Tight ends are changing the NFL and the effect it has had on fantasy football simply enhances the position.
Last season alone gave us unprecedented results from guys like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, and the 2012 season will see an even greater impact throughout the league. And with pro football surely on its way this fall, let's take a look at the top 10 fantasy football tight ends.
Because at this point these guys are arguably more valuable than receivers.
Reuniting with Peyton Manning in Denver, Jacob Tamme will likely be the Broncos' most productive target in the passing game.
A younger spin-off from Dallas Clark, Tamme enjoyed a strong 2010 season with 631 yards on 67 receptions and four touchdowns. Now, by no means is that a dominating performance, but the Indianapolis Colts also had an abundance of talented receivers for Manning as well.
In Denver, the Broncos best offer comes in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Thomas developed quite well as the season progressed and Decker was supremely efficient when targeted. Still, both have to prove more consistency as receivers.
Manning will undoubtedly make Thomas and Decker better, but the previous chemistry makes Tamme a more trusted target. Provided that the Broncos' offense presents a sound rushing attack, Tamme will see inflated numbers as Manning's primary go-to this season.
Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham has yet to have a breakout season, but then again he's also entering his third year.
In 2011, Gresham had rookie quarterback Andy Dalton tossing him the rock and managed to account for 596 receiving yards on 56 catches and score six times. The Bengals weren't an explosive offense last year but if anything, balance allowed for Gresham to see favorable matchups.
This season, Cincinnati's offensive weapons are a year older and have tasted some NFL success. Dalton performed well as a rookie and with receiver A.J. Green out wide, there's no reason 2012 can't be another impressive performance.
As for Gresham, he's Dalton's second most reliable target and with BenJarvus Green-Ellis bowling over defensive fronts on the ground, play-action pass will set up nicely. It also helps that Gresham is a much better athlete than given credit for and possesses the size to make plays anywhere on the field.
Expect a solid increase in numbers for Gresham while Cincy still fields a well-balanced attack.
The aging veteran Tony Gonzalez is 36 and still doing solid work.
With two standout receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones, it's reasonable to suspect that Gonzalez won't see many targets and decline production. Fortunately, Gonzalez is easily one of the best tight ends to ever play the game and his knowledge of the game is a distinct advantage.
To this point in his career, there's no defense Gonzalez hasn't seen that's designed to shut him down. But, because of the Falcons having other playmakers, the future Hall of Famer is constantly well-positioned to be a major contributor.
The 2011 season was Gonzalez's most productive since 2008 as he caught 80 passes for 875 yards and seven scores. Obviously the receivers and respectable ground game of Michael Turner will take away some targets, but Gonzalez's ability to get yards after the catch will suffice above all else.
This year the Falcons are going to be a much stronger force in the NFC South as the defense improves, which will only create more possessions for the offense to rack up yards and points.
Aaron Hernandez is the third best receiving target on the New England Patriots, but still one of the better tight ends in the pros as well.
The youngster had one impressive 2011 campaign with 910 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 79 receptions, and performed even better throughout the postseason. Looking ahead to 2012—don't expect the Patriots to slow down.
Tom Brady remains one of the NFL's best quarterbacks and he'll dish the rock around so everyone produces emphatically well. Hernandez has a great opportunity to build off last season as well, because defenses will be better prepared to face the onslaught of Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski.
And regardless of their production, Herenandez will mostly face single coverage situations. If you happen to miss out on Gronk, the versatile Hernandez is almost as good of an option.
Believe it or not but Vernon Davis is becoming one of the best tight ends in pro football.
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith developed quite well in 2011 and that was without any legit receivers who were consistently reliable against single coverage. Davis on the other hand, turned out to be one the 49ers' best targets in catching 67 catches for 792 yards and six scores.
Once receiver Michael Crabtree came around, the 'Niners passing game picked up a bit and Smith kept rolling through the playoffs. Now with other threatening targets like Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, San Francisco fields a much more balanced, yet explosive attack.
Davis won't see anything but single coverage or the occasional linebacker zone to wall off the middle. Nevertheless, a defense can't get caught up in worrying about Davis with the receivers and the stellar ground game.
Play-action will be one of San Francisco's most dangerous options and Davis will see a significant increase in yards per catch from making more plays downfield.
In his first full season Jermichael Finley set career-bests across the board.
With 55 receptions for 767 yards and eight touchdowns, Finley was part of the NFL's most prolific offense of 2011. The Green Bay Packers are going to be NFC title contenders in 2012 and Finley's production will come from the efficiency of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Then again, Rodgers is the key focal point of the Packers' attack but the man needs a big target over the middle. After a breakout season from Jordy Nelson last year, opponents will be gearing coverage toward isolating his playmaking skills.
Therefore, Finley will be open over the middle and underneath any Cover 3 look on the outside. If anything, Jermichael will see more targets throughout 2012 to increase receptions and yards.
In catching 79 passes for 942 yards and scoring five touchdowns last season, Jason Witten had a down year.
From 2007-2010, Witten caught 80-plus passes each season and hit over 1,000 yards thrice times. Additionally, 22 touchdowns were scored and Witten didn't miss a game either.
One interesting aspect about 2011 though, was that it turned out to be Tony Romo's best season under center. Tossing 31 touchdowns to only 10 picks and a 102.5 rating was quite an impressive performance.
Provided that Romo continues to build off that season, Witten could have a career year. The Dallas defense upgraded the secondary and pass rush to create more turnovers, so the offense will see a significant increase in better field position.
Witten may not reach 100-plus catches in 2012, but the opportunity to see more targets and score is there for the taking.
The 2011 season was one to forget for Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers, and the San Diego Chargers.
Gates played in 13 games and only caught 64 passes for 778 yards and seven touchdowns. One interesting note though was Gates scoring 10 times in 2010 with fewer receptions and only 782 yards.
Clearly Rivers must get back to being consistent from week-to-week, because it did play a major role in costing the Bolts a strong season. To that end, Gates simply has to revert back to his 2009 form of 1,157 yards on 79 catches with eight scores.
That was also the last season where Gates played all 16 games. San Diego has an array of receivers for Rivers to connect with, but since Vincent Jackson is gone, Gates has to become the No. 1 guy. Running back Ryan Mathews developed well in 2011 and will take pressure off the passing game as well, so anticipate Gates earning more targets and scoring more touchdowns in 2012.
At long last, by 3 p.m. next Monday, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints will finally have agreed to a new five-year contract. It will be the biggest upset of the NFL season if they don't.
It will be stunning if Brees doesn't ultimately sign a contract worth somewhere between $19.2 million and $20 million per year
Getting back to Graham and this situation is beyond important to the Saints potential success. After all, 2011 was only Graham's second pro season and he ended up with 1,310 yards on 99 catches and 11 touchdowns.
As long as Brees is under center for New Orleans in 2012, Graham will see similar production because the Saints' defense remains vulnerable against the run and pass. So, you can expect NOLA to be in plenty of high-scoring affairs this year.
Now, if Brees and the Saints can't agree and he's not dropping back for New Orleans this season then Graham's value will take an immediate nosedive, period.
Rob Gronkowski is pro football's best tight end right now—plain and simple.
His 2011 season of 1,327 yards on 90 catches and 17 touchdowns was ridiculous and he even had a sound rookie season in 2010 as well. There, Gronk caught 42 passes for 546 yards and scored 10 times.
Last year was certainly a surprising and dominating performance, and it will be an immense challenge to equal in 2012. Nevertheless, the man possesses freakish athleticism for his size and he will produce this fall.
Even if the year starts off slow, because it's expected that defenses will try to blanket him as much as possible, the rest of the Pats offense will just keep rolling. New England has far too many weapons for Tom Brady to not slice opponents all season, so Gronk will eventually come around.
He can beat double coverage, consistently beat single coverage, and has the strength to break tackles and agility to hurdle defenders. Yards after the catch is Gronk's specialty and that's what make him so dangerous.
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