Fantasy Football Preview: Top 5 Tight End Sleepers in 2013

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Fantasy Football Preview: Top 5 Tight End Sleepers in 2013

Last season was an eye-opening one for tight ends in fantasy football.

We thought we could trust the premium guys like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham as early-round picks, but we wound up with broken-down disappointments. 

Now, we are bitter and should sleep on the entire position this season, to be quite honest.

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This offseason just made things worse, particularly for the likes of Gronk (multiple surgeries, including a mid-June surgery on his back) and Aaron Hernandez (released amid murder charges). Now, it is conceivable that every tight end in fantasy football this year after Graham can be considered a sleeper, since the recommendation here is to wait a long time on the position and pick from the leftovers.

After the top few names—who all have the potential to go bust, particularly if you pick them too early—there isn't much to choose from. Heck, a 20th-rated tight end could be just as good as the sixth-rated one. It makes for a good argument that you shouldn't select one before the late rounds.

Here is a breakdown of our top tight end sleepers for 2013. Note that you won't find the training-camp risers like Jordan Cameron, Zach Sudfeld or any other rookies here. We left those for the breakout candidates, because many of the promising second- and third-tier ends are going to be on the board well into the late rounds of the draft.

 

 

1. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
132.2 135 129.7 120

Various sites

Why are we sleeping?

He is coming off a disappointing year after a career-best 2011 campaign, so very few are viewing him as a reliable starter. He didn't even rank as a top-20 fantasy tight end in scoring last season, much less a top-10 one. He also wasn't very efficient. Despite ranking seventh in targets among tight ends, he finished just 11th in receptions, 15th in receiving yards and tied for 23rd in receiving touchdowns. Those are just fringe fantasy numbers. 

 

Which of Emack's tight end sleepers would you be most inclined to trust as your late-round fantasy starter?

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Why shouldn't we be?

Pettigrew is still just 28, in a contract year and is arguably the second-most reliable target in an offense that attempted the most passes in football last year. Matthew Stafford is going to be better than he was in 2012, even if he doesn't get back to his elite 2011 form. According to reports from camp, including this one from Justin Rogers of MLive.com, Pettigrew is in his best shape in years; go figure, since he is playing for a new deal.

 

What should we expect?

This is a pivotal year for Pettigrew. He will either become a mainstay in the Lions offense, or they will go younger at the position. He is not old, so seeing him rise up to 80 catches for 800 yards and eight touchdowns as a late-round pick is not out of the question.

 

What should we do?

With guys like Cameron and Sudfeld stealing the preseason thunder, Pettigrew is a forgotten man. Despite a down year last season, he wasn't too far off from his three-year averages. Also, he is a consistent target in the Lions' pass-happy offense on a week-to-week basis. You can leave the position open for him and be satisfied with his production out of your late-round starter.

 

 

2. Brandon Myers, New York Giants

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
125.5 111.8 125.7 122

Various sites

Why are we sleeping?

It is rare that a tight end coming off a career year gets overlooked in drafts, but it is a function of so many options being bunched up at the position after that small top tier. There might be some uncertainty with him moving to a team that has so many other premium targets to go to first, though.

 

 

USA TODAY Sports
Brandon Myers won't be targeted as frequently as he was in Oakland, but there is big-play potential in New York with Eli Manning

Why shouldn't we be?

Myers was the fourth-most targeted tight end a year ago. There were only eight players targeted over 100 times at the position, Myers and Pettigrew among them. Myers was fourth in receptions and sixth in yards. Those are starter-quality numbers, at least in PPR formats, and there are very few drafts where Myers is going as a top-10 choice at the position.

 

What should we expect?

Eli Manning loves his tight end in the red zone, so Myers figures to raise his touchdown total of four, even if his targets, receptions and yards drop. If Myers reels in 60 balls for 650 yards and six touchdowns, you are going to be plenty happy with his value relative to his draft position.

 

What should we do?

Again, don't bother with the position until the late rounds. Consistent and reliable guys like Myers give you a starter-worthy option without burning a pick before all of your other starters and key reserves at running back and wide receiver are picked.

 

 

3. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
98.7 87.7 77.6 119

Various sites

Why are we sleeping?

Gates is old and his injury woes—namely the chronic foot issue that has plagued him his entire career—make him seem even older than 33. He is also coming off a year in which he fell under 50 catches and 775 yards for the first time since his rookie season of 2003. He wasn't within the top 15 of fantasy tight ends in targets, receptions or yards, something unheard of in his Hall of Fame career.

 

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates hasn't reeled in fewer than seven touchdowns since his rookie year.

Why shouldn't we be?

Remember how washed up Tony Gonzalez was considered a year ago? Well he enjoyed a renaissance in 2012, as his career was seemingly winding down. Gates can have that same kind of late life, too. In fact, he has looked quicker and healthier this preseason, according to Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego. It is quite a career accomplishment when you are considered done, yet you have not had a season under seven touchdowns since your rookie year (some 10 years ago). 

 

What should we expect?

Gates sounds prepared to play with a chip on his shoulder this season. Last year, he finished with seven touchdowns, despite playing for a Chargers team that had no one to take the pressure off of him in the red zone. Gates remains Rivers' favorite target and, if he plays this season as lean and as motivated as he has been this training camp, look out for a 60-750-10 rebound.

 

What should we do?

We have preached to wait on tight ends here, but if you are happy with your first three running backs, first three receivers and perhaps your starting quarterback, you might as well grab one of the best red-zone weapons of all time at the position.

 

 

4. Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
112.5 130.7 113.1 121

Various sites

Why are we sleeping?

Bennett has shown flashes in his career, but fantasy owners don't want to pick more than one tight end to gum up their roster and reserves. They need a set-it-and-forget-it option at the position. Bennett is not one of those guys in many fantasy owners' minds, particularly now that he is working with an oft-degraded fantasy quarterback like Jay Cutler.

 

Why shouldn't we be?

Those flashes we saw last year from Bennett while working with Manning in New York should be more frequent now that he is entering his physical prime at age 26. Also, Cutler is getting a West Coast scheme to work in, so Bennett will either be one of the check-down options or a seam-buster for an offense that will draw eight men in the box to slow running back Matt Forte.

 

What should we expect?

Bennett is even better than his 2012 career year (55-626-5) suggests, and Cutler has longed for a secondary target after Brandon Marshall. If the Black Unicorn stays healthy and plays up to his potential on a weekly basis, he is going to crush at his draft position.

 

What should we do?

Bennett is, at best, a ninth- or 10th-rounder in most drafts, but he is capable of going 75-800-10 in an offense that should open up nicely for Cutler under new coach Marc Trestman.

 

 

5. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
99.9 103.7 87.4 123

Various sites

Why are we sleeping?

Finley burned fantasy owners last season, dropping his production from eight touchdowns in 2011 to just two in 2012, despite posting a career high 61 receptions. Still, his low touchdown total left him out of the top-15 scorers at the position. Fantasy owners definitely are fickle and bitter creatures.

 

Why shouldn't we be?

Finley is still one of the most-targeted options in arguably the most efficient passing offense in the NFL. Also, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal SentinelAaron Rodgers has redefined his relationship with Finley, which was sometimes on shaky ground because of drops—particularly ones in big situations. It made the tight end a mere decoy for weeks on end last season. Finley is back in his team's good graces, though, and much like Pettigrew, Finley is also in a contract year.

 

What should we expect?

Rodgers said the following to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Jermichael carried over what he has been doing in practice. He's big and athletic and he's playing very fast right now. He's going to be a big weapon for us.

Finley is capable of returning to his 2011 form, if not bettering it, in his contract year and also with a renewed trust with Rodgers. A 65-800-10 season is fathomable again.

 

What should we do?

We have to admit, we were down on Finley going into training camp. After all, he was on thin ice in Green Bay, and there were even rumors at the end of last season, like this one from Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that the team wanted to get rid of him. Fortunately for Finley, the team still realizes the potential he has, and fantasy owners should take the flier on Finley after the top eight tight ends are off the board. The ceiling is considerably higher with Finley than almost any other player at the position besides Gronkowski and Graham.

 

 

Conclusion

As I said in the lead above, the tight end is a position full of sleepers. There are many guys who we have used in fantasy lineups before and still might not be respecting enough as potential starting options in 2013.

To give you a better sense of how deep the middle and bottom sections of the position are this year, here's a sneak peak at the position's breakout candidates: Jordan Cameron, CLE; Zach Sudfeld, NE; Coby Fleener, IND; Rob Housler, ARI; Tyler Eifert, CIN; and Zach Ertz, PHI.

All of those guys figure to be available to you late. Clearly, there is little reason to put a premium on the position in fantasy drafts this year. After Graham, there are just so many to go around.

 

 

Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.

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