Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Top 5 Tight End Busts

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Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Top 5 Tight End Busts
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Readers are sure to throw their hands up—not in celebration, but in disgust—as they read about how we attack some of the biggest tight end names in fantasy, like Jason Witten, and call them our busts.

Going by the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the picks in the QB busts preview, this look at the busts at the tight end position will be drawing some big-time ire. Bring it.

Fantasy readers hate seeing their favorites knocked. We are about to attack the biggest and best names at the position. Readers surely won't like this, but they should respect it.

The point here is tight end has proven to be a position loaded with risk. Last year's crop went bust at the top end and was full of bargains, sleepers and breakouts from the late rounds, if not off waivers all together. It's still a position where you start just one player (most formats), but unlike kicker, defense and now quarterback, the fantasy masses haven't caught on to waiting for their starters at tight end yet.

Now, excuse me while I put on my fantasy writer feedback armor...

 

1. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
54.3 55.3 53.1 49

Various sites

There is seemingly nothing to dislike about Witten.

  • He's durable: He's missed one game (in his rookie season) in his 10-year career.
  • He's frequently targeted in a pass-happy offense: His 150 targets were No. 1 at the position a year ago and would have ranked him in the top eight even at wide receiver.
  • He is on the board at a reasonable rate relative to his production, lasting until Round 5 on all the major draft sites.

Those who hate the argument that age is an injury risk, look away: Witten is 31. It is the age of decline, if not complete breakdown at the position.

What round are you going to pick your tight end?

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Tight end rates right up there with running back as the most physically demanding skill position in football. Think about it: Tight ends block some of the biggest stud defensive ends and linebackers on most running plays, and, when they do get to go out for passes, they generally go over the middle. That is where those stud linebackers and sticking safeties are ready to beat them up.

It is a lot for a 30-plus-year-old body to take. Ask Antonio Gates, whose fantasy decline started at Witten's very age. Heck, ask any tight end in history not named Tony Gonzalez.

The only real statistical knock on Witten is he doesn't get in the end zone like the other tight ends you have to pick among at his draft position. If that continues, we could be looking at a mere 70 catches for 750 yards and a handful of scores—if he even is able to dodge the fate of Father Time and injury. That would make him a disappointment of a fifth-round pick.

You are better off waiting five-plus rounds later and taking the leftovers at the position. You can find 70-750-3 there and won't have to worry about your fifth-round pick who has never missed a game suffer the rare misfortune of missing games to injury finally.

 

2. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
50.7 51.0 58.2 70

Various sites

Like Witten, it might seem like we are making up reasons for tight ends to go bust. If you truly believe that, you must not have turned 30 yet. Or 37, for that matter. This writer has and everything becomes more difficult physically, especially running and recovery time.

Gonzalez has been a Hall of Fame marvel, particularly in the category of durability. But, his previous decision to hang it up after the 2012 season should tell you something: He's tired, he's beat up, and he's ready to quit. Only the lure of a potential Super Bowl appearance pulled him back to the field.

Yep, sounds like a guy I would bank on playing 16 games.

Not really.

Gonzalez does have a great quarterback and a potent offense to call his own again, but there was a reason he slipped in drafts a year ago before posting that surprising, ageless and, seemingly, last season at tight end. At some point, age wins.

With the fifth-round pick you have to use on Gonzo, you are better off taking a high-ceiling guy at running back—an injury-plagued Ryan Mathews even—or a third-year wide receiver breakout like Torrey Smith. Heck, Tom Brady is on the board, according to ADP at the major sites. No one is more money in the bank than him.

We repeat: The lower tiers of the tight end position can put up Gonzalez version 2.13 numbers, and they'll be available a few rounds later.

 

3. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
53.1 45.9 46.7 41

Various sites

You don't even need to be reminded of the injury risk here, but there was a reason his father took out a $4 million insurance policy when Gronk was a sophomore in college. He might have never played again due to a chronic back issue that required surgery.

Years later, while recovering from a twice-broken arm that required as many surgeries as millions in that insurance policy, Gronk needed another back procedure. He now stands to miss the first few weeks of the season recovering. You can't work out when you are dealing with a bad back. Gronk didn't get to where he was by sitting on the couch.

It hasn't kept him from being the No. 2 tight end off the board in fantasy, though.

Gronk is a great, great fantasy player. He is equally risky.

Even if his back isn't an issue, will his arm be? And, after both of those question marks are answered to your liking, will his physical style of play put him at risk for a new serious issue to worry about? Likely so.

Gronk is the biggest high-risk, high-reward pick in fantasy football. As much as we like him as a statistical and physical freak, we have to list him as one of the many potential busts at the position on the high end.

 

4. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
18.2 27.8 23.8 21

Various sites

We have to admit this might be the flimsiest bust pick of Bleacher Report's entire fantasy football 2013 preview series, but we also didn't see Graham disappointing us as a first- or second-round pick in 2012.

He still did.

Maybe that record-setting 2011 season just set the bar, and his fantasy expectations, just too high. I like Jimmy Graham. You like Jimmy Graham. Everyone likes Jimmy Graham.

We are all in agreement here. That doesn't mean risk isn't involved at his lofty draft position.

"Last year was very difficult playing all season with that much pain," Graham told the USA Today this preseason. "But that's football. I'm going to be a man and play for this team no matter what."

Graham makes his job sound awful.

At 26, he learned just how tough it is to stay healthy every week, every season at this position. Picking him as a fourth potential bust at tight end is a function of that precise realization.

Last year proved your early-round pick is better used on the next elite running back or wide receiver. Tight end just can't offer the return on investment every year at such a premium draft position.

 

5. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

Average Draft Position
Yahoo! ESPN CBSSports SI Top 300
69.4 78.2 90.4 86

Various sites

Most of this tight end busts list is based on the risk of injury—something young fantasy owners can't fathom, or don't want to think about. Rudolph is one well-regarded tight end at a ripe age (23) that won't require injury to disappoint fantasy owners.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Kyle Rudolph proved to be a fantasy revelation last season with nine touchdowns, but his own success is a case study on why you can wait on a tight end. Sleepers like Rudolph in 2012 can be had at a much lower draft position this year.

See, much of his fantasy value was based on his nine touchdowns from a year ago. With Adrian Peterson grinding out the yardage and putting the passing-inept Vikings in the red zone, Rudolph was there to vulture the touchdowns. Without those targets in the end zone, Rudolph's numbers are not fantasy-worthy, much less fantasy-starter-worthy.

It is conceivable those touchdown targets go to physical, veteran receiver Greg Jennings now, or they just don't come at all. After all, Christian Ponder is just that weak of an NFL quarterback. Maybe A.P. sucks up all of the touchdowns the Vikings offense does get, challenging for an NFL record in that category.

Whatever the reason, it has not been sound fantasy strategy to bank on the possibility of short touchdowns as a leading way to produce your fantasy points—unless you are in one of those dinosaur fantasy formats that reward points for touchdowns only. That was before the age of fantasy on the Internet, when league commissioners wanted a quicker way to calculate weekly results from the Monday morning box scores in the newspaper.

What's a newspaper? Ah, you crazy kids.

If you need a tight end, we promise there will be the next Rudolph, Dennis Pitta or 2012 Heath Miller to be had in the late rounds or even off the waiver wire. Pick running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks at the elevated draft position of these tight ends above.

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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