueis Gray, Chris Gragg, BUF - Only very deep dynasty TE premium degenerates like me care, but Gragg and Gray are among the most gifted athletes at the tight end position in the league, and they had unobstructed opportunity in Buffalo with Scott Chandler a free agent. Now that Charles Clay is a Bill, that window has slammed shut.

Niles Paul, WAS - We shouldn’t be too quick to write Paul off since his running mate Jordan Reed is always on the injury report, but Paul had a chance to sign somewhere with a clearer path to fantasy opportunity. He chose to stay in Washington before free agency opened, which he might have regretted after seeing the money Charles Clay got on the open market.