Posted: Thursday September 30, 2010 2:56PM ; Updated: Thursday September 30, 2010 3:08PM
David Sabino
Gridiron 11: Most Valuable Tight Ends

Tight ends have been a fantasy afterthought for years, with the same five or six players dominating the position while others rotated through the second tier. This season there has been an influx of extremely talented young pass catchers at the position who have shaken up all preseason perceptions of the spot. In fact, so many tight ends are having quality seasons they're beginning to be used quite often in the flex spot, something unheard of just a few seasons ago. Here are the 11 most valuable tight ends right now, with honorable mentions going out to Minnesota's Visanthe Shiancoe, Oakland's Zach Miller, Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham and Detroit's dynamic duo of Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew.

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1Antonio Gates, Chargers
Antonio Gates, Chargers
The (blue and) gold standard of tight ends, he's tied for the league lead with four touchdown catches and is in the top 15 in receiving yards and catches. Clearly Philip Rivers' favorite target, Gates has more fantasy points this season than Chris Johnson, Miles Austin and Andre Johnson, and since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only New England's Ben Coates in 1994 was as productive a tight end through three contests.
2Dallas Clark, Colts
Dallas Clark, Colts
We all know that fantasy owners were hosed when his apparent game-winning touchdown grab was overturned in Week 1, but since we're only credited for the catches that count, Megatron's near miss hurt. Detroit has been good through the air, ranking 11th in the league with 477 passing yards, but with just 95 yards so far, Johnson ranks third among Detroit receivers. The return of starter Matthew Stafford and the respect that Jahvid Best now requires from defenses surely will open up Johnson's game and return him to the ranks of elite receivers.
3Jermichael Finley, Packers
Jermichael Finley, Packers
On Monday night Finley topped the 100-yard mark for the third time in his career and second time in a row, making him the only tight end to top the century mark multiple times this year. The 6-foot-6 freak of nature has the speed to get down field as well as a wideout and has the best fantasy quarterback in the world throwing to him in Aaron Rodgers. His presence has made former starter Donald Lee a complete afterthought.
4Dustin Keller, Jets
Dustin Keller, Jets
Some would say his two-touchdown, 98-yard performance in Week 3 vs. Miami was his coming out party, but Keller has been on the verge of greatness for two seasons. Underutilized in the Jets conservative offense to this point in his career, he's the most reliable and dangerous weapon Mark Sanchez has until Santonio Holmes returns from his suspension.
5Vernon Davis, 49ers
Vernon Davis, 49ers
Last season Davis scored 13 touchdowns, a number that looks like a challenge for the entire Niners offense this season. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was replaced this week to try to jump-start the unit that's the main culprit in San Francisco's 0-3 start. New coordinator Mike Johnson was promoted from quarterbacks coach, and the best way to get his pupil Alex Smith back on track is to call more plays for No. 85.
6Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
Calling this rookie a tight end is often a misnomer as he's as likely to line up on the outside as he is on the line. He's been nothing short of spectacular this season, providing Tom Brady with a valuable complement to Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Although still looking for his first professional touchdown (fellow rookie Rob Gronkowski has two already), he's very involved in the red zone offense and should score in bunches.
7Chris Cooley, Redskins
Chris Cooley, Redskins
Grumblings that Cooley did not feel he was as involved in the passing game as much as he'd like last week in St. Louis were a great sign on a day he still ended up with five catches for 53 yards. Coaches tend to like players who want to contribute, and Donovan McNabb has always been a tight-end-friendly quarterback, so I'd expect to see a lot of Cooley throughout McNabb's Philly homecoming this week and beyond.
8Tony Moeaki, Chiefs
Tony Moeaki, Chiefs
After seeing their tight ends catch just 45 balls last season, the Chiefs traded up in the draft to pick Moeaki, dealing a fourth- and a fifth-rounder to the Texans for the third-round pick they used to take the 6-3, 250-pound former Iowa Hawkeye. That move is looking downright prescient after three games as Moeaki has displayed the athleticism (see his one-handed touchdown grab against the Niners), speed and blocking ability Chiefs followers had come to expect from watching Tony Gonzalez for so many seasons. Moeaki is a major reason why the Chiefs are one of just three undefeated teams heading into Week 4 and has become one of the top three tight ends to own (with Finley and Hernandez) in dynasty leagues now.
9Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
In a thrilling overtime win in New Orleans in Week 3, Gonzalez had eight catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. It was the 27th time he reached the 100-yard mark in a game and provided him with the 83rd touchdown in his illustrious career. While no longer the best tight end in the league, the alltime leader in everything at the position is still scoring plenty of fantasy points and remains a no-fuss must-start. His value could dip a little in the coming weeks due to the return of Michael Jenkins on the outside, but by the end of the season he'll still to be a top 10 tight end, even at age 33.
10Jason Witten, Cowboys
Jason Witten, Cowboys
It's been a struggle thus far this season for the Cowboys and Witten, who suffered a mild concussion in Week 2 and sprained his MCL during Week 3. He'll have plenty of time to heal as the 1-2 Cowboys have a bye in Week 4, and he's on the record as saying he'll be back by Dallas' next game against the Titans. One alarming stat: Witten has scored just one touchdown over his last 17 regular season contests.
11Greg Olsen, Bears
Greg Olsen, Bears
Though expected to struggle in Mike Martz's tight end-unfriendly schemes, Olsen has fit in nicely after all. The Bears' leading receiver in 2009, Olsen has reached the end zone in consecutive games for the fourth time in his career, and his 64 yards against the Packers in Week 4 was his sixth-best output as a pro. More athletic than the average tight end, he's probably hanging around your waiver wire if you don't have one of the above options.
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