What was considered one of the more shallow positions in years past, is now much deeper. The tight end position proved particularly deep last year, as owners who lost Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark or Jermichael Finley were able to find a capable replacement on the waiver wire. If you choose to pass on a top-tier 2011 fantasy tight end, all of the players on this list are productive options.
1. Antonio Gates
Gates was on pace for career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns before injuring his foot in Week 8. After the injury, Gates only played in two more games the rest of the 2010 season. Despite only playing in 10 games, he still had 50 catches for 782 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gates will likely be the first tight end of the board in most fantasy drafts, but worth the risk despite the injury concerns.
2. Jermichael Finley
Following a breakout 2009 season, Finley was on his way to another solid year in 2010 until it was cut short in Week 5 with a season-ending knee injury. Before getting hurt, Finley caught 21 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown in the first four games. He’s a dynamic option for Aaron Rodgers in the Packers pass-heavy offense and should put up big numbers, if healthy.
3. Jason Witten
Witten finished last season with 94 receptions for 1002 yards, leading all tight ends in both categories. He may not have lead in these categories if Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley had not suffered season-ending injuries, but nonetheless, he’s been a very reliable fantasy tight end and a top 3 player at his position.
4. Dallas Clark
Clark was on pace for another solid fantasy year until he suffered a wrist injury six games into the 2010 season that required season-ending surgery. Clark should start the year healthy and he should have no problem returning to the form that made him a top five fantasy tight end before his injury.
5. Vernon Davis
Davis had a breakout season in 2009 with 78 catches for 965 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he followed that up in 2010 with 56 catches for 914 yards and seven touchdowns. Despite the slight dip in production last year, he still remains one of the top fantasy tight ends, especially since the 49ers will likely turn to a tight end-friendly West Coast offense under coach Jim Harbaugh.
6. Owen Daniels
Daniels got off to a slow start to the 2010 season recovering from a torn ACL. He then missed five games with a hamstring injury and totaled only 38 receptions for 471 yards for the year. However, he ended the season on high note, totaling 22 catches for 271 yards and two scores in Weeks 14 through 17. When healthy, Daniels is one of the league’s better tight ends and hopefully his late season surge in 2010 is a sign of what we’ll see in 2011.
7. Jimmy Graham
With Jeremy Shockey no longer in New Orleans, Graham will enter the 2011 season as the Saints starting tight end. Graham got off to a slow start in his rookie season, but ended strong, scoring four times in his last three regular season games. Graham is on a great offense and he’ll likely be a popular red zone target for quarterback Drew Brees. Fantasy owners should be prepared to draft him as a top 10 tight end in fantasy drafts.
8. Zach Miller
Miller is a free agent this offseason, but he has said that he’d like to stay in Oakland with quarterback Jason Campbell, who has favored tight ends during his career. Miller set a career high with five touchdowns in 2010 and had his second year in a row with at least 60 catches. Miller is a safe bet for around 60 catches for 700-800 yards, but don’t expect a lot of touchdowns.
9. Chris Cooley
Coming off an injury in 2009, and the lingering questions about Fred Davis possibly cutting into his workload, Cooley had one of the more productive seasons of his career in 2010 in terms of yardage and receptions with 77 catches for 849 yards. Unfortunately, that effort only resulted in three touchdowns in 2010. Cooley’s fantasy value is limited by his lack of touchdowns, but he is still a solid No. 1 tight end option.
10. Rob Gronkowski
Gronkowski had a great rookie season in 2010 sharing time with fellow rookie Aaron Hernandez. While both tight ends saw a lot of action, during the second half of the season, Gronkowski emerged as the better fantasy option and finished the season leading all tight ends in with 10 touchdowns. While his touchdown totals were great, it is worth noting that Gronkowski only had just one reception eight different times last season. If you draft Gronkowski, you can expect some inconsistency due to the fact the Patriots like to spread the ball around, but he’s still a top 10 fantasy tight end.