Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fantasy Football Rookies: Tight Ends

Over the past few years, the Tight End position has either been a make or break point for most Fantasy Football owners. If you can secure a top tier player, this 'extra receiver' can garner you a lot of extra points. The problem is, there are only a few select players that can reach those high production levels and rarely is it ever a Rookie.

In 2007, the top ranked rookie TE's were: Zach Miller (Raiders) 44 catches 444 yards 3TD; Greg Olsen (Bears) 39 catches 391 yards 2TD; and Brent Celek (Eagles) 16 catches 178 1TD. Not really mind-blowing numbers in terms of fantasy points potential.

In comparison, the top ranked TE's overall last year were: Tony Gonzalez (Chiefs) 99 catches 1,172 yards 5 TD; Jason Witten (Cowboys) 96 catches 1,145 yards 7 TD; Kellen Winslow (Browns) 82 catches 1,106 yards 5 TD; and Antonio Gates (Chargers) 75 catches 984 yards 9TD. Each of these players were difference makers on the field and for fantasy owners everywhere. Yet, none of these players just listed had breakout years statistically as rookies either. For example: Gonzalez 33 catches 368 yards 2TD; Witten 35 catches 347 yards 1TD; Winslow 5 catches 50 yards 0TD; and Gates 24 catches 389 yards 2TD. These numbers are much more on par with what the numbers put up by the 2007 class. (And just for fun, 2006's "future changer of the TE position" Vernon Davis (49ers) put up a whopping 20 catches 265 yards and 3TD in his rookie campaign).

So, where does this leave us for the 2008 TE Rookie class? While there are not any solid blue-chip players hyped up in this group of players, here is my rankings for the best opportunity for a Fantasy impact this season:

1) Dustin Keller (New York Jets) I am not big on Keller, yet compared with the rest of the class, he has the most potential given the situation. He burst onto the scene at this year's scouting combine (Not at the level of Vernon Davis in 2006 or Greg Olsen in 2007) but was ranked in the Top 10 in all 7 events. At 6'3 248 pounds, Keller possesses a defined and athletic body. He has good explosion off the line of scrimmage, has good field vision, can separate from defenders and can stretch the field; something the Jets have been looking for out of this position. While not as good of a blocker as his competition, TE Chris Baker, he is much more of a threat in the passing game. The biggest question is who the QB will be in New York and can that player get the ball down the field. Adding big free agents to the OL this year, the Jets look to become a more marquee running team which could keep Keller off the field. Still, he has the most potential to get playing time and opportunities being a 1st round pick.

2) John Carlson (Seattle Seahawks) He goes to a good situation in Seattle where the Seahawks need a TE who can become a passing target. Last year they only got 28 catches 273 yards and 2TD out of recently departed TE Marcus Pollard (Patriots). At 6'5 251 pounds, Carlson is a big target that displays toughness and aggressiveness when going after the ball. He is not a great blocker nor has the speed to burst down field, he is more of a one-cut runner that is great at sitting in a zone. Playing for a lousy Notre Dame team in 2007, Carlson still showed leadership and consistency averaging about 4 catches for 40 yards a game. Keep an eye out for lingering knee problems that has kept him off the playing field in the past.

3) Martellus Bennett (Dallas Cowboys) This is considered a sleeper pick. While Dallas has an excellent TE in Jason Witten, expect Bennett to get some opportunities with TE Anthony Fasano traded to Miami. At 6'6 259 pounds, he contains excellent size, strength and quickness to potentially be the most well rounded athlete at the TE position. He is an aggressive blocker and has the frame to make an immediate impact in the passing game. He played collegiate basketball at Texas A&M so expect him to use his body well to shield defenders and use his long reach to grab plenty of jump balls out of the air. He needs to work on his route running and work more on his down field speed. Dallas has an excellent offense with gunslinger QB Tony Romo at the helm and should utilize the TE's more with a thinned out WR corps. For Fantasy purposes, keep an eye on Bennett for now and snag him off the wire if Witten goes down with an injury.

Runners up: Fred Davis (Washington Redskins) and Jermichael Finley (Green Bay Packers)

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