The Never-Too-Early 2013 TE Rankings
The next chapter in our series of Never-Too-Early Rankings for the 2013 season revolves around the tight end position. On the whole, the position looks top-heavy, with only a handful of standouts before a big tier of similarly productive players. For that reason, it's likely that we'll be recommending that owners draft Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham in the first three rounds.
1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Gronk's numbers slipped a bit (from 15.1 PPG in 2011 to 13.0 in 2012), but he was still far and away the top TE on a per game basis. From a pure value standpoint, when we project his stats for a full season, he's going to hold 1st or 2nd round value. Here's the question that fantasy owners have to ask themselves: Is he injury-prone or has he just had a run of bad luck? Because if it's the latter and Gronk puts in a full season, he's going to put up 1st round numbers.
2. Jimmy Graham, Saints
Like Rob Gronkowski, Graham's per game numbers slipped (from 12.3 PPG in 2011 to 10.1 PPG in 2012). He was battling injuries throughout the season, so there's a good possibility that he'll bounce back in 2013. He holds extra value in PPR formats.
4. Jason Witten, Cowboys
Witten only caught three TDs, which is quite low considering he finished with a career-high 110 receptions. If he continues to see 9+ targets per game, he should find the endzone a bit more often in 2013.
5. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
It looks as if Gonzalez is going to return for another season provided he the Falcons agree to let him miss a portion of training camp. He finished #3 in fantasy PPG in 2012 and #6 in 2011 so another top 5 season is well within reach.
6. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
2012 was a tale of three seasons for Kyle Rudolph. He started the season on fire, averaging 4.2-38-0.83 (TE3 numbers) in his first six games, but his production dropped off a cliff in Weeks 7-9, where he caught just two total passes for 17 yards. He then finished the season with 3.7-36-0.57 (TE11 numbers) over his final seven games, which actually included a goose egg versus the Bears. He's a good young tight end and should become more consistent with experience.
7. Dennis Pitta, Ravens
Like Rudolph, Pitta is another young player who went through a lull after a hot start, and then finished the season pretty strong. He averaged 6.0-63-0.66 in his first three games, then didn't gain more than 34 yards or score a TD until Week 10. He finished with an average of 3.6-45-0.63 in his last eight games, and that included two clunkers against Pittsburgh (1-5, 1-19) and a goose egg against the Bengals in Week 17.
8. Greg Olsen, Panthers
Olsen finished TE10 on a per game basis and TE6 in total points. He was dealing with a serious personal issue involving the birth of his daughter for much of the season, but still finished with 69-843-5. He should progress in 2013.
9. Vernon Davis, 49ers
From a pure talent standpoint, Davis should be higher on this list, but he is wildly underutilized in the San Francisco offense. His 3.8 targets per game ranked 29th in the league below guys like Anthony Fasano, Rob Housler and Lance Kendricks. Davis was 9th in that category in 2010 and 10th in 2011, so the 49ers should get Davis more involved in 2013. He followed up a 6-106-1 line against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game with 8-104 in the Super Bowl. When he saw 6+ targets in 2012, he averaged 5.3-88-.83. Those are Gronk-type numbers.
10. Owen Daniels, Texans
Daniels faded down the stretch (3.6-34-0.14 in his last seven games) after averaging 4.6-60-0.63 (TE3 numbers) in his first eight games. He struggled with injuries in the second half of the season. Until the Texans find a bona fide WR2, Daniels will continue to be heavily targeted.
11. Jermichael Finley, Packers
Finley seems to have a tantalizing skill set, but drops have been a serious problem throughout his career and he tends to put the blame on some mysterious lack of chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. But over the last seven games, Finley averaged 4.6-57-.14, which equate to TE10 numbers over the course of a full season. HC Mike McCarthy said that Finley was a "different man" after the team's Week 10 bye, so Finley's strong finish may translate to 2013, assuming the Packers bring him back.
12. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
Gresham was TE11 in PPG and total fantasy points scored. He's not an elite talent, but he saw the 9th-most targets among TEs in 2012, and is heavily involved in the Bengals offense. Expect fringe starter status again in 2013.
13. Antonio Gates, Chargers
Gates had his worst season since his rookie year, finishing with just 49 catches for 538 yards and seven TDs. Those touchdowns were his saving grace, but it sure looks like the soon-to-be 33-year-old has hit the wall.
14. Heath Miller, Steelers
Miller had arguably his best season as a pro, racking up 71 catches (on 101 targets) for 816 yards and eight TDs. He was 8th in total targets (101) and targets per game (6.7), and with Mike Wallace likely leaving Pittsburgh this offseason, he could see triple-digit targets again in 2013. However, he's coming off a torn ACL, so he may not be ready to play in August.
15. Brandon Myers, FA
Myers was 4th in targets among TEs, but if he returns to Oakland, he's facing a possible change at QB as the Raiders may move on from Carson Palmer. This could impact his looks, which would impact his production.
16. Martellus Bennett, FA
After a hot start (5.0-62-1.0 in the first three games), Bennett only cracked the 50-yard mark once in the next eight games, and failed to find the endzone during that span. He finished the season with two TDs in his final five games. Eli Manning likes to throw to his TE, so if Bennett returns to the Giants, he should hold fringe starter status again in 2013.
17. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
Pettigrew finished 7th in total targets after finishing 2nd in that category in 2011, so he's a big part of the Lions offense. But he has just eight total TDs in the last two seasons, which makes him more of a PPR TE at this point.
18. Jared Cook, FA
We keep waiting for Cook to put it together. He'll show flashes of production, but will then be barely involved the following week. He was 16th in targets per game (5.6), which was an increase from his 2011 numbers (5.1).
21. Zach Miller, Seahawks
Miller didn't do much during the regular season (38-396-3), but he did post 12 catches (on 15 targets) for 190 yards and a TD in two playoff games against the Redskins and Falcons. He's just 27, and had a couple of very solid seasons for the Raiders in 2009 and 2010.