The tight end position seems to be unusually deep this year, as more and more athletic, pass-catching TE’s come into the league. Several this year are returning from injuries in the last few seasons, which should also contribute to the depth. I never sweat TE too much, but they do merit some consideration.
The top tier of TE’s are going off the board in Rounds 4-6 (www.fantasyfootballcalculator.com). These TE’s include, Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley, Jason Witten, Dallas Clark, and Vernon Davis. Finley is returning from a major knee injury, which worries me. Clark is returning from a less-significant wrist injury, but he will likely also be losing some catches to his injury replacement, Jacob Tamme. Antonio Gates is being drafted the highest of this group, but is struggling with nagging plantar fasciitis. If you believe in drafting an elite TE, I believe either Witten (almost 10 ppg last year) at the end of Round 4 or in early Round 5 or Vernon Davis (8.4 ppg) about a round after that are solid picks. Given his durability and track record, Witten is probably my first choice if he is available. Just remember, taking a TE this high will probably cost you a quality RB or WR that you could have taken instead.
Owen Daniels will be trying to overcome two injury plagued seasons and seems to be a bit of a risk in Round 6. Rookie Jimmy Graham also seems to be a risk in Round 7. If possible, I prefer to avoid over-rookies, particularly when qualified vets are available around the same point or later.
Marcedes Lewis only scored about 0.6 points per game less than Davis (the bottom of the elite pack), and he is going all the way back in Round 9. He could be the best TE bargain, but he faces some uncertainty at quarterback this year. Rob Gronkowski comes in about 1 ppg behind Lewis and is being selected about a round lower.
If you aren’t keeping track, I’ve already discussed 9 TE’s (not counting Tamme). Below these 9, a clump of 9 more TE’s are separated by less than 1 ppg (around 5.6-6.5 ppg). Most of these players are serviceable and can be taken after round 9 in many drafts. This clump includes Chris Cooley, Kellen Winslow, Tony Gonzalez, Dustin Keller, Zach Miller, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Pettigrew, Benjamin Watson, and Todd Heap. Out of this clump, I like Brandon Pettigrew as one of the best potential bargains in the draft. That is 18 serviceable TE’s and I haven’t even count the likes of Greg Olsen, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Brent Celek that could fill-in in a pinch.
To recap, I’d probably take Jason Witten (late in round 4 or early round 5) or Vernon Davis (round 5 or round 6) if I wanted an elite TE. If I wanted to wait a bit and stuff my bench full of WR’s/RB’s first, I’d go for Marcedes Lewis in Round 9 or Brandon Pettigrew in Round 12. While I rarely waste a roster spot on a backup TE, I certainly will not be carrying a backup this year, given the considerable number of spot start candidates in the free agent pool.