Tight End Rankings Recap
April 30, 2014 | Jeff
While we still have waist deep sludge filled with draft picks, training camps, and preseason injuries to wade through, it’s never too early to take a look at how the fantasy football world will stack up this season. Earlier this week, Chet and I published our first look at the tight end position for 2014. While staring at rankings is always enjoyable, not to mention a decent way to waste an afternoon of your employer’s time, we always like to give our readers a glimpse into the methods behind our zany fake football madness. After submitting my rankings and simultaneously cracking my knuckles and a cold adult beverage, I found that the following tight ends stood out as I analyzed our composite ranks:
(Jeff #15, Chet #15, Composite #15)
There certainly was no coordination between Chet and myself here, but we both ended up with Green slotted 15th. This 6’6’’ stud definitely has the skills to become a tight end force in the future, but ranking him for the 2014 season is tricky. While ranking young, athletic players extremely high in fantasy rankings is trendy these days, we will leave the salivating over younger prospects to our world class dynasty staff. The looming presence of Antonio Gates is a major concern for Ladarius Green’s 2014 fantasy outlook, and his involvement in San Diego’s offense will likely be just enough to sink them both. How did C.J. Spiller look prior to the 2013 season? Injuries aside, Fred Jackson remained a major part of the Buffalo offense and capped the first round upside that many assumed Spiller possessed. This is the same fear I have with Green.
Last season, Green was no less the physical monster that he is today, but check out the usage between the two tight ends:
|Routes Run||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Routes Run||Yards Per Route Run|
Although offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt left for browner pastures in Tennessee, I highly doubt that new OC Frank Reich, who was with the team as quarterbacks coach in 2013, will suddenly remove Gates from his perch atop the San Diego depth chart. The Top 12 fantasy football tight ends averaged 104.8 targets each last season. In San Diego, Gates received 80% of the targets between these two tight ends. Green would need that 80/20 split in favor of Gates to slide to 51/49 in his favor to get to even 70 targets if the total tight end opportunities in San Diego’s offense remain the same. While Green’s athletic prowess would probably allow him to crack the Top 12 with fewer targets than the average tight end (check out his Yards Per Route Run compared to Gates in the table above), it doesn’t appear that his workload will be quite big enough to reach the stratosphere in 2014 unless Gates goes down with a major injury early in the season.
He will likely be gracing our Top Five in 2015, but Green will remain a high end TE2 option this season until grandpa Gates saddles up in his rocking chair in Boca Raton.
(Jeff #2, Chet #2, Composite #2)
The Gronk’s 2013 injury struggles were well publicized in the fantasy realm, as he was a risk that became a draft day value that eventually became a muddled mess of shredded ACL and MCL disappointment. Gronkowski finished 16th in the final tight end standings last season (.5 points per reception), but if we judged the NFL tight ends on a fantasy points per game basis, his 14.7 points per game average was second to only Jimmy Graham’s fantasy leading mark of 16.3 points per contest. The tight end position has been the “Gronk and Graham Show” for quite some time, so what is the issue here?
My primary concern is that we are dealing with a serious knee injury that prevented Gronkowski from playing after Week 14 of the 2013 season. NFL and fantasy football fans alike tend to compare each injury recovery process to that of the robotic Adrian Peterson, but an eight month ACL/MCL recovery is asking a lot of this big fella. Even in a recent interview (via ESPN.com), Gronkowski wouldn’t commit to his availability in Week 1 of the upcoming regular season stating, “Oh man, that’s too far away. I’m just improving every day right now.” While that is not a damning statement by any means, this is still a murky situation. Gronk will grace the #2 line of my personal rankings until we get definitive news this summer that he won’t be available when New England travels to Miami in Week 1. Who knows, we could end up with a draft day bargain once again.
(Jeff #11, Chet #6, Composite #7)
I was also low on Tony Romo in our first batch of 2014 quarterback rankings, so his seems to follow suit. We will spend some time this summer dissecting the impact of Scott Linehan on the Dallas Cowboys offense (our own Nathan Miller scratches the surface in his coverage of Terrance Williams here), but for the moment I am not getting too crazy with my expectations in terms of Witten and his quarterback. 2013 saw Witten turn in his lowest yardage and reception totals since 2006 and while Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates have shown that fantasy production can occur late in a tight end’s career, I am not expecting anything near a repeat of Witten’s 110 catch, 1,039 yard performance from 2012.
While I think Jason Witten, who finished 6th among NFL tight ends in fantasy points last season, will certainly turn in a Top 12 season, I would prefer to put my faith in younger options with higher ceilings. Tight ends who finished behind Witten in 2013 that I would select ahead of the Dallas tight end in 2014 include Kyle Rudolph (Norv Turner’s history with tight ends), Jordan Reed (studly in ’13 prior to injuries), Greg Olsen (who else will Cam throw to), and Charles Clay (very underrated fantasy asset). This is not a knock on Witten, I would just rather have a player on the upswing.