It’s never too early for fantasy football, and on that note, it’s time to rank the tight ends.
Tony Gonzalez doesn’t make the top 12 unless he announces he is returning for another year.
Jared Cook, Scott Chandler and Jordan Reed are just outside of the top 12 because of the quarterback situations in St. Louis, Buffalo and Washington.
If any rookie can eventually crack the top 12, it will be North Carolina’s Eric Ebron.
12. Coby Fleener
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Coby Fleener makes the cut because his quarterback is Andrew Luck. While Fleener and Luck have been teammates in Indianapolis for two years, they played together for three seasons at Stanford.
11. Martellus Bennett
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Last year, Bennett had his best professional season with 65 receptions for 759 yards and five touchdowns. Marc Trestman brought out the best in Chicago’s offense, and Bennett should easily duplicate his 2013 numbers in 2014.
10. Charles Clay
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Charles Clay had a breakout season in 2013 after Miami’s top tight end option, Dustin Keller, suffered a season-ending injury in an exhibition game. The 2011 sixth-rounder proved to be versatile (H-back) and dependable, making 69 receptions for 759 yards and six touchdowns.
Clay has earned Ryan Tannehill’s trust and will be a top-10 tight end if the Dolphins decide to keep him at the top of their depth chart.
9. Dennis Pitta
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The Baltimore Ravens sorely missed Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta this past season. In 2013, Pitta was only able to play in four games, yet made 20 receptions. After a strong finish to 2012, Joe Flacco’s best friend could not completely take off in 2013. Pitta may have saved his breakout campaign for 2014.
8. Antonio Gates
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While many had pronounced Antonio Gates dead, he went on to make 77 receptions for 872 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. At the age of 33, Gates was third among tight ends in receiving yards. While he’ll turn 34 before the 2014 season, Gates could prove to be a solid value pick in upcoming fantasy drafts.
7. Jordan Cameron
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Is Jordan Cameron for real? The USC product had a superb 2013 campaign, making 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Any fantasy owner would have been delighted about this late pick’s performance except for the fact that his production plummeted in the second half.
Like Josh Gordon, Cameron put up numbers despite the Browns’ subpar quarterbacks. If the right quarterback takes the reins in Cleveland, bump Cameron up a few notches.
6. Greg Olsen
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Greg Olsen had another solid yet unspectacular campaign in 2013. His 73 receptions for 816 yards and six touchdowns were very similar to his 2012 numbers. With the University of Miami standout, fantasy owners receive top-10 consistency at the tight end position, but entering his eighth season, Olsen appears to have little upside.
5. Rob Gronkowski
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After recovering from a multitude of injuries in 2013, Rob Gronkowski made an instant impact in Week 7. Gronkowski went on to make 39 receptions for 592 yards in just seven games before tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 14. It is uncertain whether Gronkowski will be ready to go for 2014’s opener. If he can heal as quickly as Adrian Peterson, he has a shot, as it was a similar injury, according to Dr. Dave Siebert of Bleacher Report.
Gronkowski is a huge injury risk, but Tom Brady loves him, and he may prove to be the difference for fantasy owners down the stretch.
4. Jason Witten
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Jason Witten has been a tough and consistent fantasy option for a solid decade, if we discount his rookie season. Witten has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards four times in those 10 years, most recently in 2012.
The Tennessee product will turn 32 in May, but he still has Tony Romo and has played in 171 consecutive games.
3. Julius Thomas
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Julius Thomas was the biggest breakout fantasy star among tight ends, being undrafted in many leagues. Of course, Thomas’ value comes mostly from the offensive fountain that is Peyton Manning. “Orange Julius” was eighth in receiving yards among tight ends (788), yet ranked third in fantasy points scored. The difference was Thomas’ 12 touchdown receptions.
As long as Manning is his quarterback, Thomas is a top-flight tight end.
2. Vernon Davis
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1. Jimmy Graham
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Graham was the league’s best tight end by far, making 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns. The University of Miami two-sport (basketball) star can replicate those lofty numbers in 2014, but beware of a contract dispute.
Only a holdout can stop the goalpost dunks from coming.
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