Why Tight End Has Turned into the Most Important Fantasy Football Position

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2012

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots celebrates scoring  a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 30, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York.New England won 52-28.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Everything is upside down in fantasy football. A rookie quarterback (Robert Griffin III) is arguably the most valuable fantasy player for the second season in a row. Brian Hartline and Andre Roberts are top 10 fantasy receivers. Two rookies (Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson) are Top 10 fantasy running backs.

And suddenly, tight end has become the most important position on your team.

While some of the former anomalies can be attributed to a season that is just four games old, the latter phenomenon is fast becoming a trend.  

Now, you could argue that hasn't been the case thus far in 2012. There isn't a single tight end in the Top 50 fantasy scorers in standard-scoring leagues. In fact, pass catchers have become a dime a dozen—just three wide receivers crack the Top 40. 

Contrast that to a year ago, when two tight ends and four wide receivers finished in the Top 30. 

But what we are starting to see is that without owning an elite fantasy tight end, it's much more difficult to win your league. 

A season ago, Rob Gronkowski averaged 14.56 fantasy points per game, while Jimmy Graham came in at 11.68 per week. Those are numbers you are hoping to get from your flex, but hardly would expect to come from the tight end position on a weekly basis. 

No position in football saw such a distinct gulf between the elite options at the position and the rest of the field in 2011. 

We may not see that happen again this year, but you still want an elite option at the position. Gronk and Graham remain top-four options, as is Tony Gonzalez for the second year in a row. Vernon Davis has become an elite force at the position, and I would argue a healthy Aaron Hernandez deserves to be in that group as well.

(No, Antonio Gates doesn't make the list, if for no other reason than one of these days I expect all of his limbs to simply fall off. His injury concerns make for lineup-setting hell.)

After those five guys, however, you're probably playing maddening matchups each week and praying that you project your players correctly. That's frustrating, plain and simple, far more maddening than trying to decide whom to start at almost any other position.

For example, quarterbacks may have the Top 10 fantasy scorers this season, but you pretty much know if you have one of those guys you're going to get at least 15 fantasy points from them every week. Quarterbacks are generally pretty reliable from a fantasy standpoint in today's NFL.

The same holds true if you have a running back on a decent offense who is the clear starter for his team. There is a difference of 20 points (or five per week) from the top running back (Arian Foster) to the 15th running back (LeSean McCoy), and only Alfred Morris, C.J. Spiller or Stevan Ridley could be considered mild surprises to have cracked the group.

The rest are who we thought they were, to borrow from one of the most overused sports memes ever. And that group doesn't include players who will surely see a bump in value in the future (if they can stay healthy), like Matt Forte and Darren McFadden.

And wide receivers have become a giant cluster of productive players. Calvin Johnson may yet go crazy and come close to replicating his incredible season from a year ago, but in general there aren't any wide receivers standing head and shoulders above the group.

Heck, you probably have three or even four productive wide receiver options per week. 

Positions come in and out of vogue, and right now the renaissance of the tight end is upon us. It has never been more important for fantasy owners to have a top-five option at any position. It presents weekly peace of mind when setting a lineup, it's a reliable source of 8-12 points (which is vital production) and it sets you ahead of those owners struggling to find value at tight end.

Quarterbacks may score the most points and running backs and wide receivers might get all the attention, but tight end has become the most important position for fantasy owners.

Everything is upside down.


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