When you begin to discuss fantasy tight ends, the conversation has to start with a pair of second-year players that had the two best years anyone has ever had at that position from a statistical standpoint.
Although they finished sixth and seventh in the NFL in receiving yards, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham were two of only three players to finish with 90-plus receptions, 1,300-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns, along with Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
Gronkowski finished the season with 1,327 yards and 17 receiving touchdowns, both of which were single-season records for a tight end, on 90 receptions. Graham had more receptions (99), but slightly fewer yards (1,310) and seven fewer touchdowns (10).
Before a high-ankle sprain slowed down Gronkowski, both of them continued to roll in last year's postseason.
In two playoff games, Graham had 12 receptions for 158 yards and three touchdowns. Before suffering the high-ankle sprain, Gronkowski had 15 receptions for 232 yards and three touchdowns in his first two playoff games before Super Bowl XLVI.
How rare is the 90-1300-10 season that both Graham and Gronkowski had?
Based on data from Pro Football Reference, it has happened 38 times in NFL history. In the previous three seasons, the only two players to reach those levels in the same season were Roddy White (2010) and Larry Fitzgerald (2008).
While Gronkowski and Graham are clearly at the top of the fantasy football tight end class, the position is as talented and productive as ever.
Here are some more notes on tight ends:
- Gronkowski's teammate Aaron Hernandez missed two games, yet he still finished with 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns. Based on his production of 65 yards per game, Hernandez would have likely given the Pats two 1,000-yard tight ends if he had played all 16 games. In addition, Hernandez was used as a rusher more frequently down the stretch.
- Eagles tight end Brent Celek got off to a slow start after a down season in 2010, but came on strong. In his first six games before the bye, Celek had only 13 receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown. In 10 games after the bye, Celek had 49 receptions for 696 yards and four touchdowns. In his final three games, he did even better: 13 receptions for 290 yards and a touchdown in each game.
- After missing a few games early in the season due to his foot, San Diego's Antonio Gates had 56 receptions for 704 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games. Hopefully he'll be able to stay on the field for a full season, but there's a good chance that the foot injury will continue to slow him down (at least some) in the future, considering it's lingered over the past two years.
- Tennessee's Jared Cook has a ton of upside and positive momentum heading into 2012. In his final three games, Cook finished with 21 receptions for 335 yards and a touchdown. (That said, Cook had a strong finish to the 2010 season, but he got off to a slow start in 2011.)
- Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew, the team's other first-round pick in 2009, finished with career highs across the board: 83 receptions, 777 yards and five touchdowns. Pettigrew is a solid low-end TE1, but he is better in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues than those with standard scoring.
- Solid but inconsistent, Jets tight end Dustin Keller finished with 65 receptions for 815 yards and five touchdowns. In the first three weeks this season, he had 16 receptions for 249 yards and two touchdowns. In Weeks 2 to 4 in 2010, Keller had 17 receptions for 241 yards and five touchdowns. Stated another way: Keller had 490 yards and seven TDs in those six games and only 1,012 yards and three TDs in the other 26 games over the past two years.
- Speaking of inconsistency, Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, who re-signed with the club for two years this offseason, had three fantasy points or less in five games this season. Although he set a career high in touchdowns (eight), he had his lowest yards-per-game average (47.9) since his rookie season.
- Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who has 1,149 career receptions for 13,338 yards, has decided to play another season, which makes sense considering how productive he was in 2011. Gonzalez finished with 80 receptions for 875 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011.
- Dallas tight end Jason Witten set five-year lows in both receptions (79) and yards (942), which is partly due to the production of the Cowboys' top three receivers Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson, but Robinson signed with the Jaguars this offseason.
Here are our 2012 fantasy football tight end rankings (using standard scoring—i.e., not PPR scoring):
1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2. Jimmy Graham, Saints
3. Jason Witten, Cowboys
4. Antonio Gates, Chargers
5. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
6. Vernon Davis, 49ers
7. Jermichael Finley, Packers
8. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
9. Fred Davis, Redskins
10. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
11. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
12. Brent Celek, Eagles
13. Owen Daniels, Texans
14. Dustin Keller, Jets
15. Greg Olsen, Panthers
16. Jacob Tamme, Broncos
17. Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers
18. Jared Cook, Titans
19. Dallas Clark, Colts
20. Anthony Fasano, Dolphins
21. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
22. Heath Miller, Steelers
23. Ed Dickson, Ravens
24. Tony Moeaki, Chiefs
25. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
26. Evan Moore, Browns
27. Scott Chandler, Bills
28. Martellus Bennett, Giants
29. Lance Kendricks, Rams
30. Joel Dreessen, Broncos
Note: We excluded rookies from our rankings, but we will include them after the 2012 NFL Draft in April.