The tight end has become more important in the NFL and, consequently, fantasy football circles ever since the League has opted for a more pass-friendly approach.
Since the NFL was established in 1920, the league has changed substantially.
The players have become bigger, faster, and stronger. The style of play has changed from strictly running, to more of a passing approach.
In a pass-heavy league, certain positions on the field develop new roles and responsibilities, that create a demand for more athletic players who have the size to do it all. The position that has transformed the most, is the tight end.
Over the last few decades, tight ends have gone from primary blockers—with the exception of a handful—that went out for short passing routes, to big, fast receivers who control the middle of the field and spread that defense out for the wideouts.
More and more each year—as you fantasy footballers know—the tight end becomes more of a key to your offense being successful, and the NFL is full of very capable players at his position who can change the course of a game, and a season.
In 2010, there have been a plethora of tight ends who have proved their worth, and here are my predictions for the top 10 TEs in fantasy football this weekend.
Chicago had a disaster of a game last week.
The offense produced 110 yards and the offensive line gave up 10 sacks to a Giants team that had been struggling. Jay Cutler left the game at halftime with a concussion and backup QB Todd Collins suffered a neck injury as well.
Although Collins is fine, Cutler's status is still uncertain, and he is the key that makes the Bears' engine run correctly. If Cutler can't go, this will have an effect on all of Chicago's weapons, but it can't hold down this man.
Greg Olsen has been Chicago's most consistent target, catching 15 balls for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He wasn't expected to play a big roll in Mike Martz's system this year, but he has impressed coaches and led the team in targets last week in New York.
With no great players at the wide receiver position, it will be up to Olsen to provide some offense for this sputtering offense. Luckily, the Bears visit Carolina, an 0-4 team who hasn't shown much of anything so far this season.
Whether it be Collins or Cutler, Greg Olsen is turning into one of the more reliable weapons in the Windy City. I'm not saying he will put up monster stats, but something like five catches for 60 yards and a score isn't far fetched.
Washington earned a key victory last week, defeating the Eagles 17-12 in Donovan McNabb's return to Philly.
The game wasn't pretty, but McNabb and Cooley hooked up for a 31-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to give the Redskins a 14-0 lead—one the Eagles couldn't come back from.
Cooley finished the game with only two receptions for 37 yards, but has had a nice season thus far, catching 16 balls for 234 yards and two scores. McNabb loves having a big tight end to throw to and the two are starting to see some chemistry develop. And, with the Redskins being weak at wideout, it just gives Cooley more opportunities to make some plays.
The Skins get a visit from Green Bay, a 3-1 team that has had its fair share of struggles and woes this year. The defense is solid, but the Packers have shown some holes in their pass defense, especially against the Lions last week.
As the season goes on, McNabb will grasp the offense more and more, and this week, look for him and C.C. to hook up on numerous occasions. Cooley is always a moderate start in fantasy, but this week could be a sign of what to expect for the rest of the season.
When Brandon Pettigrew came into the league last year, he had star quality written all over him. At 6'5" 265lbs, Pettigrew exhibits great quickness in routes and has superb hands, with the ability to catch balls in traffic.
After an injury-shortened rookie campaign, Pettigrew has been nothing short of a star, compiling 249 yards on 22 receptions. Although he hasn't reached the end zone yet, do the math. BP is on pace for 88 catches and 996 yards, and he is doing this without his starting quarterback, Matt Stafford.
This week, the Lions are at home against Sam Bradford and the streaking St. Louis Rams. The Rams' defense did look good against Seattle, but the Seahawks' offense would make Rosie O'Donnell look good at defensive tackle.
With the Lions' offense looking better every week, Pettigrew is in store for another great performance. If you have him, start him, as he has the potential for another eight catch, 90 yard performance like we saw last week in Green Bay
Its weird for me to put Tony G so far down the list, as he has been the epitome of greatness at the tight end position for so long.
It is amazing, though, that he is still performing at such a high level in his 14th season in the NFL. Most players at this position have their bodies wear down after 10 years or so, even if they were an elite. He is the best tight end to ever play, and there's no denying that.
Gonzalez had a rough first couple of games, catching only four balls. But since then, Matt Ryan has gotten him more involved in the offense, and Tony has 15 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown in the past two weeks.
Atlanta travels to Cleveland, who is coming off of a big win over their in division rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. Atlanta sits at 3-1, and when Tony has a big game, the Falcons are normally victorious.
The Browns are an improved franchise, but they still have a lot of weaknesses, which bodes well for Gonzalez owners everywhere. Atlanta Head Coach Mike Smith knows they have to get him the ball in order to have success, so he will be targeted early and often. Even though his stats haven't been mind blowing, they are consistent, so don't be stubborn, and get him in your lineups.
Dustin Keller has possibly been the biggest surprise so far in fantasy this year. He has emerged into Mark Sanchez's favorite target, catching 19 passes for 254 yards and five touchdowns through the first four games of the season.
After being drafted out of Purdue in 2008, Keller had been a solid target over his first two seasons. He has exploded onto the scene, and is ranked as the second best fantasy tight end in the early going.
The Jets get one of their big offensive weapons back this week in Santonio Holmes, which should open even more holes in the middle for Keller to work. Dustin has shown great hands, elusiveness, and a knack for the big play.
The Jets host Minnesota this week who has a stout defense, but that shouldn't stop Keller from having a solid day. He is Sanchez's safety valve, and with the Minnesota line being a good as it is, this could mean Mark will need to dump it off to his trusty tight end more often.
He has been the go-to-guy and a gem for anyone who is lucky enough to say they have him. Six catches for 70 yards and a score could be in the making this Sunday.
Vern baby, Vern!
Amidst the disaster of a season the 49ers are experiencing, there has been one man who has remained consistent through the ugliness and the struggles.
Davis hasn't put up staggering statistics, and he only has 58 yards receiving over his past two games, but he is getting a lot of targets and he did reach the end zone for the first time in 2010 last weekend.
In a must win game for San Fransisco, Davis could put up big numbers against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles. The defense is solid for Philly, but the linebacker corps is bit on the slower side—with the exception of Ernie Sims, who is very undersized compared to Vernon—and the safeties have had a history of coverage woes. If Vernon can run to space in coverage, Alex Smith could have a field day en rout to the 49ers first victory.
Vernon found the end zone 13 times last year, and I wholeheartedly expect him to make more frequent trips across the goal line, starting this Sunday.
Zach Miller has been on the verge of breaking out for the past couple of seasons, and this could be the year when he finally puts up those pro bowl-type numbers we expect from him.
He hasn't had the luxury of great quarterback, or even a decent one for that matter. JamMarcus Russell was a failed project and when you are a receiver playing for a team with a below-average offensive line and below-average quarterback, it is going to be difficult to put up star quality stats.
But, the Raiders have improved their offensive line and Bruce Gradkowski has shown that he can get the ball down field to his big targets, including Miller.
Last Sunday, Miller had his best game of the season to date, hauling in 11 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. He has scored in each of his last two games, and I don't think Gradkowski being in their at QB is a coincidence to Miller's success.
This week, Oakland hosts its bitter rivals, the San Diego Chargers. I believe the Chargers will win this one, but it is always a great game when the Raiders are playing in division, and it will be even better considering the game is at McAfee Coliseum.
Miller is the top receiving weapon on this team, and if the Raiders are half smart, they know they will have to get this man the ball in order to have a chance to win.
Miller should have a big day, and I wouldn't be surprised if he eclipses 100 yards on eight catches in a Raider victory.
When I first saw Jermichael Finley step out on a football field, I was in awe of his speed for his size. The man is 6'5" and weighs 247 lbs, yet he runs like a wide receiver. He has tremendous hands and a great vertical to get balls most players can't.
Finley has already enjoyed two 100-yard performances this season, and against an aging defense like the Redskins, he could pose a big problem for London Fletcher and company.
The Packers are strictly a passing offense after the loss of Ryan Grant for the season left them with minimal options at tail back. Finley is turning into one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite weapons and I expect him to put up big numbers week in and week out.
So far this year, Finley has caught 21 balls for 201 yards and two touchdowns. He is second in the league in yards for tight ends, only behind superstar Antonio Gates.
Finley will find the end zone this week, and if he doesn't record 10 touchdowns this season, I'd be very surprised.
Dallas Clark is an elite tight end. I don't know about you, but I consider him, along with the man at No. 1, alone in the top tier at his position.
It does help when your quarterback is Peyton Manning, and you have weapons surrounding you like Austin Collie, Reggie Wayne, and Pierre Garcon, but Clark's numbers seem to get bigger and bigger every season.
Dallas is third in receiving yards and first in receptions among tight ends, and he continues to be Peyton's safety net, giving him a ton of value in PPR leagues. He has reached the end zone three out of his first four games, and this weekend should be no different.
The Colts host the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday. The Chiefs have looked impressive thus far, but they haven't really played a powerhouse offense like the Colts, and they rank 25th in the NFL against the pass. Their secondary is young and their linebackers are much better defending the run than the pass.
Clark makes a living working the seams and I predict a seven catch, 95 yard performance with Dallas making reservations for six a couple of times against a weaker Chiefs defense.
Holding hands with Dallas Clark atop the podium is San Diego's Antonio Gates.
This man has been an absolute man-best this year, putting up godly numbers while scoring touchdowns left and right. He is the epitome of elite skill at the tight end position and possesses all of the tools to burn any defense at any time.
Gates has caught 24 passes for 386 yards, putting him 85 yards ahead of Jermichael Finley for tops in receiving yards. He as also reached pay dirt six times already in 2010, and in the last two games, he has 14 catches for 253 yards and three touchdowns.
Oakland has a solid pass defense, but like I mentioned, I don't think anyone can guard this man. He will probably see some double teams thrown his way, and may have a rough go of it early in the game, but after adjustments are made by Norv Turner, Gates' presence WILL be felt.
He is having the best season of all tight ends thus far, and look for him to just add some more big numbers after this week, playing to the tune of 10 catches for 124 yards and two scores.
Those are the rankings. Use them, abuse them.
SIDE NOTE: With Randy Moss being traded to Minnesota for a third-round pick, I think that helps out another tight end's value, Aaron Hernandez (pictured above), whose Patriots are on a bye this week. If he is available, which he is in about 50 percent of Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues, scoop him up if you are in need of a TE, as he will definitely see more targets in the future.
Phil Lombardo is a Bleacher Report writing intern and a senior journalism/mass communications major at St. Bonaventure University.
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