There are a couple different schools of thought when it comes to how to draft tight ends.
Over the years, I have struggled to decide where to select my tight end. Usually, I end up just taking whoever is left at the end of the draft. If you really want a top tier tight end, you are probably going to have to reach for him a little bit which is something I've never really been able to do.
This season however, is quite different. I'm not going to say you need to grab a top-five tight end to win your league, but I will say you should do your very best to put yourself in a situation to get Antonio Gates.
Last season, Antonio Gates was huge. In the first eight weeks when he was completely healthy, he only scored less than 11 fantasy points once. He broke into double digits in seven of eight games. That is absolutely ridiculous for a tight end.
Antonio Gates was on track for over 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns half way through the season. Those numbers would have put him at fourth in receiving yards and first in touchdowns by three scores. That easily makes him a No. 1 receiver in any format.
Obviously, injury derailed his season, but he still finished on the No. 2 fantasy tight end.
If a high profile receiver had the same exact season Gates had last year, where would he be ranked? My guess is much higher than Gates is currently being ranked.
Although Gates is a bit of an injury risk because of his foot, it's not like he's struggled with injuries often in the past. Before last season, he had missed only three games in seven NFL seasons.
Antonio Gates is so much better than everyone else at his position that it gives you a huge advantage to have him on your team. If he puts up numbers relatively close to what he did last year before his injury, you basically have another No. 1 wide receiver on your team.
If you're drafting at the beginning of the fourth round and there's a player you're confident he can get you 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns if not significantly more as long as he's healthy, aren't you going to take him?
No disrespect to Dwayne Bowe or Mike Williams, but I don't think either will match Gates in production this year. If you have to choose between one of those receivers and Gates, I think it's a no-brainer.
But what if you don't get Gates?
If you can't manage to get Antonio Gates or you still think the price tag is simply too high, I think the next best approach is grabbing two tight ends toward the end of the draft and count on one breaking out.
The two tight ends I really like this year for the committee approach are Brandon Pettigrew and Jimmy Graham.
Jimmy Graham is a pretty common choice for a breakout year and for good reasons. He plays in a high powered pass first offense that didn't retain Jeremy Shockey. If the Saints make Graham a priority, which I believe they will, he could have a breakout season.
I like Brandon Pettigrew this year because the Lions like to pass the ball. If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy Pettigrew should get plenty of looks. I like his numbers to significantly improve this year, and you can get him for a very cheap price.
If you can get Witten or Dallas Clark two rounds later than their value suggests, you might as well go for one, but I believe the strategy this year has to be either Gates or wait.
If Gates plays 16 games this year, he's certainly worth a fourth-round pick.
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