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Who’s the Tightest End?

Before you get any wise ideas from the title, I am not talking about the rear ends of NFL cheerleaders. Although, that would be an intriguing topic to read about, especially with photos.  I am actually addressing the importance of the “tight end” in fantasy football. Despite the scarcity of quality tight ends in the league, this position generally receives less attention than quarterbacks, runningbacks and wide receivers.

Is it worth taking a tight end early in the draft? Premier tight ends are commonly selected after the top runningbacks and wide receivers around the third round. Yet, Vernon Davis and Dallas Clark scored as many fantasy points as much earlier drafted studs like Larry Fitzgerald, Steven Jackson and Reggie Wayne. Only three tight ends in 2009 and one in 2008 exceeded 1,000 yards receiving. In comparison, 21 wide receivers topped the thousand mark. Although, first-tier tight ends are in short supply, is it practical for managers to draft them as early as the first two rounds? Hopefully, this analysis of the Top 12 will help you project 2010’s top tight ends and plan how early you want to draft this position.

1. Dallas Clark – With Peyton Manning at the helm,
Clark may be the most dangerous tight end in the draft. Over the last three seasons,
Clark has increased his receiving yards by an average of 246 yards per season. If this trend continues into 2010,
Clark is by far the runaway top tight end to draft.

 
Projected 2010 stats: 1,200 yards; 10 TD


 

2. Antonio Gates – Gates bleeds consistency as he has averaged 964 receiving yards and 9.5 touchdowns over the last six seasons. Much of his success early in his career was generated from a run-focused offense in

San Diego
. With Philip Rivers’ aerial assault improving over the last few seasons, expect another consistent and possibly even career year as top target Vincent Jackson will be suspended for the first three games.  

   
Projected 2010 stats: 1,100 yards; 10 TD

 

3.

Jason Witten – One may wonder if

Witten
wore No. 13 on his back or owned a black cat last season.

Witten
reeled in 94 catches and more than 1,000 yards, but shockingly scored only twice.
Witten’s quarterback, Tony Romo, threw 26 touchdowns, but only two to

Witten
. He seems to turn into a ghost near the end zone as he was tied for 26th in red zone targets among tight ends.
Witten cannot be this unlucky next season as he has led

Dallas
in receptions over the last three seasons.

    
Projected 2010 stats: 1,000 yards; 8 TD

 


4. Tony Gonzalez – Though it was Gonzalez’s lowest totals for reception yards in seven seasons, his stat line of 867 yards and six touchdowns is far from shabby. In fact, Gonzalez led all tight ends in targets. Most predicted a huge season from him as he left
Kansas City to join a young but explosive offense in

Atlanta
. With a full season working with Matt Ryan behind him, I expect Gonzalez to improve upon his 2009 performance, but doubt he will regain his status as the NFL’s top tight end.

      Projected 2010 stats: 975 yards; 8 TD

                                                

5.
 
Vernon Davis – Why don’t I have Davis ranked higher, you may ask, as he was the top fantasy scoring tight end last season? If Witten was the unluckiest tight end, then

Davis
was definitely the luckiest. Don’t get me wrong, as it was satisfying to see the highly touted

San Francisco
tight end, nicknamed “The Duke,” finally live up to his hype. However, repeating last season seems improbable with Michael Crabtree earning the lion’s share of catches and a healthy Frank Gore stabilizing the offense.

    
Projected 2010 stats: 950 yards; 7 TD


 

6. Brent Celek – Celek was heralded as a top sleeper in 2009 With 971 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, as he exceeded expectations as Donovan McNabb’s secondary target. His talents are clearly evident, but his value leans primarily on the success of the Eagles’ new starting quarterback, Kevin Kolb. If Kolb’s pass statistics are relative to McNabb, then Celek should be in line for another productive year.

    
Projected 2010 stats: 935 yards; 6 TD


 

7. Owen Daniels – Until his Week 8 season-ending ACL injury, Daniels was one of the top producing tight ends last season. Unfortunately, ACL injuries can require a long road of recovery. If Daniels’ recovery is successful and NFL passing yards leader Matt Schaub manages to stay healthy all season, then this Texans’ duo will be a lethal weapon.  

   
Projected 2010 stats: 925 yards; 6 TD

 


8. Jermichael Finley– Standing at a menacing 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, Finley may have the highest upside of any tight end this year. In 2009, he did not start the first half of the season and then missed most of November due to a knee injury. Nevertheless, Finley still captured 676 yards and five touchdowns. In addition, he blew up for 159 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in a NFC Wild Card game shootout. Finley will sufficiently increase his numbers, but the question is to what degree with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver as Aaron Rodgers’ primary targets.

    
Projected 2010 stats: 915 yards; 6 TD

 


9.

 
Kellen Winslow – Although Winslow played on

Tampa
Bay
’s lackluster 24th-ranked passing offense, he still manufactured 885 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Although, Josh Freeman was a slight improvement over Byron Leftwich, Winslow should be able to match or even improve slightly upon last season’s marks.

    
Projected 2010 stats: 900 yards; 6 TD

 


10. Zach Miller,Oakland – This is the classic case of a superb talent on a terrible team. Despite playing with a below average quarterback last season, Miller compiled decent numbers as

Oakland
’s top receiver. In fact, he compiled nearly twice as many catches as the team’s second-leading receiver. I expect an improvement from him as Jason Campbell has a history of throwing to his tight end, just ask Chris Cooley.

    
Projected 2010 stats: 900 yards; 5 TD


 

11. Chris Cooley – Speaking of Cooley, his 2009 season was cut short due to a devastating ankle injury. In his previous four seasons, Cooley averaged 785 yards and more than five touchdowns. With a new quarterback in town, I see a slight jump for Cooley as long as his ankle is healed.

    
Projected 2010 stats: 850 yards; 5 TD


 

12. Visanthe Shiancoe – Can you believe “Shank” caught 11 touchdowns last year? Although the Vikings’ tight end had a career season with the “old gunslinger” Brett Favre throwing to him, I would not expect another double-digit touchdown season. His value is also highly dependent on Favre’s decision to return.  

    
Projected 2010 stats:   750 yards; 6 TD


 


Similar to most seasons, there will likely be a few high producing tight ends. However, who will be this year’s breakout tight end? Davis and Finley both showed signs last season, but will they continue their progress? Or, will quarterback changes in
Oakland,
Washington and

Philadelphia
 help Miller, Cooley and Celek rally up the ranks.

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