Are you ready for some fantasy football? Whether you are an agent, financial planner, or even an NFL player yourself, you are most likely going to be fielding a team this year. Our resident football analyst, Brandon Thorn, will be churning out posts to help you make your picks leading up to the start of the 2009 NFL season. Every post will include his top 10 at a specific position along with his sleepers, who you should consider picking up in the late rounds. The TEs are below.
1. TE Jason Witten ~ Dallas Cowboys = Witten put up with a lot of distractions last season; he was accused of being a rat, and was under plenty of media scrutiny. All he did was catch 81 passes for 952 yards and 4 touchdowns. Considering offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s head was spinning trying to please everyone as well as QB Tony Romo’s manhood coming into question for not standing up to Terrell Owens, Witten had an excellent year. His touchdown numbers were very low, but those will at least double this upcoming season. With T.O. out of town and the team shifting to more of a balanced attack, Witten will once again become Romo’s favorite target. In 2007 Witten had 96 receptions for 1,145 yards; expect numbers similar to these in 2009.
2. TE Antonio Gates ~ San Diego Chargers = The 6 year pro out of Kent State had 704 yards and 8 touchdowns last year which was his lowest in both since the 2003 season. Given that Gates will only be 29 by the start of this season and the fact that he hasn’t missed a game in three years, his numbers should rise once again to his average which is around 975-1,000 yards and 9-10 touchdowns.
3. TE Tony Gonzalez ~ Atlanta Falcons = Tony Gonzalez last season at age 32, on a rebuilding team, posted 96 catches for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns. It is easy to see why he is the NFL’s all-time leader for tight ends in virtually everything including yards, catches, and touchdowns. This first ballot hall of famer now is in Atlanta on an up and coming team lead by 2nd year sensation QB Matt Ryan. Ryan didn’t have a potent weapon in the middle of the field and he has no idea what it’s like to have such a reliable security blanket when he gets in trouble. This could be a spectacular year for Ryan and Gonzalez, so don’t be afraid to gamble and take Gonzalez ahead of Gates.
4. TE Dallas Clark ~ Indianapolis Colts = Clark has been one of the most underrated tight ends in the game for years due to the three names listed above. The Colts lost a fixture in the offense when WR Marvin Harrison was let go, so Peyton will be looking in Clark’s direction more than in years past. Clark had 77 receptions for 848 yards and 6 touchdowns last year, so with fewer options ahead of him in 2009, all of these numbers could be repeated if not improved on.
5. TE Greg Olsen ~ Chicago Bears = This is where things get interesting. The four names above Olsen are all proven players who are almost guaranteed to get 60+ catches, 800+ yards and 6-10 touchdowns. Olsen, in his 2nd season last year had 54 catches for 574 yards and 5 touchdowns. In 2009 there will be one guy who could single handily improve Olsen’s numbers in a big way and it’s QB Jay Cutler. Cutler loves going to the tight end (think Tony Scheffler in Denver) and Olsen is as big of a threat down the field as anyone. With his incredible speed and excellent size, he is the prototypical tight end. Expect some big things out of Chicago’s offense this year and it all starts with what type of connection Cutler & Olsen can develop.
6. TE Owen Daniels ~ Houston Texans = Entering his 4th season, Daniels is quietly becoming a very good tight end. Last year he was 3rd in the NFL among tight ends with 862 yards but his problem was finding the end zone which he only visited twice. It is certain that number will improve this season barring an injury, Daniels is a very reliable choice as your starting tight end and he has the potential to gain 900 yards and score 5-7 touchdowns for your team.
7. TE Kellen Winslow ~ Tampa Bay Bucs = Winslow is on a new team this season and the fresh start could be just what he needed to get back on track. Being closer to his alma mater Miami could either hurt or really help his focus on the field. I expect him to have a huge chip on his shoulder and redeem himself as one of the top 5 tight ends in the NFL. Winslow missed half the season last year (8 games) so his numbers were way down. The Bucs also traded last year’s starter TE Alex Smith to the Patriots, so the tight end position is all Winslow’s. Draft him with caution, but expect a big year from the 5 year pro, especially in the touchdown department.
8. TE Chris Cooley ~ Washington Redskins = Cooley is one of the more versatile tight ends in the league with his ability to play H-back so effectively. Last season he was 4th in the NFL in receiving yards among tight ends with 849 and 2nd in receptions with 83. If you thought Owen Daniels didn’t score enough touchdowns, Cooley only had one touchdown all of last year. This too I fully expect to rise as well. The Redskins are very unproven at receiver aside from WR Santana Moss. Cooley is a guy who gets a lot of short throws, so his touchdown numbers should rise significantly next season.
9. TE John Carlson ~ Seattle Seahawks = Carlson last year as a rookie had 55 catches for 627 yards and 5 touchdowns while only starting 9 games. He was 7th in the NFL among tight ends in first down receptions with 36. Some of the reason why he got so many balls thrown his way was because of the devastating injuries the Seahawks suffered in their receiving corps. Next season with veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck returning from injury, he should find great comfort in having such a reliable target in the middle of the field. Expect Carlson to continue to get better and improve all his numbers from last season.
10. TE Zach Miller ~ Oakland Raiders = Miller was one of the few bright spots on the Raider team and was QB JaMarcus Russell’s favorite target all year long. Miller had 56 catches for 778 yards in his second season. He only scored one touchdown which isn’t too surprising considering the Raiders didn’t score many touchdowns at all. Miller also led the NFL in 20+ yard receptions with 16. Next year you would expect an improvement from Oakland, frankly you can’t get much worse, so Miller’s touchdown numbers especially, should rise to the 5-7 range.
1. TE Vernon Davis ~ San Francisco 49ers = Davis has been a sleeper for the last couple seasons now, but I expect him to somewhat fulfill his enormous potential. Davis has developed into one of the best blocking tight ends in football which doesn’t do anything for fantasy owners. Davis last year had 31 catches for 358 yards and 2 touchdowns. Entering his 4th season, Davis will be called upon to become a more reliable target for QB Shaun Hill, who needs a target in the middle of the field. The drafting of WR Michael Crabtree should open up the middle of the field more, and give Davis more opportunities to develop into a legitimate receiving option in the offense.
2. TE Anthony Fasano ~ Miami Dolphins = Fasano shouldn’t be considered too much of a sleeper anymore but in case you have him undervalued consider this a friendly reminder. Fasano was tied for 3rd in the NFL last season in touchdowns with seven, and also had 454 yards receiving on only 34 receptions for a 13.4 yard average. QB Chad Pennington is a short to intermediate passer, and Fasano is his security blanket, so drafting Fasano earlier rather than later is a good idea. I would have him ranked 11th in my rankings as well.
3. TE Billy Miller ~ New Orleans Saints = Miller replaced TE Jeremy Shockey last season when he went out and had a very impressive 45 receptions for 579 yards and a touchdown. While Shockey will be the starter coming into this season, an injury or off the field issue seems likely. If this does happen Miller would be a great option to pick up, especially considering he is playing in the #1 offense in football from last season.
4. TE Chase Coffman ~ Cincinnati Bengals = Picked in the 3rd round out of Missouri was the team’s all-time leader in touchdowns for a tight end and also tied a NCAA all-time record with 90 receptions in a single season. Coming into Cinci, he gives the team something they never had while QB Carson Palmer has been there, a pass catching threat in the middle of the field. Palmer will use this to his advantage, so expect Coffman to have one of if not the best years of any rookie tight end in the NFL.