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Payne's Perspective: Kevin Payne Rates the Top Tight Ends

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

Over the next couple of months, I’m going to come out with an initial set of rankings by position. I’m going to go a little off the grid here and start with the tight ends, which happens to be the section I write for the Rotowire football magazine. Here they are:

1. Rob Gronkowski, NE – You wouldn’t get a strong argument from me if you wanted to put Jimmy Graham ahead of Gronk, who I’m assuming will be 100 percent for Week 1. It’s easy to point and predict that he won’t get 17 touchdowns again, but he seems to be a lock for 12-14 if he’s plays the full 16 games. Brandon Lloyd’s presence won’t help his fantasy value any, but with 24 targets in the red zone last year, Gronk – who is clearly on the same page as QB Tom Brady -- should be in for another monster season.

2. Jimmy Graham, NO – It’s unlikely that all of the suspensions and fallout from “bounty gate” will affect the New Orleans offense, which makes Graham another tight end who will likely be gone in the first 25 picks. Again, you won’t get a big argument from me if you think he’s ahead of Gronkowski. Nothing has changed with the Saints’ receiving corps that could negatively affect Graham’s production and he had nine more receptions, 25 more targets and four more red zone targets (28) than Gronkowski. I think it could be an interesting strategy in leagues that allow you to use tight ends as a flex if you drafted both players and essentially gave yourself a huge edge at the position.

3. Aaron Hernandez, NE – It’s crazy to think that two tight ends could be in the top three overall, but I think this is the correct call. Hernandez managed 917 receiving yards (fourth most among tight ends) last season and seven touchdowns (tied for fourth). This ranking is also done with the idea that if Gronkowski were to miss any time, Hernandez could be neck-and-neck with Graham for the top spot.

4. Jermichael Finley, GB – This one is a little bit debatable in my book considering how much I think Finley has underachieved so far in his career. His drops are a big cause for concern and considering he caught only 58.4 percent of the passes thrown his way (an extremely low mark for a tight end), I’d attribute the blame to him rather than Aaron Rodgers. If he can make strides with his hands, he’ll more than justify this ranking.

5. Antonio Gates, SD – I’d love to put Gates higher,but the fact is he has missed nine games over the last two seasons. Gates will be 32 at the start of the season and has a lot of miles on the tires, considering the physical nature of the position. One a positive note, Gates has never had a season without at least seven touchdowns. While other receivers will take his spot, the departure of Vincent Jackson and his 115 targets should benefit Gates.

6. Jason Witten, DAL – After his nine touchdowns in the 2010 season, I thought we might see more consistent scoring out of Witten. However, he saw only one fewer target there last season and came away with only five touchdowns. He’s virtually a lock for around 1,000 receiving yards and while he’s become something of a “boring” pick in my opinion (we’ve likely seen his ceiling already) he’s one of the most consistent producers at the position.

7. Joel Dreessen, DEN – Dreessen could end up being the most “high-risk, high-reward” player among the tight end group. His value solely lies in the fact that he’ll have Peyton Manning throwing the ball to him. I’d consider ranking him even higher if it weren’t for the fact that Manning comes with a huge red flag with his neck issue. Dreessen was able to post the occasional fantasy relevant game in Houston and keep in mind Manning has made household names out of players with less of a pedigree.

8. Vernon Davis, SF – Davis’ regular season stats might not justify this position, considering he only had 792 receiving yards and six touchdowns. His performance in the playoffs (two games, 302 receiving yards, four touchdowns) jumps him up to this spot with the notion that the 49ers will make him a bigger part of the offense this season. Davis should be back towards the 900-1000 receiving yard mark this season and challenge double digits for touchdowns.

9. Brandon Pettigrew, DET – I’m starting to think Detroit has the best chance to win if they go out and sling the ball 40 times a game considering what’s happened there at the running back position over the last few seasons. Pettigrew should continue to be a matchup problem and see mostly single coverage playing alongside Calvin Johnson. Look for him to take another step this season.

10. Brent Celek, PHI – While it’s a completely different offense with different receivers, it’s somewhat surprising that Celek hasn’t been targeted more considering the rapport Michael Vick had with Alge Crumpler. Celek bounced back from a disappointing 2010 season to post 811 yards and five touchdowns. It’s hard to see a jump in his production, given the other options in the offense, but he makes for a nice pick once the elite options are off the board.

I realize there are a few notable omissions. I love Fred Davis, but the presence of Chris Cooley, who is reportedly having a good offseason, limits his upside. I think Robert Griffin will look plenty to Davis, who should still have a nice season, possibly a great one depending on how good Griffin is.

If you think Tony Gonzalez belongs on this list, keep in mind that last season was his best in three years and he just turned 36.

Dustin Keller had a nice 2011 season, but the presence of Tim Tebow and lack of improvement from Mark Sanchez both worry me.

If there’s a sleeper type you’re looking for outside of the top-20, remember Tony Moeaki who should be fine coming off ACL surgery.

A couple of notes from the last week:

The Redskins re-signed London Fletcher, a smart move in keeping a consistent cog in the middle of the defense. Fletcher not only led the league in tackles last season (166) but is a lock to be a Hall of Fame candidate. For his career he had 1,782 tackles (1,238 solo), 34 sacks, 18 forced fumbles and 18 interceptions. While tracking stats has evolved since Mike Singletary’s playing days, it’s estimated that each one of those stats is better than Singletary’s. Owners in IDP leagues should feel confident in drafting Fletcher despite the fact that he turns 37 in a month.

With all of the hype surrounding Justin Blackmon (and I’ve been a culprit of that), don’t forget to monitor where Notre Dame product Michael Floyd lands. The talented receiver has prototypical No.1 size at 6-3, 225 lbs. and while his 4.47 40-yard time at the Combine was 13th best among wide receivers, it’s a solid time for a player of his stature. The Jets, a team he visited this week, would be wise to grab him considering the offseason they’ve had. Someone is going to get a steal on draft day by snagging Floyd.