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Moving the Chains: Transformation at Tight End

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Director of Media for, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).

Over the last 10 seasons, the use of tight ends as productive offensive weapons has shifted significantly. As we approach draft day this summer, it's become easy to see why many owners are willing to be patient when filling the position. Let's roll back to 2000 and look at how the number of viable options have gradually increased to where it is today. For this piece, we'll focus on the number of tight ends to produce 100 or more fantasy points in a season in standard (10 yards = 1 point, TD = 6 points) scoring non-PPR leagues.

2000 (3) - Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe and Freddie Jones
2001 (2) - Gonzalez and Marcus Pollard
2002 (3) - Todd Heap, Gonzalez and Jeremy Shockey
2003 (2) - Gonzalez and Sharpe
2004 (6) - Antonio Gates, Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Alge Crumpler, Randy McMichael and Shockey
2005 (8) - Gates, Shockey, Heap, Chris Cooley, Crumpler, Witten, Ernest Wilford* and Gonzalez
2006 (8) - Marques Colston* Gates, Crumpler, Gonzalez, Heap, Cooley, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Shockey
2007 (6) - Witten, Gates, Gonzalez, Winslow, Dallas Clark, Cooley
2008 (5) - Gonzalez, Clark, Witten, Gates, Shiancoe
2009 (10) - Vernon Davis, Clark, Gates, Brent Celek, Gonzalez, Shiancoe, Winslow, Witten, Zach Miller, Greg Olsen

*denotes position eligibility was in question and varied depending on your league provider that season. I imagine there will be plenty of grandchildren 50 years from now hearing stories from gramps about Colston's TE-eligibility winning or losing a league.

It wouldn't be all that surprising to see 10 more 100-point seasons from the position in 2010, especially when you consider the possibility of Jermichael Finley joining that club (probably replacing Olsen, who seems likely to regress thanks to Mike Martz's non-TE tendencies) and the return of a healthy Chris Cooley paired with new quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Initially, I thought that the increased points for tight ends would correlate with a drop-off in production from the pool of wide receivers. It doesn't seem as though a strong correlation (if any) exists:

Number of 100-point Wide Receivers by Year (TE in parenthesis)

2000 - 34 (3)
2001 - 35 (2)
2002 - 44 (3)
2003 - 33 (2)
2004 - 33 (6)
2005 - 35 (8)
2006 - 37 (7)
2007 - 38 (6)
2008 - 35 (5)
2009 - 38 (10)

Let's take a look at the ADP data for tight ends over the four weeks (from Mock Draft Central):

  Player Pos Team ADP Earliest Target Bargain Latest Draft %
46) Antonio Gates TE SD 46.3 30 44 48 54 100.00%
50) Dallas Clark TE IND 48.9 35 45 51 56 100.00%
55) Vernon Davis TE SF 55.1 34 54 57 68 100.00%
58) Jermichael Finley TE GB 59.7 49 57 61 72 100.00%
61) Jason Witten TE DAL 62.4 50 60 64 71 100.00%
66) Tony Gonzalez TE ATL 67.9 57 66 69 82 100.00%
69) Brent Celek TE PHI 70.0 54 68 72 86 100.00%
88) Owen Daniels TE HOU 88.3 61 78 93 103 100.00%
101) Visanthe Shiancoe TE MIN 101.1 70 97 104 119 100.00%
108) Zach Miller TE OAK 108.6 73 108 111 131 100.00%
109) Kellen Winslow TE TB 110.4 77 109 112 130 100.00%
110) Chris Cooley TE WAS 111.4 67 110 113 133 100.00%
140) Greg Olsen TE CHI 145.6 91 136 150 -ND- 97.80%
149) Dustin Keller TE NYJ 154.2 112 140 159 -ND- 94.30%
160) Marcedes Lewis TE JAX 174.4 144 156 -ND- -ND- 71.40%
166) Todd Heap TE BAL 185.2 140 159 -ND- -ND- 50.40%
175) Brandon Pettigrew TE DET 193.9 132 164 -ND- -ND- 34.30%

For the most part, there aren't many surprises in the data. Daniels was having an excellent season before tearing his ACL in Week 8, but he hasn't practiced yet despite reportedly smooth progress with his rehab. Concern about Olsen's role in the Bears' offense seems to be reflected in his current ADP (13th TE off the board).

McNabb's presence in Washington has already made Santana Moss intriguing to some and Devin Thomas' name will appear on plenty of sleeper lists this summer. It seems to be somewhat overlooked, but having McNabb throwing passes his way this season should make Cooley a good bet to return to the 100-point club after recording three straight seasons there (2005-07). He didn't miss a start from 2005-08 before suffering a broken ankle against the Eagles in October. Even if Fred Davis works his way onto the field to take away some of his targets, Cooley should be more of a threat in the red zone after finding paydirt just three times in his last 23 games.

The most notable absence from the Top 200 overall appears to be Seattle's John Carlson. According to the RotoWire 2010 projections, Carlson is the 11th-best option at the position this season. While he may not have the athleticism of a Jermichael Finley-type, he's in a good situation for Year 3 after back-to-back 50-catch seasons to begin his career along with 12 TD catches in his first 32 games. The lack of proven options in the receiving corps after T.J. Houshmandzadeh should continue to open up red-zone targets for Carlson, and his value could increase even more if Matt Hasselbeck stays healthy enough to remain under center for the Seahawks this season.

Put simply, I can't see how anyone would draft the likes of Marcedes Lewis and Anthony Fasano ahead of Carlson.

With the increasing depth at tight end, there are more viable options to go around than in the past. If you're playing in a shallow (10-team) league, there's really not much to separate a fringe top-five guy from a top-10 one. (There was less than a 10-point difference between Gonzalez at No.5 with 122.7 points and Zach Miller at No. 9 with 114.9 last season).
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