1. Tyler Eifert, Jr., Notre Dame
The top fantasy tight end entering 2012, Eifert is coming off a 2011 season in which he caught 63 passes for 803 yards and five touchdowns, and with the departure of wideout Michael Floyd (100 receptions in 2011), a push for 80 catches is entirely possible. The Notre Dame offense passes often, and Eifert is the team's best receiver. He's a top talent in a great situation.
2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, So., Washington
ASJ might be the nation's most talented tight end, and he's a good bet to put the most heat on Tyler Eifert in the race to be the nation's best fantasy tight end in 2012. As a true freshman last year ASJ immediately overwhelmed defenses, burning opponents for 538 yards and six touchdowns on 41 catches. He should see more targets in 2012, because Washington's top two receivers from last year (Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar) both graduated, leaving the Huskies with 88 catches unaccounted for heading into 2012. ASJ is arguably the top tight end to draft after Eifert.
3. Ryan Otten, SR., San Jose State
Otten might just have as much upside as top-ranked TE Tyler Eifert. Otten has shown a lot of big-play ability the last two years, catching 64 passes for 899 yards and eight touchdowns in his last 14 games. He has a slightly lower floor than most of the other elite fantasy tight ends, though, because he missed a game last year and missed most of the 2010 season. Still, he needs to be owned in all leagues.
4. Gavin Escobar, Jr., San Diego State
Escobar is one of the nation's best fantasy tight ends and a good bet to push for top-three status in that regard. He caught 51 passes for 780 yards and seven scores last year, and he should be good for something similar in 2012. The loss of quarterback Ryan Lindley is a concern, but Oregon State transfer Ryan Katz should be a good enough replacement.
5. Colt Lyerla, So., Oregon
Lyerla was an elite prospect in the 2011 recruiting class and showed major big-play ability as a backup tight end last year. With 2011 senior David Paulson no longer around, Lyerla is going to step into a starting role, and he could become one of the nation's best fantasy tight ends as a result. Lyerla somehow accumulated an absurd total of 147 yards and five touchdowns on just seven catches in 2011, so it's a bit scary to think what might happen if he catches 31 passes like Paulson did last year.
6. Chris Gragg, Jr., Arkansas
Gragg wasn't a big hit as a fantasy tight end last year due to his low touchdown total (two), but he's due for a big increase in value heading into 2012. Arkansas returns its strong starting quarterback in Tyler Wilson, but the Razorbacks lost their top two receivers from 2011 – wideouts Jarius Wright and Joe Adams – leaving many more targets available for Gragg, who caught 41 passes for 518 yards last year. With Wright and Adams gone Gragg should push for 60 catches.
7. Gabe Linehan, Jr., Boise State
If Kellen Moore hadn't left for the NFL, Linehan would arguably be as much as a top-five fantasy tight end this season. Despite fellow tight end Kyle Efaw catching 31 passes for 264 yards and seven scores in 2011, Linehan accumulated 23 catches for 252 yards and five scores as the second tight end. Efaw graduated, so Linehan would seem like a good bet to push for as many as eight touchdowns in 2012. The problem is Moore's exit leaves Boise with a new quarterback, and last year's production should not be expected.
8. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Jr., Iowa
A former blue chip recruit, Fiedorowicz could be among the top fantasy tight ends in 2012. He came on strong in the final month of last season, catching 12 passes for 105 yards and three scores in the final four weeks. Entering his junior year, look for Fiedorowicz to take the next step and push for top-10 status among fantasy tight ends. He's arguably the top tight end to target in the Big Ten.
9. Joseph Fauria, Jr., UCLA
Fauria was inconsistent a year ago, but he definitely has the talent to be among the nation's top fantasy tight ends. He totaled 39 receptions for 481 yards and six scores last year, and he could be even better if Brett Hundley provides improvement at quarterback.
10. Jack Doyle, Sr., Western Kentucky
Doyle is the only bright spot in a Western Kentucky passing game that is downright miserable. Quarterback Kawaun Jakes completed just 153 passes in 2011, but Doyle snagged 52 catches anyway, going for 614 yards. The problem is that the Hilltoppers' dysfunctional passing game prevents Doyle from seeing the end zone, as he failed to score in 2011. He's among the nation's best in PPR leagues, though.
11. Crockett Gillmore, Jr., Colorado State
Gillmore was one of the more solid 2011 fantasy tight ends, and he should be something similar this season with a little luck. He caught 45 passes for 468 yards and four touchdowns last year, which makes him a justifiable pick in most formats. His upside could be limited, though, as quarterback Garrett Grayson is raw as a passer and might force Colorado State to go very heavy on the run.
12. Jacob Pedersen, Jr., Wisconsin
Pederson didn't see much of a target volume last year, but that might change in 2012 with Wisconsin losing Nick Toon to the NFL. The Badgers don't have much depth at receiver, so that might force Wisconsin to lean on Pederson a bit more after he caught just 30 passes last year. As his eight touchdowns show, Pederson is a definite red-zone threat.
13. Malcolm Johnson, So., Mississippi State
Formerly listed at wideout, Johnson is an intriguing talent whose fantasy value could take off this season. The passing game at Mississippi State will be at its best in more than a decade, as new quarterback Tyler Russell finally brings the offense a legitimate passer. Johnson caught 11 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns last year and ooks like he could emerge as a nice big-play threat for the Bulldogs. He's worth drafting in SEC-only leagues and should be monitored closely elsewhere.
14. Braxton Deaver, So., Duke
Deaver showed decent potential last season, catching eight passes for 107 yards, and this year he might take over the role previously held by Cooper Helfet, who caught 43 passes for 395 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. Keep an eye on Deaver's development, as if he only matches Helfet's value from last year he'll have utility in ACC leagues.
15. Hubie Graham, Jr., Pittsburgh
Graham might be the Big East's top fantasy tight end this season. He caught 28 passes for 325 yards and three scores last year, and his new playcaller – former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst – is one of the nation's best at getting the ball to the tight end. It would surprise if Graham can't make it to the 400-yard mark with relative comfort.
16. Luke Willson, Sr., Rice
Willson is capable of producing as one of the nation's top fantasy tight ends as he has 61 catches over the last two years despite playing in weak passing offenses. The problem is there's not really any reason to believe that the Rice passing game will be any better this season than it was last year Willson totaled 29 catches for 313 yards and three scores. As such, similiar numbers are probably in store for Willson from last year might be similar to what he posts this season.
17. Nolen Smith, So., UAB
Smith is a name to watch closely in most formats. He only had 19 catches for 273 yards and two touchdowns last year, but most of that came during a strong finish in the second half of the year. He caught 16 passes for 222 yards and both of his touchdowns in the final six weeks of 2011. His value is definitely on the upswing, making him someone to own in Conference-USA-only leagues at least.
18. Dallin Rogers, Jr., Utah
Rogers was off to a big PPR start last year, but a knee injury ended his season after six games and 22 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He heads into this season needing to win his starting spot back due to missing spring drills. But his productivity last season seems to give reason to believe he will win that battle.
19. Dion Sims, Sr., Michigan State
Sims will be in a heated competition with C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jacob Pedersen for the tight end crown in the Big Ten. Legal issues and a deep Spartans tight-end rotation have limited Sims' value to this point, but his talent is obvious. He's in for a much bigger role this year because the Spartans lost their top four receivers (202 receptions) to graduation. Sims will see his numbers explode after catching 12 passes for 99 yards and three touchdowns in 2011.
20. Ryan Griffin, Sr., Connecticut
Griffin is one of the Big East's top fantasy tight ends. He caught 33 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns in 2011, and those numbers might all go increase as Connecticut attempts to replace Kashif and Isiah Moore from last year, two players whose graduations leave a void of 84 catches in the Connecticut offense.
21. Randall Telfer, So., USC
USC has a very talented tight end tandem in Telfer and Xavier Grimble, but last year's results seem to indicate that Telfer has the upper hand. Telfer caught 26 passes for 273 yards and five touchdowns – numbers that make him valuable in Pac-12-only leagues. His upside will likely be limited by Grimble's presence, however.
22. Matt Furstenburg Maryland
Furstenburg is a fine tight end for Maryland, but his fantasy value heading into 2012 seems a bit limited. Quarterback C.J. Brown is not a good passer and forces Maryland to take a run-heavy look on offense, and most of Furstenburg's good moments in his 348-yard, two-touchdown 2011 season came with Brown on the bench. He's worth owning in ACC-only leagues, but Furstenburg might struggle to make an impact otherwise.
23. Michael LaGrone, Jr., Idaho
LaGrone caught 21 passes for 262 yards and three scores last year. One of the top WAC tight ends, he could make the jump to all-format relevance in 2012 because senior departures created a void of 79 catches in the Idaho offense. He's worth a bench stash in most leagues and could pay off as a gamble.
24. Garrett Hoskins, Sr., Eastern Michigan
Although he's in one of the nation's least impressive passing games, Hoskins has value as a fantasy tight end. He has consistently shown good downfield pass-catching skills at Eastern Michigan, giving hope that he might improve on last year's numbers of 22 catches for 328 yards and three touchdowns.
25. Eric Ebron, So., North Carolina
Ebron looks like a significant talent for North Carolina with a good upside in 2012, especially after an explosive 10-catch, 207-yard showing last year. New coach Larry Fedora brings a bit of an unpredictable twist to Ebron's situation, though, removing North Carolina's pro-style look for more of a run-heavy spread. Thus, it's not altogether clear what Ebron's snap or target count might look like.