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Fantasy Football 2012: Which Tight Ends Are Worth an Early Draft Pick?

Kevin BoilardCorrespondent IOctober 25, 2016

Fantasy Football 2012: Which Tight Ends Are Worth an Early Draft Pick?

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    With mandatory team minicamps starting up, it’s time to start thinking about how to spend those early round draft picks in your fantasy football league.

    Quarterbacks, running backs and even wide receivers make popular early round picks, while tight ends, flex players, kickers and defense/special teams are typically reserved for the later rounds. 

    However, the NFL is a copycat league and it may currently be going through an offensive makeover.

    Big, freakishly athletic tight ends are becoming a trend in the NFL.  Incredible size and strength along with blazing speed make this new breed of tight end a matchup nightmare.  Some teams, like the New England Patriots, have had so much success utilizing their tight ends that the two-tight-end offensive set is making a comeback in the NFL.

    In 2011, 10 different tight ends scored at least 100 points on the season (according to ESPN.com’s standard fantasy football scoring).  In 2012, that number has a very good chance of going up.

    With tight ends receiving a larger role in many offenses in the coming season, you may want to consider drafting a dominant tight end with an early round pick.  This article will pick out which tight ends are just too valuable to pass up.

Rob Gronkowski

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    The Patriots did not make Rob Gronkowski the highest paid tight end in NFL history for nothing.  Gronkowski’s 17 touchdowns in 2011 set an NFL record for most touchdown catches in a single season by a tight end.

    Gronkowski should be the first tight end off the board in everyone’s fantasy league this summer.  His 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns were good for 233 points under ESPN’s standard scoring, first among tight ends and 15th overall.

    Gronkowski may be the NFL’s most uncoverable receiving threat.  His incredible size and catching ability left defensive coordinators scratching their heads, as Gronkowski quickly became one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets.

    Last year, only a ankle injury sustained in the AFC Championship game versus the Baltimore Ravens could slow him down.  Gronkowski’s two-catch, 26-yard performance in the Super Bowl was his second lowest of the season.

    Although Gronkowski has yet to return to the practice field since his offseason ankle surgery, the Patriots have no doubts that he will be 100 percent by Week One (via BostonHerald.com).

    Spending an early draft choice on Gronk will be a safe bet since defenses are still scrambling to figure out an answer for him.

Jimmy Graham

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    Drew Brees threw for an NFL record 5,476 yards in 2012 as the New Orleans Saints passed all over the rest of the league.  Brees’s primary target was tight end Jimmy Graham.

    Graham, who played basketball at the University of Miami, has excellent ball skills.  He finished the 2011 regular season with 99 catches, placing him first among all tight ends.

    Aside from Gronkowski, Graham was the only tight end to break 1,300 receiving yards.  His 6’6”, 260-pound frame provides a large target for the quarterback, especially in the red zone.  Graham’s 11 touchdowns were second most among tight ends and tied for fourth among all receivers.

    Some fantasy team owners may be scared to go near Graham, given Brees’s current contract dispute with the Saints organization.  However, Graham will be an effective receiver and fantasy point producer in 2012 no matter who is throwing him the ball.

Aaron Hernandez

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    Two of the top three tight ends in 2011 fantasy scoring were Patriots.  Aaron Hernandez, New England’s second tight end, racked up 127 total points.

    Brady hit Hernandez 79 times last year for 910 yards and seven touchdowns.  Although his 2012 statistics are impressive, what really makes Hernandez so valuable is the offensive scheme he plays in.

    Hernandez plays in a pass-happy offense that favors two-tight-end sets.  Some may fear that competing for looks with Gronkowski could limit Hernandez’s production in 2013.  In reality, Gronkowski and Hernandez received equal attention in 2012 with 124 and 113 targets, respectively (via ESPN.com). 

    Hernandez is also a versatile threat that can line up in tight, split out like a receiver or in the backfield like a running back/h-back.  In addition to catching passes, Hernandez can be a threat rushing the ball via backfield handoffs or end-arounds.  With only two seasons under his belt, Hernandez’s role may extend as he gains experience and matures as an NFL player.

    Because the flexible tight end will be a huge target on Brady’s radar in 2012, Hernandez will be well worth an early round draft pick.

Vernon Davis

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    San Francisco’s Vernon Davis ranked eighth in total fantasy points for tight ends with 105 (via ESPN.com). 

    Davis’ production pales in comparison to the aforementioned ends, and with 67 receptions for 792 yards and six touchdowns, Davis may not appear like an early round talent at first glance.

    However, Davis has the ability to be an elite receiving talent in 2012.  Davis was Alex Smith’s secondary target, after Michael Crabtree, in a run-heavy offense.  His six receiving touchdowns led the entire team.

    Since head coach Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers were able to win many of their games thanks to superb defensive play, Smith played a relatively conservative role in San Francisco’s offense.

    With the acquisition of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham through free agency, it would be reasonable to assume that Harbaugh is planning on loosening the offensive reins.

    By allowing Smith and the passing offense a chance to flourish, Davis could put up Gronkowski- or Graham-esque numbers.  In his first season with an expanded role, Smith will likely target his reliable tight end, Davis, more often than not.

    The increased attention makes Davis a worthy prospect for an early round draft choice.

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