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2014 Fantasy Football Recap: Tight End

Rob Gronkowski was at the top of a weak TE class in 2014

Rob Gronkowski was at the top of a weak TE class in 2014

2014 was a tough season for the fantasy TE position. The play of any tight end that’s name doesn’t rhyme with Schmonscmowski, was often volatile and unpredictable. Many thought their early round commitment to Julius Thomas was going to guide them into the playoffs before he gassed out, acquired an ankle injury and stopped catching TDs. Larry Donnell owners thought they had a waiver wire diamond with his three-TD performance against Washington. His encore the following week was a trip into the ‘Sarlacc Pit’ to be digested for 1000-years with his gaping goose egg. The top-5 ended up featuring two completely expected names. It was rounded out by three guys, while not completely earthshaking, were still a bit of a surprise. Let’s take a look at the position that made most of us throw up in our mouths more than a few times this year.

*Based on default scoring

Top Five of 2014

1. Rob Gronkowski – 82/1124/12 – 184.4 Points

The ‘Gronk’ was coming off a horrific knee injury suffered near the end of the 2013 season. Combined with the Patriots being the Patriots and releasing little to no confirmation of his status, Gronkowski ended up slipping down the fantasy draft board to the third/fourth round. Nervous fantasy players cannot be faulted for this approach after the injury plagued year of 2013 limited him to seven games. It only took him two-weeks to shake the dust and recover his role of fantasy dominator. After being held to 32 yards against Minnesota in Week 2, Gronk was incredibly consistent, consistently great. He blew away all other tight ends, finishing 30 points better than the No. 2 finisher.

2. Antonio Gates – 69/821/12 – 154.1 Points

As last year’s draft season kicked into gear, the fantasy community was getting hot and heavy for a San Diego tight end. The problem was the player of that affection was Ladarius Green. That love went unrequited and Green had a paltry 226 yards on the year. So, why then are we talking about the Chargers in this article if the ‘ultimate hype-man’, Laddy Green, was a dark matter weighing disaster? Old man Gates!! Antonio sent a love letter on his own and it said, ‘I Choo-Choo Choose…touchdowns.’ His yardage wasn’t really anything to boast about, only 821 yards, but he tied for a position leading 12 touchdowns. He was hair-greying inconsistent, but when it rained, it poured week-winning amounts of fantasy production. This dichotomy was perfectly on display in Weeks 2 and 3. In Week 2 he dropped 96/3 on the nationally feared Seattle Seahawks. He rewarded those who blew priority/FAAB on him for Week 3 with eight freakin’ yards against Buffalo. Still, Gates managed to steal another elite level season from the Reaper and outperform that ‘other’ basketball player turned TE.

3. Jimmy Graham – 85/889/10 – 144.9

Jimmy Graham will not likely be remembered in fondness for his 2014 season. He had worked his way out of the kids table and earned a spot with the big dogs, joining the elite club of first round draft selections. TE is not a position that normally earns such a prestigious honor. After Week 4, the high pick investment was going quite well. Then Graham suffered a shoulder injury that would hamper him for the rest of the season. He still managed to put up some monster games, but was not an elite option when fantasy players needed him in the playoffs. As well as dropping a pair of 0/0/0 games earlier in the year. Graham will remain a top-2 TE option for 2015.

4. Greg Olsen – 84/1008/6 – 136.8

Greg Olsen was an ultimate value pick for 2014. Going very late in most drafts, Olsen came through with a career year. He, like the majority of tight ends, had a couple rough stretches, but was the second most consistent fantasy TE behind Gronk. What made things very interesting for fantasy players was the tremendous success Olsen had when backup Derek Anderson had to make a few spot starts for Cam Newton. There has likely never been such a rally cry from fantasy owners begging for their second string QB to start. Olsen’s biggest shortcoming was a lack of touchdowns, only catching six on the season. Had he caught double-digit scores, he would have easily finished as the No. 2 ranked TE. Olsen is likely to take a decent climb in ADP going into 2015.

5. Martellus Bennett – 90/916/6 – 131.6

Bennett has been notorious for starting fantasy seasons piping hot, but tapering off at the halfway point and crushing the spirits of fantasy players who kept the faith. This season, Bennett actually put together a full campaign and worked his way into a top-5 finish. His shining fantasy moment came in Week 14, the first week of the fantasy playoffs, when he stepped up to compensate for some Bears’ injuries, dropping 12/84/1 in a comeback effort against Dallas. Owners were no doubt beside themselves watching their championship push take a huge advantage on a Thursday night. Hopefully those owners weren’t then destroyed by his Week 16 performance of 1/0/0. Bennett will be an interesting player next year, as he loses the friendly offense of Marc Trestman and deals with the rebuilding of the Windy City.

2015 Projections

Hopefully reminiscing about the TE position hasn’t rehashed too many horror stories or terrifying flashbacks. Let’s don our Merlin caps and shake some Magic 8 Balls while we speculate who could finish as the top-5 tight ends next year? I have a feeling these first few picks could shatter the very fabric of the fantasy community!

1. Rob Gronkowski

Well…I lied about shattering the fabric. There is not a whole lot that really needs to be said about Gronk. When on the field, he is not just the best TE in the game, but one of the best offensive players in the NFL. He is a matchup that simply cannot be handled or contained by the majority of NFL defenses. Gronk is likely to end up in the first round of 2015 drafts and deservedly so. He brings a dominant positional advantage that can only be matched by Jimmy Graham. The one concern with Gronkowski is his health. From 2012-2013 he missed 14 games with various injuries. However, the injuries will not be enough to stop fantasy players from spending that high pick on him.

2. Jimmy Graham

Well…I really lied about shattering the fabric, sorry to put you all through that. Jimmy Graham is paid like an elite TE because he performs like one. He battled through his shoulder injury to the best of his ability in 2014, but it was clear he was protecting it. Constantly showing his best ‘Tyrannosaurus’ impression going over the middle, Graham would frequently give up on balls he would regularly catch when healthy. It’s believed that he’ll avoid offseason surgery and will be all systems go for 2015. For those who like to take a TE with a high draft pick, Graham may come with a 10% off coupon next year, likely dropping to the second or third round.

3. Travis Kelce

Kelce missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury. He made sure to eliminate any negative opinions on him with an eye-popping 2014 preseason. He didn’t exactly soar to the top of the draft, but his performance got savvy players to take a chance on him. As the year began, his usage and snap count was infuriating although he was still producing despite his limited role. Fantasy players would not be denied and took to social media to start a ‘#FreeKelce’ movement. It was likely ignored or unseen by the Chiefs (in my heart I feel like we made a difference), but eventually Zeus would see increased playing time. From Week 12 on, Kelce was ranked second at the position in yardage, behind only Gronk. He was also ranked second in yards after catch, as he frequently proved a tough tackle for defenses. As long as Andy Reid doesn’t pull his patented ‘forgot to use my best player’ junk, Kelce should easily crack the top-5. Unfortunately for value seekers, Kelce is likely to climb up the ADP into a high mid-round pick.

4. Greg Olsen

Olsen closed the regular season with a pair of fantasy duds, totaling 48 yards in the two games. However, his connection with Cam Newton appears to be improving. On top of that, the Panthers seem to have found a true WR threat in Kelvin ‘Don’t Call Me Celsius’ Benjamin. If Kelvin continues to improve and evolve his game, the defense will be unable to focus elite defenders on Olsen. The Panthers have to realize that their offense truly moves when they get their TE involved. It’s also extremely comforting to know Derek Anderson can fill in for the oft injured Newton and will force feed Olsen the ball.

5. Dwayne Allen

Coach Pagano has been vocal of his admiration for New England and their destructive tight end-based offense. He envisioned Coby Fleener and Allen could become Gronkowski and…ehhhh…Aaron Hernandez. Well, Dwayne Allen has avoided the hoosegow thus far and has been a prime beneficiary of the insanely high volume of throwing coming from the Indianapolis offense. Allen had an injury-riddled 2014 campaign, completely missing three games. Even with missing nearly 25% of the season, Allen finished just outside of the top-12. His yardage left a lot to be desired last year, but Allen has the ability to take a step forward in 2015.

Other Considerations

Julius Thomas

Let’s be honest. I’ll wager a majority of people were shocked not to see Julius Thomas on this list. The man can’t sneeze without accidentally scoring three touchdowns. The real reason for him not being in this list is the feeling he will not be in Denver next year. His contract has expired and he, rightly so, will be looking to cash in his ‘Manning-padded-stats, for a lucrative deal. Unfortunately for him, his Thomas counterpart, Demaryius Thomas, also has an expiring contract. It seems unlikely Denver will have the ability to pay both of these players the money they’ll be looking for. Julius is likely to draw the short straw on this deal as Denver will surely be unwilling to let their elite WR walk. Perhaps ‘Orange Julius’ has the stuff to be a fantasy force elsewhere, but I’m not counting on it. However, if Denver can take a quick dip in ‘Scrooge McDuck’s’ vault and retain the big man, he clearly will have top-5 potential again.

Virgil Green

Holy Sleepersaurus Rex Batman! I thought this was an article projecting a 2015 top-5, not a deep sleeper piece! Perhaps this mention does seem a little out of left field. OK, it’s really out there. Many cogs need to work in harmonious unity for Mr. Green to move from a suspected candlestick murderer, to a fantasy machine. Just hear me out. As I just went over, I believe Julius Thomas moves on. Peyton Manning is rumored to be returning for another season. Gary Kubiak is the new coach of the Denver Broncos, and his usage of the TE is well documented. If the Broncos don’t have the money to retain Julius, they’ll surely have the money to bring Virgil Green back to the team. If you don’t know anything about Green, all you need to know is he’s an athletic freak. He was a top performer in nearly every Combine drill, he has the size to be a bully on the line and he might finally get his shot. Like I said, perhaps this is simply crazy talk, but Green could be primed to be the TE that gets drafted late or not at all, then skyrockets into the top-5.




Mike Wright is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Mike, check out his archivehis podcast, and follow him @ffhitman.

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