According to 12-team mock drafts being held on fantasyfootballcalculator.com, three high-profile tight ends have been going as early as the fourth round and as late as the end of the fifth.
Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys is usually the first one to go (round four, pick four), followed by Charger Antonio Gates (going at round four, pick 12), and then Atlanta Falcon Tony Gonzalez (round five, pick five).
Let's consider each player's situation for this upcoming season, along with their recent statistics, in that order.
Consistency has been Witten's game (aside from football, of course). Over the last four seasons, Witten has averaged 902 yards and four touchdowns on almost 77 receptions. Those are legit wide receiver numbers in the body of a tight end.
Durability also is an attribute that can certainly describe Witten's play. Among his six years in the NFL, Witten has missed a total of one measly game. One (they don't come much healthier than that).
This season should be his best statistical one yet. Because distracting (and talented) wide receiver Terrell Owens is gone, there will be more targets to go around in the Dallas passing game. Look for Witten to benefit superbly from this since he, out of any other offensive player, has the most chemistry with QB Tony Romo.
Gates is the next man on the list. He may be the most talented out of any of the three TEs mentioned here, and that means something.
Gates' averages stretching back the last four years read: 74 catches, 928 yards, and nine touchdowns. Compared to Witten, Gates has the higher yardage and (much higher) touchdown total, but he fails in the receptions category by a minimal three grabs.
However, last season, Gates suffered his worst statistical year since his rookie season, catching only 60 passes for 704 yards and eight touchdowns. Still amazing numbers, especially considering the amount of TDs, but a down-year nonetheless.
This upcoming season, Gates, like Witten, should endure his finest statistical performance to date. He is completely healthy (he, like Witten has been fortunate to have fantastic health during his tenure in the NFL) and has a star at quarterback in Philip Rivers and great wide receivers and running backs to surround himself with.
The last man on this list, but certainly not least, is the record-setting tight end, Gonzalez.
"Gonzo", as he's commonly called, switched teams this offseason, being traded by the Kansas City Chiefs, his home for his first 12 seasons in the league, to the Atlanta Falcons.
The move should do nothing but benefit him. He goes from a "lowly" and re-building organization in the Chiefs to an up-and-coming franchise in the Falcons.
Gonzalez is the oldest of the three here, but he is also the most experienced, the least injury-prone (only two missed games in 12 seasons), and the most likely to produce solid numbers, as opposed to the other two on the list.
Over his career, Tony G has amassed nearly 11,000 yards and 76 touchdowns. Last year, Gonzo arguably had his second-best season to date, catching a whopping 96 passes for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Look for all of these players to continue their "positional dominance" this year, as all are in situations that provide them with great opportunities to produce numbers.
Personally, I have Witten ranked one, followed by Gonzalez, and then Gates. Witten shows the most upside of the group, which should translate into the highest totals, and Gonzalez is over Gates because of his consistency—not in touchdowns, but in yardage totals and receptions, the best indicators of possible success at this position.
Any of the three are fantastic No. 1 tight ends to have on your team. Snag any of them if they fall to you in the fifth round.