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Tight end has become a make or break fantasy position over the last few years. There are at least ten pro-bowl caliber fantasy players at every other fantasy position, but not tight end. A good tight end gives your fantasy squad a considerable advantage. Last season there were 6 TEs who were significantly better than the rest of the league. In 2012 there were 5 difference makers at the position and in 2011 there were 6. Basically, half of your fantasy league is going to have a difference making TE and half won’t. It’s a pretty significant advantage if you end up with one. Unfortunately, it was pretty much the same top-tier tight ends every year. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Tony G (retired), Jason Witten, Aaron Hernandez (jail), Vernon Davis and Antonio Gates (old) were the best 7 tight ends over the last three years. If you want one of the four guys that are still relevant in fantasy, then it is going to cost you.
The consistency of Graham, Witten, and Davis over the last three years is reassuring; If you spend the money it takes to own them, you can be pretty sure you’re getting at least 75, 850, 9. Gronk has had some injury problems but he only needs 12 games or so to put up top-tier numbers. The next level of TEs will be cheaper and they have the upside to join that top group (Cameron, Bennett, Reed) but all have question marks. If you can find a tight end for around $5 that can approach that upper echelon, that’s a huge advantage.
This year’s rookie TE crop isn’t particularly strong, but there a few guys there that could give you elite value for a few bucks. I broke down the rookie tight ends that I think are worth your attention below.
* Before you rip me in the comments section keep in mind that these aren’t rankings of long-term success, just their projected fantasy impact this season.
Rookie Fantasy Rankings
Rookie Tight End Fantasy Rankings
1.) Eric Ebron, Lions:
Playing time – The Lions have been throwing Brandon Pettigrew out there at tight end for the last few years despite the fact that Pettigrew can’t catch and is a suspect blocker. For some reason that I can’t figure out, the Lions re-signed Pettigrew for 4 yrs / $16M. Pettigrew earned a -9.1 run blocking grade from PFF last season and he was -8 overall. He’s just not that good at any aspect of the game. Despite how bad Pettigrew was, the Lions had much bigger holes in their secondary. So they made a mistake signing a less than average tight end to a big deal, then compounded it by using their high 1st rounder (10th) on a tight end instead of a corner. That’s classic Lions, but it’s not a knock on Ebron. The Lions will use him like how the Saints use Jimmy Graham, as an occasional in-line blocker but more often a slot receiver. The Megatron, Tate, Ebron receiver group is dangerous. With Megatron drawing constant double teams, Ebron should see plenty of single coverage from OLBs, slot corners, and safeties, all of which will struggle to cover him 1-1.
Fantasy outlook – Stafford was so inconsistent last year, that it’s hard to gauge any value from his non-Megatron receivers, but the Lions throw the ball more than almost any team so there will be plenty of targets to go around. Ebron is a phenomenal athlete with speed, agility, and huge hands. His concentration wavered at times last year, but he’s going to destroy some OLBs and safeties in coverage and should have some monster games for the Lions. I think he has the ability and the situation to join the elite tight ends this season. 65, 900, 9 is realistic.
Auction value – Re-draft $8, Keeper $15
2013 Statistical comparison – Jason Witten
Draft ahead of – Kyle Rudolph, Charles Clay
2.) Jace Amaro, Jets
Playing time – One of the best receiving TEs in the draft (106, 1352, 7) ended up on a team with no starting caliber TEs (Jeff Cumberland?) and QBs that struggle with accuracy on anything but short-to-intermediate routes. Amaro should be able to beat out Cumberland on passing downs at least and should become the go-to guy for whichever garbage QB is running the Jets. Amaro will be on the field a lot as a rookie and may lead the team in catches.
Fantasy outlook – Amaro is a natural receiver with tight end size. The Jets have some more weapons this year, but have no talent at TE which should keep Amaro on the field for around 75% of offensive snaps this season. Amaro lined up as a receiver more often than not in college and will probably play an H-back / Move TE role with the Jets this year. The Jets added Eric Decker in free agency and drafted some project receivers (Saunders, Evans, Enunwa) but Amaro should be the safety-valve for either Vick, Geno, or Boyd. He has excellent size (6’6, 260), knows how to find holes in a zone, and is a load to bring down after the catch. He looked apathetic at the combine, but his tape is very good and I think once the pads are on, Amaro will be in the running for offensive rookie of the year in 2014. 70 catches, 775 yards, and 7 TDs is realistic.
Auction value – Re-draft $5, Keeper $10
2013 Statistical comparison – Charles Clay
Draft ahead of – Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen
3.) Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Bucs
Playing time – Last year’s tight end Tim Wright was a glorified wide receiver (6’3, 220) and Lovie Smith made it clear right away that he is looking for a more traditionally sized TE. Wright could still see the field as a big WR, but I think his days as the Bucs TE are over. They did sign Brandon Myers, who is coming off a bust year with the Giants, but I think he is going to be Seferian-Jenkins back-up this year. Lovie said he wanted a traditional TE and he got a beast in ASJ at 6’6, 262.
Fantasy outlook – Sefarian-Jenkins has the best size (6’6, 259) / speed (4.56) ratio in the draft at the tight end position. He has had off-field trouble and trouble staying on the field, but when healthy and motivated he was unstoppable in college. ASJ will have to beat out Myers for the starting job, but talent wise that shouldn’t be a problem. With new QB Josh McCown under center I think ASJ has the potential for an excellent rookie year with around 60 catches, 750 yards, and 6 TDs.
Auction value – Re-draft $4, Keeper $9
2013 Statistical comparison – Martellus Bennet
Draft ahead of – Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen