Posted: Thursday August 16, 2012 4:10PM ; Updated: Friday August 17, 2012 12:47PM

Fantasy football 2012 TE preview (cont.)

By Michael Beller, SI.com

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Jacob Tamme, Broncos -- During Peyton Manning's last season as the starter in Indianapolis, a virtually unkown tight end stepped up alongside Dallas Clark to catch 67 passes for 631 yards and four touchdowns. That tight end was Tamme, whose fortunes disappeared along with Manning's presence last year. The two have teamed up again in Denver, and they appear ready to pick up where they left off in 2010. Manning has always fed his tight ends well his entire career, and while Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have both already become the objects of desire for plenty of fantasy owners, Tamme could make just as great an impact, relative to the rest of the players at his position. He remains largely unknown, and will likely remain on the board while some of his counterparts with more recognizable names, less talent and dimmer prospects for this season hear their names called. By season's end, he'll be comfortably in the top 10 at his position.

Busts

Kellen Winslow, Seahawks -- Winslow remains a tantalizing talent with just the type of recognizable name that could get someone unjustifiably taken in front of Tamme. Coming of a 75-catch, 763-yard campaign, Winslow might appear to be back among the weekly starters at the position. Don't believe what those numbers suggest, though. Winslow is likely starting the downside of his career, and he's in a situation in Seattle that is unsettled, at best. While he caught 75 passes a year ago, only two of them resulted in scores. Moreover, his 10.2 yards-per-catch was the second lowest of his career in a season when he played more than 10 games. Seattle has two unproven options at quarterback -- Matt Flynn, getting his first crack at a starting gig, and rookie Russell Wilson from Wisconsin -- and one proven bust in Tarvaris Jackson. There's not a lot to get excited about from the team as a whole or Winslow individually, yet his name will likely lead someone to counting on him as a starter at the beginning of the year. Make sure that someone isn't you.

Tony Gonzalez, Falcons -- If you've been reading my football columns, you know that I'm not exactly bullish on the Falcons this year. You know that I think they will miss the playoffs, and that it will have a negative impact on the numbers of everyone on the offense, other than Julio Jones. Considering the name at the top of this paragraph is "Tony Gonzalez" and not "Julio Jones" you can see where we're headed. Gonzalez had a great year at the age of 35, catching 80 passes for 875 yards and seven touchdowns. It's certainly possible he keeps on rolling right until the day he retires, but I think he'll be part of the collateral damage in Atlanta this season. Given the fact that the tight end crop is as deep as we've ever seen, Gonzalez won't justify being drafted as a top-eight tight end when we look back on the 2012 season.

Sleepers

Lance Kendricks, Rams -- Last year around this time, most of the football-savvy world was in the tank for the Rams, proclaiming them the clear favorite in the NFC West. Then they spent the first six weeks of the season reminding us why they're the Rams, en route to a 2-14 season. Around the same time the NFL world was anointing them division champs in August, I was writing about Kendricks and his sleeper potential as a rookie tight end. Needless to say, that didn't exactly pan out. However, I think we can chalk that up to a lost season in St. Louis, not a lack of ability from Kendricks. The talent that made him one of college's best tight ends at Wisconsin and a chic sleeper pick last year is still there, and with a better year from Sam Bradford (how could it be worse?), I believe that potential will manifest itself in the form of results on the field this season. Like many of the guys listed above, Kendricks is a catch-first tight end with great size, checking in at 6-3, 247 pounds. He's admittedly a deep sleeper, but if you miss out on all your earlier targets, he's a great fallback option for one of your last couple picks.

Coby Fleener, Colts -- The rookie landed in a great spot, at least in terms of familiarity, as he'll get to keep on catching passes from college teammate Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. Luck and Fleener made for one of the most prolific quarterback-tight end duos in the NCAA a year ago, with Fleener earning All-America honors after catching 34 passes for 667 yards and 10 scores. While there's a sense of excitement around the Colts this year, the team won't be much better than the squad that went 1-15 in 2011, and they'll be all about making Luck as comfortable as possible from day one. That likely will include a featured role in the offense for Fleener. He makes a great target in deep leagues.

Tight end rankings in tiers

Here is how we should tier the tight end position heading into the preseason:

1. The elite -- You can't get into this class until you rack up 1,300 yards in a season. As such, there are only two guys in it.

2. Every-week starters -- This tier is as deep as it has been in recent years, and includes mainstays such as Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis. With this tier as deep as it is, don't fret if you miss out on Gronkowski or Graham.

3. Fringe starters -- Realistically, some of these guys will jump up into the second tier during the season, but they don't yet feature the consistency to be thought of as an every-week starter. This tier also includes some of the most intriguing guys at the position, such as Jared Cook and Jermaine Gresham.

4. Unknowns -- There is plenty of potential in this tier, but you shouldn't go into the year with any of these guys as your top option at the position unless you're in a very deep league. You'll recognize our sleepers in this tier.

Preseason Fantasy TE Rankings
Rank The Elite Team Tier
1 Rob Gronkowski NE 1
2 Jimmy Graham NO 1
Rank Every-Week Starters Team Tier
3 Jermichael Finley GB 2
4 Fred Davis WAS 2
5 Aaron Hernandez NE 2
7 Antonio Gates SD 2
8 Vernon Davis SF 2
Rank Fringe Starters Team Tier
9 Jared Cook TEN 3
10 Brandon Pettigrew DET 3
11 Jacob Tamme DEN 3
12 Tony Gonzalez ATL 3
13 Jason Witten DAL 2
14 Brent Celek PHI 3
15 Jermaine Gresham CIN 3
Rank Unknowns Team Tier
15 Coby Fleener IND 4
16 Owen Daniels HOU 4
17 Kyle Rudolph MIN 4
18 Tony Moeaki KC 4
19 Greg Olsen CAR 4
20 Lance Kendricks STL 4
21 Dustin Keller NYJ 4
22 Ed Dickson BAL 4
23 Heath Miller PIT 4
24 Kellen Winslow SEA 4
25 Martellus Bennett NYG 4

Chat with me on Twitter @MBeller.

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