1. Ladarius Green, UL-Lafayette
If Green stays on the field in 2010, he'll have a huge season. A neck injury robbed him of four games last year, but he still managed to lead his team with 533 receiving yards. Green really caught fire at the end of the year, catching 12 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns during the last two games. It wouldn't be surprising if Green approaches the 1,000-yard range this year, which makes him easily our top tight end target. He's extremely valuable in all formats.
2. Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Kendricks was very impressive as a junior last year, totaling 458 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns despite serving as Wisconsin's second tight end. But Wisconsin's top tight end from a year ago, Garrett Graham, is no longer around, so Kendricks will have the offense to himself. It wouldn't be too surprising if he ended up leading Wisconsin in all receiving categories this year. Kendricks gave a glimpse of whatís to come in 2010 with his bowl game performance against Miami last year, when he caught seven passes for 128 yards.
3. Jordan Reed, Florida
This is almost undoubtedly a much higher ranking for Reed than youíve seen other places, but Reed is the favorite to start at tight end for Florida this year and that makes him a top option by default. Aaron Hernandez led the Gators with 68 receptions from the tight end position last year, and Reed has the athleticism to plug into the same role, even if he can't match Hernandez's production. Another thing to consider with Reed is the possibility that he will play as a wildcat quarterback from time to time, in which instances heíll be a good bet to pick up yardage and touchdowns as a runner. Itís worth noting, however, that the drop-off from the top tight end tier (Green and Kendricks) will perhaps be substantial, so grab one of the top two if you really value top-notch tight end production.
4. Lee Smith, Marshall
Smith only caught 23 passes for 335 yards last year, but that was as the second tight end option in the Marshall offense. His numbers should increase drastically in 2010 because he will inherit the role of the now graduated Cody Slate, who put up over 2,600 yards and 24 touchdowns from the tight end spot during the past four years at Marshall. If the ending of 2010 was any indication, Smith is more than prepared for the new job, as he finished the final four games with 16 catches for 251 yards. As a Tennessee transfer and former four-star recruit, Smith figures to be a major mismatch for Conference USA in 2010.
5. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame
Rudolph was very good as a sophomore last year, catching 31 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns in nine games before a shoulder injury ended his season in the tenth game. He was particularly effective in the first five weeks of the season, totaling 267 yards and all three of his touchdowns in that span. He definitely hit a wall after that, even before the injury struck, but he has the talent to be a playmaker for the duration of the 2010 season. Rudolph has more motivation to play well this year than most other tight ends on this list, as he could find himself going in the first-round of the 2011 NFL Draft if he performs to his full potential.
6. George Bryan, North Carolina State
Itís difficult to say how Bryanís value is affected by the presence or absence of quarterback Russell Wilson, but itís hard to imagine his productivity dropping much even if Wilson takes off for baseball and Mike Glennon ends up starting. Bryan's production might actually go up a bit if Glennon were on the field, because he's presumably less developed as a downfield passer than Wilson is, meaning he'd be looking toward Bryan more often on the short and intermediate routes. In any case, Bryan caught 40 passes for 422 yards and six touchdowns last year. It would have been nice to see a little more consistency in his numbers, but it's hard to complain about that total. He caught four touchdowns as a freshman the year before, so history says he'll pick up where he left off when 2010 starts.
7. Vance McDonald, Rice
If youíre the type who likes to take risks, you might want to rank McDonald higher than this. He enters a Rice offense that's been extremely good to tight ends recently, particularly in 2008. But even in last year's weak Rice passing offense, starter Taylor Wardlow caught 31 passes for 347 yards and one touchdown. McDonald managed ten catches for 104 yards at the same time, but the hope is he'll be more like James Casey in 2010 than Wardlow. There's no way you should expect McDonald to remotely approach Casey's 2008 numbers (111 catches for 1,329 yards and 13 touchdowns), but it wouldn't be shocking if he make it about halfway to that point. In a Rice offense that figures to bounce back in a significant way in 2010, McDonald will be one of the key indicators of its success.
8. Darian Williams, Florida Atlantic
At 6-3 and around just 190 pounds, Williams' title as a tight end is laughable. But that's his technical title in the Florida Atlantic offense, and so he'll be classified in your fantasy league as the same thing. He caught 14 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore last year, but he should be in line for a major increase in production in 2010. Florida Atlantic had five seniors who caught more passes than Williams last year, and two of them were tight ends. Obviously, the Florida Atlantic offense gives a great deal of production to its tight ends, even if they're all wide receivers on any other team. It's hard to imagine Williams failing to approach the 40-catch mark this year.
9. Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern
Dunsmore is really something like a fullback, but he'll be listed at the tight end position for fantasy purposes. He caught 48 passes for 532 yards and three touchdowns last year, and he'll hopefully improve on those numbers with the two top Northwestern pass-catchers from 2009 (Zeke Markshausen and Andrew Brewer) no longer on the team. As is the case with most tight ends, Dunsmore isn't very consistent, but it's something you'll just have to live with if you miss out on one of the top options.
10. Rob Housler, Florida Atlantic
Like his teammate, Darian Williams, Housler is in reality nothing more than a tall receiver. But his formal distinction as a tight end makes him very valuable in fantasy football, because the Owls offense is largely built on its tight ends. Housler redshirted last year after catching 32 passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns in 2008, so he'll be an instant factor again this year. We ranked Williams barely ahead of Housler just because we figure Williams has a bit less rust and a bit more upside, but the truth is that their values are probably interchangeable until one establishes himself as Florida Atlanticís definite top target at tight end.
11. Dwayne Allen, Clemson Allen is a relative unknown at the moment, but he should make an impact in 2010. Heís a former four-star recruit who could have played just about anywhere, and he earned regular playing time as a redshirt freshman last year. Despite playing as the team's second tight end, he caught ten passes for 108 yards and three touchdowns. Allen is a good blocker so you know he'll be on the field for red-zone and playaction situations, which maximizes his production potential. Michael Palmer started at tight end for Clemson last year and caught 43 passes for 507 yard and four touchdowns. We expect Allen to do something similar, if not better.
12. Jack Doyle, Western Kentucky Doyle was very good as a freshman last year, catching 37 passes for 365 yards and a touchdown. He's one of the most respected players on the team and should see his production increase in 2010, hopefully in the touchdown department in particular. He deserves serious consideration in all league types and could be a top-10 fantasy tight end nationwide.
13. Joe Halahuni, Oregon State
Halahuni is almost definitely the Pac-10's best tight end entering 2010. He caught 35 passes and went for 486 yards and three touchdowns last year, which ranked second among Pac-10 tight ends behind Ed Dickson. With Dickson gone this year, Halahuni is quite valuable in Pac-10-only leagues and is worth consideration in other formats, too.
14. Luke Stocker, Tennessee
Stocker just barely missed our top-ten, and we thought he was too good to not get mentioned. He finished 2009 with 29 receptions for 389 yards and five touchdowns, but he might be able to do better in 2010. Tennessee's new quarterback, whether it's Matt Simms or Tyler Bray, wonít be as good at throwing the ball downfield as Jon Crompton was last year. That means there will be more check-down passes, which could result in Stocker receiving more catches than last year.
15. David Blackburn, Central Michigan
Blackburn has the chance to do very good things in 2010. He caught 12 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore in 2009, and most of Central Michigan's top receivers from a year ago are gone. He should be leaned on fairly heavily by a new starting quarterback who's probably afraid to throw too far downfield.
16. Weslye Saunders, South Carolina
Saunders is obviously one of the nation's most talented tight ends, but he's yet to really put it all together. As he heads into his senior year and tries to turn himself into a high NFL Draft pick, this seems like as good of a time as ever for him to take it to the next level. He was serviceable last year, catching 32 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns, but the hope is that he'll return to the red-zone factor he was in previous years, when he scored almost once every five catches in 2008.
17. Marcus Green, Mississippi State
Green has a chance to be one of the nation's better tight ends in 2010. He caught 27 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore last year, and it's be very impressive if he could improve on that this year. The SEC is full of good tight ends, so don't take him too high in SEC-only leagues, but know you'll have a good contributor relative to typical tight end production if you land Green.
18. Mike McNeill, Nebraska
It's difficult to tell just what is up with McNeill right now, but he apparently is being listed at wide receiver for Nebraska. It's hard to tell what Nebraska has to gain from that, but it obviously negates McNeill's fantasy value if he's technically listed at receiver. 19. Virgil Green, Nevada
Green might be the top tight end in the WAC this year, as he caught 23 passes for 260 yards and five touchdowns as a junior in 2009. Dennis Morris is gone, and now the top ranking in the conference is up for Green's taking. He's worth a pretty high pick in WAC-only leagues and is a good option in all other formats, too.
20. Chris Pantale, Boston College Pantale did very well for himself as a freshman last year, catching 25 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown. He has the look of a complete tight end and should improve on those numbers in 2010, especially with the departure of Rich Gunnell.
21. Ryan Griffin, Connecticut
The Big East is a bit light at tight end this year, but Griffin is a fairly established option after his promising 2009 freshman season. Griffin is a big target and showed a lot of potential while catching 23 passes for 272 yards in 11 games last year. That includes a particularly impressive six-catch, 80-yard performance against the tough Rutgers defense. Connecticut lost its top 2009 pass-catcher in wide receiver Marcus Easley this offseason, and Griffin should get a nice chunk of the opportunity created by Easleyís vacancy.
22. Orson Charles, Georgia
Charles is definitely one of the best fantasy tight ends in the SEC, and he has the potential to be one of the best nationwide. Actually, if it weren't for the fact that he has to share catches with another very talented tight end in Aron White, Charles would possibly be the absolute best fantasy tight end. He caught 23 passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns last year, and he should definitely improve this year. He's a very high upside option.
23. DeAngelo Peterson, LSU
Peterson is a converted wide receiver with all the skills to thrive as a tight end. He only caught five passes last season, but was one of the stars of off-season practice. Peterson is poised for a breakout season, and should establish himself as one of Jordan Jefferson's favorite targets. Richard Dickson caught 31 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns from the tight end spot two years ago, and Peterson will hopefully find that sort of production. He's worth a depth pick in SEC-only leagues and has a lot of upside.
24. David Paulson, Oregon
Paulson inherits the role in the Oregon offense that was previously held by Ed Dickson, one of the top fantasy tight ends of 2009. Paulson caught 12 passes for 185 yards as the team's second tight end last year, demonstrating a good amount of big-play ability and reason to believe heíll succeed in 2010. Itís a little much to expect Paulson to match Dicksonís 2009 numbers (42 catches for 551 yards and six touchdowns), but itíd be a disappointment if he didnít emerge as one of the best options in the Pac-10.
25. Coby Fleener, Stanford
Fleener caught 21 passes for 266 yards and one touchdown as a sophomore last year, but he'll have a good chance to improve on those numbers as quarterback Andre Luck presumably posts bigger numbers than in last year. Beware of Konrad Reuland stealing playing time, but Fleener is a top Pac-10 tight end option and is worth consideration in other formats, too.
26. Brandon Barden, Vanderbilt
Barden is a very good tight end who would put up much better numbers if he weren't stuck in an offense with a hopelessly bad passing game. He caught 29 passes for 367 yards and one touchdown last year, but he has the ability to do more if the quarterback play improves for Vandy.
27. D.J. Williams, Arkansas
You can certainly do worse than Williams and he remains a decent option in SEC-only leagues, but we donít at all buy the talk of him being one of the best in the country. His 61 receptions for 723 yards and three touchdowns in 2008 was more indicative of the team's inability to throw the ball downfield than it was of Williamsí actual effectiveness. Williams still posted a respectable total of 32 catches for 411 yards and three touchdowns last year, but we think those numbers will drop a bit more in 2010. Arkansas' very young wideouts from 2009 return, and as many as four of them will catch more passes than Williams this year. Jordan Reed, Luke Stocker, Orson Charles, Weslye Saunders and Marcus Green are all better options in the SEC, in our view.
28. Jeffery Anderson, UAB
Anderson showed last year that he didn't need many catches to rack up the touchdowns, as he found the end zone five times despite catching just 26 passes. The worry with him in 2010 is that long-time UAB quarterback Joe Webb is no longer around, and the new guy, David Isabelle, is a complete unknown as a passer. Anderson remains valuable in CUSA-only leagues, but outside of them he might not be worth much consideration.
29. D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers
Connecticutís Griffin is the top Big East tight end for now, but Jefferson has the athleticism to become an elite tight end. Whether heís able to put it all together isnít as clear, but he seems to have the Rutgers starting tight end spot to himself, so heíll have the opportunity. Jefferson is a very big target who was recruited as a quarterback but moved to tight end after it was clear that Tom Savage was the quarterback of the future for Rutgers. As a former quarterback, Jefferson should have an advanced knowledge of how to make himself open for Savage. Heís worth gambling on as a starting tight end in Big East-only leagues.
30. Luke Willson, Rice
Willson is probably the No. 2 tight end for Rice, but he has a chance to be a fantasy factor this year anyway. He caught seven passes for 122 yards and a touchdown as a freshman in 2009, and the team doesn't really have enough receiver talent to support the passing game it figures to run. Willson is worth keeping an eye on in CUSA-only leagues.
31. Ben Thayer, Eastern Michigan
Thayer did pretty well as a junior last year, catching 29 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns. He's no big-play threat, but he is a serviceable tight end option in MAC-only leagues.
32. Alvin Jordan, UL-Monroe
Jordan totaled 24 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns last year and should improve in 2010. UL-Monroe's inexperienced quarterbacks should continue to lean on him as reliable check-down option.
33. Alston Umuolo, San Diego State
Umuolo should be a top tight end option in MWC-only leagues and deserves consideration in other formats, too. He caught 22 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns as a junior in 2009, so he might be able to improve a bit this year.
34. Anthony Miller, California
It probably wouldnít be prudent to take Miller ahead of Halahuni or Paulson in the Pac-10, but it wouldnít be surprising if he put up the bigger numbers in 2010. He caught 26 passes for 357 yards in just 11 games last year, and his yardage per game average was only about five yards less than Halahuniís. If Miller can become a factor in the red-zone, he could be in line for a big year in 2010.
35. Danny Noble, Toledo
Noble finished third on the team with 26 catches for 257 yards and one touchdown last year, but his production should increase in 2010 given the departure of star wideout Stephen Williams. He's a sleeper to be one of the nation's better fantasy tight ends.
36. Kyle Efaw, Boise State
Efaw is technically the backup tight end, but he sees plenty of playing time and is the Broncos' primary receiving threat at the position. Last season he caught 31 passes for 444 yards and a touchdown, displaying the hands and athleticism to complement Tommy Gallarda's blocking. He's worth a significant selection in MWC-only leagues and is worth keeping an eye on in other formats.
37. Zack Pianalto, North Carolina
Pianalto has major durability issues, but he's one of the nation's most productive tight ends when he's on the field. He caught 33 passes for 334 yards and a touchdown in nine games last year, and hopefully he'll be this year's Tony Moeaki. He's a top tight end option in ACC-only leagues and deserves consideration in all formats.
38. Ben Guidugli, Cincinnati
Guidugli is a fine player and a decent tight end option in Big East-only leagues, but expectations should be lowered for him heading into this year. Outside of a fluke game against Illinois where he caught seven passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, he wasn't particularly productive. Outside that game, he averaged the following numbers in each contest: 1.67 catches for 18 yards and .08 touchdowns.
39. Evan Rodriguez, Temple
Rodriguez caught 14 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns last year, and those numbers could increase with improved quarterback play. In general, Rodriguez shouldn't draw consideration outside of MAC-only leagues.
40. David Tooley, Wyoming
Tooley only caught seven passes last year, but he figures to be more involved in the Wyoming offense in 2010. Those seven catches he caught in his freshman season went for an impressive 115 yards and a touchdown, showing Tooley's potential as a pass-catcher. The No. 1 tight end in the Wyoming offense last year caught 17 passes for 172 yards in ten games, and Tooley is probably a better talent who should improve on those numbers.