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Are Tight Ends Being Snubbed?

It amazes me how much overreaction there has been to the offseason news surrounding the New England Patriots’ tight end saga, even among writers. The Patriots were once a team thought to have two surefire top-5 tight ends. That thought has diminished to hoping one tight end, Rob Gronkowski, can stay healthy enough to complete the full 2013 season.

Essentially, the fall of the empirical strength of one team’s offense, led by one of greatest quarterbacks ever, has brought down the overall value of the rest of the position. It’s almost like fantasy owners and writers alike believe some kind of spell has been cast on a position that is so vital to the success of every offense. That spell has created a ton of underdogs that every fantasy owner needs to be aware of in preparation of casting a championship team.

“Last season there were 58 receivers who were targeted 90 times or more. Twelve of those 58 (20 percent) played tight end.”

WITTEN-ESSENTIAL

Jason Witten’s average draft position in all
Myfantasyleague.com redraft scoring formats of 51.57 leaves me scratching my head. Even more puzzling is the fact it doesn’t even move in points-per-reception formats only. Yet, Witten finished 2012 fifth overall in receptions (110) and eighth in targets (150).

Outside of Jimmy Graham, Witten currently is the only assured tight end being selected in the top-5 at the position. In other words, those skilled and smart enough to craft a winning supporting cast around selecting a puzzling underdog in Round 5, will be the envy of all owners once the regular season begins.

PITTA BLUE CHIP

A look at the Baltimore Ravens depth chart reveals the lack of a true No. 2 wide receiver, Patriot-esque so to speak. With Anquan Boldin moving back in to the NFC West fold, coupling up with rising quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the Ravens are in dire need of someone to step up and catch passes down the middle of the field. Enter Dennis Pitta.

Coincidentally, the one game that the above-mentioned Boldin was shut down last season – Week 15 against Denver – was the same game Pitta broke out, as he caught seven passes for 125 yards and scored twice. Thoughts this offseason have already been flying around Baltimore that Joe Flacco was honing in on Pitta during mandatory mini-camps. Some even believe there could be a little Dallas Clark-Peyton Manning chemistry being stirred together.

One thing is for certain, and that is Pitta’s overall numbers are on an upward trend. He saw a 40.4 percent increase in targets in 2012 over 2011, a 35 percent increase in receptions, a 39.4 percent increase in yardage, and a 57.1 percent increase in touchdowns scored.

Applying these trendy percentages moving forward would mean that Pitta will be targeted about 132 times, will catch about 83 passes for 933 yards, and score 11 touchdowns in 2013. His current average draft position has him coming off draft boards between rounds seven and eight, an underdog value considering what he’s capable of producing.

OLSEN ELITE

I have always believed that good things come to good people.
Carolina Panthers tight end
Greg Olsen is indeed a good person. In June, Olsen and his wife donated $289,000 to the Levine Children’s Hospital to help support the pediatric cardiac program.

Olsen is also just steps behind Steve Smith on quarterback Cam Newton’s chart of favorite targets, and that’s probably where he’ll stay. Not only will the Panthers be running with a similar talent base at a wide receiver position that just never seems to improve, but it has already been reported that Olsen has had great timing with Newton during offseason workouts.

The Panthers tight end is in prime position to build off a 2012 season that saw him set career highs in receptions (69), yards (843) and snap percentage (97.3). His average draft position of 102.26 pegs him just inside the Top 10, which makes him a true underdog capable of breaking in to the top three.

OPEN GATES

Reminiscent of Tony Gonzalez’s fall from fantasy grace post 2010 edition, Antonio Gates has gone from, “Man, it would be nice to have him,” to “Man, I feel bad for who gets him.” Washed up. Old. Brittle. These are the words that most fantasy owners will use to describe the still freakishly talented former basketball player, while pointing to his porous average draft position of 136-plus.

For the first time since 2004, Gates is a true underdog with a perceived running value outside the top-10, and it’s great! In the non-points per reception Fantasy Sharks Staff Draft Champions draft mentioned in the opening, I was able to snag Gates in Round 11 as my backup. Yeah, that’s right, he is my backup.

Reports out San Diego thus far this offseason have been encouraging, Gates is quick and there is a belief that he could turn things back around. Furthermore, with an overall shark strength of schedule score of plus-67 (which can be found on his player page), the schedule of opponents he is set to face in 2013 is perhaps the most favorable of all tight ends.

 

FINAL THOUGHT

As you move forward with your draft plan, the only thing I ask of you is that you don’t overlook this essential position and play the “fall in line, draft whomever is next on the my list” card. I did that for the longest time and didn’t change until I witnessed one fantasy owner in a high stakes league for five years straight (2004-08) draft the previously mentioned Gates, Gonzalez or Witten. His theory was no secret in that he had to do his homework and have one of the best tight ends every year, because it gave him an advantage up front. His payout: three championships. Lesson learned.

Thanks for reading!

Eric Huber is a Senior Writer for Fantasysharks.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). Email him your thoughts ehuber@fantasysharks.com or follow him on the Twitter @EricHuber12

About Fantasy Sharks

FantasySharks.com began in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is, or has been, home to some of the most talented and best known fantasy writers on the planet. Owned and operated by Tony Holm (5 time Fantasy Sports Writer Association Hall-of-Fame nominee,) Tony started writing fantasy content in 1993 for the only three fantasy football web sites in existence at the time.