It's no secret that the tight end position has experienced a renaissance of sorts the past few years. Tight end has become one of the more consistent positions each season as far as statistical leaders go; there's almost no players with "bust" potential anywhere on the radar. But while it's tempting to use a high pick on one of the top players at the position, there is production to be found in the later rounds as well.
The Top 5:
Rob Gronkowski – New England: His numbers should go down a bit, but Gronk is still going to be one of the top options every time Tom Brady drops back to pass. Last season was amazing for Gronkowski, but I advise all fantasy players to be smart about where you draft him.
Jimmy Graham – New Orleans: While I expect Gronk's numbers to go down a bit, Graham's should stay consistent, if not go up this year. Drew Brees likes to spread the ball around in New Orleans, and Graham is his top option, along with Marques Colston. Graham might also see a few more targets since the Saints let Robert Meachem leave in free-agency.
Antonio Gates – San Diego: Gates missed three games last year and was slowed by injury for most of the season, but reports out of San Diego are that he is fully healthy and ready to get back to his dominant self. Gates is Philip Rivers' top option in the passing game and though injuries to the receiving corps means more double-teams on Gates, it also means more balls heading his way.
Vernon Davis – San Francisco: Davis has the talent to put up big numbers in any game. The good news is he is the number one target; the bad news is he's the number one target of an average-at-best quarterback in a run heavy system. The silver lining for Davis is that the additions of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss should draw some double teams off of him.
Aaron Hernandez – New England: The one player that benefits the most from New England's two tight end sets would be Hernandez. In fact, you could argue that he is the reason they do so. Hernandez has the ability to destroy opponents and have huge games and is easily the best No. 2 tight end in the league. Add in Hernandez's playing time at fullback and there's just more chances for him to get touches.
Later round steals:
Jacob Tamme – Denver
Brandon Pettigrew – Detroit
Peyton Manning loves to throw to his tight ends, especially in the red zone. Add that to Tamme's history with Manning in Indianapolis, and he should have a solid year. Pettigrew won't see as many targets as Calvin Johnson in Detroit, but he had just as many balls thrown his way in the red zone as anybody else on the Lions. Matthew Stafford will look his way often when the field gets short.
Be careful when drafting:
Gronkowski/Hernandez – New England
Make no mistake, both of these guys will be top 10 fantasy tight ends. But Gronkowski won't be putting up the same numbers as he did last year and with the addition of Brandon Lloyd at wide receiver, both players should see less passes thrown their way. Don't use a 1st rounder on one of these two when there are better options available.
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