An Early Gander at Fantasy Football Tight Ends

This is an early peek at fantasy football tight ends for the upcoming 2015 season.  From year to year, the tight end position has traditionally offered few elite options, with a far more prevalent field of mediocre options. Factors including free agent movement, rookies entering the league and the relentless approach of father time change the landscape year after year.  In this early look at the tight end position for the 2015 season; we examine a sample of players that may remain at the top, players that may be poised for a regression in performance, and players that may provide a positive surprise for fantasy owners in 2015.

Elite TE Options:

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

Fantasy owners have often said that if Gronkowski were to stay healthy his fantasy ceiling would be elite.  In 2014 Gronkowski proved that he is indeed the top tight end in football when healthy as he posted tremendous stats on the season with 82 receptions, 1,124 yards, and 12 TDs.  He also proved that he was consistent which is a coveted trait in fantasy football is as he scored in 11 of his 16 games started.  Although there is concern with Tom Brady missing time this season due to suspension, Gronkowski is clearly the top talent at the position entering 2015, and should be drafted accordingly.

Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks

Graham has been the top tight end in fantasy season after season in New Orleans; however in 2014 his production took a step backwards.  Last season Graham still produced at a high level with 85 receptions, 889 yards, and 10 TDs, unfortunately each of these marks were down from the ’13 season.  There are huge concerns over his opportunity for targets in 2015 with his move to Seattle, however Graham has proven that he has elite talent, and with Russell Wilson continuing to take substantial steps forward as an NFL passer, Graham should still produce as a top tight even with a certain degree of regression in 2015.  This may be year to grab Graham at a discount vs. fantasy value.

Exercise Caution:

Julius Thomas, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars

The fact that Thomas may be a risky investment this fantasy season is more than a little obvious, and yet it must be called out.  Through the first five weeks of the 2014 season Thomas had already scored nine TDs and was rewarding his fantasy owners in bunches.  Unfortunately Thomas abruptly stopped producing and quietly slid off into fantasy irrelevance scoring zero touchdowns following week 10.  Thomas’s move to Jacksonville may very well be move that Thomas’s fantasy value may not be able to overcome.  With little confidence in performance throughout the rest of the Jaguars offense, it may be best to avoid Thomas all together in 2015, unless an owner decides to wait until the late stages to fill the position.

Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys

For years Witten has been the most consistent fantasy stats producing tight end in the NFL, however last season Witten had his worst season to date.  In 2014 Witten produced poor stats across the board, his 64 receptions were his lowest total since ’06, his 703 yards was his lowest mark since his rookie season in ’03, and his 90 targets in ’14 was also his lowest mark since his ’06 season.  Fantasy owners may attribute the breakout performance of DeMarco Murray and Witten’s increased role in the blocking schemes as the reason for his sudden decline.  It is important to note there is no indication that the Cowboys’ philosophy will change in ’15, and with Witten entering the season at age 32, his days of reliability in the fantasy game may be over.

Potential Value Targets:

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

When in doubt in fantasy sports, look for the players that are in the post-hype phase of their career.  Entering 2014, Kelce was thought to be a breakout rookie that would dominate at the tight end position.  Unfortunately a knee injury significantly slowed Kelce’s progress in the NFL, and decreased his effectiveness in the passing game last season although he still finished 6th among tight ends in fantasy scoring.  Kelce finished the season averaging over 11 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues, with 67 receptions, 862 yards, and five TDs.  Entering this season, he appears to have a clean bill of health, and it is hard to argue that his skill set is elite (77% catch rate in 2014).  With stability at QB, and an improved receiving corps around him with the addition of Jeremy Maclin, Kelce is primed for a huge sophomore season.

Jordan Cameron, TE, Miami Dolphins

Cameron posted career high totals in 2013 with 80 receptions, 917 yards, and seven TDs.  Entering 2014, he was a top target at the tight end position for most fantasy owners, unfortunately Cameron did not deliver on the high expectations.  Cameron navigated through an injury plagued season with only 24 receptions, 424 yards, and two TDs.  The Browns offense went from bad to worse as the season progressed and Cameron was not able to establish production even once he was back to full playing time.  With the move to Miami he may be in for a return to form in 2015.  The Dolphins targeted their tight ends on 119 instances in ’14 which should indicate elevated targets for Cameron in an offense with multiple weapons.  If he can remain on the field, he may be in for a significant return to the top tier tight ends in 2015.

Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers

Fantasy owners may have the opportunity to cash in on the recency bias that many fantasy owners may be feeling in 2015 following a near catastrophic fantasy season from Davis in 2014.  Davis saw his passing targets plummet from 84 in 2013 to only 50 in 2014, including only seven targets over the final month of the season.  Davis has proven his athletic ability as a receiver as he posted 850 yards, and 13 TDs receiving in 2013.  Davis will enter 2015 at age 31, yet with the introduction of a new coaching staff and offensive philosophy fantasy owners should expect a much improved if not bounce back performance in 2015.  Of course, Colin Kaepernick is still taking the snaps under center which means that nothing is guaranteed.

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