Fantasy Football Sleepers 2013: Athletic Tight Ends Bound for Breakout Seasons

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Fantasy Football Sleepers 2013: Athletic Tight Ends Bound for Breakout Seasons
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With the way athletic tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and others have exploded onto the NFL fantasy football scene, it's worth projecting which similarly athletic players could have a reminiscent impact this season.

Expecting Gronk-type of production (double-digit touchdowns in each of his first three seasons) is perhaps a bit unrealistic in the long-term.

For 2013 specifically, though, there are several big tight ends who could put together at least 16 games of consistently phenomenal play.

Some players will be the beneficiary of frequently favorable matchups thanks to stellar supporting casts of skill position studs, while others should emerge as primary options due to their respective schemes.

 

Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams

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Opponents will have to account for first-round pick Tavon Austin sliding underneath in the slot, which should occupy the defense's attention in the middle of the field.

That will open up plenty of opportunities for Cook to get vertical down the seam. Although Sam Bradford doesn't have the cannon arm some quarterbacks do, he has enough mustard on his passes to fling it deep.

When Cook is matched up one-on-one with linebackers, the Rams are at a significant advantage. As ESPN insider KC Joyner points out (subscription required), St. Louis targeted a group of underwhelming tight ends 85 times in 2012, while Cook received just 82 targets with the Tennessee Titans.

Bradford has never had a weapon like Cook at his disposal at tight end, and Cook has never had a true chance to be a No. 1 option at the position in his career.

With a 6'5", 248-pound frame, Cook has a ton of upside as a red-zone target. New No. 1 running back Daryl Richardson had zero rushing TDs as a rookie, so he's far from a proven commodity in the scoring area.

Additionally, the only ideally sized receiver for jump-ball situations is Brian Quick, who has disappointed since being an early second-round pick in last year's draft.

Check out this anecdote from New York Times contributor C.D. Carter, too:

When Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called plays for the New York Jets, tight end Dustin Keller led the team in receptions in his final two seasons. That bodes well for Cook to say the least.

 

Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns

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Schottenheimer similarly emphasizes the power running game as Browns OC Norv Turner will with Trent Richardson as the featured back.

But Turner is also unafraid to take significant shots down the field in his vertical-based passing game, which suits not only quarterback Brandon Weeden, but also Jordan Cameron.

Even with a limited football background and just 26 catches in his first two NFL seasons combined, the 2011 fourth-round pick has all the tools—and the supporting foundation—to be the next big star at the tight end position.

Rob Chudzinski was instrumental in the development of Antonio Gates in San Diego and Kellen Winslow Jr. in Chudzinski's previous stints as tight ends coach and offensive coordinator in Cleveland. Chudzinski also oversaw a stellar year for Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen last season.

Cameron has outstanding leaping ability and flashed his upside by snagging two touchdowns from Weeden in the Browns' Week 2 preseason win over the Detroit Lions.

Thus, the 25-year-old athletic dynamo is receiving justified hype almost universally as a fantasy sleeper. Given one choice for that label, three of 13 ESPN.com experts chose Cameron as the prime candidate.

A recent groin injury is a slight cause for concern, but Chudzinski doesn't anticipate it to be too serious:

The running game spearheaded by Richardson should make Cameron especially dangerous on play-action. Physical receivers in Josh Gordon and Greg Little will occupy the outside, while veteran possession receiver Davone Bess will work underneath and cause defensive backs to gamble.

All of those factors should allow Cameron to get loose more than a few times in 2013.

 

Brandon Myers, New York Giants

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The former Oakland Raiders standout parlayed a career year into a relatively lucrative and secure four-year contract worth more than $14 million, per Spotrac.com.

If Myers replicates the type of production he had in his fourth season, when he caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns, he will be viewed as a bargain for the Giants.

Those touchdown numbers may be relatively low, but since top running back David Wilson is more of a home run hitter than a goal-line specialist, Myers should see plenty of passes fly his way in the red zone.

Which tight end has the most upside in 2013?

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Andre Brown has upside in short-yardage situations but has a lengthy injury history and may be headed for head coach Tom Coughlin's doghouse after fumbling in the preseason opener.

NFL.com's Jason Smith has Myers No. 2 overall in his rankings, which seems rather preposterous, but then again, quarterback Eli Manning has said Myers is "off to a great start."

Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are one of the better receiver duos in football, so Myers should have his opportunities.

As long as that early camaraderie continues between Myers and Manning, don't be surprised if Myers ascends into the elite tight ends of the league. That will be thanks to his reliable hands, a sturdy 6'3", 256-pound frame and unquestionable toughness after playing through a shoulder injury a season ago.

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