Gates remains atop thin TE class
In a twist of irony, arguably the shakiest position in fantasy football is the most organized going into the bizarre bazaar that is before us post lockout. Tight ends are hardly more exciting than kickers on draft day, but they are at least lined up with teams going into training camps.
Even the pending quarterback changes don't figure to change our preseason rankings much.
Just remember when picking your favorite seam-route runner on draft day, don't overpay for a position that rarely provides much of an impact -- particularly after the few elite options. We continue our initial positional tiers with the tight ends:
You can make a case for any of these three being the top at this position. Gates is the one with the most consistency, though, particularly as a red-zone target. He also has the least impressive group of wide receivers in his offense to distract his passer when compared to Dallas and Indy. There is no question Gates is his quarterback's primary option on third -- or any -- down.
If you want some measure of certainty at a shaky position, you have to rise up to grab one of these two before the middle of the draft. Finley would be a top-tier option if he wasn't coming off injury, so consider him a great sleeper if he proves healthy in the preseason. Davis, meanwhile, would be in the top tier if he didn't have to rely on erstwhile QB Alex Smith throwing him passes.
If there are five top options at the position, there are exactly that many more filling out the trustworthy category. Each of these has a reason they aren't in one of those top two classes.
Lewis and Cooley have QB uncertainty the other three don't have. Gronkowski has the question of how much his teammate is going to cut into his targets, while Winslow (injury risk) and Gonzalez (age) are breakdown candidates.
The remainder of tight ends who should be starters in a standard league are those who were expected to become elite ones years ago. Daniels was hit by injury in the first half of last season, while Keller just hasn't progressed as quickly as expected -- although that could be a function of the conservative Jets and mediocre play of Mark Sanchez.
Leagues with the flex position might find these tight ends in the lineup more than merely bye-week replacements. Hernandez is coming off offseason hip surgery, otherwise we would have him up with his fellow sophomore teammate Gronkowski. Graham has a lot of upside, too, with Drew Brees targeting him more as a full-time starter for the first time. Pettigrew and Miller are solid, but their QB are not considered top tier.
There are some commonly leaned on names here, so expect them to be among those drafted as backups in standard leagues, or starters in rare two-TE formats. Celek didn't have the same mojo with Michael Vick as he did with Donovan McNabb, while Moeaki looks like he is going to be a good one in the red zone. The rest of these guys are retread vets who can have their moments even if their best years are behind them.
You likely shouldn't draft these guys, but odds are they are going to be shuffled on and off the waiver wire a lot this season. Tamme is going to be a high-riser if Clark isn't 100 percent, but otherwise these options aren't real exciting entering the season.
We likely don't have to concern ourselves with this many options before draft day, but the situation in Green Bay with Finley could make Lee or Quarless interesting again. These guys might get starts, but they don't promise consistent production.