When you begin to discuss fantasy tight ends, the conversation has to start with a pair of tight ends from the 2010 draft class that had the two best years anyone has ever had at that position from a statistical standpoint.
In fact, only one wide receiver (Detroit's Calvin Johnson) did what they did last year. Megatron and the two tight ends all finished with 90-plus receptions, 1,300-plus yards and 10-plus touchdowns.
Of course, the two tight ends to which I'm referring are New England's Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham.
While those two tight ends are 1-2 in my rankings, the position is as deep as ever.
Here are my 2012 fantasy football tight end rankings (using standard scoring—i.e., not PPR scoring):
1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
A mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses, Gronkowski set single-season records for a tight end with 1,327 yards and 17 receiving touchdowns on his 90 receptions. In 36 career games (including the playoffs) Gronkowski has a total of 30 receiving touchdowns and one "rushing" touchdown.
2. Jimmy Graham, Saints
Graham had slightly fewer yards (1,310) and less touchdowns (10) than Gronkowski, but he had more receptions (99). No tight end was targeted more than Graham (149) and only five receivers had more targets. Based on the average fantasy points allowed to tight ends last year of all Saints opponents in 2012, Graham and the Saints' tight ends have one of the top three most favorable schedules.
3. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
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. Especially if opposing defenses focus on slowing down Gronkowski, Hernandez could be poised for a monster season.
4. Jason Witten, Cowboys
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 from last season: Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson (Robinson has signed with the Jaguars this offseason). Over those five seasons, Witten has three of the ten 1,000-yard seasons achieved by tight ends during that span.
5. Vernon Davis, 49ers
Davis posted three-year lows of 792 yards and six touchdowns last year. That said, Davis is a freakish athlete that was nearly unstoppable in the postseason. In two playoff games, Davis had 10 receptions for 292 yards and four touchdowns.
6. Antonio Gates, Chargers
After missing a few games early in the season due to his foot, Gates had 56 receptions for 704 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games. Although coach Norv Turner says Gates is "back" to his pre-injury form, there is still some reason to worry that the injury will flare up and I view the top five options to be safer bets.
7. Jermichael Finley, Packers
Capable of being a top-five tight end, Finley frustrates fantasy owners with his inconsistency. Finley, who re-signed with the Packers 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.
8. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
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 last season with 80 receptions for 875 yards and seven touchdowns, all of which were three-year highs.
9. Fred Davis, Redskins
Despite missing the final four games of the season due to league suspension, Davis totaled 59 receptions for 796 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games last year. While RG3 did not target his tight ends much in college and the 'Skins added some receivers in free agency, Davis is still a low-end TE1.
10. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
Gresham, the Bengals' first-round pick in 2010, posted slightly better numbers in his second season (56 receptions for 596 yards and six touchdowns, all career highs) than he did in his rookie campaign. That said, he could be poised for a breakout season.
11. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
Pettigrew, the team's second of two first-round picks in 2009, finished with career highs across the board: 83 receptions, 777 yards and five touchdowns. Among tight ends, only Graham was targeted more than Pettigrew (126).
12. Brent Celek, Eagles
Celek got off to a slow start last year 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 scored in each game.
13. Jacob Tamme, Broncos
During a 10-game stretch in 2010, Tamme and Peyton Manning had instant chemistry following a Dallas Clark injury. Over the course of those 10 games, Tamme had 67 receptions for 631 yards and four touchdowns. If he and Manning connect anywhere close to how often they did in 2010, Tamme will be a draft-day steal.
14. Coby Fleener, Colts
Despite slipping to the second round of the 2012 NFL draft, Fleener landed in a near-perfect situation being reunited with Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Fleener has the size, speed and athleticism to create mismatches and will have instant chemistry with Luck as his security blanket.
15. Owen Daniels, Texans
Daniels started last season strong with 21 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns in the first five games of the season. Over the remaining 10 games he played, Daniels had only only 33 receptions for 406 yards and no touchdowns. With Joel Dreessen now in Denver, perhaps Daniels will see more red-zone targets.
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