The year of the tight end has come and gone in fantasy football.
After breakout performances in 2011 by the likes of New England’s Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, tight ends’ fantasy value was poised to be at an all-time high.
But it hasn’t happened.
While Gronkowski (104 points in nine games in standard scoring ESPN leagues) is still the leading scorer at his position, he’s below the pace of his 2011 season, when he finished with 233 fantasy points. The same is true of Graham, who had 187 points last year but has just 92 this season (he missed most of two games with an ankle injury), third most at the position behind Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez (95).
Those are the only three players at the position averaging at least 10 points per week.
Leading the list of underachievers is San Francisco’s Vernon Davis, who was a consensus top-5 tight end who’s currently eighth in positional scoring. That might not sound too bad, but consider: Davis hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week Three, and only once since then scored at least 10 fantasy points in a game (a five-catch, 106-yard performance against the Bills in Week Five).
Since that game against Buffalo, Davis hasn’t cracked 37 yards receiving in a game.
Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley is right behind Davis as a disappointment. You have to scroll all the way down to 27th on the list of leading tight end scorers to find Finley’s name. Even Finley’s backup, Tom Crabtree, is outscoring him this season, 33 to 27. Since scoring a touchdown in the season opener, Finley has basically played himself out of the offense. He can safely be dropped in any fantasy format.
San Diego’s Antonio Gates has long been the gold standard at tight end, but his production is also down. He ranks 14th in positional scoring, but has come on of late with four touchdowns in San Diego’s past four games.
Dallas’ Jason Witten is another long-time performer at the position whose production has been inconsistent this year. Witten had a remarkable 18-catch, 167-yard game in Week Eight against the Giants, and also had a 13-catch, 112-yard game with a touchdown in Week Four against Chicago. That was his only touchdown of the season, though, and he ranks ninth in positional scoring.
Injuries have taken a toll at the position. Washington’s Fred Davis was a preseason top 10 at the position, but is on injured reserve because of a ruptured Achilles tendon. New England’s Aaron Hernandez has missed six of nine games because of a high ankle sprain.
With so many stars struggling, it’s not a surprise to see some unexpected names among the top-10 performers. Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller is fourth with 77 fantasy points; he had a preseason ranking of No. 25 from ESPN’s fantasy staff. Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph is sixth with 64 points (up from a preseason ranking of 20th), while Buffalo’s Scott Chandler is 10th (60 points) after being rated No. 24 to start the year.
Miller, Rudolph and Chandler have at least five touchdown receptions, which explains their rankings. None of them has a 100-yard receiving game, underscoring the lack of productivity at the position in 2012.
Saints yielding big numbers
The New Orleans Saints’ defense is a strong contender for what I call the reverse triple crown – the unit allowing the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.
The Saints are giving up the most points to quarterbacks (21.4 in standard scoring ESPN leagues) and receivers (28.8) and the second most to running backs (22.1), trailing only the Buffalo Bills in that category.
That’s good news this week for the Oakland Raiders, whose quarterback, Carson Palmer, has thrown for 782 yards and six touchdowns in the past two weeks. Palmer is what Yahoo! Sports’ Brad Evans calls a “garbage time all-star,” meaning he does most of his passing from behind. Of his 375 pass attempts, Yahoo! found that 70 percent (261) have come when Oakland was trailing.
The Saints’ offense is humming, so Palmer could find himself playing from behind again. His favorite target has been Denarius Moore, who has a touchdown in four of his past five games. If you need a sleeper receiver, you can also consider Oakland’s Darius Heyward-Bey, who had 82 yards and a touchdown in Week 10. Be aware that Heyward-Bey is questionable with a hamstring injury.
Oakland’s rushing attack might get Darren McFadden this week back, but he’s unlikely to be at 100 percent because of a high ankle sprain. The better play would be Marcel Reece, the former college receiver who has been a frequent target of Palmer’s passes the past two weeks.
Bye weeks: Minnesota, New York Giants, Seattle, Tennessee.