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Finding a Late Round Tight End In 2013

Jermichael Finley

There’s no use lying to ourselves: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are on a fantasy tight end tier of their very own, with Gronk rising well beyond Graham if he were to manage a 16-game season.

Jermichael Finley

Dec 23, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley (88) rushes with the football after catching a pass during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 55-7. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s finding gems in the lowest tight end tiers that interests me, and should interest you unless you’re ready and willing to sink a second or third round pick into Gronkowski and Graham. Identifying guys we could scoop up late – really late, in some cases — in our 2013 fake football drafts will be key to figuring out a position that was as volatile in 2012 as any fantasy position in recent memory.

I’m going to throw out tight ends like Aaron Hernandez and Jason Witten in this search because they both have fifth round average draft positions that are sure to creep into the fourth round as normal human beings gravitate back to fantasy football in July and August. They’re both reliable and don’t constitute an irresistible value at their soon-to-be ADPs.

Read more about fantasy tight ends…
The Most (and Least) Efficient Tight Ends of Weeks 8-16
The Best Second Half Tight Ends of 2012

My search starts in the eighth round, where I think we can identify a few tight ends who could prove a true value if taken in the eighth or later.

One of the best ways to project value tight ends who could post more than serviceable numbers in 2013 is looking at peripheral statistics and finding comparable players from years past.

That’s precisely what Fantasy Douche has done with his wonderful, nerdy little RotoViz Similarity Scores app, which takes stats like yardage, targets, and yards per target, combines them with measurables (age, height and weight), and generates a range of past season-long performances that serve as in indicator of what a player’s 2013 might look like. There will always be variables that aren’t accounted for, and while no projection model is flawless, I think this one is legit.

Using players whose second half 2012 numbers have jumped out in tight end analysis pieces I’ve written this winter, I plugged three late-round tight end targets into the RotoViz machine. I’ve included the top two comparable seasons as a look at best-case scenarios. If you call this cherry picking, you’re right.

Dennis Pitta’s 2013 season might look like…

Aaron Hernandez 2011: 79 receptions, 910 yards, 7 touchdowns
Antonio Gates 2009: 79 receptions, 1,157 yards, 8 touchdowns

Jared Cook’s 2013 season might look like…

Greg Olsen 2012: 69 receptions, 843 yards, 5 touchdowns
Brent Celek 2011: 62 receptions, 811 yards, 5 touchdowns

Jermichael Finley’s 2013 season might look like…

Jason Witten 2007: 96 receptions, 1,142 yards, 7 touchdowns
Owen Daniels 2008: 70 receptions, 862 yards, 2 touchdowns

A disclaimer: RotoViz’s comparables for each of these tight ends includes a whole lot of ugly too. Pitta’s 2013 prospects, for example, include Marcedes Lewis’s 2011 season, which saw the lumbering tight end haul in all of 39 catches for 460 yards and nary a touchdown. Like I said, ugly. Hideous, actually.

If we’re taking any of these three tight ends though, we’re examining any and all upside that they offer — reasons to believe in them as value picks. Pitta, Finley, and Cook are anything but safe picks, but they’re also cheap picks, with Finley (somehow) costing us an eighth rounder and Pitta and Cook going in the twelfth round. I’m not entirely sure how Pitta, who averaged more Fantasy Points Per Snap than any tight end in 2012’s final eight weeks, could plummet eight picks below the Bengals’ defense. That makes him perhaps the clearest value, based on 2012 usage.

I could see Finley’s ADP jumping considerably in the coming months, leaving Cook to languish deep in almost every draft. I’ve already outlined the ways in which he has impressed when the Titans decide to use their best athlete, so these RotoViz projections reinforce my interest in Cook as an obvious late-round option.

Cook, as RotoViz points out, could have a year like Olsen’s 2012, which saw Olsen finish the season as fantasy’s sixth highest scoring tight end. That’s not awful upside for Cook, a guy who’s going four picks after Sebastian Janikowski in February mock drafts.

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