2005 Tight End Analysis
By - Dave Pierman
Drafting tight ends used to be pretty simple. When it came to tight ends, you either got Tony Gonzalez or you just picked anybody, it didn't matter after Gonzalez got drafted. Those days are long gone. Now there are at least 5 - 7 great tight ends. Let's take a look at this year's tight end class.
Tier 1 is really divided between 1a and 1b. In 1a there are the kings of tight ends: Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez and San Diego's Antonio Gates. We predict another outstanding season for both of them. Which is better? Hard to answer because both are so good, but we like the upside with Gates. Antonio is still learning the position and QB Drew Breese should look to him often in 2004 to build on his success from last season.
Jason Witten and Todd Heap reside in 1b. Witten is arguably Dallas' best receiver and he should see plenty of red zone attempts. Heap has been battling injuries but he should be ready to go for the opener. Baltimore has shown a desire to throw the ball more and with the additions of Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton defenses won't be able to focus on Heap. Don't be putt off by Heap's numbers in 2004, since he missed most of the year due to an ankle injury.
Indianapolis' Dallas Clark will be the feature tight end on the most powerful offense in the NFL. Clark should have a great year if he can stay healthy. The departure of Marcus Pollard to Detroit should do nothing but increase the production you get out of Clark. Atlanta's Alge Crumpler not only has one of the strangest names in football but he also one of the best tight ends in the game. Crumpler will benefit from the maturation of Vick and WR Michael Jenkins. Crumpler remains a solid top pick and is a gifted pass catching TE.
Miami's Randy McMichael looked to be a solid pick until his run in with the law. Somebody needs to get this guy to get along with his wife; fantasy football teams are depending on him! It's hard to tell what his value is until we know if he will be suspended. As it stands right now, McMichael is a solid tier 2 player. If he is suspended any more than 2 games than he should be downgraded to a tier 3.
If Eric Johnson can't get any help from the San Francisco offense, then it could be a long year for Johnson. Johnson has talent but he can't do it by himself. There are also talk of the Niners shifting to a more run oriented offense, so that could hurt the value of Johnson. We are high on Minnesota's Jermaine Wiggins this year. Yes, we know that Jim Kleinsasser is coming back from injury, but we feel that he will be used mostly for blocking which should give Wiggins plenty of opportunities to grab some passes that would have gone to Randy Moss last year.
If New York's Jeremy Shockey can get his head on straight, he would be ranked much higher. He has all the talent in the world, but injuries and sometimes a lack of concentration hold him back. The quarterback situation should be more stable this year with Eli Manning heading into his second season so there will be opportunities for him. There is also some talk of the Giants making Shockey a bigger part of their offense. The question is whether he can stay healthy and take advantage of this.
It's nice to feel wanted and Denver's Jeb Putzier was feeling very wanted this winter. The Jets made Putzier an offer with a nice fat raise and Denver matched it. If Denver didn't feel confident of Putzier's abilities they would have let him go. All of this bodes well for a productive season for Jeb. He only had 2 TDs last year but we expect that to increase.
I personally had both Philly's L J Smith and the Patriots' Daniel Graham at some point on my fantasy roster last year and to be honest with you, I wasn't that impressed with either of them (it helped that I also had Tony G!!). An average game for them, and also for most in this tier, is 4 catches for 40-50 yards. Smith and Graham are two of the more dependable players in this tier, but if you are looking to take a flyer or two, consider Doug Jolley or Teyo Johnson. The Jets traded for Jolley not to block but to use his 6' 4" frame over the middle catching passes. Of course there are many negatives that could dampen any breakout year. For example, is Pennington fully recovered from his injury? Also, traditionally the Jets haven't utilized the tight end position very well, will that change? Many people will be watching Doug Jolley and he is a hot name when talking sleepers. Make sure you don't reach for him. A guy flying way under the radar is Oakland's Teyo Johnson. Nobody is talking about him. We are. If Johnson can get his emotions under check and if he can hold off competition in the form of Courtney Anderson, then he can have a surprising year. Defenses will have their hands tied up in defending Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. The potential is there for Johnson to haul in plenty of 10 - 15 yard passes. You should be able to get Johnson pretty late in the draft.
Another guy you can't forget about in this tier is Packer Bubba Franks. Franks is mired in a contract dispute at the moment and has yet to report to camp. He should be able to get the contract worked out before the season starts and yet again be a favorite goal-line target of Brett Favre.
Tier four begins with a rookie, Pittsburgh's Heath Miller. We have him in tier 4 because this year will be more of a learning experience. For those of you in dynasty leagues his value is much higher. You will see his production increase in the second half of the year so if you can draft him as a backup and have him sit on your bench for awhile you may be rewarded during the playoff stretch.
The player to watch in this group is the Titans' Ben Troupe. He has tremendous upside. The reason he is ranked this low is he hurt his foot in May that required surgery to repair it. If all goes well, he will be ready to go by opening day. The second reason for his ranking is that he faces competition from teammate Erron Kinney. Kinney will produce better stats in the beginning of the season but Troupe will be the overall better fantasy performer.
Marcus Pollard has moved on from Indianapolis to Detroit. We don't see his fantasy contribution being as great as it would have been if he would have stuck around in Indy. Plus, he will have to compete for catches with the Lions young and talent receiving corps.
Washington's Chris Cooley is another player that has the potential to produce much better than his ranking. The reason for the ranking is simply that these players haven't done it yet. Cooley has potential and he is in an offense that allows for production from a tight end. He now needs to go out and do it.
Tier 5, 6
There isn't much to get excited about in the last two tiers. One player that is worthy of consideration is Kansas City's backup Kris Wilson. Kris sat out last year with a broken leg so he's probably been long forgotten about in most fantasy circles, but not at HuddleGeeks.com! He has great pass catching skills and he is the backup to Tony Gonzalez. While Kris won't get many opportunities with Tony around, he will learn plenty and he is only one play away from starting on a high-octane offense that features the tight end.
The tight end position in Cleveland will be split between Steve Heiden and Aaron Shea since Kellen 'Hot Wheels' Winslow will be out for the season. Both players have adequate talent, but splitting time really hurts their value and drops them down to tier 5 and 6 respectively.
You could have a real sleeper in Tampa Bay rookie Alex Smith, but it's tough for a rookie to come in and make a big fantasy impact especially since he would have to beat our recently acquired Anthony Becht for the starting spot. Take a flier on Smith in keeper leagues, but he won't have much value in 2005.
There you have it. The tight end spot is no longer an after-thought. Drafting the correct tight end can make the difference in making the playoffs or spending another year wondering what went wrong.
About the Author
Dave is writer for Huddlegeeks.com, a well-respected fantasy football analysis website.