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Draft Day Steals: Tight Ends

The past few years we have seen the tight end position explode with a barrage of fantasy points. Players such as Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski have put up insane numbers that would usually be synonymous with a top tier wide receiver. But if they produce like a No. 1 wideout, then they must also come with the same price tag.

If you’re not ready to use a high draft pick on a tight end, the field only gets muddier in the middle rounds. There isn’t much separation between Dennis Pitta or Kyle Rudolph. Furthermore, once you reach the Greg Olsen/Martellus Bennet rounds, it’s a literal crap shoot. The key to this year’s draft is to find that unheralded fantasy tight end, the guy who comes out of nowhere to become an every week starter.

Last year Brandon Myers was a waiver wire gem who turned in a top 10 performance at the tight end position. You have the chance to own this year’s version of Brandon Myers without the risk of somebody grabbing him off of the wire before you can even open your lap top. So without further ado, here are a few players that will allow you to stock up on other key positions and still whip tail at your tight end spot.

Rob Housler, Arizona

Housler is one of the tight end/wide receiver hybrids that have started to flood the NFL as of late. As I mentioned above, Brandon Myers was a top 10 tight end last year, and who was feeding him the pigskin out in Oakland? None other than the new quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals, Carson Palmer. Palmer looked to the tight end early and often last year. That may have been the result of the lack of talent and health of the Raiders wide receivers, but outside of Larry Fitzgerald, I don’t see much difference with the Cardinals stable of wide outs.

Along with Palmer, another beacon of hope arrived in head coach Bruce Arians. Arians likes to throw it deep, and his tight ends are usually not the main focus of his offense. However, I’m not sure if Palmer has the arm for that anymore. Arians might have to dial the deep strikes down a bit and utilize more short and intermediate throws, which would make Housler a prime target. If Palmer can make the long throws, look for Housler to run seam and deep crossing routes while Larry Fitzgerald is being double or even triple teamed.

Either way, there should be plenty of room in the middle of the field for Housler to make a huge impact. His tight end frame and wide receiver athleticism make him a matchup nightmare and his potential for yards after the catch is through the roof. If Housler keeps flying under the radar, he could be one of the biggest steals of this year’s draft.

Jordan Cameron, Cleveland

Cameron hit the tight end lottery this year when Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner were hired to start molding the young Browns into a perennial playoff team. Chudzinski was the offensive play caller for the Carolina Panthers during Cam Newton’s rookie season in which tight ends were used heavily. The Panthers tight ends were targeted 152 times that year, resulting in 82 receptions for 995 yards and nine touchdowns. Turner is the offensive mind that made Antonio Gates an eight-time Pro Bowler and top-3 fantasy tight end for most of his career. And for two of those seasons, who was Gates’ position coach? Well, it was Chudzinski.

With these two calling the shots in Cleveland, Cameron is shaping up to be a focal point in the Browns offense. Brandon Weeden definitely has the arm to get him the ball, and Turner’s vertical scheme will open the middle of the field for Cameron to capitalize. It seems the stars have aligned for Cameron to be a true breakout candidate, but of course, not all that glitters is gold. Cameron was diagnosed with two “muscle pulls” during organized team activities, but should be ready for training camp. You’ll need to keep a close eye on his health, but if he makes it through training camp unharmed, we may be looking at the next budding star at tight end.

Travis Kelce, Kansas City

During the offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs took a page out of the New England Patriots’ play book and started hoarding tight ends. With incumbent Tony Moeaki still rehabbing from arthroscopic knee surgery, the Chiefs signed former Miami Dolphins tight end, Anthony Fasano. And after selecting Kelce in the third round of this year’s draft, they signed undrafted free agent Demetrius Harris. But Kelce is quickly separating himself from the pack. He is the fastest tight end on the team and new head coach Andy Reid is lining him up all over the field to utilize his speed.

Reid plans to use two tight end sets in Kansas City this year, which means Kelce will have plenty of opportunities to get on the field and make his mark. Last year Reid’s tight ends were targeted 127 times in Philadelphia, and I can easily see that number staying the same or even increasing with new quarterback Alex Smith, who consistently looked Vernon Davis’ way during his time in San Francisco. And without a real receiving threat beside Dwayne Bowe, Smith probably won’t have much of a choice but to sling it Kelce’s way. It is still an open competition for starting tight end duties with the Chiefs, but Kelce is the most athletic and dynamic, and definitely the one to watch.

Coby Fleener, Indianapolis

Fleener was on pace to have a nice season last year, but struggled with a shoulder injury that kept him limited through the last nine games. Although Fleener didn’t have the impact we thought he would in his rookie season, he finds himself in a better situation this year thanks to his new/old offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton. Hamilton was the college coordinator for both Fleener and Andrew Luck during their senior season at Stanford in which they connected for 34 passes, 667 yards and 10 touchdowns. Hamilton runs a West Coast Offense with two tight end sets, so for those of you worried about Dwayne Allen, don’t be. There’s enough to go around.

With his quickness, Fleener can easily race past linebackers and leap over safeties for long pass plays, but this offense is all about volume and Fleener could easily see a huge increase in targets. The offense will be tailored to his strengths, and Luck will look his way often. The chemistry between Fleener, Luck and Hamilton will shine through this season, and head coach Chuck Pagano has already stated that Fleener will double his catch total from last year.

I understand that just because these three guys put up great numbers in college doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate to the pro level, but I believe that Fleener’s deep understanding of the offense will be evident when he’s finding soft spots in zone coverage or creating mismatches. If Luck can become more consistent and if Fleener can remain healthy, the sky is the limit for increased fantasy points across the board.

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