The emergence of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham over the past two and a half seasons has turned the tight end position into an all out rat race. If you don’t own either of these players, you know exactly what I’m talking about. They’re a matchup nightmare on a weekly basis. If you do own one of these guys, you just smile from ear to ear every week. It’s virtually a lock you’re going to win that matchup (unless you’re up against Tony Gonzalez or Jason Witten this season). What a great luxury piece to own, and they’re both so young. I think the thing that impresses me the most about Gronk and Graham is how fast their game translated to the NFL – it’s unparalleled.
If you were to ask most dynasty enthusiasts what position takes the longest to develop, what would the most common answer be? Probably quarterback. It’s a common misconception amongst dynasty coaches everywhere. From what I’ve seen over the better part of a decade, that’s not the case. The tight end position takes longer than any other to develop and it’s not even close.
Tight ends typically don’t fit into the “norm” as far a player development goes. For other positions like running back, wide receiver, and in most cases quarterback, player development is usually somewhere in the 2-3 year range. From what I’ve seen in my time as a dynasty owner I’ve found that tight end development usually takes anywhere from 3-5 years before they reach fantasy relevance, sometimes longer, and in some cases (just like every other position), never.
Which leads me to my next question – what’s the point of ever investing a first round pick on a tight end, even if it’s your greatest team need? The chances of them being on your roster by the time they are relevant is highly unlikely. Tight ends are probably the most recycled commodity on the waiver wire. Who has the patience to waste a roster spot for that long? I know I don’t, that’s just too much of a long term investment for my liking. Can you imagine if we all looked at our teams in a 3-5 year window?
Take for instance Coby Fleener. I know there were a lot of people that invested a late first round pick on Fleener, but as his numbers (and injury problems) have shown so far, he’s still got quite a mountain to climb before being a fantasy worthy tight end. From a value standpoint, Dwayne Allen was a great late round pick up and has out produced Fleener by a wide margin. He was also at one point the highest rated tight end in the 2012 draft class. How many people drafted Fleener over Allen due to the simple fact the Fleener was Luck’s college teammate?
Every single year without fail there are a couple of tight ends that finally “get it” and launch themselves into the top ten of their position. Look at the season Heath Miller is having. It has taken Miller eight years to finally look like a real honest to goodness TE1. What about Brandon Myers? This is now his fourth season. How many people even knew this guys name heading into this season? I’m assuming not too many because he was literally owned in nearly zero percent of leagues heading into week one. Everything I personally read on Myers this past off-season said he was not a reliable pass catching option. That’s what tight ends do, though. They go from a complete afterthought one minute, to an absolute must roster (not must start) the next.
If you’re an owner who is on the prowl for an up and coming TE1, this offseason may be an excellent time to acquire him relatively cheap. Here is a list of players I think could be acquired for a late first round pick or in most instances much later – Jermaine Gresham, Brandon Pettigrew, Kyle Rudolph, Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, and Greg Olsen.
From this list, I think Kendricks would come at the cheapest price and could pay the biggest dividends as soon as next season. I think he could be acquired for as little as a mid to late second, and is high on my list of players I’d like to acquire this off season. The other player off of this list I plan on buying is Gresham. I love the direction the Bengals are heading in right now. I can’t believe I’m saying this but it’s getting to the point where Andy Dalton is a borderline must start QB1. I must admit I didn’t see that coming in his second year. We all know A.J. Green is a freak of nature and his presence alone is going to result in increased targets for Gresham for a long, long time. We just haven’t seen the elite numbers from Gresham yet, but in my opinion, its right around the corner.
To make a long story short, why use your first round pick to draft a tight end and wait three years for the production you’d expect? You can absolutely steal one that is already heading into their third or fourth season for pennies on the dollar.
Editor’s Note: For more on how the Tight End position has revolutionized the game, check out this premium article we posted earlier this year.