The fantasy football owner was once able to build a winning team and still ignore the tight end position until later rounds, or in some cases all the way to Mr. Irrelevant. However, the steady increase of tight end points scored in today’s NFL, has made owners value the potential production of this position. Most leagues only allow one starting tight end, or combine tight end into a flex position. Compared to the number of starting positions given to receivers and running backs, the tight end is still typically a second tier choice on draft day.
The 2011 season was a touchdown dance party for tight ends. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined to give New England 25 touchdowns. Jimmy Graham caught 99 passes and scored 11 touchdowns for the Saints. Lesser names like Scott Chandler and Joel Dreessen both scored 6 touchdowns a piece. The position as a whole is contributing to more than double the scoring we saw back in the 1990’s.
The NFL safety rules are to credit for much of the increase in scoring. The quarterback and receiver protection rules have really benefited the tight end and wide receiver. The NFL is opening everything up, and Roger Goodell is doing everything he can to limit concussions and injuries. Safeties and corners know they can’t hit like they used to, so they back off. Therefore, big, fast, oversized tight ends that traded in their basketball for the pigskin a few years ago are enjoying the spoils.
Fantasy Football can be a tricky beast. The New England offensive scheme may change this year. Gronkowski and Hernandez will have to adjust to the off season changes that defenses have made. The addition of Brandon Lloyd will provide a down field threat for Tom Brady, and using last years top scoring tight ends as decoys will also come into play.
Graham will be dealing with the bounty gate scandal in New Orleans; however, that may not matter since Drew Brees appears very capable of running the offense regardless of who is coaching.
Antonio Gates will get many goal line looks but foot injuries have really hurt his playing time the last few years, and durability is becoming an every year factor. Jason Witten may catch the most passes in Dallas, but he plays on a team that didn’t look for him in the red zone in 2011.
Fantasy owners will also want to take note of the situation in Denver. Peyton Manning always leaned on Dallas Clark in Indianapolis to produce points. Denver picked up former Colt Jacob Tamme in the off season to work with Manning, mainly because of his familiarity with the offense. It will be interesting to see if either Tamme or Dreesen will become the target Manning prefers around the goal line.
On draft day, fantasy football owners would be wise to not let the previous year’s mind blowing stats of Gronkowski and Graham hinder their decision making on when they choose a tight end. Chances are these guys will be very good for tight end standards, but won’t come close to repeating their video game numbers from 2011.
Production should remain strong in 2012, but balanced. Tight ends will continue to be one of the more targeted players in the end zone, regardless of what team they play on. So owners would be wise to wait to the middle rounds or later before pulling the trigger on one of the many big men available.
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