NFL fantasy 2012 TE injury report
Jared Cook's size and speed make him top sleeper at tight end position
With age an injury history, Antonio Gates is likely to miss games again
Fred Davis could build on breakout 2011 with Rober Griffin III as his QB
Nothing typifies the modern NFL like the tight end position. For the last decade, there's been a quiet evolution, one that had two forks. The first was the quick, small TE, typified by Dallas Clark. Clark acted as a bigger WR, running routes and counting on speed to create mismatches. The other fork was typified by Tony Gonzalez, who used his size and athleticism to create mismatches, especially in the red zone. The bigger model seems to have won out. NFL scouts and GMs comb colleges for the next big thing -- literally. We're seeing TEs get bigger and bigger, with less emphasis on blocking and speed. There's still a place for blocking, but offenses use them more as spacers or moving blockades than a smaller OT these days. With players much taller than Gonzalez's 6-foot-5, the mismatches in the red zone make some of these players solid fantasy options. With Rob Gronkowski (6-6), Jimmy Graham (6-7), and Fred Davis (6-5) taking over for Gonzalez as the top TE picks, scouts might end up at more college basketball games than football. It's clear that TEs are growing, both in fantasy importance and in height. As with any position, size is no guarantee of durability, so let's look around the league at the TEs:
Scott Chandler was a waiver wire hero last season after scoring six TDs in the first seven games, but ankle and knee injuries chopped down the 6-7 Chandler. All his value is in the red zone, but that's not bad for fantasy purposes. He's not an elite level TE, but if he can stay healthy (a big if), he's a second tier steal.
The Dolphins had hoped Anthony Fasano could groom his replacement, but thus far, none of those options have challenged Fasano's position as the TE1. His biggest skill is durability and any upside is based on the poor WRs, not Fasano's skills.
Rob Gronkowski's season ended not with an ankle injury -- he was able to play through that in the Super Bowl -- but with a series of issues that made people wonder how hard Gronkowski would work. Most of us would party hard if we were young, rich and famous, but that doesn't make us want to draft them more. Gronkowski's talent level and opportunity is off the charts, but expecting another explosion of TDs probably isn't the best projection. He'll lose some targets to Aaron Hernandez, who has everything but Gronkowski's size and durability, but there's enough to go around, making both valid picks at the top of any draft.
The TE isn't a big part of Tony Sparano's offense, but Dustin Keller has been solid as Mark Sanchez's favorite target. With problems in WR depth, Keller has the same opportunity, if not the same offense. Figuring out how the Jets will handle the red zone complicates projections, but Keller is durable enough that he'll at least get the chance.
Ed Dickson got most of the targets at TE last season, but not all. Dennis Pitta got enough action to keep both of them from being good fantasy TEs. The plus for Dickson is that he's durable -- much more durable than the more talented Todd Heap, who exited before 2011. Dickson had a preseason shoulder injury but should be fine as a fantasy TE2.
Like all Bengals, Jermaine Gresham was the beneficiary of better QB play in '11. The only downside to him is durability. Leg issues slow him even when able to play. He's dealing with a knee sprain in camp; hopefully that isn't a sign of things to come. His durability seems to make his ADP a bit high, but not too much given the upside.
Ben Watson was as good as he could be in a bad offense last year. He lost a couple games to concussion, but has been durable. There are lots of options and little in the way of guarantees with the Browns, so Watson is more of a late round "hope pick" than even a third-tier TE. When you get to that stage, you're just looking for opportunity and upside, which Watson has.
Heath Miller should be better than this. He's got good size, has some savvy and is durable. Somehow that just translates into mediocre fantasy numbers. He gets a new offense, though not a TE-friendly one. We'll see if Miller can become more of a red zone option, but you can't count on it.
Like the rest of the Texans offense, Owen Daniels is a bit fragile. He played in 15 games last year, missing only the last week for rest, not injury. His targets went up, but not as much as most expected. Part of that is the absence of Matt Schaub, but counting on all the Texans to be healthy at once is folly. With Joel Dreessen gone, Daniels could get more red zone looks.
The Dallas Clark era is over. The Colts drafted back-to-back TEs in the second and third rounds, giving Andrew Luck two solid targets. Coby Fleener is most familiar to Luck, but Dwayne Allen has been getting as many looks at camp, reminding many of former Colt Marcus Pollard. Fleener's size probably gets him more red zone looks than Allen, but they'll split targets.
Marcedes Lewis went from 10 TDs to 0 last year. That's usually the result of an injury. Instead, it was just a terrible passing game. Lewis is durable and still talented, but you have to believe in Blaine Gabbert to draft Lewis as anything more than filler.
Jared Cook showed some connection with Jake Locker in his late season cameo, so there's more hope here. Cook has size and surprising speed. People miss that he didn't have the starting role last season even though he played 16 games. His durability is unknown, but isn't a negative. In a world where we really overuse the term "sleeper," Cook really is one.
Jacob Tamme arrived with Peyton Manning, giving Manning a familiar target. He's going to split those with Joel Dreessen, however, so his fantasy value on targets and even familiarity is overblown. Even with Manning, he was just a good backup, not a second-tier TE like Dallas Clark.
Tony Moeaki is coming off an ACL tear, like every other Chief. Not all of them, but a lot. The knee injury was a fluke, but Moeaki has a long injury history going back to Iowa. He's healthy for now, but the absolute upside is his '10 season. Kevin Boss is a capable backup, but only if he's healthy as well.