If 2011 was the year of the quarterback in the NFL then the main beneficiary in fantasy football may well have been the tight end position, as a pair of players at the position had seasons for the ages, with one putting up by far the most fantasy points we've seen from a tight end in over a decade.
Jimmy Graham's the Man
Rob Gronkowski's record-setting season may have gotten the majority of the headlines at the tight end position last year, but Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints didn't exactly stink up the joint, leading all tight ends in receptions while topping 1,300 receiving yards and scoring eleven touchdowns.
Graham posted the second-highest fantasy production by a tight end in the last five seasons a year ago, trailing only Gronkowski's Godzilla-stomp of a 2011 campaign. With that said it's more likely that Graham can match his numbers from last year than Gronkowski, especially with Robert Meachem gone in New Orleans, so while it's close the edge goes to Graham as fantasy's top tight end this season.
Coby Fleener Top Newcomer
There will be any number of new adjustments that quarterback Andrew Luck will have to make this year in Indianapolis as the first overall pick in April's NFL draft makes the jump from Stanford to the Colts. However, there will be at least one familiar face making the jump with him, as tight end Coby Fleener will accompany Luck on the trip from Palo Alto to Indiana.
The Indianapolis wide receiver corps consists of Reggie Wayne and a bunch of guys Luck wants no part of throwing the ball to, so Fleener should be targeted early and often as a rookie. It may not be wise to count on the youngster as a weekly fantasy starter at the beginning of the season, but it wouldn't be at all surprising if he becomes one by the end of the year.
Jacob Tamme Sleeper Special
Fantasy owners who wait a while before selecting a tight end and are searching for a later-round value pick should cast their glances to the Mile High City. Tight end Jabob Tamme joined quarterback Peyton Manning in leaving the Indianapolis Colts for the Denver Broncos, and the fifth year pro will most likely be the opening day starter.
Tamme has shown the ability to be productive in the past when afforded the opportunity, including racking up over 600 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 10 games in 2010. Manning has never been shy about involving his tight ends in the offense, and if there's a fantasy TE2 with a real shot at cracking the top 10 it's probably Jacob Tamme.
Gronkowski Set for Letdown
Before anyone starts freaking out, let me just say that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is an absolute monster, and I enjoyed watching the third-year pro eviscerate defenses on a weekly basis last year as much as anyone.
However, Gronkowski's 17 touchdowns last year were the most ever in a season by a tight end, and it's rather unlikely that Gronkowski will repeat last year's statistical explosion, especially given the improvements that the Patriots have made at wide receiver.
That sets Gronkoswki up to be a fantasy "bust" of sorts, as it's going to be pretty difficult for the 6'6" 265-pounder to live up to his draft slot this season, especially in leagues where Gronkowski is being taken in the first round.
Here's a look at the Top 20 tight ends for point-per-reception fantasy football leagues in 2012.
1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
2. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
3. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
4. Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots
5. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
6. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
7. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
8. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
9. Fred Davis, Washington Redskins
10. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers
11. Owen Daniels, Houston Texans
12. Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals
13. Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles
14. Greg Olson, Carolina Panthers
15. Dustin Keller, New York Jets
16. Jacob Tamme, Denver Broncos
17. Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans
18. Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
19. Tony Moeaki, Kansas City Chiefs
20. Ed Dickson, Baltimore Ravens