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Is Dustin Keller A Future Stud?

Up until two weeks ago, a majority of fantasy owners had paid very little attention to New York Jets rookie tight end Dustin Keller – and with good reason. Why? Rookie tight ends rarely contribute significantly enough or consistently enough to be fantasy-relevant. Prior to Week 10, Keller had scored just two times, topped the 40-yard receiving mark just one time and caught at least four passes or more in a game just twice. Keller, however, has been a dominant force in the New York offense during the last two weeks, averaging seven catches for 97 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per contest. As expected, he became a popular waiver wire pickup, and the debate about whether a future fantasy star was being born before our eyes raged on football message boards across the country: Is Keller an elite fantasy tight end of the future?

 

The Keller Chronicles

 

Dustin Kendall Keller was born September 25, 1984, in LaFayette, Indiana. He had played wide receiver throughout his high school career, setting an Indiana state single-season record of 113 receptions for 1,804 yards (16.0 yards per catch) and 22 touchdowns as a senior (2002). Keller accepted a scholarship offer to play college football at Purdue University.

 

Dustin Keller – PURDUE CAREER

YEAR

GP

GS

REC

YARDS

AVG

TD

2003

0

0

0

0

0.0

0

2004

9

1

5

102

20.4

2

2005

10

0

13

128

9.8

3

2006

14

12

56

771

13.8

4

2007

13

13

68

881

13.0

7

TOTALS

46

26

142

1,882

13.3

16

 

Keller was red-shirted as a true freshman. Purdue head coach Joe Tiller moved him to tight end in 2004, but Keller started just one game that season. During 2005, Keller played exclusively as a backup in 10 contests. In 2006, he finally cracked the starting lineup and posted some good statistics, even though Tiller’s offense frequently relied on the use of four wide receiver sets. Keller amassed some career-best numbers as a full-time starter in 2007, despite playing with a nagging shoulder injury that required surgery after the season. His teammates voted to award him Purdue’s Most Valuable Player that year.

 

The Jets, as you probably know, selected Keller in the first round (pick No. 30 overall) of the 2008 National Football League Draft. Here was the skinny on Keller heading into the draft:

 

Name: Dustin Keller

School: Purdue University

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 242 pounds

40 Yard Dash: 4.53 seconds

Vertical leap: 41 inches

Bench press 225 pounds: 26 reps

 

Positives:

  1. Great athlete and competitor; plays with a passion.

  2. Outstanding hands; willing to fight for the ball.

  3. Great acceleration off the line.

  4. Possesses top-end speed and agility.

  5. Willing to take on tacklers and fight for extra yards.

Negatives:

1.

   

Not effective as an inline blocker; struggles to block larger defenders.

2.

   

Not an every-down player because of blocking deficiencies.

3.

   

Lacks elusiveness in the open field. (Personally, I disagree to an extent)

 

Here are Keller’s NFL regular-season numbers to date:

 

JUSTIN KELLER – 2008 REGULAR SEASON STARTS

Week#

OPPONENT

RESULT

REC

YDS

AVE

TD

Week 01

@ Miami

W, 20 – 14

0

0

0.0

0

Week 02

New England

L, 10 – 19

1

19

19.0

0

Week 03

@ San Diego

L, 29 – 48

4

41

10.3

1

Week 04

Arizona

W, 56 – 35

1

24

24.0

1

Week 05

BYE

—-

—-

—-

—-

—-

Week 06

Cincinnati

W, 26 – 14

0

0

0.0

0

Week 07

@ Oakland

L, 13 – 16

1

6

6.0

0

Week 08

Kansas City

W, 28 – 24

4

38

9.5

0

Week 09

@ Buffalo

W, 26 – 17

2

19

9.5

0

Week 10

St. Louis

W, 47 – 3

6

107

17.8

1

Week 11

@ N. England

W, 34 – 31

8

87

10.9

0

 

THROUGH WEEK 11

27

341

12.6

3.0

PER-GAME AVERAGES

3.5

42.8

9.0

0.2

 

Prior to Keller’s two “breakout” performances (Week 10 and Week 11), he logged just one solid fantasy outing (Week 3) and did not catch a pass in two other contests (Week 1 and Week 6). At the risk of downplaying Keller’s two strong games, he has demonstrated the same inconsistency that has historically plagued even the top rookie tight end prospects.

 

Why Have Rookie Tight Ends Struggled?

 

Transitioning from the collegiate level to the NFL can be difficult for even the most talented rookie tight end. From a fantasy perspective, the short- and long-term value of a tight end obviously depends on a combination of his talent and whether he is playing in the right situation. Playing the position in the pros usually requires learning a new and usually more complex offensive scheme, running accurate pass routes, accurately reading a defense and skilled blocking. Did you know that a large percentage of the stud tight ends in the NFL today wallowed through very disappointing, unproductive rookie seasons?

 

ROOKIE SEASON STATISTICS – TOP TIGHT ENDS

PLAYER

YEAR

AGE

TM

G

GS

REC

YDS

AVE

TD

LNG

Tony Gonzalez

1997

21

KAN

16

00

33

368

11.2

2

30

Jeremy Shockey

2002

22

NYG

15

14

74

894

12.1

2

30

Jason Witten

2003

21

DAL

15

7

35

347

9.9

1

36

Antonio Gates

2003

23

SAN

15

11

24

389

16.2

2

48

Dallas Clark

2003

24

IND

10

10

29

340

11.7

1

42

Chris Cooley

2004

22

WAS

16

9

37

314

8.5

6

31

 

In case you are wondering, none of the top tight ends drafted in 2005 (Heath Miller, Alex Smith), 2006 (Vernon Davis, Marcades Lewis, Joe Klopfenstein, Tony Scheffler, Leonard Pope) or 2007 (Greg Olsen, Zach Miller) rate as elites, in my opinion. I also decided to leave Kellen Winslow, Jr., out of the table, because he played only two games during his rookie season due to an injury. Although it is debatable whether Jeremy Shockey is still a stud, you can see in the table that he enjoyed the most productive rookie season of all the current elites at his position. In other words, Shockey was the only tight end in the last seven seasons to be fantasy-relevant as a rookie, which is why one could argue that the odds are against Keller continuing his productive play through the end of the year.

 

Through Week 11, Keller has amassed 27 receptions for 341 yards and three touchdowns. Granted, he notched 14 catches for 194 yards and one touchdown during the last two weeks, which represents close to half his overall production. Keller’s production prior to Week 10 was inconsistent, like it was for the tight ends listed in the above table during their rookie seasons.

 

The Verdict On Keller

 

Is Keller a future fantasy stud? In my opinion, it would be more appropriate to wait until the end of the season before making a credible prediction about Keller’s future fantasy prospects. As for the rest of this year: Aside from two recent standout performances, I do not see any other evidence that proves Keller will be a consistent fantasy player for the rest of 2008. On the other hand, putting aside a historical perspective that proves nearly all rookie tight ends have been unreliable fantasy producers, I also do not see any indisputable proof that Keller’s production will nose dive and become inconsistent for the rest of 2008. This is one of those times in fantasy football where you just have to roll the dice with a player.

 

Granted, there are some notable things working in Keller’s favor:

 

1.

   

Keller is a starter.

2.

   

Keller apparently will not lose a lot of targets to backup Chris Baker.

3.

   

Keller is becoming more comfortable in the New York offense.

4.

   

Quarterback Brett Favre, as we all know, loves to throw to his tight ends.

5.

   

The Jets offensive line has finally jelled and does not need regular blocking support from the tight ends, which is something that Keller does not do well. If the O-line needed extra blocking help from the tight end position regularly, Keller would be frequently replaced in obvious passing situations.

 

Here is New York’s

remaining schedule:

 

DATE

WEEK #

OPPONENT

RANK VERSUS THE PASS

Nov. 23

Week 12

@ Tennessee

6

Nov. 30

Week 13

Denver

29

Dec. 07

Week 14

@ San Fran.

25

Dec. 14

Week 15

Buffalo

14

Dec. 21

Week 16

@ Seattle

31

Dec. 28

Week 17

Miami

19

 

If

you own Keller, start him this week against the Tennessee Titans, who have struggled to contain opposing tight ends. As for the rest of Keller’s matchups, they all look favorable. However, for reasons mentioned, there are no guarantees for fantasy success with him.

 

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