Fantasy Fallout: Tight Ends for 2006.
But enough about Jennifer Lopez.
What can make or break your fantasy team is your usage of the Tight End. Some of these guys can work like a WR #1 (2005: Antonio Gates), and can cost you a high pick. With others, you can plug them in against a weak defense and watch them vulture the red-zone TD’s (Ben Watson or Heath Miller). Sometimes it pays off in big dividends to play a no-name TE (Courtney Anderson, week 1), and sometimes a well known TE can screw you for a whole season (Bubba Franks). Really, there are no guarantees other than that you need to grab one of the first 10 guys on this list or you’re going to be struggling to plug a hole all season long.
#1. Antonio Gates – Gates just IS the #1. I wish there were a way I could say “well, he’s not really that good, and those numbers are just Drew Brees neglecting his other receivers for the last two years.” Ok, so what if he was? Gates put up WR #1 numbers and then some. 89 receptions, over a thousand yards, and 10 TD’s in 2005 make me think that even Phillip Rivers can’t stop the machine. Now, here’s what I will say: Gates will probably go in round 2, round three if you’re lucky. I do have this feeling in the back of my mind that Rivers will be spreading the ball around, so I would let someone else jump on Gates, and then take a premier WR instead. If it’s round three and he’s still there, then by all means, take him.
#2. Jeremy Shockey – Jeremy Shockey is a moose. He has adapted his body to fulfill his role in the offense. Does anyone remember his rookie year, where he was catching short passes, running three more yards, and then getting creamed before the first down? Those days are gone. Shockey gets the ball about 70 times a year, which is about the equivalent of a good WR #2. More importantly, his TD’s have gone up every year, and he plays even better against tough defenses. The only thing you really have to worry about is the REAL football playoffs. When the Giants clinch the playoffs, Shockey gets benched for week 17 every year. That could be a problem for you in your fantasy championship.
#3. Chris Cooley – Cooley continues to impress me, so much so that he takes the #3 spot over my love affair with Tony Gonzalez. Entering his third year, Cooley averages 6.5 touchdowns a year. Now, let’s look at his 2006 numbers, which show an impressive 71 receptions, and a consistent 774 yards. What does that tell you? Quick passes. His longest catch was 32 yards, and that’s because he usually gains 10 after the catch. This guy is Mark Brunell’s “Easy” button. Just throw the ball to one of the sidelines, and hope that he’s there. Look for Cooley to kick it up another notch with the scoring; maybe 8 TD’s this year.
#4. Tony Gonzalez – Tony Gonzalez, what happened to you? You almost cost me fantasy last year! Tony at his worst is still a WR #2: Gonzo hasn’t had less than 70 receptions and 750 yards since 1998. His 2005 numbers were subpar for Gonzo, not subpar for a TE (78 receptions, 900 yards). So what happened last year? Gonzo got hurt a little, and then had to block a lot for Priest Larry, meaning he was out of the red-zone equation. His YAC weren’t bad in 05 – it was that he never saw the ball in the red zone. There was no reason to, because Priest Larry could run it in from the 40 without blinking. That might be a problem this year as Priest Larry becomes Larry Dee (just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?), so look for Gonzo to get involved in the red zone again. I’d even reach for him in the third round – I’m that confident.
#5. Todd Heap – Todd Heap is in the best situation this year. He’s coming off his best year in the league, and he has a new QB who loves his tight ends, Steve McNair. His receptions and TD totals will go up, but the real question is “how much?” I expect him to pull down 80 catches for 900 yards and maybe 7 TD’s. Now that’s a top tier WR #2 in round 4, isn’t it?
#6. Alge Crumpler – Alge Crumpler is a workhorse. For every 5 completions that Vick makes, you know that 3 are to Crumpler. Believe it or not, Crumpler has the speed to be a threat past 20 yards, so he could score at any time. The danger is when the Falcons get within 5 yards of the goal line, because TJ Duckett takes that touchdown 90% of the time. I expect a repeat of last year, which is just fine by Crumpler owners.
#7. Jason Witten – Witten is a solid producer for a solid team. He got less attention in 2005 than 2004, but that’s because teams were expecting him. This year, they’ll be expecting TO, and making Witten “Plan B.” I expect Witten to be open a LOT more, which means more receptions, more yards, and ultimately, more opportunities in the red zone. The only possible concern is “contract-itis” (a drop off in stats) because Witten just signed a 7 year deal.
#8. Randy McMichael – Randy McMichael is another consistent TE threat. He’s good for about 50 catches and 5 TD’s, and that’s before you remember that he has a real quarterback in Culpepper this year instead of the usual Jay Fiedler. I hate to bust out the sleeper tag so early in the rankings, but here it is: SLEEPER. McMichael probably won’t go until around the 4th or 5th round. If he’s there, grab him. Bang for the buck galore.
#9. L.J. Smith – LJ Smith was the most involved in the offense last year that he’s ever been. Want to know a secret? Those numbers skyrocketed once TO got the boot. Without a clear-cut “me first” receiver in Philly (and really, who here thinks Reggie Brown is going to be bashing McNabb in the locker room?), LJ will see the ball like he did for the second half of the season. 75 receptions is almost a lock, and the yards/TD’s will follow.
#10. Heath Miller – Heath Miller is overrated. He’s my #10 for a reason (and not because I’ve been getting hell from all my Steelers-Fan-Friends all year). Yeah, he had 6 TD’s in 05, but how many receptions did he have? 39!? That means for every week that Miller contributed a TD, he also had two weeks of lackluster performance. And there is just NO excuse for not catching a ball against the Texans. Only 11 yards against the Packers? Come on. Only one catch against the Browns!? Pathetic! If you want Hines Ward (ie great points for half a year, nonexistent for the other half) in TE form, look no further. I’ll stick with a consistent point flow, thank you very much.
#11. Jerramy Stevens – Jerramy Stevens has talent, but also has an attitude problemÃ¢Â?Â¦sound like any other receivers you know? Unlike TO, however, Stevens doesn’t have the insane skills to back up his mouth. His 45 catches for 5 TD’s in 2005 helped me through a few rough weeks (I dropped and picked him up TWICE), and Hasselbeck still likes him. I’d say the low pick here is because he’s not quite “idiot proof,” and is also either a fantastic play or a waste of a slot.
#12. Jermaine Wiggins – Jermaine Wiggins gets no respect on these other draft boards. Hardly fair to someone who catches about 70 passes every year. This guy is due! I can’t imagine that Brad Johnson would overlook this guy in the red zone (the receivers are too delicate, and it’s not like Chester Taylor is a young and sprightly fellow). SLEEPER tag, right here – this guy might not even get drafted!
#13. Dallas Clark – Dallas Clark also gets no respect. You know what? He’s on the same team as Peyton Manning – now that has to give you some cred, right? He’s young, and making himself Manning’s favorite red zone target, especially with the Edge missing from the goal line. SLEEPER.
#14. Vernon Davis – Vernon Davis hasn’t played a game yet, and he still beats out some of the vets. You don’t get drafted with the 6th pick of the NFL draft unless you’re a damn good TE, and this guy fits the bill. Can Frye get him the ball? Now that’s a WHOLE different story.
#15. Ben Watson – Ben Watson was an occasional red zone target for Brady, and looks to keep that role. He might take a few catches more this year (with Deion Branch being his only real competition), but he’s a hit or miss play 90% of the time.
#16. Ben Troupe – Troupe is going to get a rude awakening to what life is like without Steve McNair. Last year was his big chance to shine, and 55 receptions with 4 TDs is a good startÃ¢Â?Â¦until it looks like Volek is the QB. Volek likes to gunsling, which means that quick outs to the TE aren’t going to be first on his to-do list. Look for his numbers to drop in total, but maybe a slight increase in yardage from the long ball
#17. Zachary Hilton – Hilton is on the Saints, which is the best career move for any TE. Why? Because Drew “I love TEs” Brees is there to make you into a star. Now, I’m not saying you should draft him by any sense of the word, but I will say that he’s someone to keep your eye on to see how Brees incorporates him into the game plan. SLEEPER.
#18. Kellen Winslow – Kellen Winslow is an idiot. I really wish he were the TE on Pittsburgh so I could make nasty motorcycle jokes with Big Ben, but let’s just cut to the chase – he’s older, and even though he might be wiser, he’s still not 100%. Also, he’s on the BROWNS. Next.
#19. Marcus Pollard – Now here is an old man worthy of the SLEEPER tag. Pollard is on his last legs, but this is a new offense! Say hello to Mike Martz, your new best friend. Maybe not the best stats ever, but his numbers should increase in every category. Look for some red zone lovin.
#20. Jeb Putzier – Jeb Putzier is out of Denver, and looking for a chance to save David Carr. Seeing as Carr has only 2 seconds to throw anyways, quick outs to the TE might seem natural. I expect an increase in numbers, but I don’t know to what extent. Keep your eye on this one.
#21. Courtney Anderson – Courtney Anderson was a fluke. Two great weeks at the beginning of 2005, and then totally fell off the radar. Don’t even bother with this one, except maybe to plug in during a bye week for your better TE.
#22. Joe Klopfenstein – Joe was an early 2nd round pick by the Rams, but unless the offense starts involving the Tight End, he won’t be much more than a blocker for the majority of the season.
#23. Doug Jolley – Jolley actually isn’t badÃ¢Â?Â¦it’s the rest of his team that’s the problem. In order to catch and score, he needs to be in the red zone and have a quarterback. Neither of these things will happen.
#24. Adam Bergen – Adam Bergen is a SLEEPER. This is the guy you watch all season, and wait for the big game. With Fitzgerald and Boldin drawing defenses, Bergen is going to be wide open. I can’t predict what’s going to happen here, but his potential is huge.
#25. The Packers: Donald Lee/David Martin/Bubba Franks – Until Brett Favre picks a favorite among these guys, I can’t recommend starting any of them. I’d lean towards Franks just based on experience, but honestly, any of these guys could put up that one touchdown for the entire year. Next!
#26. Desmond Clark – Desmond Clark is a great Chicago Bear, but a lousy fantasy pick. If you’re desperate for a bye-week plug in, OK, but come on nowÃ¢Â?Â¦the Bears aren’t a passing team!
#27. Kris Magnum – Kris Magnum is on the Panthers. Steve Smith is on the Panthers. Which one do you think will get the ball more? Seriously though, Magnum is on the way out, and likely won’t see the ball unless Foster gets hurt too badly to cover the red zone.
#28. Stephen Alexander – Alexander might not be bad with the Broncos. He’s getting into the prime years, which means 40 receptions at best, and with Plummer at the helm, one touchdown, tops. Just because his last name is Alexander doesn’t mean he’s fantasy gold.
#29. Robert Royal – Robert Royal is actually improving, but the offense isn’t. With no QB, there are no balls to catch, and no touchdowns to be scored. Welcome to hell, Robert.
#30. Reggie Kelly – Two first names is never a good sign, especially if the second one is Kelly, a feminine name. No wonder you only caught the ball 15 times in 2005Ã¢Â?Â¦you clearly have an identity crisis!
#31. Kyle Brady – Kyle Brady’s best days are behind himÃ¢Â?Â¦by about 8 years. Unless Wilford and Jones turn out to be useless, Brady will be a very slow decoy. Seriously, don’t even bother with old man river.
#32. Christian Fauria – Fauria puts productivity to shame with his 8 reception 2 TD effort in 2005. You just know some stats idiot is going to draft him thinking that every 4 receptions will mean a touchdown. What if he doesn’t get 4 receptions?
#33. T.J. Williams – Rounding out the list of shame is T.J. Williams. T.J. has never played an NFL game, and was a 6th round pick for Tampa Bay. If Simms gets him the ball, then the skies will open up to heaven and he will become a fantasy stud. Actually, not really. More likely, he’ll finish the year with 15 catches for garbage yards and no TD’s. Way to go, T.J. Way to go.