4..) C.J. Fiedorowicz, Texans
Playing time - The last time Texans new HC Bill O’Brien was in the NFL, he was the offensive coordinator for the Patriots in 2011. That was the year that the Pats 2-TE offense took the league by storm. The Pats used Gronk as an inline blocker and Hernandez as the Move-TE. The 2-TE set works best against 3-4 defenses which just so happen to be run by division rivals the Colts and Titans and 9 of the 15 teams in the AFC. Garrett Graham is best suited for the Hernandez (Move-TE) role and Fiedorowicz is an excellent blocker so should slide right into the Gronk role. I’m not saying he’s going to match Gronk’s production, just that he should see plenty of snaps as a rookie.
Fantasy outlook - Fiedorowicz is a solid blocker and had the best short-area quickness of all the rookie TEs at the combine. He’s a better blocker than Graham and with his quickness and soft hands could be his equal as a receiver as well. If O’Brien’s offense resembles the one he ran with the 2011 Pats, then there will be plenty of targets for both Graham and Fiedorowicz. His blocking is solid enough to keep him on the field all game and his soft hands and quick feet will make him a fantasy worthy option as a rookie. He shouldn’t cost more than $1 and could have $10-$15 value. I’m going to have him on a few of my roster just in case O’Brien’s offensive scheme resembles the 2011 2-TE attack.
Auction value - Re-draft $3, Keeper $7
2013 Statistical comparison - Martellus Bennet
Draft ahead of - Owen Daniels, Andrew Quarless
5.) Troy Niklas, Cardinals:
Playing time - Rob Housler has been a constant disappointment for the Cards since they drafted him in the 3rd round in 2011. He’s either been hurt or dropping passes ever since. The Cards also brought in John Carlson and Jake Ballard this off-season so they are clearly looking for a replacement for Housler. Carlson probably has the lead on the starting gig, but Niklas has a ton of upside and will probably see the field a bit this year as the 2nd TE.
Fantasy outlook - Niklas is already an excellent blocker so he will see the field more than most rookie tight ends. Niklas has a high ceiling as a receiver but he is new to the position after playing DL his first two years in college. I think he will mostly be a blocker this year and probably catch a few passes, but his receiving skills won’t be fantasy worthy for a year or two. Niklas isn’t worth drafting in re-draft leagues, but he might be in a couple of years once his receiving skills catch up to his blocking.
* From this point on every player has $1 value and is an end-of-your bench lottery ticket.
6.) Colt Lyerla, Packers
Playing time - If Lyerla can stay out of trouble, he could become a serious weapon for the Packers. They lost Jermichael Finley but Lyerla has similar speed and athleticism. None of the other TEs on the Packers’ roster can come close to matching Lyerla’s physical skills so if they are looking for a TE who can split out as a receiver like Finley used to, then Lyerla is their best option. I wrote about Lyerla multiple times during draft season because I thought he’d be a great fit for the Bears. Unfortunately he ended up on the Packers and if he gets significant playing time he could be a serious fantasy sleeper.
Fantasy outlook - If Lyerla is on the field for 50% or more of the Packers offensive snaps, then Lyerla is worth owning in fantasy and could be a top 3 rookie TE. He is an elite athlete; Lyerla’s 40-time, vertical, and broad jump were all in the top 2 for his position at the combine. Before he left Oregon he averaged 16.6 YPC which is outstanding for a TE (Jimmy Graham averaged 14.1 last season), and with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball Lyerla’s potential is ridiculous. He’s not much of a blocker, but either was Finley and if the Packers use Lyerla like they did Finley he could end up as a top 10 fantasy tight end this year. He’s a long-shot due to his off-field problems, but if he can stay out of trouble and beat out Rodgers for the #2 TE job, he’s going to be a fantasy asset.
7.) Richard Rodgers, Packers
Playing time - I didn’t like this pick at all because there were about 4-5 TEs that I liked better than Rodgers still on the board when they drafted him late in round 3 and I had graded Rodgers as a 6th rounder. Regardless, Rodgers is in a great situation to succeed as a rookie. The Packers lost Jermichael Finley to injury (still un-signed) and now have Andrew Quarless as their #1 TE. Quarless is a solid player, but a better blocker than receiver and he’s not going to add anywhere near what Finley did to the passing offense. There is little to no depth behind Quarless, so the opportunity is there for Rodgers to be at the #2 TE if he can beat out fellow rookie Colt Lyerla. If Rodgers can lock down the #2 job, I think he will see the field for 40-50% of the Packers offensive snaps which is more than enough to generate at least mediocre fantasy production from the TE position.
Fantasy outlook - Rodgers showed flashes of being a capable receiver in college, but his numbers were mediocre (39, 608, 1) as were his combine results (4.87 40, 16 bench reps). Rodgers played most of his senior season as a slot receiver, so isn’t much of a blocker. He has good hands and is a decent route runner, so he could make some plays as a short-to-intermediate receiver but doesn’t have deep speed or the quickness to be a YAC threat. I think 35 catches, 500 yards, and 4 TDs is his ceiling as a rookie. The opportunity is there for Rodgers to be fantasy worthy, but I don’t think he has the talent to take advantage of it.
8.) Crockett Gilmore, Ravens
Playing time – The Ravens look set at TE with Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels, but they used a 3rd round pick on Gilmore so they must be high on him. Or maybe they aren’t sure about Daniels’ health? He did fail a physical with the Texans in March and was only signed on a 1-yr /$1M deal so if Gilmore has a solid camp or Graham’s knee looks iffy, then Gilmore could find himself on the field quite a bit as the Ravens #2 TE.
Fantasy outlook - Gilmore isn’t going to wow anyone with his athleticism, but he’s a big dude (6’6, 260) who’s excellent blocking will get him on the field sooner than many of his rookie counterparts. Gilmore is sneaky fast with great hands and good route running ability. He stole the show at the Senior Bowl and was the leading receiver in the game. Gilmore could put up decent stats this year and by the end of the season might be a consistent 5 catch, 60 yards per game type. Not too exciting, but with Gilmore’s height he could be a weapon in the red zone as well. I’ll be keeping an eye on Pitta and Daniels health in the pre-season and if it looks like Gilmore is going to get a chance to start, he’s worth a spot on your watch list.
9.) Justin Jones, Patriots:
Playing time - After having the most TE friendly offense in 2012, Gronk’s injuries and the Hernandez arrest left the Pats with no reliable options at the position. After Gronk there isn’t much talent on the roster so it’s a free for all at the #2 TE position. The Pats have used a 2-TE formation as much as any team in the league, so whoever wins that job should see plenty of snaps. Jones is a long-shot as a UDFA but the Pats gave him a $15k signing bonus which is one of the highest in the league so they clearly are high on his potential. The 6’8, 274 Jones would make an intimidating combo with the 6’6, 270 Gronkowski.
Fantasy outlook - Jones didn’t play last year due to academic issues, but had 12 TDs in just 32 catches at East Carolina. His 4.9 40 time isn’t impressive, but his 6.88 3-cone and 38″ vertical are for a guy with his size. He’s not much of a blocker despite his prototype tackle size, but he is a talented receiver and if anyone can maximize his offensive potential it’s Belichick. Remember last year when everyone was high on Zac Sudfield? Jones could be that guy this year, but with a much higher ceiling. I’m going to throw a $1 his way at the end of a few drafts this year.
10.) Xavier Grimble, Giants:
Playing time - I don’t know why the Giants didn’t draft a TE considering that they might have the least amount of talent at the position in the NFL. Right now Adrian Robinson and Kellen Davis are at the top of their depth chart. All Bears fans know that Davis is awful and I don’t know anything about Robinson except that he can’t be worse than Kellen Davis. On the bright side, that leaves the position wide open for a UDFA like Grimble to earn some snaps. I’m not sure if he’s up to the challenge but it’s worth keeping an eye on Grimble as Eli was a TE friendly QB back when they had some talent at the position (Martellus Bennett).
Fantasy outlook - Grimble has the size (6’4, 258), athleticism and soft hands to be an NFL tight end, but he was disappointing at USC despite being a top recruit and would have been much better off staying in school after a lackluster junior season (25, 271, 2). Ideally Grimble would get a year or two to develop, but the window is open right now for playing time. Keep an eye on the Giants tight end situation in the pre-season. If Grimble wins the job he could be relevant in fantasy due to his potential and a decent QB.
11.) A. C. Leonard, Vikings
Playing time - Kyle Rudolph is locked in as the Vikings #1 TE and #2 TE Rhett Ellison has been solid in limited opportunities since the Vikings drafted him in the 4th round in 2012. Ellison is a great blocker with a 14.9 run blocking grade from PFF over the last two years, so Leonard will have a tough time unseating him as the #2 / H-back. The one edge Leonard does have on Ellison or even Rudolph is speed. Both guys ahead of Leonard on the depth chart are big dudes who lack the speed to get vertical. Leonard ran a 4.5 40 at the combine and both his vertical leap (34″) and broad jump (128″) were in the top 3 at his position. He’s a better athlete than any other TE on the Vikings roster and should get a legitimate shot to win some playing time. Keep an eye on him because if he earns some playing time, Leonard could be a dangerous deep threat at the TE position.
Fantasy outlook - It’s going to be a challenge for Leonard to carve out any playing time, but if he does he is an explosive athlete who could be a big play threat at TE. He’s a sculpted 6’2, 250 with 4.5 speed. Leonard wasn’t used much as a receiver in college, but the former 5-star recruit at Florida has a ton of potential. The Vikings have a new HC in Mike Zimmer and if he is looking for a more dynamic TE then Ellison, Leonard could find himself on the field in 2 TE sets and worth keeping an eye on.