2011 Best and Worst Value: Tight Ends
Since the 2011 fantasy season ended, you’ve had a brief period to recharge. Yet many of you already want to start planning your 2012 drafts. This column will deliver the jump start that you need to begin that process.
We will examine TEs that provided the best and worst value for their owners. This will be based upon their numbers, and where they were drafted. We’ll utilize standard scoring of six points per TD, and one point per 10 rushing/receiving yards in a 12-team league.
The fact that Gronkowski delivered extraordinary numbers during the regular season is hardly bulletin material. But his accomplishments become even more remarkable, when you consider that he was still available in the eighth round, before becoming the ninth TE selected… just after Marcedes Lewis. He then proceeded to lead all TEs with 17 TD receptions, which also surpassed the total of all WRs. With the addition of his lone rushing TD, his total of 18 trailed only LeSean McCoy for second overall. He also led his position with 1,327 receiving yards, which was also sixth among all receivers. His 90 receptions were second among TEs, and fifth best overall. He also was easily within the top 20 in scoring in fantasy leagues, and the enormity of his production has helped redefine the value of elite TEs to owners. As a result, be prepared for him to be selected in round two of your next drafts.
Jimmy Graham’s output was nearly the equal of Gronkowski’s, and its impact upon the degree to which fantasy owners will now utilize elite TEs in their draft strategy is enormous. He was originally the sixth TE chosen, with an ADP of 74. He rewarded those who entrusting him with a sixth round selection, by leading all Tight ends with 99 catches, which was also the NFL’s highest total behind only Wes Welker and Calvin Johnson. His 1,310 yards were seventh overall, and second among TEs. His 11 TDs were the fourth highest among all receivers, and 10th best overall. Without question, Jimmy Graham has vaulted into a tier with Gronkowski, that transcends all others at the position, and he will command at least a third round selection next summer.
If Hernandez happened to wear a different uniform, his 2011 accomplishments would be discussed even more extensively. Because even though teammate Gronkowski delivered an epic statistical explosion, Hernandez still managed to supply numbers that far exceeded his value. Fantasy owners made Hernandez just an 11th round pick, as 12 TEs were chosen before him. Yet, he generated the fourth highest yardage total at his position (910), and was tied for fourth with 79 receptions. Plus, he surpassed 100 yards in three games, averaged 65 YPG, and scored seven times. While Gronkowski will collect an enormous number of receptions again next season, Hernandez will produce sufficiently to merit selection as a top five TE.
Gonzalez assembled a decent 2010 season statistically, generating 70 catches for 656 yards, while scoring six times. But since those were the fewest number of receptions since 2002, and his lowest yardage total since 1998, many fantasy owners feared a continual decline in 2011. As a result, he was the 12th TE drafted, which was after Marcedes Lewis, Owen Daniels, and Kellen Winslow among others. Gonzalez repaid those who selected him by finishing third among all TEs with 80 receptions. Gonzalez also ranked fifth at his position with 875 yards, while generating seven TDs. Despite his 2011 success, both Roddy White and Julio Jones will commandeer a sizable percentage of targets again in 2012, and their collective presence will make it exceedingly difficult for Gonzalez to match his 2011 numbers.
He was not exactly garnering a considerable amount of attention heading into last summers’ drafts, after producing 815 yards on 65 receptions in 2010. And there were undoubtedly games during the 2011 regular season, in which fantasy owners weren’t exactly enamored with Keller’s production. But considering that he was just the 17th TE selected, he easily exceeded expectations. For the modest price of a 12th round draft pick, Keller rewarded those who chose him, by finishing sixth at his position with 815 yards, and ranking ninth in receptions with 65, while establishing new career highs in both categories. While it might be difficult for him to place at such a high level again next season, he can be employed as a 10th round selection, for those who choose not to utilize a lofty pick on their TE.
His imposing physical ability, and the prolific nature of Green Bay’s offense, combined to make Finley a tremendously enticing choice on draft day. As a result, he became the second player at his position to be selected, as fantasy owners were willing to utilize a fourth round pick on the fourth-year TE. While he ultimately generated solid production overall, his numbers did not quite attain the level that one would prefer to see after making such a lofty investment. He did establish new highs in TDs (eight) and receiving yards (767), while also tying his career best with 55 catches. However, that reception total placed him just 14th among all TEs, while his total yardage ranked only 12th. Plus, three of his TDs were amassed in week 3 against Chicago, while he failed to reach the end zone in 11 other contests. While it is expected that he will return to Green Bay, considering the numerous options that Aaron Rodgers possesses, and the growing number of high quality TEs throughout the league, it is best to draft Finley no higher than the top eight at his position.
Although he missed 10 games in 2010 due to a torn ligament in his wrist, he appeared to be an excellent candidate for a massive resurgence in 2011. In fact, it was reasonable to anticipate numbers in the neighborhood of 2009, when he collected double digit TDs for the third time in his career, along with over 800 yards. Therefore, it made complete sense for fantasy owners to utilize a fifth round pick on Clark, which made him the fourth TE selected. However, what ensued was nothing short of disaster. Clark only amassed 352 yards, despite performing in 11 contests, which was just five more than he accumulated in six games during 2010. His two TDs were the fewest since his 2003 rookie year, and his 34 catches placed him 27th among TEs, and were the least since 2005. His value in 2012 is uncertain as of now, since his status with the Colts, as well as the identity of his QB, is unclear.
After finishing 2010 tied for the league lead among all TEs with a career best 10 TDs, Lewis appeared capable of performing as a No. 1. He became the eighth TE selected, with an ADP of 94, as Gronkowski, Gonzalez and Hernandez were among those still available. However, despite starting 15 games, his output declined significantly. Lewis ranked a disappointing 21st in receptions among all TEs with just 39. Plus, his paltry 460 yards also placed him 21st, and were the fewest since 2008. The worst news for those who drafted him, was that he failed to score for the first time in his six year career. If his 2011 numbers, and the reality that Blaine Gabbert will still be under center, do not provide sufficient reasons to look elsewhere for your next TE, the fact that new HC Mike Mularkey has called Lewis “perhaps the best blocking tight end in the NFL” should.
Despite the fact that Daniels had missed a total of 13 games in 2009-2010, fantasy owners displayed optimism, that he would experience a return to health, and high quality numbers in 2011. That image of an active Daniels collecting numerous passes from Matt Schaub, propelled him into becoming the seventh TE drafted, with an ADP of 74. Ultimately, he did in fact compete in 15 games. However, that makes the modest production that he attained even more disappointing, as he finished just 15th among TEs with both 54 receptions, and 677 receiving yards. While that enabled him to lead the Texans in both categories, his numbers were hardly a satisfactory reward for those who selected him. Even though Schaub was only able to perform in 10 contests, which impacted Daniels’ opportunities, he still, should not be among the top 10 TEs chosen next summer.
Miller averaged 63 catches, 745 yards, and four TDs in 2009-2010, led the leading the Raiders in every major receiving category, and even garnered his first Pro Bowl selection in 2010. He then spurned a chance to resign with Oakland, in lieu of a more lucrative contract with Seattle. Since serious questions enveloped the QB position with his new team, fantasy owners were aware that his numbers could decline. He became the 14th TE selected, with an ADP of 130. But that modest investment was still far too hefty, as Miller’s output plummeted sizably with the Seahawks. Even though he participated in 15 games, he ranked a lowly 41st among all TEs in yardage with 233, and improved just slightly to 37th in receptions (25). Worse, he failed to find the end zone during the entire season. Unless a radical change occurs at the QB slot, Miller is not worth drafting.