Tony Gonzalez started the resurgence, but Antonio Gates and Jason Witten have propelled the surge in recent years. Throw in Kellen Winslow and Dallas Clark from last year and you have a handful of star tight ends who are starting to rival the top tier of wide receivers. Let's take a look at the top 30 tight ends in the game today and project where they should go on draft day:
Witten was a fantasy monster last year, setting franchise season records for a tight end with 96 catches and 1,145 yards, while adding seven TDs. He also became the sixth tight end in NFL history to record four straight 60-plus catch seasons. He had some big-time individual games last year (15 receptions one game, five or more receptions in 10 games) and is in an offense that will feature him more in 2008. He's primed for an equally excellent season this year, so expect 80-plus receptions, 1,000 yards and 7 TDs.
Gates was bothered by a back injury during the second half of last season and then suffered a toe injury in the playoffs that required off-season surgery, but he still finished with 75 catches for 984 yards and nine TDs. During his first five games, he had 40 catches for 489 yards and three TDs, but he limped to the finish line with the back injury. He will return healthier this year and will again top 80 receptions and 1,000 yards this year with nine TDs.
Winslow set career highs last year in receiving yards (1,106) and TDs (5), while catching 82 passes during a breakout season. He played hurt most of the season before finally limping to the finish line. He failed to catch at least five passes in his last five games, but before that he was unstoppable. If he can remain healthy this year -- never a given with Winslow -- he is primed to again top 80 catches and 1,000 yards for 6-7 TDs.
This 32-year-old future Hall of Famer had another solid season in '07, catching 99 passes for 1,172 yards and five TDs. He also passed Shannon Sharpe as the all-time leader for receptions among tight ends with 820. He's dropping in preseason drafts because Kansas City's QB situation is so bad, but he's still talented enough to deliver a season of 80-plus catches, 900 yards and 5-6 TDs.
Cooley also had a solid season in '07, setting career highs in receiving yardage (786) and touchdowns (8), while adding 66 receptions. He caught TD passes in four of his first five games last year, but was shut out during his last six games. Still, he's a consistent target for the Redskins, who like to look for their tight ends. He belongs in the top tier at this position and will deliver 60-plus receptions, 800-plus yards and 6-7 TDs.
Heap suffered through the worst season of his career in '07, playing in only six games due to a torn hamstring. He was held to just 23 receptions for 239 yards and one TD as the Ravens struggled badly at the QB position without Steve McNair. The good news is that new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron turned Antonio Gates into a star in San Diego and he will utilize Heap more now in Baltimore. Hope for a return of good health and a season of 70-plus receptions for 700-plus yards and 5 TDs from Heap.
With Marvin Harrison sidelined with a knee injury, Clark became a favored target in this offense last year and he came through with career bests of 58 receptions for 616 yards and 11 TDs. He had six TD catches during his first six games and finally stayed healthy for a full season, playing in 15 games. He signed a six-year extension with the Colts this off-season and will return with another 50-catch season for 600-plus yards and 6-8 TDs.
After missing the Super Bowl run when he broke his leg in Week 15, Shockey reportedly has requested a trade out of New York, but the Giants aren't selling. They like his run-blocking skills too much to give up on him, even though last year he was limited to three TD catches on 57 receptions for 619 yards. At 28, it's time to realize that Shockey will never be one of the greats at TE, but he still has enough left in the tank for a 50-plus, 600-yard, 5-TD season, either with the Giants are somewhere else.
During his second season in Houston, Daniels emerged as a viable option, catching 63 passes for 768 yards and three TDs. He had at least four catches in a game nine times, but seemed to be a non-factor near the goal-line. If that changes at all in '08, Daniels could easily finish the season as one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL.
Davis has been a disappointment during his first two NFL seasons, but he showed enough promise last year to crack the top 10 at this position in offseason drafts. He stayed healthy for 14 games last year and caught 52 passes for 509 yards and four TDs, but the new Mike Martz offense doesn't feature tight ends prominently. Still, he has enough talent to stand out and if he can stay healthy he will top last year's final numbers.
Miller ranked seventh among all tight ends last year as he set career highs with 47 catches for 566 yards and seven TDs. He's a strong red zone target for the Steelers as he caught TD passes in six different games. He's not an ideal pickup in point-per-reception leagues, but the TDs are a plus and makes him a worthy starting option in '08.
Lee was a pleasant surprise last year as he finished ninth among all tight ends in scoring, catching 48 passes for 575 yards and six TDs. He caught at least three passes in 12 of his 15 games and became a reliable target for Brett Favre. He will have the same role no matter who is at QB this year in Green Bay and will post similar numbers again in '08.
For whatever reason, Scheffler and QB Jay Cutler weren't in sync early last year, but that changed down the stretch as Scheffler caught all five of his TD passes during the last 12 games. He also had nine games with at least three receptions during that time and had one 100-yard game. He's developed a good rapport with Cutler and should be able to top last year's numbers in '08.
Crumpler had his worst season since his rookie campaign of '01, dropping to 15th in TE scoring and ultimately being phased out of the Falcons' plans. He signed a two-year deal with Tennessee and will now try to build a strong rapport with QB Vince Young. Crumpler should be able to top last year's totals of 42 catches for 444 yards and five TDs, but his value will be tied to Young's improvement, which is scary.
Watson battled through an injury-plagued season for the third straight year and was basically a non-factor in the Patriots' incredible unbeaten regular season. He played in 12 games and was limited to 36 catches for 389 yards and six TDs. He underwent surgery on his left ankle in March and was still hobbled before training camp. He has great talent and a great QB, but the constant injuries makes him an iffy pick in '08.
Olsen endured a typically inconsistent rookie season for a TE as he finished with 39 catches for 291 yards and two TDs. The Bears' QB situation hasn't improved at all since last year, so it's hard to see how Olsen can finish with much better numbers. But expect him to be a bigger part of this offense as he steals playing time from Desmond Clark, resulting in career best totals across the board.
Olsen endured a typically inconsistent rookie season for a TE as he finished with 39 catches for 291 yards and two TDs. The Bears' QB situation hasn't improved at all since last year, so it's hard to see how Olsen can finish with much better numbers. But expect him to be a bigger part of this offense as he steals playing time from Desmond Clark, resulting in career best totals across the board.Despite missing six games last year with knee and rib injuries, the Eagles re-signed Smith to a one-year deal in April. He was limited to 10 games last year and finished with only 22 receptions for 236 yards and one TD. He topped three receptions in a game just twice and failed to surpass 50 yards receiving in a single game. He has talent, but the injuries are a red flag that makes Smith a backup in fantasy leagues this year.
Even with rookie Greg Olsen nipping at his heals for playing time, Clark still came through with a solid season, catching 44 passes for 545 yards and four TDs. He is a dependable option for the Bears, but expect to see Olsen on the field more this year, which limits Clark's upside. Plan on 4-5 TDs as he's a good red zone option, but also expect fewer catches and yards this season.
This rookie from Arizona State provided a spark for the Raiders last year as he caught 44 passes for 444 yards and three TDs. He caught at least three passes in 10 games, but topped 40 yards receiving only four times. He won't put up big numbers with JaMarcus Russell starting at QB, but he's a worthy backup option in case your starting TE goes down to injury.
Baker set career highs last year with 41 catches for 409 yards and three TDs as he caught at least three passes in every game from Weeks 9 through 16. Still, the Jets used their first round pick on TE Dustin Keller and will use Baker more in run-blocking situations and work Keller more into the passing offense. That's not a good recipe for Baker, so temper your enthusiasm on his projections for '08.
After signing a three-year, $9 million deal with Cincinnati in March, Utecht will become the featured tight end for the Bengals in passing situations. Despite playing behind Dallas Clark last year, Utecht caught 31 passes for 364 yards and one TD. The Bengals have never featured the tight end in their passing attack under Carson Palmer, but Utecht could surprise some folks and create a new option for Palmer across the middle.
McMichael was a quiet additon last year in St. Louis as he finished with 39 catches for 429 yards and three TDs. This offense is built around the WRs and RB Steven Jackson, so it's no surprise that McMichael isn't a great fantasy option anymore. Expect similar numbers this year from McMichael, who should be targeted as a backup TE in fantasy drafts.
Smith had surprising success last year as he finished fourth on the team in receptions (32), third in TDs (3) and ninth among all tight ends with a 12.0 yards per catch average. He missed two games with an ankle injury, but still set a career high with 385 receiving yards. He's a worthy backup TE who could fill in nicely during the bye weeks.
During his second season in Arizona, Pope finally showed some promise as he caught 14 passes for 143 yards and three TDs during the last five games. The 6-8 TE finished with only 23 catches, but that final stretch is encouraging. While the Cardinals won't feature Pope in this offense, he has enough talent to at least target as a backup TE for your fantasy team.
Keller led Purdue last year with 68 receptions for 881 yards and seven TDs last year and is built in the same mold as Dallas Clark. The Jets drafted him for his pass catching abilities and realize that he will never be a big run blocker with his 6-4, 240-pound frame. That's OK with fantasy leaguers, who will make him their backup TE this year and hope for future success as he expands his role with the Jets.
Lewis made great strides during his second season with the Jaguars last year, finishing with 37 catches for 391 yards and two TDs. At 6-6, he is a big target in the red zone who has great potential. The Jaguars have never featured the tight end before, but David Garrard is smart enough to look for Lewis near the goal-line. Expect better numbers in '08 as Lewis continues to improve.
Johnson was expected to add a new dimension to the Saints' passing game, but in the end he finished with only two TDs and rather mediocre numbers (48 catches for 378 yards). He was held to 30 receiving yards or fewer in 11 games. Still, the Saints re-signed him to a one-year contract in March. Expect more of the same from Johnson and the Saints in '08.
King had a 10-reception game in Week 8 against the Colts and finished the season with 46 catches for 406 yards and two TDs as he became a worthy free-agent pickup for some fantasy teams. He did this without Jake Delhomme at QB, so there is hope that his number can improve greatly with the veteran back at the helm. This three-year pro out of Virginia Tech has good upside and could be a worthy backup TE this year.
Davis will back up Chris Cooley in Washington, but he has the skills to make his presence felt in '08. Last year at USC, he caught 62 passes for 881 yards (14.2 avg) with eight TDs. He needs to work on his run-blocking skills, but in time he should be a solid, solid TE.
The Seahawks grabbed Carlson in the second round and hope to start him in '08. Last year at Notre Dame, he caught a pass in all 12 games and finished with 40 receptions for 372 yards and three TDs. Seattle hasn't featured the tight end since Mike Holmgren came on board, so we don't expect much, but there is upside to like here.