FanHouse's crack squad of savvy fantasy football personnel put our six heads together and amassed consensus rankings for non-keeper, standard scoring leagues. We'll update as the season gets closer, but this is our "incredibly early yet still fun" version.
The tight end position sure ain't what it used to be. It hasn't been for a few years now. Remember when you were screwed if you didn't nab a top-five, or even top-three tight end? With teams now making it a rule to draft top-flight athletes at the position, we're seeing more and more tight ends function as their team's No. 1 receiving option.
The proof is in the numbers.
No less than 10 tight ends led their team in either receptions, receiving yards or receiving TDs in 2009. Eight of those tight ends totaled at least 75 receptions and 800 yards, six of which scored eight or more touchdowns. Remarkably, five of those players went undrafted in most fantasy leagues, including the guy who finished No. 1 overall (or No. 2 depending on your format), Vernon Davis.
What does it all mean? Well, I certainly can't argue with you if you choose to grab Dallas Clark in the third round, but I'm a bigger fan of your chances if you can nab someone like Brent Celek in the sixth or seventh. In terms of value, no position offers more bang for your buck.
| 1. Dallas Clark
| The emergence of Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie could put a small dent in Clark's reception/yards totals from last season (100 for 1,106), but their presence also means more single coverage for the First-Team All-Pro. Trust us, Peyton Manning won't forget about him. Look for Clark to reach double-digit TDs for the third time in four years.
| 2. Vernon Davis
| More like 1A than No. 2, no tight end in football was involved in a higher percentage of his team's plays than Davis last season. With a more experienced, mature and comfortable Alex Smith behind center, look for the duo to build on the chemistry they established a year ago.
| 3. Antonio Gates
| Gates has been hobbled by a mild case of plantar fasciitis this offseason, and there's talk he may not be ready for training camp, but our guess is the minute he signs that contract extension, he'll be just fine. Expect another elite performance from the seven-year vet, who's caught no less than eight TDs in any season since his rookie year in '03-'04.
| 4. Jason Witten
| You know you're pretty good when 94 catches and 1,030 yards is considered a down year. Witten only saw the end zone twice last season, but coach Wade Phillips has made it a point this offseason to work on getting him more involved near the stripe. Expect fewer catches and yards with the addition of Dez Bryant to the 'Boys wide receiving corps, but a nice bump in scores (think 6-8 TDs).
| 5. Brent Celek
| Eagles QB Kevin Kolb loves him some Brent Celek. In three starts last season, Kolb targeted his favorite tight end a whopping 27 times (Celek hauled in 22 of those looks for 245 yards and two scores in Weeks 1-3). With a full season of Kolb as Philly's signal-caller, Celek could very well repeat -- or even improve -- on last year's 76-971-8 breakout.
| 6. Jermichael Finley
| What do you get when you combine one of the NFL's best quarterbacks with one of the game's most athletic tight ends? A breakout campaign, that's what. Finley averaged 5.4 catches, 59.4 yards and 0.6 TDs over his last seven in '09. Now firmly established as the Packers' No. 1, he could very well finish top three at the position. That's value, folks.
| 7. Tony Gonzalez
| Gonzalez posted his lowest yardage total since '02-'03 last season, his lowest YPC since '98-'99, and caught 13 fewer passes and four fewer TDs than he did the year before. Of course, Father Time had something to do with that (Gonzo is 34), but so did the struggles of Matt Ryan, who took a step back in his development as an NFL QB and also lost two games to injury. Gonzalez is still getting older, but so is his quarterback, who with more experience under his belt should bounce back from last year's sub-par campaign. We see no reason why Gonzalez can't repeat last year's output, which ironically, placed him seventh among all tight ends.
| 8. Kellen Winslow
| Winslow is recovering from offseason knee surgery -- the sixth time his knee's gone under the knife in his career -- but expects to be ready for training camp. Who are we to doubt him? Winslow led all Buccaneers receivers in catches, yards and TDs in 2009 and might just do so again. With high-percentage passing the team's goal for second-year QB Josh Freeman, expect Winslow to see plenty of balls thrown his way in the short and intermediate passing game.
| 9. Chris Cooley
| The Washington Post reported last week that Cooley might see "an expanded role in the offense under Mike Shanahan." I'd like to know how that's possible. One, he's been the team's No. 1 option in the passing game the last half decade and two, Fred Davis is still around to eat into some of his looks. We certainly like Cooley to bounce back after last season's injury-plagued campaign, but he's sitting here at No. 9 instead of No. 5 for a reason.
| 10. Owen Daniels
| Daniels had surgery in October to repair a torn ACL but the Texans fully expect him to be 100 percent by the season opener. There's some risk here but he should fall far enough in drafts to still represent significant upside. Remember, Daniels was well on his way to having the best season of his career last year before injuring his knee in Week 8, and he's still got Matt Schaub tossing the orb.
| 11. Visanthe Shiancoe
| While we seriously doubt Favre can recapture his magic from 2009, Shiancoe should still be one of his most reliable targets around the stripe. Besides, it's not like Shiancoe is entirely Favre-dependent. He set a career high in receiving yards (596) and caught seven scores in '08-'09 sans the Hall of Fame QB.
| 12. Zach Miller
| Year in and year out, Miller remains one of the game's more underrated tight ends. Think about it -- he was able to average 61 catches, 792 yards and two TDs the past two seasons with JaMarcus Russell at quarterback! With Jason Campbell now calling plays, Miller looks primed for a career year. We know how much Campbell liked throwing to his tight ends in Washington (see Cooley, Chris). In PPR leagues, Miller could be a real treat.
| 13. Heath Miller
| With Ben Roethlisberger slated to miss at least the season's first four games (and possibly six), the Steelers will lean on either Dennis Dixon or Byron Leftwich to handle the quarterback position. On one hand, Dixon is inexperienced and inexperienced QBs often rely on their tight ends as safety valves. On the other, the combination of Pittsburgh's shaky pass protection and Leftwich's slow-motion release could mean trouble if Leftwich can't get the ball out early. That could mean fewer deep balls and more intermediate throws, which spells more looks for Miller. As for Roethlisberger, he may be forced to lean more on Miller with Santonio Holmes out of town. No disrespect to Mike Wallace who flashed some serious skills as the team's No. 3 in '09, but it remains to be seen if he's ready for primetime now that he'll be facing the league's top corners. Miller set career highs in receptions (76) and yards (789) last season and scored six TDs. Factoring in all of the above, he could match those totals in 2010.
| 14. John Carlson
| Carlson was a huge disappointment last season, which says a lot because he still caught 51 balls for 574 yards and seven TDs. Unfortunately, Seattle's offensive line woes and shaky quarterback play forced him into more of a blocking role. The good news is that the 'Hawks brought in TE Chris Baker this offseason and the plan is to run more two tight-end sets. The bad news is that they still have a broken-down Matt Hasselbeck at QB. Still, an improved Seahawks offense should allow Carlson to do what he does best, and could make him one of the biggest values at the position on draft day.
| 15. Dustin Keller
| You have to figure Mark Sanchez will be better in 2010, and the addition of Santonio Holmes -- who can stretch the field more than any other Jets receiver -- should allow Keller more room to operate underneath in single coverage. Heck, even Jets head coach Rex Ryan has publicly stated that Keller will be a fantasy steal this season. No arguments here.
| 16. Jeremy Shockey
| Shockey had a little bit of a scare this offseason when he reportedly suffered a seizure while training. Thankfully, the episode was due solely to dehydration and nothing more serious. In a high-octane offense like the Saints', everyone has value. Of course, they all have to split up the pie, too. Another 50 catches, 500-600 yards and a couple of scores sounds just about right. If he can stay healthy the entire year -- something he's rarely been able to do throughout his career -- he'll have an outside shot at finishing within the top 10.
| 17. Brandon Pettigrew
| Personally, I wouldn't have ranked Pettigrew this high (OK, so I ranked him 18th). With Tony Scheffler now in Detroit and Pettigrew still recovering from last season's torn ACL -- he'll most likely start training camp on the PUP -- it's highly unlikely that Detroit's first-round pick from a year ago will make his mark in 2010. The team has no reason to rush him. I suppose if his competition were merely a so-so, blocking type there might be some midseason upside, but Scheffler is a big-time playmaker who Detroit coaches are already in love with after recent OTAs.
| 18. Greg Olsen
|No one -- not Dallas Clark, not Vernon Davis, not Antonio Gates -- saw more passes thrown his way inside the five last season, and only Tony Gonzalez was targeted more in the red zone (although Olsen saw a higher percentage of his team's looks on red zone plays). Now for the bad news: new head coach Mike Martz is not a tight end type of guy. At least not a pass-catching tight end type of guy. And if the end of last season is any indication, there's a new target in town: Devin Aromashodu. Still, Olsen is one of the more athletic and physically gifted tight ends in the game and you can't completely discount the rapport he and Cutler established near the stripe last year. It's not every day that you find this much upside this late in drafts.|
| 19. Kevin Boss
|Boss is hardly special. He caught five or more passes just three times last season. He's never topped 76 yards in any contest (43 career games). So why's he here? Because gosh darn it, Eli Manning likes him ... near the stripe. Only three tight ends in football were targeted more inside the five than Boss in 2009. Boss underwent arthroscopic ankle surgery in late May but Tom Coughlin expects him to be ready for training camp.|
| 20. Fred Davis
| Davis really came on last season after Cooley went down, catching 33 passes for 386 yards and five TDs over the 'Skins last nine contests. He'll return to a secondary role in 2010, but could become a top-10 option if Cooley were to get hurt again.
21. Todd Heap, Ravens
22. Bo Scaife, Titans
23. Daniel Fells, Rams
24. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
25. Anthony Fasano, Dolphins
26. Daniel Graham, Broncos
27. Martellus Bennett, Cowboys
28. Ben Watson, Browns
29. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
30. Ed Dickson, Ravens
31. Shawn Nelson, Bills
32. Dante Rosario, Panthers
33. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
34. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
35. Jimmy Graham, Saints