If you want to take home the trophy, you have to stay ahead of the game, folks. Winning fantasy football championships ain't easy, but it can be a heck of a lot simpler if you make it a year-round process instead of just a seasonal hobby.
The 2013 NFL draft is coming up on Thursday, April 25 and should obviously be followed in some form or manner. Even though some of the rookies being selected may affect future rankings, we should always try to learn as much as we can.
I did not list any rookies in the rankings below, as it would be too difficult to assess their value without yet knowing their team situations.
In any case, I will continue to update my player rankings here throughout the offseason, so enjoy this pre-2013 NFL draft rendition and let me know what you think.
40. Heath Miller (Pit)
I have to put Heath Miller on this list simply so that people don’t forget him.
Yes, Heath completely blew up his knee in late December last season to the tune of a torn ACL, MCL and PCL, but if he can make it back to play at all in 2013, he’ll immediately jump back into the starting lineup and be a favorite for Big Ben again with no other promising tight end on the team.
39. Ben Watson (NO)
Watson signed on with the Saints in March and will serve as Jimmy Graham’s backup for the 2013 season.
Though 32 years old, he showed to still have a bit of juice left with the Browns last season and in an offense like New Orleans', it wouldn’t shock me to see him end up with 4-5 touchdowns, even as a second-stringer.
38. Jake Ballard (NE)
The reason I have Jake Ballard in these rankings after being out of football since 2011 is simple.
He will be the direct backup to Rob Gronkowski in the New England Patriots offense this season and from what I can tell, it’s no sure thing Gronk will be ready to play by Week 1.
37. Lance Kendricks (StL)
Kendricks looked like he was finally getting a hang of things toward the end of last season, but the Rams brass decided to jump on the superior athletic talent of Jared Cook this offseason, thus relegating Kendricks to backup duties in 2013.
36. Ed Dickson (Bal)
Back in 2010 when both Dickson (third) and Dennis Pitta (fourth) were selected in back-to-back rounds, it looked like Dickson was going to be the man to win the starting job.
He did well enough in 2011 to make believers out of some, but Pitta ran away with the job last season while Dickson was used more as a blocker along the line.
However, now that Anquan Boldin is gone, it’s possible the Ravens decide to use his pass-catching skills a bit more, though I still wouldn’t expect a whole hell of a lot unless Pitta gets injured.
35. Garrett Graham (Hou)
Graham has never been referred to as being a special player by any means, but with James Casey gone and the 30-year-old Owen Daniels slowly turning into a house of cards, Garrett may get a chance at some point to gain some fantasy relevance.
34. Tony Scheffler (Det)
It was possible, almost likely even, that the Lions would release Scheffler during the offseason to save themselves a little salary cap room.
It hasn’t happened yet, though, so even though his fantasy value is minimal, at least it’s still there with his being a part in a high-flying offense like Detroit’s.
33. James Casey (Phi)
Casey actually has some decent offensive skills, though they were rarely on display during his four years in Houston.
Eagles new coach Chip Kelly likes to use his tight ends and recently likened Casey to the Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez, so it’s possible he finds a niche somewhere within this Philly offense.
32. Joel Dreessen (Den)
Though I currently have Jacob Tamme ranked higher, I actually believe that Dreessen will receive more playing time this season than him.
My reasoning behind this is due to both the addition of Wes Welker as Manning's main over-the-middle option in the passing game and Dreessen's superior blocking skills over Tamme.
Eventually, I'm sure the two Denver tight ends will be switched in my rankings, but I'd like to see how things shake out a bit in the offseason first.
31. Luke Stocker (TB)
After being drafted in the fourth round in 2011, Luke Stocker once again had a quiet offensive season, working mostly as a blocker with Dallas Clark running the routes.
At this point, however, Clark has not been resigned to the team, so Stocker may finally get his chance with only Tom Crabtree pushing him for the starting nod.
Still, I wouldn’t expect too much here just yet.
30. Jeff Cumberland (NYJ)
With Dustin Keller signing on with the Dolphins, Cumberland is the only real option on the Jets' current roster to replace him in the starting lineup.
He did fine coming in for the injured Keller last season, but I don’t expect his status as the team’s starter to last, as they will likely be drafting for the position’s future in the first few rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft.
29. Jacob Tamme (Den)
The addition of Wes Welker to the Broncos offense puts Tamme out of the question as a viable fantasy option this season, as Welker will undoubtedly steal most of the over-the-middle work within the weekly game plan.
28. Delanie Walker (Ten)
Walker has never been much of a fantasy option during his seven years in the league, but 2013 could prove to be his best chance at becoming one.
If the Titans were serious about getting their tight end more involved in the offense this year (as they were telling Jared Cook before he left), Walker could have a top-20 season.
27. Marcedes Lewis (Jax)
Marcedes has the requisite measurables to create mismatches all over the field, but because of his above-average pass-blocking skills, he isn’t utilized as an offensive weapon very often.
If he’s given the chance this season, it’s possible he could surprise and come up with another 10-TD season like he did in 2010, but I’m not holding my breath.
26. Coby Fleener (Ind)
Fleener has all the necessary tools to become a fantasy force for years to come, but his rookie season was plagued by injuries and his over-usage as a blocker.
I expect all that to change with the hiring of his former Stanford OC, Pep Hamilton.
Fleener has some serious sleeper potential if Hamilton uses his 6’6”, speedy tight end as more of an outside-the-box mismatch in 2013, as I expect him to do.
25. Zach Miller (Sea)
I love the way Zach Miller ended his 2012 season with the Seahawks, catching touchdown passes in two of the last four regular-season games and then dominating the two playoff games to the tune of 12 receptions on 15 targets for 190 yards, one touchdown and one two-point conversion.
Conventional wisdom would say that Miller is up for an increased role in the ‘Hawks offense this season, but I’m not so sure with the addition of Percy Harvin to the mix.
24. Brent Celek (Phi)
Can Brent Celek bounce back from his dreadful 2012 season?
He’s still young (28 years old) and talented enough to do so and as luck would have it, new coach Chip Kelly likes to use the tight end position quite a bit in his offense.
If the Eagles don’t draft a tight end that can challenge Celek as a starter within the first couple of rounds, Brent could be a decent sleeper who could be had late in fantasy drafts.
23. Dwayne Allen (Ind)
Though taken one round later in last year’s draft than fellow Colts tight end Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen outplayed him in nearly every aspect of the game during their 2012 rookie season.
The question I have with Allen heading into 2013 is what sort of effect the hiring of Coby Fleener’s Stanford OC Pep Hamilton will have on Allen’s offensive involvement in relation to Fleener’s?
Of course, that’s what the offseason is for, so I’ll let you know the answer soon enough.
22. Rob Housler (Ari)
Watch out for this kid, and if you skimmed over that first line, I’ll say it again—watch out for this kid!
I’ll tell you right now that his position in these rankings will not stay as is for very long. In fact, I can easily see this 6’5”, 250-pound speedy mismatch of a tight end climbing into my top 15 or so in the coming months.
The addition of QB Carson Palmer could be huge for Housler this season, especially when you look at what Palmer did for an inferior tight end like Brandon Myers last season.
21. Tony Moeaki (KC)
The main concern with Tony continues to be injuries, as he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this offseason and has consistently dealt with various ailments all the way back to his college days at Iowa.
Another concern is the Chiefs’ signing of Anthony Fasano to a four-year deal in March, though Moeaki is a far superior pass-catcher and overall offensive threat, so I’m not too worried there.
New KC quarterback, Alex Smith, has a tight end-friendly arm, so look for Moeaki to be more involved in the offense this season.
20. Brandon Myers (NYG)
I would venture to say that Brandon Myers was the biggest surprise of the 2012 fantasy season, seeing how he only had 32 catches for 250 yards and zero touchdowns during his first three years in the league.
However, I don’t believe his breakout carries over into 2013, as he’ll be joining a New York Giants squad that doesn’t incorporate or need the tight end nearly as much as Oakland did.
Fighting for targets with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks won’t yield the same numbers as they did fighting Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore.
19. Jordan Cameron (Cle)
Cameron is an immensely talented athlete with a history on the basketball court, and we all know how former basketball players do at the tight end position (Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, etc.).
He’s young and hasn’t been utilized quite yet, but that should change this season with both Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner on the Cleveland Browns staff and each having a history of maximizing their tight end talent.
Should Cameron nail down the starting slot by Week 1, he certainly has the ability to have a breakout season. And depending on how things go in OTAs, he could end up inching closer to my top 10 throughout the summer.
18. Fred Davis (Was)
Davis’ 2012 season was cut short when he tore his Achilles in the Redskins' seventh game of the year.
He wasn’t doing much yet anyway, as he was having a hard time getting involved in the new RGIII-run offense, but he still has a ton of talent and could be a prime candidate for a nice comeback.
With Griffin expected to run less in 2013, there should be more opportunities for Davis this time around, especially with the lack of WR talent beyond Pierre Garcon.
Make sure to follow his situation this summer to see how his Achilles is coming along.
17. Brandon Pettigrew (Det)
Brandon Pettigrew was nothing close to a slice of apple pie for his fantasy owners last season, putting up numbers weak enough for a 20th overall ranking.
His yards per catch is still disturbingly low, but you have to like his chances for a decent bounce-back season in what is sure to be a high-scoring Detroit Lions squad.
His ceiling still isn’t very high, however, and he likely isn’t worth looking at as more than a backup in 2013.
16. Jermaine Gresham (Cin)
Jermaine Gresham seems to have improved over his first three years in the league, but he’s still prone to a few duds throughout a season and will only give you a few double-digit performances each year.
The advancement of wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and/or Marvin Jones could take some defensive coverage away from him in games, but will also take away some targets as well.
He’s about as vanilla as it gets in the world of fantasy, and I really can’t see him rising up much higher than this because of it.
15. Jermichael Finley (GB)
Finley, though a disaster for the first part of 2012, actually played pretty decent down the stretch, putting up over 50 yards in six of his last seven regular-season games.
Of course, he completely disappeared in the playoffs, but there’s certainly some hope heading into the new year.
He has the ability to do some serious fantasy damage any given week, but his inconsistency, lack of rapport with Aaron Rodgers and lack of red-zone trust by his QB are turn-offs enough to keep him outside starter status.
14. Jared Cook (StL)
Cook is a beast of a man and a downright scary specimen to face as a tight end. He’s a lot like Vernon Davis in that he can run like a wide receiver, yet is far stronger and harder to bring down than any WR you’ll ever see.
He was horribly underutilized during his run in Tennessee, but Jeff Fisher and the Rams should turn that around in St. Louis.
Sam Bradford will also be an upgrade on his quarterback situation, so if you’re looking for a breakout type of a guy to take a chance on this year, Cook certainly has the ability to fit the bill.
13. Owen Daniels (Hou)
Owen Daniels is now on the wrong side of 30 years old and was really losing steam toward the end of 2012…until the playoffs arrived.
All of the sudden, Daniels was a world-beater again, catching 18 passes for 172 yards during the Texans’ two postseason games.
He seems to have some juice left in the tank, but I’d have a real tough time depending on it lasting throughout the season, especially with his injury history.
He may end up with nice numbers again in 2013, but I’d just as soon take a chance on a youngster with upside.
12. Martellus Bennett (Chi)
The Black Unicorn joined the Chicago Bears in the black and blue division this offseason and could be in line for the best season of his career in 2013.
With 6’4” Brandon Marshall lining up on one side of the field and 6’3” Alshon Jeffery on the other, Bennett should see plenty of room over the middle and see a bunch of targets from Jay Cutler because of it.
With a new pass-oriented head coach in Marc Trestman running the show, Bennett’s looking like a pretty good candidate to have a breakout.
11. Greg Olsen (Car)
I had no doubt that Greg Olsen would put up better numbers in 2012 than he did in his first season for Carolina, but I didn’t expect him to be fifth in the league in fantasy points after 15 weeks.
He ended up in eighth while setting career highs in catches (69), yards (843) and most importantly, fantasy points.
His talent is undeniable being a former first-round pick, but he has trouble with consistency, usually putting up just as many duds as week-winners.
Still, he has as good a shot as any to end up in the top 10.
10. Antonio Gates (SD)
There was a time last season when I was convinced it would have been best just to take Gates back behind the proverbial shed and shoot him.
He used to be one of the most dependable horses in the stable, but last year was downright awful.
Now of course, the blame can no doubt rest equally upon the shoulders of lame-duck QB Philip Rivers, but Antonio still looked a bit slow to me. That being said, a new coaching staff and a healthy corps of wide receivers should aid in the turnaround I expect out of Gates in 2013.
He won’t ever be the dominant force he once was, but a return to low-end starter status should be in the offing.
9. Kyle Rudolph (Min)
Rudolph was a monster in the red zone last year, tying Jimmy Graham for second in the league with nine touchdowns grabs.
The only problem is that’s about all he did.
Rudolph failed to put up 70 yards in any one week and had 10 games (including the Vikings playoff game) where he caught three or fewer passes (also had three with zero receptions).
He did, however, put in his best work when Percy Harvin was out of the lineup, as evidenced by his 18 catches and three touchdowns on 26 targets during a three-week stretch without Harvin in the middle of the season, so that could be promising for 2013.
He has incredible hands and can make a circus catch with the best of them, so I can’t help but think that the Vikings coaching staff will find a way to get him more involved this season.
8. Dustin Keller (Mia)
Dustin Keller has all the talent in the world but hasn’t been in a situation where he’s been able to use it on a consistent basis.
Keller nursed an up-and-down 2012 campaign, with most of it being on the down side due to his early-season injury woes. Having Mark Sanchez as his quarterback certainly didn’t help, either, but he won’t have to deal with that problem anymore after signing on with the Dolphins this offseason.
Being on a one-year contract, Keller will have a ton of motivation to prove his worth, so he’s certainly got that going for him. Also, with speedy wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline lining up on the outside, Keller should have a ton of room over the middle to show his stuff.
2013 has all the makings of another top-10 year for the guy.
7. Dennis Pitta (Bal)
Pitta put together a real nice third season in the league last year, and it’s very possible it gets even better in 2013.
He flirted with top-10 status early on with Cam Cameron as the offensive coordinator, but became a beast when Jim Caldwell took over in the middle of the season, so it’ll be a bonus to have Caldwell in place from day one this year.
Another huge bonus for Dennis is that WR Anquan Boldin is no longer on the team, so Pitta should see a bunch more targets over the middle of the field as well.
With the Ravens’ defense losing over half their starters this offseason, it wouldn’t shock me to see the team having to play from behind more often in 2013 which of course, means more passing and more opportunities for Pitta as well.
6. Vernon Davis (SF)
2012 turned out to be a major dud for Mr. Davis, but his 11 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers' last two playoff games gives us some hope for a nice comeback this upcoming season.
Having Colin Kaepernick at QB for the entire year will certainly help as well, but what’s even more promising is that he basically has the tight end position all to himself now with Delanie Walker signing on with the Titans during the offseason (second-year, undrafted TE Garrett Celek is his backup).
I fully expect his targets to come back up to at least the 90-100 range from a measly 61 in 2012 and with that sort of attention, Vernon could return to his dominating play from a few years ago.
5. Tony Gonzalez (Atl)
Not that I didn’t expect it, but I’m psyched that Gonzalez decided to come back for at least one more go at a Super Bowl ring (signed a two-year, $14 million contract). Being the best tight end in NFL history and a total class act, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy in the league more deserving of one.
As far as his fantasy value this year, I don’t expect him to catch 93 balls for 930 yards and eight touchdowns again, but he should still put up enough stats to stay in the top-5 tight ends.
The Falcons' signing of Steven Jackson may hurt him a bit with Jackson likely to take on a larger role than what Michael Turner took on last season.
One of Gonzo’s better attributes right now is his ability to move the chains, but with Jackson now in the fold, I expect him to lose some opportunities there, as well as maybe a few red-zone chances, too.
Overall he should be fine, but I wouldn’t expect a monster swan song campaign.
4. Aaron Hernandez (NE)
He’s not even the top tight end on his own team, but if you miss out on either Gronk or Graham, Hernandez will definitely be the top tight end on yours.
Lining up all over the field, Aaron is a nightmare for opposing defenses to keep track of and for all sense and purposes, he’s barely what the NFL would call a “tight end” at this point.
He’s actually received more targets per game than Gronkowski has since they both came into the league in 2010 and though he may not be as prolific as Gronk in the touchdown category, he still has 18 in his first 38 games in the league.
To put that in perspective, Jason Witten has just 23 TDs in his last 80 games.
Missing 10 games in his first three seasons makes him an injury risk and thus puts him one notch below Witten in my rankings, but when healthy, I’d take him over every tight end not named Gronkowski or Graham.
3. Jason Witten (Dal)
Witten broke Tony Gonzalez’s tight end record of 102 receptions in a season by making 110 catches for the Cowboys in 2012.
If there weren’t a major concern over his lacerated spleen in the preseason, it wouldn’t have been much of a shock, either, as Witten had put up 94-plus receptions in three of the previous five years while averaging 88.8 per season during that span.
2013 should be another high-volume year for Witten and though I doubt he hits the 110-mark again, he should be able to make up for it by snagging more than the measly three touchdowns he grabbed in 2012.
2. Jimmy Graham (NO)
The top two positions are relatively close here, but Graham is still a touch behind Gronkowski at this point.
The sheer volume of targets he receives is disturbing and the subsequent receptions and yardage definitely keeps him high above the rest of the field, but he’s not quite the touchdown machine Gronk is, so you have to rank him one slot behind.
With his 2012 ankle and wrist injuries behind him, I believe Jimmy comes back with a huge 2013 season, and it’s very possible he ends up atop my rankings before the summer is over.
Oh, and did I mention this happens to be a contract year for the guy?
1. Rob Gronkowski (NE)
When Gronk is healthy, not even Jimmy Graham compares from a fantasy perspective.
Double-digit touchdowns in his first three seasons and well into the double digits in fantasy points per game during the last two are hard statistics to argue with.
However, health became an issue with the big man last year as a fractured forearm kept him out of five important games for fantasy owners down the stretch. His recent complications in the healing of the forearm give me pause as well, but until I know more, he stays right here at No. 1.
The departure of Wes Welker could have been huge for Gronk this season, as Brady would have depended on his tight ends like crazy if the Pats didn’t make a move. However, the signing of Danny Amendola will help compensate for Welker’s loss, though I still believe both Gronk and Hernandez will benefit with Amendola needing a year to mesh with the offense.
It’s nearly unheard of to take a tight end in the first round of fantasy drafts, but Gronk should be worth it this year (if healthy) considering the difference between him and the rest of the league.