Fantasy Football Keeper Watch: Tight Ends to Consider for 2013 and Beyond

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski

Tight ends, tight ends, everywhere, and not a man to keep.

It’s a debate as old as the chicken and the egg: are tight ends keeper-worthy? Your first step of research should be to determine, “Does his name starts with a W or a G?” If so, then he might be worth the keeper slot. If his last initial is a C, D, or H, you might want to think again.

No, you won’t be hearing from Pat Sajak in this study. And we regret to inform you, this article was not brought to you by Sesame Street.

For the recent articles on keeper quarterbacks and wide receivers, the past six years of top performance were analyzed. But as the tight end position currently stands, it probably makes more sense to shorten your scope to three seasons. There’s no need to sugar-coat the issue—some of the best TEs in recent memory are just plain old.

After three straight years of top 6 play, Dallas Clark fell off the map in 2010. He dropped from the second best TE in fantasy (2009) to 28th, and then to 33rd in 2011. In 2012 we saw a small resurgence to 24th place, but—get ready for the slight hint of a theme here—the man is over the hill. Clark will be turning 34 in camp this summer.

That’s not to say success can’t continue into one’s mid-thirties. In fact, it’s often argued that many wide receivers peak in their early 30s. So let the numbers tell you their real age.

W is for their wicked pass-catching skills.

Jason Witten. Is it even necessary to write a paragraph about this guy? In only one of the past six seasons did he not finish in the top 5 among TEs. In 2009, he finished 8th. His ranks since 2007 have been 1, 2, 8, 1, 5, 5. Frankly, the only thing surprising is when he doesn’t finish in the top 3. Witten used to live with Tony Romo, even during the days of the Jessica Simpson. And it couldn’t be more evident in the way the two work together. Witten just broke Tony Gonzalez‘s single-season catching record for a TE, and did so quite convincingly. Witten’s 110 receptions were eight catches beyond the former mark of 102. He’ll turn 31 in May.

On to Kellen Winslow then. Can you guess how many catches he had this year? You can even choose the over/under on 2. If you went under, you won! If you drafted Winslow however, you lost. That’s right, Winslow caught 1 ball for twelve yards with the Patriots in 2012. That’s coming off a 75 catch performance for Tampa Bay in 2011. Winslow has never eclipsed 5 touchdowns in a season, and he’ll be 30 in camp this year.

G-G-G-G Unit!

Tony Gonzalez may be the oldest man to ever live. Or he could be turning 37 in February. You make the call. But one look at his numbers may leave you scratching your head. Tony G has been a top 8 performer in all of the past six seasons. That’s astounding. He’s coming off back-to-back 3rd place years, and finished number two in receptions in 2012 (second only to Jason Witten’s record-breaking year). Would he really consider retirement?

Antonio Gates has logged five of the last six years in the top 10. The lone outlier was his 12th-ranked 2012 campaign, for 49 catches and 538 yards. These were the lowest marks since his rookie season, during the paleolithic era of 2003. Gates will be 33 in camp, and shows no signs of turning the ship around. Watching his game tape can be painful, if you can remember the athleticism he once possessed.

Rob Gronkowski should never be talked about without also discussing Aaron Hernandez. In the 2010 NFL Draft, New England took “The Gronk” in the second round, and selected Hernandez in the fourth. After three seasons, Gronkowski has three top 5 years as a TE, while Hernandez has yet to break the top 10. The reason? Gronk scores. Hernandez has 175 career catches to Gronkowski’s 187, but 18 touchdowns for the former—though impressive as a tight end—are emasculated by the latter’s 38. Gronkowski has registered seasons of 10, 17, and 11 TDs.

Jimmy Graham is another member of the 2010 draft class. He finished first and second in the past two seasons, after a 22nd-ranked rookie effort. Sean Payton is presumably returning to New Orleans, and that status quo probably comes as a great relief for Graham owners.

So who’s left?

A lot of people get excited about Vernon Davis. Probably the best thing that ever happened to him was Mike Singletary‘s epic rant. “Can’t win with ’em!” But you can get real big and famous with ’em. Davis has put together three top 10 seasons in the past four years. From 2009, his ranks have slid downhill: 1, 3, 7, and 15. Wait, he finished first? Is that true? In case you forgot his best year, he caught 78 balls for 965 yards and 13 scores in ’09. His next highest totals for yards (914) and TDs (7) came in 2010. Davis has only exceeded 60 catches twice in seven attempts, and has yet to break the 1,000 yard barrier. He’ll turn 29 before Super Bowl.

Dustin Keller is another hot topic of TE consideration. He finished 9th in back-to-back years, 2010-11, but fell off the map in 2012, playing in just eight games. It was the first season he didn’t play all 16 games since entering the league in 2008. His best year to date was 2011, with 65 catches, 815 yards, and 5 touchdowns.

author avatar
Dave Major
Senior Fantasy Analyst for @XNSports. While not wasting immeasurable time as a stand-up comic in New York, Dave Major can be found watching three football games at once and telling people how to live their fantasy lives. If you're out of ideas, use your one phone call on !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');