Gut Check No.356: TE Dynasty Tiers

"Matt Waldman to aisle 11 for a TE dynasty check...Waldman, TE dynasty check, aisle 11." 

Although the majority of my leagues are dynasty-IDP formats I don't do dynasty rankings. Barring an unforeseen event, I don't have the time for at least another 2-3 years. But it's by far one of my favorite realms of this hobby. This week's column features some of my team-building philosophies and current tiers patterned after my ideas. 

DYNASTY BLUEPRINTS

Whether you're in a startup league or you've inherited a team, these strategies are common across the dynasty landscape. You can usually identify which method is closest to what you're doing. There are hybrids of these blueprints as well as other strategies. I'm only naming the ones I use or consider. 

The Sell-Off: Stockpiling as many 1st and 2nd-round picks as possible in exchange for your veteran starters or youth that others value more. A variation of this also strategy includes trading players at the later stages of their prime for ascending talents that haven't broken through. I've seen the entire gamut of outcomes with this blueprint. In one league there's an owner that has compiled a dream team that has outscored us by 200 points thus far. I'm also in a league where an owner has at least 3-4 first-round picks every 2-3 years because he's either too impatient with his players' development or he's made bad picks and going back to the drawing board.  Some of the best owners I know do execute this blueprint well. They generally have a few anchor players on the roster to help this turnaround happen within a year or two.

Win Now: The most practical owners I know treat dynasty leagues like re-draft leagues with the exception of a few minor, but important considerations such as the value of rookie draft picks on the open market, the perception of older players on the open market, and finding ways to continually infuse talent onto your roster.

Slow Builds: The most idealistic blueprint. It's difficult to hit on enough rookie picks that remain injury-free and develop within a 2-4 year period to create a roster solely from a few draft classes where you haven't stockpiled 6-8 picks within the first two rounds. There used to be a strong appeal to organically grow a great roster mostly from the assigned draft picks and the waiver wire, but it also requires a certain amount of arrogance to do it this way in competitive leagues. Those who try eventually learn it was tragic hubris. Not that there aren't successful slow builds, but they're less common in my leagues.

IDEAS, TECHNIQUES, AND PLANS I USE

Three-Year Windows: I view my team in the scope of a three-year window. As each year passes, I'm continually updating whether that player still has a three-year window or less than a three-year window. I no longer view Peyton Manning, Steve Smith or Marshawn Lynch with a three-year window. Manning and Lynch may have 1-2 years left. Smith is done after 2015. 

Other players have multiple three-year windows. Russell Wilson is 27. If he stays healthy, he'll have at least two, three-year windows. Jameis Winston has five, three-year windows.

Whenever I assess my team, I look at players from this perspective and it helps me determine the makeup of my team and the type of blueprint I want to use. 

Paying a Premium on QBs: Although I have learned a lot as an evaluator of talent over the past 12 years and it includes the quarterback position, I don't like drafting rookie quarterbacks unless I have a desperate need or a strong belief in his value compared to his draft position. Quarterback selection and development in the NFL is rife with problems. There are too many factors that can ruin a prospect: too much punishment, coaching and scheme changes, and a lack of focused development on core technical and conceptual issues in favor of enabling the player's limited, but game-changing athletic skills in the present. 

Successful starting quarterbacks tend to have the longest careers. I'd rather pay Bentley prices for Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers or the tier below that includes the likes of Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. It's safe and sensible. 

I know what I'm getting. I can also limit my depth chart to 2-3 QBs and save room for the positions that comprise most of a starting lineup. And I'm not using up a high draft pick every 2-3 years that I'd rather reserve for other positions because of the up-and-down nature of passers that haven't reached the tier of the options above. 

Anchor Players: A premium QB is an anchor player. So is a RB1, WR1, elite (top 3) TE, DE1, or ILB/MLB1 (and possibly an elite OLB in sack-heavy leagues). I determine my anchor players and player windows at the end of each season or before the trading window opens for the next. The more anchor players I have, the better. For most scoring rules, here is my order of priority for anchor players (and the amount of players at the position that generally keep on my rosters in parenthesis): 

  • QB (2-3): As I mentioned above, the fewer I need on my depth chart, the more room I have elsewhere. They also last. 
  • TE (1-2): For the same reasons as quarterback. If the scoring gives a premium for tight ends then I'll increase the allotment to 3-4 players.
  • MLB/ILB (6-8): As our staff has discovered, scoring of tackles depends on the conservative/liberal nature of the stats keepers covering the team for the seasons. It's also hard to find tackling machines on the waiver wire and some of the best have careers that last almost as long as QBs and TEs. 
  • DE (3-6): The optimal depth chart amount is 3-4 for me, but durability and variability rarely allow me to be at the lower range. That said, I find that I can field a contender most years with one DE1 or multiple 2s/3s in a rotation if I'm strong elsewhere. 
  • WR (6-8): Career length tends to be strong, but it's a position that's easiest to acquire through the draft, trades, and free agency. 
  • RB (4-6): An elite runner is a most-prized commodity, but most leagues I'm in only allow 1-2 starters so 4-6 backs is more than enough to account for a position with high injury rates, shorter careers, and scheme and offensive line changes that render many of them less useful in any given season.

Cyclers: I know that some of my IDP colleagues argue that defensive back isn't just a position that one can cycle through free agency week-after-week, and year-after-year, but I tend do so with success. The exception is older or established safeties. I like to keep old safeties like Charles Woodson, who, for the past 3-5 years has defied the predictions of fantasy analysts that his reign of production is coming to an end "this year." I keep 3-4 corners and safeties on my squad at any given time. 

TE TIERS

About the Tiers: I love tiers because the order of the players within them aren't concrete. There's no single answer that fits all scenarios. Some players are better options for owners where they value a swing-for-the-fence mentality. Elite tight ends often hold their starter as long as wide receivers--sometimes longer. Tony Gonzalez was a top-6 TE until he was 37. A 35-year-old Shannon Sharpe ended his career as the No.2 TE during the 2003 fantasy season. Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen, Jason Witten and Delanie Walker are in their 30s and they're still going strong. 

It's not a big list, but top hybrid tight ends with field-stretching skills and production after the catch during their 20s often mellow into great zone route specialists with reliable hands in traffic. As the vertical game leaves their arsenal, they still earn volume and the red zone work shines--especially if the tight end has spent 4-6 years with the same quarterback or he's newly paired with a venerable passer known for his ball placement and anticipation. 

On TE Scoring and My suggested Trade Values

Whenever I think about dynasty leagues and tight end play, it's difficult not to think about the scoring variations that exist across leagues. It's something that my buddy Steve Volk, a magazine writer in the Philadelphia area and an avid dynasty owner, mentioned to me last week because I got him into some of my dynasty leagues in recent years where the scoring format awards 1.5 PPR to tight ends and while he understands the desire to recognize top players at each position, he believes this type of scoring is too generous. 

There's a worthwhile debate to be had about this subject (and it won't begin here). I raise the issue because the values of tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen and Martellus Bennett change dramatically with standard scoring, PPR, and FFPC (1.5 PPR) formats. 

To split the difference my tiers will be based on PPR formats. One of my readers--a hardcore fantasy player and two-time high-stakes winner--mentioned to me last week that there's no way he'd get some of the players I had in my first two tiers for one pick and a player. In his leagues, it would require as many as three first-round picks or a combination of multiples/players. 

I'm in leagues where the values are that high, too. I'll remind those of you who felt the same way about the trade values when reading the QB, RB, and WR tiers that I'm writing for an audience with a broad range of league types and levels of expertise. I realize many of you will have to adjust the suggested ante. If you're in one of these leagues where you'll need at least first-round picks to acquire a Tier 1-A player, I recommend you add two picks and/or player to each suggested value in parenthesis. 

If you're not going to offer a pick and a starter, then you'll probably need to offer multiple picks of the round I suggested (or higher) to get the players here. 

For example, the top tier may require 2-3 first-round picks. The second tier may require a combo of first and second-round picks. the third tier may require a first-round pick or multiple picks outside the first-round. 

Win-Now Premium TEs: These players have at least two years left of a three-year window and can afford you to keep a minimal number of passers on your depth chart on a win-now team with a true window of contention. 

Tier 1-A (Players I'd pay a mid-to-high first-round rookie pick and a starter to acquire)

  1. Rob GronkowskiMedical information is so important to pre-draft analysis. I learned this first-hand with Gronkowski. I was worried about his back holding up long enough to even become a good NFL starter. Now I'm optimistic that Gronkowski can play well into his 30s and have a similar career trajectory as Jason Witten. The biggest question for Gronkowski might be who will be throwing him the ball in the post-Brady era. Estimating that Gronkowski has at least two, three-year windows is fair, but I'd try to sell the idea that post-Brady could be a huge unknown for the tight end. The hope is you don't have to pay the premium. Most of you will and ability-wise, it's worth it.
  2. Greg OlsenRemember when we had such high expectations for Olsen in Chicago with Jay Cutler? Most weren't expecting it to happen with Cam Newton. Then again, many people didn't think Cam Newton would be as good as he is. I believe Olsen has another 3-5 years in the tank, which isn't as long of a range as 26-year-old Travis Kelce. The difference is Newton. If Kelce had Newton I might be raising an argument why Kelce is worth more to dynasty owners with rebuilds to value him higher than Gronkowski. Short-term, the Panthers have the quarterback, the defense, and the continuity for Olsen to remain a top-three option for the long haul.  

Tier 1-B (Players I'd pay a mid-to-low first-round pick and a starter to acquire)  

  1. Travis Kelce and Tyler Eifert: Whether you prefer the Chief or Eifert, I'm not going to debate you for long. Both give me compelling reasons for optimism and concern. Eiert wins with Andy Dalton--at least this year and with this offensive personnel. If the Bengals get stingy and let Marvin Jones Jr walk, the effectiveness of their offensive game plans may suffer more than many think. I still recognize it's a minor concern. So is Eifert's health history. If he makes it through this season unscathed, it will be his first in the NFL--another minor concern.  Kelce offers more skill after the catch and more vertical, big-play potential, but his quarterback's skill set restricts this ability and   Alex Smith is physically a young 31-year-old. It could be 5-6 years before Kelce gets a quarterback willing to target him deep and in tight coverage. By that time, Kelce could be slowing down. The conservative fantasy owner's pick is Eifert, the big-upside pick with a slightly lower floor is Kelce. I prefer Kelce, but I won't fault you for taking Eifert.
  2. Jimmy GrahamIf you're pessimistic about the Seahawks' offense beyond 2015 then Graham should drop at least one tier. I'm a Seahawks fan, so many of you believe I'll be too optimistic. I'm keeping Graham in this tier because I believe the Seahawks' offense is undergoing a transition. Whether it's a year or two, or he decides that he's done after this year, Marshawn Lynch doesn't have much time left. Seattle purged its running back depth chart this fall, which tells me they'll be searching for another back in 2016 to either compete with Rawls or overtake the UDFA favorite. I wouldn't be surprised if Seattle targets a free agent if Lynch leaves at year's end. The Seahawks could consider the same overhaul of its receiver depth chart. The only two options with long-term potential are Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson Jr (and maybe Chris Matthews). None of this matters if the Seahawks can't give Russell Wilson more time. As mentioned on Sunday Night Football on NBC, Russell Wilson isn't faultless for some of the sacks he's incurred, but I don't see Seattle's offense running a lot of quick-hitting plays off short drops. Maybe the reason they don't adjust this way has to do with Wilson's height. Accessing passing lanes fast enough on quick-hitters over the line of scrimmage might be a problem. What we do know is that too often, Wilson doesn't have enough time to drop, set, and throw and either this offensive line gets better over the next five weeks or Seattle will be overhauling this offense in 2016. Either way, I think it benefits Graham. If the line gets better, Graham will have a year in this system and he'll have an offseason to work with the personnel to make beneficial tweaks. If the line and system get overhauled, Graham could inherit a coach who is more amenable to implementing what Graham and Wilson do best together. Maybe I am too optimistic. Graham is a boom-bust TE1 thus far in 2015. The ability is still there and the quarterback has promise. I'd take the risk, but it is a risk when there are options in the next tier in the same 28-30 age range with better win-now team scenarios. 

Tier 2 Starters (A second-round rookie draft pick and/or a starter):

  1. Martellus BennettThe eternal fool's gold question for fantasy owners might be, Is Jay Cutler turning the corner? I broach the topic because Cutler is good enough for Bennett to remain a solid win-now starter for at least one more three-year window. I think Bennett's drop in production is an indication that his offense misses Brandon Marshall--in addition to healthy wide receivers. I'm optimistic that Kevin White will help Bennett and this offense in 2016. The bigger question is Zach Miller, who has been a fantasy factor the past two weeks with big plays. Miller is older, but he may also be a cheaper option for Chicago during the next 2-3 seasons. Even so, I still see Bennett outside the top-five--close, but not quite there.
  2. Delanie Walker:  The Titans' most reliable option is already 31, but he's a "young" 31 because he spent the early part of his career as a part-time contributor alongside Vernon Davis. He's a more conservative pick than the next to options on this list, because there's only one three-year window left his career and that window might not be fully open. But he's paired with a quarterback whose deep game remains a work in progress and it makes him a good safety blanket with top-5 upside. 
  3. Jordan ReedThe knee issues area  long-term concern, but the 25-year-old is making a strong case that his upside is worth the risk. He's not Aaron Hernandez's level on the field, but he's closer to it than any player since the former Patriot. .

Tier 3 (Players I'd pay a third round rookie pick and/or a starter.)

  1. Gary BarnidgeIs he a weapon of convenience or a late bloomer? Both. He's the 2014 Justin Forsett of fantasy tight ends. If I felt confident enough that the Browns will stick with Josh McCown for another 2-3 years or the team does something to signal a true long-term commitment to Johnny Manziel, Barnidge--a poor man's Greg Olsen--would earn a spot in Tier 2. 
  2. Antonio GatesIf you can make compelling points to his fantasy owner that Gates has no more than a year or two left (point to Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez as two, 37-year-old outliers and concede that Gates belongs there while emphasizing that he must concede time is fleeting for Gates' career) then parting with a third-round pick for 1-2 years of top-10 production with a good--sometimes great--NFL quarterback is worth the price if your team is a contender. You might even get top-5 production. 
  3. Charles Clay: The former Tulsa fullback's age, athletic prowess, and the good flashes of this Bills offense are good reasons to consider Clay at the top of this tier. If Buffalo doesn't waiver on its commitment to Tyrod Taylor, a third-round pick could be a bargain. Clay is one of those players that's best to wait until the off season unless you already have an aging option and can get the Bills' tight end this cheap.  
  4. Jason WittenWhen Tony Romo is healthy, Witten has the same upside as late-career Tony Gonzalez. HIs market value should be depressed enough to lead off negotiations with an offer with a fourth-round pick and a player. I'd pay a third-round value if I have a contender and Witten is a cheap option to cover a hole in my lineup while I focus my energies elsewhere.
  5. Ben WatsonHe might have two more years if the Saints choose to ride him until the wheels fall off. Although never the consistent hybrid superstar Tony Gonzalez was, Watson arguably entered the league a better athlete and it's clear that he's mellowed into an option that still possesses skill to stretch the intermediate seam. If you didn't know, Watson once chased down Champ Bailey from across the field to prevent a touchdown in a playoff game. If there were assurances that Watson will be sticking around as the starter next year, he'd be at the top of this tier for a win-now team that needs a hole covered at its TE spot.
  6. Richard RodgersIt's still maddening to see Rodgers at this weight after studying him at Cal when he looked like an overgrown receiver. His hands, athletic skill, ability to block, and quarterback all point to a higher tier. But will he earn that kind of volume when Jordy Nelson returns and the wide receiver roles are locked into place. If James Jones sticks around another year, the answer is likely no. If the Packers jettison the veteran, Rodgers could be the beneficiary. 
  7. Kyle RudolphI still believe in Rudolph. The issue isn't his skills, but the decimated offensive line in Minnesota. If the Vikings can ever field a healthy unit, Rudolph has the skills to function a lot like Gary Barnidge has this year. 
  8. Clive WalfordIt's hard not to like the way the Raiders offense has performed, and Walford has earned more targets in recent weeks. think of Walford as a player with Greg Olsen's upside. The infrastructure is there in Oakland for it to happen.   
  9. Vernon DavisIs it just me, or can you imagine Davis doing little in Denver only to get cast off during the transition away from Peyton Manning and then wind up as part of a two-TE combination with Rob Gronkowski that dominates in New England? It just seems like somethign that would happen. Davis as Tier 1 ability, Tier 2 career production history, and a Tier 3 career window. If you're swinging for the fences, Davis is that short-term home run cut. 
  10. Julius ThomasInjuries and a new offense have created a slow start, but he's also reportedly out of shape. When a coach is asked this question and his response is, "Why don't you ask him that question?" it sounds a lot like a dad saying to his son (who is serving detention on the weekend for TP-ing the school), "Why don't you tell your grandfather why you have to miss his birthday party on Saturday?" Thomas was never a complete tight end, but he's capable of much better than this. You can bump him, but I'm not sold on Thomas' maturity.

 

Tier 4 Starters (A fourth-round rookie draft pick and/or a starter):

  1. Ladarius Green: If Gates sticks around another year or two, Green could be 27 before he earns the job and he might get a year with Philip Rivers. Louisiana-Lafayette's former star tight end could earn a Tier 3 outlook at that age, but I don't like that outlook. I also don't think Gates has been so great in recent years that Green wouldn't have pushed for more playing time if he didn't show more. 
  2. Heath MillerOld reliable. He and Hines Ward inspired my desire to create a RSP Writers Project called The Team to Defend the Planet. Miler is the glue that holds this team together in moments where things seem to be at its worst. He's no longer a consistent intermediate option--that's been long-gone from his game for a few years. He is a wily, high-volume option and I love targeting him late in drafts and pairing him with a late upside pick if I miss on my priority targets.  
  3. Zach ErtzHe's a one dimensional option with a capped ceiling and a low floor. He's the type of player I hate to take in drafts and have no desire to build around. But if you must, this is where I think he belongs.
  4. Jacob TammeI see far less upside for Tamme compared to the likes of Zach Miller, Dwayne Allen and Zach Miller, but Matt Ryan has developed a rapport with the journeyman and there's little else the Falcons' passing game offers beyond Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. Tamme is 30 and rational general management would lead you to believe that the Falcons will add a tight end during the off season. But I've said this since Tony Gonzalez left and if Atlanta drafts a successor this year, don't expect instant impact from a rookie from that position; it rarely happens. It makes Tamme a viable option for another 2-3 seasons.
  5. Owen DanielsA fine football player, Daniels at this point of his career is like the fantasy football equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If you're starving or being fed a steady diet of fancy-overrated cuisine, a PB&J is a fantastic culinary oasis. If you're expecting something fancy, PB&J is a massive disappointment. Most dynasty owners are hoping to discover the perfectly farmed, butchered, and cooked filet. But if your expectations are modest, Daniels could offer a reasonable security blanket for another year or two for a PB&J budget. And if you run out of Skippy and Smucker's you'll still have the means to return to the store. 
  6. Coby FleenerSee Ertz. 
  7. Zach MillerThe Jaguars loved Miller, but he couldn't stay healthy. He's making plays in recent weeks and if the Bears decide 2-3 years of Miller is cheaper and potentially as fruitful as Martellus Bennett, he could be a steal. Don't count on it, but if you're in a league that hoards tight ends, Miller is worth your consideration. 
  8. Dwayne Allen: You'll probably have to overpay for Allen--and I would pay a third-round pick without hesitation if Allen's time with Indianapolis ends sooner than later. The Colts have never figured out how to best use him. I believe the offense has too many layers that don't allow its tight ends to get into the flow of the game and it lacks the flexibility for the quarterback to shift things around the way Tom Brady could when he had two top options. I would love to see Allen in Atlanta where they can use a player who can block and get open within the first 15-20 yards of the line of scrimmage. He'd be a great fit in an outside zone scheme and Kyle Shanahan could flex him around as an H-Back. A man can dream, can't he?
  9. Maxx WilliamsI like what I've seen from Crockett Gillmore, but Williams is even younger, more athletic as a receiver, and the team wants to get him on the field. There's some danger that Williams is Coby Fleener-Zach Ertz incarnate, but I think he's more fluid than either and capable of becoming more well-rounded. 

Tier 5 (Late round picks and/or commensurate development projects)

  1. Crockett GillmoreI fear this is too low, but the threat of Baltimore forcing Williams into the lineup at Gillmore's expense is palpable. He's a better free agent acquisition of the future where Williams becomes the starter and either gets hurt or under-performs. 
  2. James O'Shaughnessy: There have been moments that my colleagues have commented on seeing O'Shaughnessy in September and mistaking his athletic skill and pass catching for Kelce. I'm glad I wasn't the only one. He's buried in Kansas City for a couple of years, but in deeper leagues I'd own a share while he can still sit on a taxi squad just in case Kelce gets hurt. Once he's no longer eligible, he's a top priority free agent that you monitor until there's reason to take a shot. 
  3. Dion SimsSims is a poor man's Dwayne Allen. Right now that mean's he's not fit for your roster in leagues with less than 25 spots. 
  4. Jermaine GreshamThe former Bengal is only 27 and in an stacked Cardinals offense he has the skills to establish a reliable presence in the middle of the field. The expectations for Gresham early in his career were unfair, but I think he still has the youth, blocking skills, and short-range receiving prowess to exceed the "left for dead" vibe fantasy owners have towards him now. 
  5. Austin Seferian-JenkinsWhen he's healthy for more than 5 games and producing, email me and I'll give you a better assessment. I'll believe it when I see it.
  6. Virgil GreenThe poor guy signed a free agent deal to stay in Denver and the Broncos traded for Vernon Davis. I'm speculating, but it tells me Green is either hurt, undisciplined, a slow learner, or he did something heinous to John Elway's cereal early in his career. That last possibility would earn him points in my little Browns book. He's signed to a three-year contract so it's unlikely anytime soon that he'll get the chance to prove that the issue was Elway's toasted oats. 
  7. Blake BellHe's the heir-apparent in 49er-land next summer and if he uses this year and the off season to make the transition, he should display enough promise to get the public excited about what he can do as a receiver and blocker. Think a slightly more athletic Brent Celek.

 

Long-Term TEs: Most of these players have multiple three-year windows and they're best matched with fantasy teams where the expectation isn't to win this year or next. Players without multiple three-year windows are listed. If the player is 28-30 and likely has not more than one three-year window, but the talent to make it a great three years, a 24-year-old in a more murky situation or less developed talent does not get a bump on my board. If you're not going to offer a pick and a starter, then you'll probably need to offer multiple picks of the round I suggested (or higher) to get the players here. 

For example, the top tier may require 2-3 first-round picks. The second tier may require a combo of first and second-round picks. the third tier may require a first-round pick or multiple picks outside the first-round. 

Top Tier (Players I'd give a first-round rookie pick and/or a starter)

  1. Rob Gronkowski  
  2. Travis KelceIf I'm rebuilding, I want technicians with game-changing athletic skills. Kelce is this and young. 

2nd Tier (Low-first or second-round rookie pick and/or a starter) 

  1. Greg OlsenOlsen could fit in the top tier, but I'd try to low-ball an owner with the age argument.
  2. Tyler EifertEifert is more of a scheme-needy player than the first three and I have difficulties trusting it long-term when comparing them to guys like Gronkowski and Kelce.
  3. Jimmy GrahamExhibit A to my argument about Eifert's value.
  4. Jordan ReedExhibit B to my Eifert argument and then throw in his injury history. That's said, 2nd Tier means I like them enough to pursue their services and build around them.

3rd Tier  (Low-second to third-round pick and/or a starter)

  1. Martellus BennettZach Miller is the flavor of the month and might earn more, but watch, wait, and possibly strike after the season.
  2. Delanie Walker - Reliable for a few more years? I'd take the chance.
  3. Charles ClayCould easily make the second tier by the end of this season if the Bills click again. 
  4. Kyle RudolphWatch out for MyCole Pruitt long-term. Short-term? The offensive line needs to stay healthy.
  5. Julius ThomasGetting in shape and re-focusing effort with new team are priorities. At a crossroads. 
  6. Gary BarnidgeIf Manziel can continue his improvement, Barnidge will belong at top of this tier or the bottom of the 2nd Tier this offseason.
  7. Antonio GatesIf your team needs reliable duct tape for a year, Gates and Witten are the brands I endorse.
  8. Jason WittenSee above.
  9. Richard RodgersGreat quarterback, but can Rodgers win him over as a go-to guy? This stretch-run is his audition.
  10. Clive WalfordHe'll go higher, but I'm cautious about young tight ends based on their history. I like what I see, but his on-field work is so limited right now that the future remains too speculative to boost his ranking.
  11. Ben WatsonIf the Saints don't add a bigger name via free agency, Watson also gets my duct tape endorsement.
  12. Vernon DavisGive him the right team and QB and he could be a 2nd tier option, maybe higher. 

4th Tier (Low-third or fourth round rookie pick and/or a starter)

  1. Ladarius GreenI bet his street value is much higher than warranted. This is what I'd pay, which tells you I'll rarely get to buy. 
  2. Maxx WilliamsIf he earns more looks down the stretch and produces, put him with Walford or a tier higher. Until then...
  3. Heath MillerMasking tape that holds better than you might expect, but don't mistake him for duct tape at this point. 
  4. Dwayne AllenFree Dwayne Allen. If this happens, he'll get at least a bump of a tier. 
  5. Coby FleenerZach Ertz with more speed and a little more grit against physical play.
  6. MyCole PruittHe has 2nd tier potential, maybe more. His situation and depth chart depresses his value right now. Watch.
  7. Zach ErtzThe most overrated fantasy tight end of the past three years. Solid contributor, but most have expected much more. He's masking tape that people keep trying to stock in the wrong aisle.
  8. Crockett GillmoreMonitor. Might be a bargain if he can end the season like it started it.
  9. Zach Miller - I like what I've seen, but two games doesn't warrant paying through the nose for him--unless you're doing it with waiver funds and have a good team. 
  10. Blake BellThe future in San Francisco? Is there an immediate future for San Francisco? 

 

5th Tier (Low-fourth or fifth-round rookie pick and/or a starter)

  1. Owen DanielsNearing the end.
  2. James O'Shaughnessy - Top of the 2nd tier athletic ability and potential. Tough situation for now, but life changes fast in the NFL.
  3. Austin Seferian-JenkinsHe'll go much higher and those who like his potential will think I have him way too low. I'm skeptical about him staying healthy, but more skeptical that he's truly a difference maker. 
  4. Jacob TammeA one-dimensional player on an offense that needs both a conceptual overhaul and a personnel rehab project to the passing game. 
  5. Dion SimsNotice Jordan Cameron is nowhere to be found on this list? I hope so. A player of his talent should be this anonymous in the NFL, but his production indicates this is the case.
  6. Jermaine GreshamScotch Tape.
  7. Eric EbronSee Jordan Cameron commentary in the Dion Sims entry.
  8. Tyler KroftIf Eifert stays healthy this year, it will be the first time as a pro. Kroft is good enough to develop into an Owen Daniels-like option with a little more skill as a blocker.
  9. C.J. FiedorowiczBig, fluid, and inconsistent.
  10. Ryan GriffinSmart, fluid, and like his teammate, stuck on a rebuild with coffee stains obscuring the only set of blueprints. 
  11. Cameron BrateA slower Ryan Griffin who could outplay Seferian-Jenkins. 



This list could go a lot deeper, but this covers most of the obvious options (barring an oversight or two).