There is a revolution going on right now in the NFL and it will affect your fantasy football draft. The tight end position has been redefined and if you are planning on waiting until the later rounds to draft your tight end, you will be left in the dust.
It is one thing for one team to take a position or formation and surprise opponents with a new wrinkle or two in the playbook. Some savvy fantasy players will see through the smoke screen and recognize it for the fad that it is. Others will jump all over it in next year’s draft only to realize that defenses have adjusted and defenses have solved last year’s puzzle. In my opinion, the evolution of the tight end in 2011 is no fad and can’t be ignored in next season’s draft.
I have been playing fantasy football for six years, (a rookie in some veteran’s eyes) and it has become something of a sick obsession. I start preparing for next year’s draft the day after the season ends, sometimes even in mid-season. So it should be of no surprise to you that I have been preparing next season’s draft for two weeks and one position that I keep wrestling with is tight end.
So I started mapping out my drafts and I immediately recognized a familiar dilemma, the tight end. Anytime I have taken a tight end I have been burnt. This year I targeted and drafted Jimmy Graham in the tenth round. In another league I took Jason Witten in the fifth, while taking Antonio Gates in the fourth in another. I wound up grabbing Rob Gronkowski off of waivers in the league in which I owned Gates. Witten finished 4th among TEs in my PPR league which sounds great, but the difference between #4 and #1was 181 points while the difference between the #4 TE and the #10 TE was less than 60 points. In other words, the #4 TE may as well have been the #10 as far as I am concerned.
That is why the 2012 fantasy football draft is critical when it comes to choosing the right tight end. I think you will see less of a drop off with TEs like Jimmy Graham and Gronk than you normally would when you have a QB, RB, or WR break out. Teams just can’t all of the sudden start stopping these big war machines. I think it will be more of a “can’t beat them join them” situation with teams drafting big, athletic tight ends to play a significant part of the offense as opposed to teams drafting defensive players to stop them. Those kinds of defensive players just don’t exist!
This puts the tight end position at a premium. Take a look at the numbers I ran out earlier on the #4 and #1 TE. You can take the #4 WR or #4 RB and have a shot at putting up competitive numbers with the top players in those positions. The difference in 100 points is much different in the tight end position. Taking the #4 TE early is a waste of time, but taking #1-3 is critical to success. To know that you will have a position practically guaranteed to outscore every other team makes you almost unbeatable.
Counting on those double digits from the TE helped me beat teams that had Aaron Rodgers, Ray Rice, or Calvin Johnson go off. Say your opponent has a RB or WR that just goes off against you. Unless they have a top tight end, you can make up those points with the TE. That is why I would recommend taking the right tight end as early as the second round.
A tight end in the second round sounds outrageous, but the numbers make sense. Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are young, big, and have developed a comfort with their Pro Bowl quarterbacks. That is huge! The head coaches are the same but for Gronkowski there is a red flag. The Patriots will have a new offensive coordinator. Fantasy players are all too familiar with the difference a year can make for a stud that goes from hero to zero in a new offense. Would I take Gronk in the second round? I probably wouldn’t for that reason. Would I take Jimmy Graham in the second round? In a heartbeat!
Unfortunately after Jimmy Graham and Gronk, you are playing a guessing game from there. The prospects are there like Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks, but there are way too many question marks around either to take them early. Cook could have a new QB while Kendricks will playing in Jeff Fisher’s running back heavy offense. However, there are two rookie tight ends that I would put on your radar screen before I take them. Rookies Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener could be next season’s Gronk and Graham.
The point of this mindless rambling about tight ends is that the game has changed. Fantasy football has changed and your draft strategy will change. You can do fine grabbing your wide receiver or running backs later in the draft (Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, Steve Smith & A.J. Green) or even off of waivers (CJ Spiller, Antonio Brown, DeMarco Murray) but you will have to be reach to lock up a solid tight end.
Is it worth it? I think so. Having the top tight end will make a difference and have the championships in 2011 to prove it.