There seems to be three distinct fantasy football approaches to the tight end position in 2014: The Jimmy Graham investment, the middle-round leap, and the low-cost (no-cost) streaming approach.
Drafting Rob Gronkowski, at the moment, is a Fourth Way in tight end fantasy drafting, though that’ll change if and when he’s cleared for Week 1. Gronk will join Jimmy Graham in the late first or early second round.
You know by now that I advocate the streaming approach if the middle-round tight ends are drafted at their current average draft positions (ADPs). The goal to streaming, once again, is not to scour the waiver wire every week in desperate search for a useable tight end option, but to find a starter like we did with Julius Thomas, Jordan Reed, Charles Clay, Garrett Graham, Delanie Walker, and Coby Fleener in 2013.
There is a group of tight ends being drafted at the tail end of fantasy drafts — or not at all — who could become much more than streamers given the right circumstances. These tight ends stand to benefit greatly from good, old-fashioned volatility — a concept that fantasy owners largely avoid because, well, it’s frightening.
There are plenty of volatility beneficiaries at other positions, such as Lance Dunbar in Dallas, Terrance West in Cleveland, Da’Rick Rodgers in Indianapolis, and Latavius Murray in Oakland. Any of those guys could become fake football treasures if injuries or benchings open up opportunity in 2014.
You can’t roster every volatility beneficiary, but you can become keenly aware of who they are and why they should be monitored as cheap investments or potential waiver wire fodder that could magically morph into an every-week starter. Below are three tight ends who fit that bill.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals: It’s true that Eifert, who sports something close to Gronkian size and speed, was among the least efficient tight ends of 2013, notching an ugly .28 fantasy points per route run (FPPRR). The sample size for Eifert as a starting tight end — the subsequent opportunity — is miniature though.
He played in two games that incumbent starter Jermaine Gresham missed in 2013, drawing nine targets in one of those games and doing very little with them (three grabs for 55 yards). Off-season scuttle in Cincy include coaches’ displeasure with Gresham’s overall performance last season, though they still value him as a blocker. Bengals coaches thought “Eifert didn’t get the chances everyone thought he was going to get as a rookie,” according to media reports.
Some in the organization thought Eifert was in line for upwards of 60 receptions last year. He ended up with 39. I gave Eifert an equity score that would put him firmly in top-10 tight end territory, but it’ll likely require the team to phase out Gresham from the pass game or, of course, a Gresham injury.
New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has a decent history with tight ends. Todd Heap was a fine fantasy option during Jackson’s time in Baltimore, posting a respectable .35 FPPRR in 2009, when he became a more central part of the Ravens’ offense. Zach Miller had some statistical success with Jackson as his coordinator in 2010. Miller scored .42 points per route run on his way to a top-10 campaign.
That’s part of the reason that I believe Eifert could be a hugely important late-round pick or waiver wire pickup if he can run more than 25 routes per game as a seam-busting behemoth and a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties.
Owen Daniels, Baltimore Ravens: Daniels piggybacked on Gary Kubiak when the former Houston head coach was given the axe and welcomed with open arms in Baltimore. Kubiak is the NFL’s unofficial tight end whisperer, overseeing some of the most spectacular tight end campaigns during his two decades as a play caller.
Daniels will have some fantasy relevance even though Dennis Pitta is going to be the primary tight end in this unapologetically tight end-friendly scheme. The second tight end in Kubiak’s offense always has some relevance, as we found out time and again in Houston.
Daniels had a career FPPRR of .37 during his time in Kubiak’s offense, which includes an insane .51 FPPRR through eight games in 2009 before his season came to a premature end. A little volatility in Charm City could instantly make Daniels a plug-and-play option in an offense devoid of great targets outside of Torrey Smith. Keep tabs on Daniels, who is just 31 years old.
Daniels just might be a more utilized red zone threat than Pitta, no matter the circumstances. No tight end is more familiar with Kubiak’s scheming, and how to exploit mismatches that result from a two-pronged tight end attack.
Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts: He’s coming off major surgery, he’s stuck in a tight end platoon, he’s a very good blocker and he’s in an offense brimming with pass catching options. The case for Allen can be tough to make. (FPPRR is helpful in large part because it helps us understand how productive a guy is when he becomes part of the passing attack, not simply when he’s in the trenches)
We already know that Fleener, even when the Colts gave him every chance to thrive after Allen’s injury, was wildly inefficient. Allen was slightly more efficient than Fleener (.32 FPPRR in 2012) but shined when he got a chance to start and run a decent number of routes. Beware Allen if he’s used mostly as a bulldozing run blocker for a team that won’t have much of a ground attack in 2014, but he’s deserving of your fantasy attention if Fleener succumbs to injury at some point this season.