To begin, let us start with a little history to put this article into context. In 2002, there were 1607 receptions by tight ends in the NFL, producing 16812 receiving yards and 128 touchdowns. In 2007 there were 2069 receptions, 21896 yards and 183 touchdowns. That is a difference of 462 receptions, 5084 yards and 63 touchdowns. In fact, from 2002 (the earliest stats I could easily get a hold of) receptions have increased nearly every year, the lone exception being 2005 when there were 15 more receptions than 2006. Receiving yards for tight ends have increased every year, and touchdowns, although not as linear as the rest, are on the whole increasing every year.
This year is no exception. To date, tight ends have caught 669 passes for 7368 yards and 47 touchdowns. Although this is not as rapid a pace as in 2007, where in the first six games tight ends produced 738 receptions for 8048 yards and 61 touchdowns, it is clear that the tight end is becoming a significant component to the offense of many teams.
As for who is responsible for this increase in production, we are all familiar with the traditional fantasy point producing tight ends: Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow. These four players accounted for 352 receptions, 4407 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns in 2007.
Jason Witten is emerging as the star tight end in 2008 with 39 receptions for 497 yards and 2 touchdowns. Gates would be a close second with 252 yards and 4 touchdowns on the season, and would likely be nearing Witten-like numbers had he not been slowed down by toe and hip injuries. Unfortunately for the other two traditional top tight ends, their numbers are lacking. This is because Gonzalez is working with a young quarterback and getting up there in years, while Winslow has been battling injuries for part of the season.
With two of the typical top tier tight ends not producing, who has stepped up to fill the gaps? It is not the second tier tight ends you would suspect, like Jeremy Shockey, who is injured, or Alge Crumpler, who has fallen off the face of the planet. Instead, tight ends such as Chris Cooley have stepped up their game. He is already at 30 receptions for 2008, nearly half of the 66 he had in 2007.
Owen Daniels is on pace to at least match his numbers from last year, despite not yet having a touchdown in his current campaign. Other notables are Denver tight end Tony Scheffler (16 recptions, 259 yards, 2 touchdowns), Tennessee Titan Bo Scaife (20 receptions, 226 yards, 1 touchdown) and second year Bears tight end Greg Olsen (16 receptions, 222 yards, 1 touchdown). Zach Miller is having a decent start as well, given the situation the Raiders find themselves in at this point, with 14 receptions, 199 yards and 1 touchdown. Two relatively unknown players that have done well this year are third year Dolphin Anthony Fasano (15 receptions, 209 yards, 2 touchdowns) and rookie John Carlson (16 receptions, 190 yards, 1 touchdown) of the Seahawks.
Like it or not, the tight end will continue to play a significant role in NFL playbooks and thus, fantasy football teams. This can be frustrating because there really aren't that many who will produce consistent fantasy numbers, especially when you are in leagues with 12 or more teams. The fantasy owner who pays attention to tight ends within the NFL and college system might be aptly rewarded, both by the fantasy points a good tight end will produce and the ability to use them as trade bait as other owners scramble to find a solid tight end to cover starter's bye-week.