Sure, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are the best tight ends in the NFL. But maybe, their injury-riddled seasons of late, don’t necessarily mean that their teams have the best tight end situations. It was great to see Graham light up defenses in 2013, while Gronk bounced back with a big 2014 campaign of his own. For fantasy football purposes, I put my money on Julius Thomas, and reaped the benefits in the first half of the season. I targeted him because the other two I felt, would miss more games in 2014. Thomas was no different, as he missed more games than both of those players did, and wasn’t the same when he tried to play through injury. Virgil Green is an up and coming tight end, or so the Broncos believe, but we will find out how they really feel with Thomas hitting free agency.
Take a look at the team that knocked Thomas and the Broncos out of the postseason. The Colts have a pair of tight ends in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Both are known to do some blocking and catching, for the league’s leader in passing yards and touchdowns, Andrew Luck. The tight end duo became the first teammates at the position to each haul in 8 scores in the same season.
Some other tight ends that had good seasons of late, Vernon Davis, Jordan Cameron and Kyle Rudolph, yet all have had their issues with the injury bug. Jordan Reed has the potential, if his unfortunate concussions would stop hindering his future in the league. Then you have Antonio Gates and Jason Witten, old faithfuls. Witten was more of a blocker in 2014, with few impact plays through the air, but his all-around game keeps him among the top-10. His backup, Gavin Escobar, is a receiving tight end that was barely used again and is still developing on the low. Gates showed that he still has some gas in the tank after shrugging off a physically tough 2013, and holding off a a lurking Ladarius Green waiting in his wings. Heath Miller is another veteran that you can throw in the conversation, a reliable blocker and a timely safety valve for Big Ben in Pittsburgh.
Philly has a solid do-it-all tight end in Brent Celek, who is more known for his contributions to the ground game, and Zach Ertz is more of a passing target. As a tandem, they could develop in a way that is similar to what the Colts have going on. Baltimore could have a good duo if Owen Daniels re-signs, and if Dennis Pitta gets cleared to play and actually stays on the field. Charles Clay plays in the mold of H-back, which means they use him as a fullback and target him a handful of times per game. In fact, his little nicks has probably prevented Miami from using him even more, because they need to and he’s open quite a bit. Travis Kelce gradually became featured in Kansas City, where Anthony Fasano is utilized as the blocking tight end.
Cincinnati had to rely on Jermaine Gresham all season long, especially after Tyler Eifert was lost for the season. That’s another duo that played solid football in 2013, but Gresham is expected to move on via free agency. So there’s several tandems that could start catching onto what New England strategized when drafting Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who were drafted 2nd and 4th back in 2010.
Although opinions may differ as to which team has the best tight end situation and production moving forward, with some pending free agents like Clay and Daniels, it is apparent to me that Indy is the most settled with Allen and Fleener. I’m a big fan of Allen, who will be another year removed from knee surgery, so he should be getting better while Fleener has surprised me a little bit. One of the most reliable tight ends in the game plays for Carolina, and that is Greg Olsen who found his way after moving on from Chicago. He’s good for at least a handful of touchdowns, and Olsen just recorded his first 1,000-yard campaign with a career-high trio of triple-digit performances. For one man, even Gronk of the Patriots, it’s hard to beat out a pair of productive targets who pose mismatches from the same team, at least for this conversation.