The NFL is a copycat league and once the Patriots proved to the world that having two large, great pass catching, tight ends could be borderline unstoppable, the rest of the league took notice. Since New England drafted both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010 we slowly saw more and more offensively skilled tight ends starting to appear and be more utilized in the NFL. Clearly, Gronk has been banged up and Hernandez probably, allegedly, killed at least one and maybe more humans but that does not change the fact they changed the tight end position forever.

The reason I am going down memory lane here is to state the obvious there are more productive options than ever before when it comes to drafting tight ends for this upcoming fantasy football season. Also, there are more and more options when it comes to drafting talented youngsters with big time upsides, but when it all comes down to it, there is only one king of the tight end world and that is Jimmy Graham.

Draft Day Outlook

We have already established that there is Jimmy Graham then the rest of the tight ends but do not just take my word for it, let’s look into the numbers. In a point per reception league Jimmy Graham was almost 100 points better than every other tight end once the season was over. The competitive advantage you get when Graham is on your team was historic last year and very well could be again this year. So this means if I am taking a tight end early, it is only going to be Jimmy Graham and he is certainly worthy of a first round pick.

The next tier of tight ends has only two players in it: Julius Thomas and Rob Gronkowski. Clearly, both have a ton of upside and if you grab them I cannot hate on it, but both of their average draft positions are right around pick 27 overall. That is simply too high for me as one has had a terrible injury history and the other needs another year of productive numbers before I am willing to spend that high of a draft pick on him.

Now, if you did not take Graham in the first round and resisted reaching on Gronk and Thomas then you have a ton of options in the middle rounds. Vernon Davis, Jordan Cameron, Jordan Reed, Jason Witten, and Dennis Pitta are all interesting selections. Out of this stellar group of pass catchers, targeting Jordan Reed and Dennis Pitta is what I will be doing. Reed really came into his own last year for the Washington Redskins. This season, the hype keeps growing as Robert Griffin III and the new coaching staff for the Redskins keep talking about how the chemistry between Reed and Griffin are off the charts thus far in training camp.

The other nice target is Dennis Pitta, again the training camp talk is that he is fully healthy and looking great. Pitta was supposed to be a target monster last year but he got hurt early and never lived up to the billing.

Waiting on drafting a tight end to the late rounds of your draft is not a terrible idea. There are many solid options, but I wanted to highlight two of my personal favorites, Zach Ertz and Greg Olsen. Both of their average draft positions have them going after pick 100 so I believe the return you can get on them is significant. Ertz will be the starting tight end, getting all the snaps, for that Philadelphia offense that will once again run a ton of plays and put up a good amount of points. For Greg Olsen it is all about his opportunity with Carolina. The Panthers do not have a ton of talent at the wide receiver position and therefore, Olsen is always one of the tight end league leaders in targets. I believe that will happen again this year and maybe even land him second in targets behind Jimmy Graham for all tight ends.

Draft Day Advice

For the tight end position this season I am personally either grabbing Jimmy Graham early or waiting, but waiting is a relative term I suppose. Since there are good options down the line I will be taking my tight end when he comes at a value. I will not get caught up in the runs and when one that I like begins to slip in the draft, that is when I will take them. Should none slip, I will grab two of my later round sleepers and hope that one pans out.

Tight End Notables

Buyer Beware: Vernon Davis – The first half of the 2013 season, Vernon Davis was averaging slightly over 74 yards a game but he really came crashing down the second half of the year once the 49ers opened up the playbook a little bit. In the second half, Davis only averaged 41.5 yards a game since the 49ers started utilizing their wideouts quite a bit more. Of course, it is his touchdowns that really help his fantasy outlook, but if those are not there, his average draft position of 41 could be a little risky.

Dynasty League Target: Eric Ebron – Ebron is a freak of nature, a monster with great hands and a ton of potential. Those are the reasons that Detroit drafted him early in the first round. The key word of that sentence was potential, as I do not think he will be a huge fantasy asset this season, but if you are drafting in keeper or dynasty league there might not be many better options.

Julius Thomas 2.0: Ladarius Green – Last season Julius Thomas came out of nowhere to produce quality fantasy numbers. Sure, Peyton Manning was a big part of that, but if anyone were to produce at high levels somewhat unexpectedly this year, it would be Green. Gates is the starter for the Chargers until he gets hurt, but if that happens I believe Green is ready to take a big next step and the Chargers would be crazy if they cannot find a way to get both of their tight ends involved game in and game out.

Second Half Slump No One Remembers: Jordan Cameron – Everyone is loving Jordan Cameron this season and I really do not get it: Norv Turner is no longer calling the shots and his friendly tight end system is gone; we are not sure how Johnny Manziel will do (he is going to start); and his second half was terrible. Cameron went from averaging 74.5 yards a game with 6 touchdowns in the first half of the year to 45.9 yards a game with only 1 touchdown the second half. I know the Browns had all kinds of injury issues and Cameron is a solid tight end when someone half way decent is throwing him the ball, but just do not reach to grab him with so many good options available later in the draft.