What was considered one of the more shallow positions in years past, continues to get deeper and deeper. Last year was highlighted with record-breaking performances by Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, which has landed them at the top our 2012 fantasy tight end rankings. Whether you choose to take one of these two studs early, or wait until later in the draft, there are enough quality players that you should end up with a productive starter.
1. Jimmy Graham
Graham had a breakout season in 2011 with 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 TDs. His receiving yards were the second-most in league history for a TE, and his 149 targets were more than all but five wideouts last season. The Saints offense may sputter at times without Sean Payton, but there is no doubt that Graham will continue to see plenty of targets with Drew Brees under center.
2. Rob Gronkowski
Gronkowski’s 2011 season was arguably the best all-time for a TE with 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 receiving touchdowns. In addition to Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker, the Pats have added another receiving option with WR Brandon Lloyd, so the chances of Gronk matching last years numbers are not likely. However, even with a slight dip in production, he’s still an elite fantasy option and will likely be the first or second tight end taken in your draft.
3. Aaron Hernandez
Despite having his production limited by teammate Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez still had a solid 2011 season with 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven scores. Despite the addition of WR Brandon Lloyd, New England’s offense should continue to rely heavily on the tight end position and while Hernandez may not be the top redzone option, he should see a lot of single coverage with defenses concentrating on Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski.
4. Jermichael Finley
Finley posted career-best numbers in 2011, catching 55 passes for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. However, he also ranked in the top five in the NFL with 11 drops and failed to top 90 yards in a single game. Despite what many fantasy owners considered a disappointing 2011 season, the potential is still there for Finley on the Packers pass-happy offense, and it’s put-up or shut-up time if he wants to be considered an elite tight end.
5. Antonio Gates
When healthy, Gates is a top tight end talent, however his last two injury-plagued seasons have been frustrating for fantasy owners. At 32-years old heading into the season, injuries are still a concern, but he’s still one of the best at his position and is a popular redzone target for Philip Rivers. The departure of Vincent Jackson may not impact Gates’ overall fantasy value. On one hand, it could increase the amount of looks for Gates, but on the other hand, V-Jax often drew attention from opposing defenses. Long story short, if he stays healthy, he’ll produce.
6. Jason Witten
Witten had somewhat of an off year in 2011 as he failed to reach 80 receptions for the first time since 2006. At 30-years old and with the emergence WRs Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, he is not going to put up the numbers that the guys ahead of him should produce. However, he has been one of the more reliable tight ends in fantasy for several years now and should be considered a No. 1 tight end option on draft day.
7. Vernon Davis
Overall, Davis had a somewhat disappointing 2011 season, however he ended the year strong with 20 receptions for 536 yards and five TDs in his final five games, including two monster performances in the playoffs. The 49ers have added WRs Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to help bolster their receiving corps, which could improve Davis’ fantasy value. However, QB Alex Smith prevents Davis from seeing his name among the top-five fantasy tight ends.
8. Brandon Pettigrew
Pettigrew was the second most targeted tight end in 2011 with 126 looks, and he set the franchise record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a season with 777 yards. He also had career highs with 83 receptions and five touchdowns. Despite good overall numbers, he was somewhat inconsistent as he failed to top 40 yards receiving in eight games last year. As long as you can stomach a bad week here and there, Pettigrew should continue to see plenty of looks to be a solid fantasy option.
9. Jacob Tamme
Now that Tamme is reunited with Peyton Manning in Denver, he should emerge as a solid fantasy starter. Tamme developed nice chemistry with Manning as teammates on the Colts, and in 10 games without Dallas Clark in 2010, he caught 67 passes for 631 yards and four touchdowns. It is worth noting that Broncos also signed TE Joel Dreessen, however Tamme will likely be the primary pass-catching tight end for Manning.
10. Fred Davis
Davis was having a great 2011 season with 59 receptions for 796 yards and three touchdowns in his first 12 starts, before testing positive for marijuana and being suspended for four games. There is some concern that Davis might get lost in the shuffle with all of the Redskins’ additions at receiver, but Davis is an excellent downfield player and if he can create good on-field chemistry with rookie QB Robert Griffin III, he could have a big year.