Positional rankings: Tight ends
The tight end position has always been a dull position for fantasy football owners as very few have ever stood out from the crowd. But it is enjoying a rebirth at a time when point-per-reception leagues are all the rage, so it's the perfect storm for this position. It's time to give the tight ends a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Tony Gonzalez started the resurgence, but Antonio Gates and Jason Witten have propelled the surge in recent years. Throw in Kellen Winslow and Dallas Clark from last year and you have a handful of star tight ends who are starting to rival the top tier of wide receivers. Let's take a look at the top 30 tight ends in the game today and project where they should go on draft day:
1. Jason Witten, Dallas
Witten was a fantasy monster last year, setting franchise season records for a tight end with 96 catches and 1,145 yards, while adding seven TDs. He also became the sixth tight end in NFL history to record four straight 60-plus catch seasons. He had some big-time individual games last year (15 receptions one game, five or more receptions in 10 games) and is in an offense that will feature him more in 2008. He's primed for an equally excellent season this year, so expect 80-plus receptions, 1,000 yards and 7 TDs.
2. Antonio Gates, San Diego
Gates was bothered by a back injury during the second half of last season and then suffered a toe injury in the playoffs that required off-season surgery, but he still finished with 75 catches for 984 yards and nine TDs. During his first five games, he had 40 catches for 489 yards and three TDs, but he limped to the finish line with the back injury. He will return healthier this year and will again top 80 receptions and 1,000 yards this year with nine TDs.
3. Kellen Winslow, Cleveland
Winslow set career highs last year in receiving yards (1,106) and TDs (5), while catching 82 passes during a breakout season. He played hurt most of the season before finally limping to the finish line. He failed to catch at least five passes in his last five games, but before that he was unstoppable. If he can remain healthy this year -- never a given with Winslow -- he is primed to again top 80 catches and 1,000 yards for 6-7 TDs.
4. Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City
This 32-year-old future Hall of Famer had another solid season in '07, catching 99 passes for 1,172 yards and five TDs. He also passed Shannon Sharpe as the all-time leader for receptions among tight ends with 820. He's dropping in preseason drafts because Kansas City's QB situation is so bad, but he's still talented enough to deliver a season of 80-plus catches, 900 yards and 5-6 TDs.
5. Chris Cooley, Washington
Cooley also had a solid season in '07, setting career highs in receiving yardage (786) and touchdowns (8), while adding 66 receptions. He caught TD passes in four of his first five games last year, but was shut out during his last six games. Still, he's a consistent target for the Redskins, who like to look for their tight ends. He belongs in the top tier at this position and will deliver 60-plus receptions, 800-plus yards and 6-7 TDs.
6. Todd Heap, Baltimore
Heap suffered through the worst season of his career in '07, playing in only six games due to a torn hamstring. He was held to just 23 receptions for 239 yards and one TD as the Ravens struggled badly at the QB position without Steve McNair. The good news is that new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron turned Antonio Gates into a star in San Diego and he will utilize Heap more now in Baltimore. Hope for a return of good health and a season of 70-plus receptions for 700-plus yards and 5 TDs from Heap.
7. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis
With Marvin Harrison sidelined with a knee injury, Clark became a favored target in this offense last year and he came through with career bests of 58 receptions for 616 yards and 11 TDs. He had six TD catches during his first six games and finally stayed healthy for a full season, playing in 15 games. He signed a six-year extension with the Colts this off-season and will return with another 50-catch season for 600-plus yards and 6-8 TDs.
8. Jeremy Shockey, NY Giants
After missing the Super Bowl run when he broke his leg in Week 15, Shockey reportedly has requested a trade out of New York, but the Giants aren't selling. They like his run-blocking skills too much to give up on him, even though last year he was limited to three TD catches on 57 receptions for 619 yards. At 28, it's time to realize that Shockey will never be one of the greats at TE, but he still has enough left in the tank for a 50-plus, 600-yard, 5-TD season, either with the Giants are somewhere else.
9. Owen Daniels, Houston
During his second season in Houston, Daniels emerged as a viable option, catching 63 passes for 768 yards and three TDs. He had at least four catches in a game nine times, but seemed to be a non-factor near the goal-line. If that changes at all in '08, Daniels could easily finish the season as one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL.
10. Vernon Davis, San Francisco
Davis has been a disappointment during his first two NFL seasons, but he showed enough promise last year to crack the top 10 at this position in offseason drafts. He stayed healthy for 14 games last year and caught 52 passes for 509 yards and four TDs, but the new Mike Martz offense doesn't feature tight ends prominently. Still, he has enough talent to stand out and if he can stay healthy he will top last year's final numbers.
11. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh
Miller ranked seventh among all tight ends last year as he set career highs with 47 catches for 566 yards and seven TDs. He's a strong red zone target for the Steelers as he caught TD passes in six different games. He's not an ideal pickup in point-per-reception leagues, but the TDs are a plus and makes him a worthy starting option in '08.
12. Donald Lee, Green Bay
Lee was a pleasant surprise last year as he finished ninth among all tight ends in scoring, catching 48 passes for 575 yards and six TDs. He caught at least three passes in 12 of his 15 games and became a reliable target for Brett Favre. He will have the same role no matter who is at QB this year in Green Bay and will post similar numbers again in '08.