By Kevin Lewis
1. Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis Colts- Over the past few seasons, Clark has established himself as arguably the best tight end in the entire sport, and thus has been a major force in fantasy football. His yard and reception totals have increased every year since 2006, culminating in career bests, 100 catches and 1,106 yards in 2009. I see no reason why Clark, a cog within the well oiled Indianapolis offensive machine, should see any kind of drop off. To top it off, that Manning guy who’s throwing him the ball isn’t bad.
2. Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers- I hesitate to put Davis in this spot for a couple of reasons. He did very little before breaking out last season, and he doesn’t have a favorable situation at quarterback (though Alex Smith did come on strong at the end of last season). Ultimately his jaw dropping physical ability and his role as the go to guy on the 49ers offense were two factors that were too hard to ignore.
3. Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers- You can set your clock by Gates production. He has consistently been a force since he ran off the basketball court and onto a football field. Last season, Gates put together a 79 catch, 1,157 yard, 8 touchdown season. Philip Rivers leans on Gates in the short to intermediate passing game, as he’s one of the game’s very best security blankets. With Vincent Jackson’s status up in the air, Gates may be relied on more than ever within the Charger offense.
4. Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles- Celek, who many had an eye on before last season, broke out in a major way. He posted 76 catches, for 971 yards and eight touchdowns, as he became a major threat in the pass happy Eagles offense. Celek may benefit from the change at QB from McNabb to Kolb, as Kolb may prove to be the more accurate passer.
5. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons- When a tight end catches 83 passes for 867 yards and 6 touchdowns and is below his normal production, he’s definitely doing something right. That is what Gonzalez did last season. With Matt Ryan going into his pivotal third season in the league, and other good players around him on offense, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Gonzalez revert back to the form that makes him arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history.
6. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys- It’s somewhat hard to place Witten because he’s remarkably productive but just doesn’t get you touchdowns. That can change at the drop of a dime, but Witten over the course of his career has never been a prolific touchdown scorer. In three of his last four seasons, he has recorded five touchdowns or less. I don’t know why that is but combine that with the fact that the Cowboys have two nice backs and an excellent run blocking offensive line, and that doesn’t bode well for his TD numbers. Ultimately Witten will get his but you just have to live with the lack of touchdown production.
7. Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers- Finley showed glimpses into his absurd upside last season as he developed into a steady target for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers as last season came to a close. Finley is a big, fast target with good hands. Over the last seven games of the 2009 season, Finley caught 38 passes for 416 yards and 4 touchdowns. With Rodgers expected to have huge numbers in 2010, expect Finley to be a big reason why.
8. Kellen Winslow, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers- While Winslow has had consistency throughout his career, including last season, he manages to put up solid numbers. He put up 77 catches for 884 yards and 5 touchdowns despite the carousel of uninspiring QBs in Tampa Bay throwing him the ball. The five touchdowns tied a career high. What do they say about young quarterbacks? A tight end is a young QB’s best friend. Winslow should be Josh Freeman’s bff this year.
9. Owen Daniels, TE, Houston Texans- I like Daniels game a lot, and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he outplayed this ranking. Daniels knee injury leaves a cloud of uncertainty regarding how he’ll recover and how he’ll play during his recovery. Daniels was having an incredible season before he blew out his knee, as he had 40 catches for 519 yards and 5 touchdowns in eight games. If he can return to that kind of form, he will be a steal in the majority of leagues because of his injury status.
10. Chris Cooley, TE, Washington Redskins- I rank Cooley here because I like his game and he has been consistent over the course of his career. Despite the fact that he missed nine games last year, and Fred Davis stepped in and played well, I like his potential in a new tight end friendly offense with an upgrade at quarterback over last season.
11. Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Minnesota Vikings- I tend to believe Shiancoe’s production last season was an anomaly more than the normal. He had 56 catches, and 11 touchdowns. With Rice out, and Favre recovering from an ankle injury, Shiancoe’s production could stand to decrease. With that being said, he should be good enough to warrant a mid round draft pick and be a solid starter.
12. Zack Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders- The Raiders quarterback last year was JaMarcus Russell, then Bruce Gradikowski. The Raiders QB this season is Jason Campbell. Miller was productive last year and expect him to continue that.
13. Heath Miller, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers- Miller’s value takes a bit of a hit since Ben Roethlisberger will miss at least the first four games. Last season saw Miller post career highs in receptions, and yards. He also had his most fantasy points since he’s been in the league. Miller was usually been good in odd years and a bit of a flop in even years. That is a bit of a concern but not enough to scare me from picking Miller.
14. Greg Olsen, TE, Chicago Bears- It was hard to properly get a gauge for Olsen for a few reasons. He was good, albeit inconsistent, last season as he had his best season in the league. His consistency was a bit of an issue, as it felt like more than half of the games he produced next to nothing. I had him in a few leagues and his play was infuriating. More importantly, the Bears offensive line looks like utter crap and Mike Martz is known for using tight ends more in blocking than to catch passes. Olsen is a tight end I’d stay away from this year in all honesty unless you can get him really late.
15. John Carlson, TE, Seattle Seahawks- I like Carlson as a player, and think he will have a long, productive NFL career. But these are fantasy rankings, and I don’t like him much this year because he is on such a poor team. I think he will put up some numbers but if you expect to have him as a starter every week you will be hurt by it in the long run.
16. Dustin Keller, TE, New York Jets- I like Keller’s ability more than most of the guys ahead of him on this list. He is a good, and underrated player mostly because his numbers don’t reflect his true value. It wouldn’t surprise me if he outplays this ranking but he’s playing in a run heavy offense with a second year QB who just came off an absolutely terrible year. On a more positive note, when the Jets offense is at full strength featuring Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Jerrico Cotchery, Keller should see a lot of single coverage. If the Jets transition into more of a 50/50 run/pass team, Keller’s value should increase.
17. Kevin Boss, TE, New York Giants- Boss is a decent player who should see some opportunities within the Giants offense, but he’s nothing more than a backup or a matchup based starter.
18. Todd Heap, TE, Baltimore Ravens- Heap is coming off his best season in years, but given his injury history and a run first offense along with the acquisition of WR Anquan Boldin it should be hard for him to replicate that. Heap should be a solid backup and insurance policy.
19. Jeremy Shockey, TE, New Orleans Saints- Shockey was middle of the pack in points among fantasy points last year. The Saints offense has no focal point as the ball is spread evenly among everyone, so Shockey’s value takes a hit there. He’s only scored 6 times in his last 41 games.
20. Ben Watson, TE, Cleveland Browns- Most of Watson’s 2009 production came in a few games. He’s on a terrible offense and just isn’t that good. He has very little value.
21. Tony Scheffler, TE, Detroit Lions- Scheffler has pass catching skills but he’s injury prone and he’s sharing time within the offense with young TE Brandon Pettigrew. Those two facts slice into his value, which is that of a late round pick.
22. Fred Davis,TE, Washington Redskins- Chris Cooley missed nine games last year, and Fred Davis established himself as a solid starter. Cooley is back and healthy though so it will be difficult for Davis to match that kind of production.
23. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals- I like this kid’s ability and I like the offense that surrounds him. With Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco on the outside, Gresham should have plenty of opportunities to exploit linebackers in the passing game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes the same path Jermichael Finley took last season (struggling in the first half, then coming around in the second half of the year). Taking a flier on this kid in the last round or so can only yield a nice reward.
24. Bo Scaife, TE, Tennesee Titans- Scaife doesn’t offer much in the redzone so that makes him a lot less appealing.
25. Aaron Hernandez & Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots- Hernandez has some upside and ability, but the TE isn’t utilized much in the Patriot offense. He’s similar to Gresham in that taking a flier on him late can’t hurt. Rob Gronkowski looked good on Thursday night as Brady hit him for Two TD’s. Both these guys have solid talent and I wouldn’t hesitate to draft either of these guys as your backup TE.