You know about the cream of the crop among tight ends. Guys like Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, who are going to continue to produce monstrous numbers every season because of their quarterbacks and the schemes built around them to specifically to utilize their skills.
But who’s next?
Who is the player that might be going overlooked as an elite TE that this season could make the leap and move from middle of the pack to top of the list? These are my predictions of tight ends who you need to watch for to make a huge impact on their teams in 2012.
The Denver Broncos went out this offseason and picked up two, above-average tight ends in free agency this year: local product, Joel Dreessen formerly of the Houston Texans, and Jacob Tamme, a former Indianapolis Colt.
That was after the Broncos signed likely the greatest free agent in NFL history, Peyton Manning, also a former Colt. Tamme had some of his best years in the league on the Colts roster with Peyton throwing to him. His years in Indy were also characterized by backing up Dallas Clark, one of Manning’s favorite targets.
Tamme and Manning already have a working relationship and Manning loves to dump off short passes in the flat and up the seam to his tight ends. Tamme will likely earn the starting spot over Dreessen, and without a better TE looming, he should have a career year.
Jared Cook is in his fourth season with the Titans and has finally started to gain steam as a viable option on offense. He finished off the season with 335 yards and a touchdown in his last three games in 2011. His great showing to close out 2011 likely will guarantee more looks from Jake Locker, who is now taking the helm for the Titans full time.
Cook’s measurables are massive as his 7-foot wingspan and 4.49 40-yard dash enabled him to beat Ed Reed in Week 2 last season on a Go route. Look for him to be the league’s next Jermichael Finley if he gets more targets in 2012. He could potentially be up around 900 yards receiving and up his TD total to eight.
Fred Davis has been around the league for several years now, but this season might be the first in which he really breaks out to the next level. In just 12 games last year, Davis had already accumulated 796 yards, on pace for 1,061 yards for the season. His hopes at breaking the 1,000-yard mark were dashed when he was suspended for the rest of the season for marijuana use in Week 13.
The spotlight is on Davis to show if he can exhibit maturity and put his poor decision behind him as he proves he is worth a long-term contract. Davis received a franchise tag this offseason and needs to earn a huge paycheck for years to come. He breaks out this season.
Not only was Davis on pace to break the 1,000-yard barrier before his bonehead mistake, but Davis did it with two of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league last season: Rex Grossman and John Beck. He instantly will improve with a new face under center in Robert Griffin III.
RG3 likes to get the ball downfield and Davis is a tight end that gets open downfield (averaged 6.2 YAC in 2011, fifth in the NFL among TEs). The Griffin-Davis connection should be a thing of beauty in 2012 as Davis will thrive as a security blanket for the rookie, Griffin this season. Davis’ reward for his efforts, he should easily break the 1,000-yard barrier and score a half dozen times.