Very Early TE Rankings

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The Jon Gruden quote is money

It’s time once again for some very early positional rankings. This time we’re lining up a bunch of players who were bitten by the injury bug last season. Four of our top six players were hurt at some point in 2010. The year of the Tight End turned into the year of Jacob Tamme. As you can see in the embedded video above, I love me some Jimmy Graham. You can label this white boy a Graham Cracker. He is officially this year’s Jermichael Finley. Next season’s Jimmy Graham could be Jared Cook, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Rankings and reasoning after the jump. You know what to do.

Antonio Gates SD Easily tops the TE rankings. Antonio was on pace for his 6th 100-Target season in the past seven years before plantar fascia put an early end to his season. He’s apparently “feeling really good” [ProFootballWeekly] so I see no reason to question the superiority of the man who caught 10 TD passes in 10 games last season. The only question is how early do we select Antonio?
Dallas Clark IND Dallas had 53 Targets in six games before he suffered a season ending wrist injury. That pace would have pushed him to 140 Targets over a full season. This after being thrown to by Peyton Manning 132 times in 2009 and 107 times in 2008 (15 games). Peyton and Dallas have a love connection so it’s only appropriate that we rank them at two-and-two. Clark had wrist surgery in late October, began rehab in January and expects to be ready for the start of training camp.
Jermichael Finley GBPast 16 games (including playoffs): 81 catches, 1,130 yards, 6 TDs” – BFun. Jermichael is a talented individual, there is no doubt about that. He may be the toughest TE to cover in the entire NFL. With Donald Driver aging like fine milk and James Jones set to leave via free agency the stage will be set for Finley to breakout. While he’s no secret, Finley still hasn’t topped 700 yards or 5 TD in one (regular) season. Last season was cut short because of a knee injury, but he expects to be 100% healthy when training camp starts.
Jason Witten DAL Witten is coming off one of the best seasons of his career (94 rec., 1002 yards, 9 TD). This was the third time he topped 1,000 yards and the fifth time he topped 950 yards. He’s durable and always produces (minus the ’06 season when he had only one TD). The one thing I notice is that eight of his nine Touchdowns came with John Kitna at Quarterback (Weeks 6-17). Those 8 TD bested his previous season high of 7 TD (2007). I don’t think we should expect anything more than 6 or 7 TD with Romo back on the field.
Vernon Davis SF Vernon didn’t quite live up to expectations following his 965 yard 13 TD season in 2009, but his stat line suffered when Troy Smith led the 49ers between weeks 8 and 13. He managed only 1 TD during those five games, compared to 6 TD with the other Smith, Alex. The 49ers will be under control of Jim Harbaugh this year; who was a former QB, comes from a coaching family and did a great job with San Diego and Stanford in the NCAA. It’s safe to assume the Niners will pass more often with Harbaugh coaching, rather than Singletary.
Owen Daniels HOU Daniels was on pace for a 1,000 yard 10 TD season in ’09 before an ACL injury cut his season short. He tried to come back from said knee injury too quickly in 2010 and his play on the field suffered from it. He did finish out the season on a strong note, averaging nearly 68 yards per with 2 TD over the final four games. He should be in for a big year as the No. 2 receiving option behind Andre Johnson.
Jimmy Graham NO Graham is a huge bodied Tight End (6’7 260 lbs) with a basketball background. We love those Power Forward Tight Ends. He’s big, he’s fast and he can catch the ball. While Jeremy Shockey’s body started to fall apart down the stretch last season Graham hauled in four Touchdowns in the Saints final three games. Now that Shockey has left New Orleans, Graham will be the team’s starting Tight End. Because Drew Brees spreads the ball around so much we shouldn’t expect a ton of receptions or yards from Jimmy, but the Touchdowns will be there. Defensive Backs will have a very difficult time trying to defend him in the Redzone.
Marcedes Lewis JAC Marcedes is a former Rd 1 pick who has steadily increased his receiving yardage with each passing season. Last year he broke out in a big way with 10 TD. Marcedes never bested 70 yards in a single week, but his workmanlike performances accrued 700 total yards. Marcedes should again be a Redzone threat as Mike Sims-Walker is no longer in Jacksonville and Mike Thomas, who is three foot ten inches tall, is the only other player capable of catching a pass in Jacksonville. I wouldn’t draft him expecting another 10 TD, but 7 or 8 seems reasonable. Marcedes could end up being the No. 1 receiving option on the team, if he doesn’t hold out.
Rob Gronkowski NE As a rookie Gronko tied for the league lead among Tight Ends in Touchdowns (10). He was a great college TE (first Rd talent) that fell to the Patriots in the second Rd because of injury concerns. He didn’t miss a single game or practice last year. With few Redzone options in New England (post-Moss) I’d expect Gronkowski to continue hauling in Touchdowns. After adjusting to NFL play he averaged 51 yards with 7 TD over the last nine regular season games and one playoff matchup against the Jets. The one thing I do worry about is that his productive stretch coincided with the fall of Aaron Hernandez…
Aaron Hernandez NE Is a playmaker. Just watching him move on the field makes you think this guy has potential star written all over him. He can separate from defenders and has the moves to make them miss after the catch. Hernandez came out of the gate averaging 54.5 yards per with 2 TD during New England’s first eight games. Dropped passes and a suspected hip injury (that forced him to miss games later in the season) slowed down his production. He ended up having hip surgery, but he’s already practicing with the team at full speed. He was billed as a sure-handed receiver out of college so I have faith that he can bounce back from the second half drop off. [Hernandez Highlights]
Chris Cooley WAS Cooley tied his previous career high with 849 yards last season, but the Touchdowns continued to be disappoint. “Johnny White Guy”, as Clinton Portis called him, averaged nearly 7 TD during his first four years in the league, but has scored only six during the past three seasons. It was nice to see the immediate chemistry between him and McNabb, the 126 Targets were a career high for Cooley, but we need them Touchdowns. He’s done it before, I don’t see why he can’t do it again. He should be a little bit faster this season as Cooley revealed he played with a torn meniscus last season [blame Todd Yoder’s wife]. Cooley could be slotted ahead of Gronkowski and Hernandez, I may end up making that move with further prep work.
Kellen Winslow TB There’s no doubting Kellen Winslow’s abilities. It’s his health that keeps us up at night. Kellen broke his leg in his rookie season (’04) and missed all of 2005 after a motorcycle accident and staph infection. Then he missed more time in 2008 because of another staph infection. Thankfully he’s no longer in the dark, dingy locker rooms of Cleveland. He had the option of undergoing knee surgery this off-season, but he elected not to saying, “Surgery is not going to help me anymore,” Winslow said. “It’s just maintenance from now on and keeping my knee strong. That’s the reason for no surgery this past year. It just doesn’t matter anymore.”  Encouraging words Kellen, thanks for the vote of confidence. Winslow’s 2010 season started in boring fashion, which should have been expected with a rookie at QB. It took nine weeks for KII to score his first TD, but he did finish the year with five scores. If he can stay healthy and Josh Freeman continues his development Kellen could be quite useful.
Zach Miller OAK Trading in JaMarcus Russell for Jason Campbell didn’t do much for Miller in terms of receptions or yardage. He’s expected to re-sign with Oakland so the poor to below average Quarterback play will continue to impede Miller’s production. He’s a talented player, but he’s stuck in Oakland. Expect another 700-800 yard season with maybe 5 TD. If you do not trust Winslow’s health you could bump him up a spot.
Tony Gonzalez ATL It was a down year for Tony in 2010 (656 yards, 6 TD), but he did record his seventh straight 100-Target season. I’m sure he has more than seven straight, but FFToday.com started tracking Targets in 2004. Still, Gonzo turned 35-years ancient in February and has lost a step or three. Talks of retirement have already started. Atlanta brought in one Julio Jones during the NFL draft so I’ll go ahead and assume Tony doesn’t hit the 100-Target mark in 2011. Name brand value has Tony ranked as the No. 8 TE at Y! so he’s bound to be overvalued in most leagues.
Brandon Pettigrew DET Pettigrew, a year removed from ACL surgery, surprised many with his 722 yard 4 TD season. He finished the year with 111 Targets, third highest total among all TE (most of which came from Shaun Hill). Things will be different in Detroit this time around: Matthew Stafford will be back at the helm and the Lions drafted Titus Young (more 3 WR sets). While some say Stafford’s down field tendency will hurt Pettigrew’s progression, Mike Clay says that’s not true and he has charts and stats to back him up [PFF]. Pettigrew’s value will be determined by how the Lions use Tony Scheffler. I would assume they give the majority of the snaps to Pettigrew, who was their first round draft pick in 2009. We’ll have to keep an eye on this situation as we near the season.
Jared Cook TEN Cook is a big, fast, receiving Tight End. He isn’t much of a blocker, but the Titans plan to use more two-TE sets this season. This should free up Cook to make big plays in the passing game. Scouts have compared Cook to Jermichael Finley in terms of being a physical specimen who could develop into one of the harder to cover Tight Ends in football. Cook had a strong finish to the 2010 season, targeted 18 times in the final two games he pulled in 12 receptions for 154 yards and a score. Now the de facto starting TE in Tennessee Cook will be one of the higher upside sleepers at the position.
Dustin Keller NYJ Keller looked like he was going to enjoy a break out season during the first four weeks of 2010. He caught 19 passes for 254 yards and 5 TD. Then Santonio Holmes returned from suspension. Then the Jets started using Ben Hartstock at TE during running plays (the Jets are a run-heavy team). Keller didn’t record a single Touchdown after Week Four. He averaged 36 yards per game during this stretch (3.6 fantasy points). Keller has potential, he is a sleeper, but he needs to convert more of his Targets (in Week 14 vs MIA he was targeted 12 times, he had 3 receptions) and improve his run blocking. He needs to gain the trust of his coaches.
Benjamin Watson CLE Watson finished fifth among all TE in Targets (102) thanks to injuries to a handful of players around the league. The former Patriot enjoyed his busiest season of his career as Colt McCoy’s safety valve. Only one of his three Touchdowns came from McCoy (who stunk) so while Watson will be a check down option for the young QB, he’s stuck in a low scoring offense. The Browns also drafted Greg Little so Watson may have a tough time reaching the 100-Target plateau in consecutive seasons.
Heath Miller PIT Miller’s season was stymied by the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger and the injury to Willie Colon. Asked to block more often Miller lost 30 Targets from the season before. The team drafted a fatty in late Rd 2 to help the o-line, we’ll see if they make any moves when free agency opens. Miller is a good bounce back candidate, he did haul in 76 rec., 789 yards and 6 TD in 2009.
Tony Moeaki KC Moeaki had a solid season last year (556 yards, 3 TD). He was good enough to play all three downs as a rookie. The Chiefs run a conservative offense which funnels the ball through their two Running Backs and Dwayne Bowe so I wouldn’t hope for a too much improvement. The addition of Jon Baldwin may also limit Moeaki’s Redzone looks.
Brent Celek PHI Celek was relegated to blocking more often in 2010 and his stat line suffered. Celek is now the fourth option in the Eagles pass offense: Jackson, Maclin, McCoy and Vick’s own legs. Jason Avant steals production too, his 72 Targets were only 8 behind Celek’s. Brent went from being a solid late TE1 to being a huge disappointment. I have little hope for a bounce back.
Lance Kendricks STL Kendricks is often compared to Aaron Hernandez in New England. Drafted in the 2nd Rd out of Wisconsin Kendricks has the size and speed to creates mismatches in the secondary. He’s a legit vertical threat. The Rams plan on using him in many ways and he’s likely to lead the STL Tight Ends in receptions as a rookie. Keep his name in the back of your mind as we enter training camps and pre-season games.
Jermaine Gresham CIN Gresham had an up-and-down rookie season. At times he flashed his high upside ability and others he disappeared. Jermaine is a talented player who needs more polish. The Bengals Offensive Coordinator wants to see Gresham work on his blocking, route-running and pass catching. So pretty much everything. Rookie Andy Dalton will likely be starting in Cincy as Carson Palmer threatens retirement and demands a trade. I’d like to see Dalton in some pre-season action before condemning Gresham to Bungal status.
Todd Heap BAL In three less games Heap had more receiving yards and TD than Brent Celek! He’s getting up there in age (31 now), but he looks like a solid bet for 500+ yards and 5 TD. I’m somewhat intrigued by Ed Dickson, but he’s still developing.
Vinsanthe Shiancoe MIN With Brett Favre, a compulsive lover of Tight Ends, gone the Vikings will employ a run-heavy scheme as rookie Christian Ponder quarterbacks the team. The offense will go through Adrian Peterson. Coach Frazier wanted to get younger at the position and he did so by taking a highly talented player in Kyle Rudolph. Shiancoe may lose snaps to who was considered the best TE in the NFL draft. Shiancoe may be excited about Bill Musgrave’s offense, but there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about his prospects.
Greg Olsen CHI Olsen is a good Tight End, but he is playing in the wrong system. Mike Martz absolutely destroyed Greg Olsen’s production. If you are playing Olsen you’re just hoping for a Touchdown. Chicago doesn’t have much for Redzone threats so Olsen does have a decent shot at scoring six points with one catch, he did pull in 5 TD last year.
John Carlson SEA Oh boy. I think Carlson may have been the biggest disappointment among TE in 2010. He was bad, 318 yards and 1 TD bad. To add injury to insult Carlson sustained a concussion in the playoffs against the Bears. The concussion isn’t much to worry about, the Seachickens QB situation is though.
Anthony Fasano MIA There isn’t much to like about Fasano, he just set career highs with 39 receptions and 528 yards in his fifth season. I’d rather gamble on the upside of more talented players.
Virgil Green DEN You know I’m rooting for a guy named Virgil! The athletic TE slipped to Rd 7 in the draft because of knee surgery from 2007. Green never missed a practice or a game in college so the injury concerns are overblown. The Broncos plan on using the rookie in the “Joker” role, moving him around the field while fellow rookie Julius Thomas plays the more traditional role of TE. The Broncos have a lot of receiving options (Lloyd, Thomas, Gaffney, Royal and Decker) so I can’t get too excited about Virgil’s upside.
Kevin Boss NYG If Boss re-signs with the Giants we should know what to expect from him, about 500 yards and up to 5 TD. His surgically repaired hip will have to be fully healed for that to happen though.
Jeremy Shockey CAR Shockey signed a one-year deal with Carolina after three boring seasons in New Orleans. If Drew Brees couldn’t make Shockey a useful fantasy option I don’t think Cam Newton will do the trick. Shockey is getting up there in age (he’ll be 31 soon) and he’s always a risk to suffer defeat at the hands of injury.
Shawn Nelson BUF Headaches, substance abuse and Chan Gailey have haunted Nelson since being drafted by Buffalo in 2009 (5th Rd).
Rob Housler ARI They say no Tight End has ever recorded 25 receptions under the Whiz in the desert. Housler and Stephen Spach are the Cardinals Tight Ends at the moment. And their Quarterback is Derek Anderson.

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