Editor’s Note: This article is submitted by a new Member Corner writer, Paul Perdichizzi. We look forward to seeing much more of Paul’s work in the future.
Over the last decade of football, change has been the one constant in the NFL. From rule changes to new schemes on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, the roles of many players have changed. The position that has evolved the most over this time is the tight end. In the modern NFL, no longer are tight ends asked to predominantly block and just catch some short passes to keep the first down chains moving. Now tight ends are a critical component of many offenses as they are asked to run similar routes as wide receivers, used for jump balls or fade passes in the red zone or are asked to attack the field vertically down the seam. Teams are now looking for their tight ends to be big, fast, athletic and versatile. They want to use them to create mismatches all over the field, whether it is against slot corners that are too small or against safeties and linebackers who are not fast or athletic enough to cover them.
With so many teams now emphasizing the use of the tight end, no position in fantasy football has been more challenging to predict the results from year to year. Over the last few years we have seen Jimmy Graham, in just his second season for the New Orleans Saints, Jordan Cameron in his third year for the Cleveland Browns and Julius Thomas in his third year for the Denver Broncos go from obscurity to elite TE1 options. With the emergence of so many new tight ends, dynasty leaguers in particular have to be constantly on the lookout for the next potential breakout candidate. Below is a list of five potential sleeper tight ends who could see their dynasty value significantly increase in the near future.
Brandon Bostick, TE GB
Bostick may be on the verge of getting his chance to become a household fantasy name. He went undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft before signing with the Packers as an undrafted free agent. He played his college ball at Newberry as a wide receiver before being converted to a tight end. At 6’3″, 250 pounds, he is an athletic freak who also played basketball in college. After being on the practice squad for his entire first season, he got an opportunity to play this year following the serious neck injury to Jermichael Finley. He appeared in 11 games this season, catching seven passes for 120 yards and one touchdown. With the pending free agency of both Finley and backup tight end Andrew Quarless, who are both not expected back with the team, Bostick may find himself atop the depth chart come training camp. While he is not much of a blocker, he possesses a unique skill set and has a build similar to Julius Thomas. If Bostick can hold on to the starting job, and with Aaron Rodgers and the potent Green Bay offense, I like the odds of Bostick developing into a potential low end TE1 or high upside TE2.
Joseph Fauria, TE DET
Another former undrafted free agent to keep an eye on this upcoming season is Joseph Fauria of the Detroit Lions. Fauria, who is 6’7″ and 255 pounds, played his college ball at UCLA. Leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, most expected him to be drafted somewhere on day three in rounds five through seven. After going undrafted, the Lions made him one of their top priority undrafted free agents. He responded by playing significant snaps in his rookie season and becoming a red zone weapon. He played in all 16 games, totaling 18 receptions for 207 yards, but seven of those catches went for touchdowns. With starting tight end Brandon Pettigrew entering free agency and his status unknown as of now, Fauria currently projects to be the Lions opening day starter. In addition to a potential starting role, the coaching changes in Detroit cannot be overlooked as well. New head coach Jim Caldwell has hired former New Orleans Saints Quarterbacks Coach Joe Lombardi to be the Lions Offensive Coordinator. Lombardi has already said he plans to bring the Saints playbook with him to Detroit, which obviously emphasizes the usage of the tight end as we have seen Jimmy Graham put up record breaking numbers. With the possibility of an increase in snaps, a new coaching staff that loves to use the tight end and his ability to score touchdowns with his elite size, Fauria could be in line for a breakout fantasy campaign this upcoming season.
Adrien Robinson, TE NYG
The New York Giants have had a revolving door at the tight end position for quite some time. Over the last few years, their starting tight ends have been Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard, Martellus Bennett and this past season Brandon Myers. With Myers entering free agency and not expected back with the team next year, the Giants will once again be looking for a new starter. If they do not invest a high draft pick or sign a veteran in free agency, it is possible the starting job will belong to Adrien Robinson. The Giants drafted Robinson out of Cincinnati, with their fourth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. At 6’4″, 264 pounds with elite athletic ability, he was famously dubbed the JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) of tight ends by the General Manager of the New York Giants, Jerry Reese. With that type of praise, the Giants organization and their fans have been waiting for that potential to translate onto the football field. Up until now, it has not happened, as he has battled injuries over his two years and only played in three career games without securing a single reception in his career. While still very raw, Robinson may be given every possible chance to succeed this upcoming season due to his athleticism, size, and upside as a blocker and receiver. Recently hired new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, formerly the quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers, has already said he plans to implement a west coast style of offense that emphasizes the tight end much more than the Giants past offensive schemes. Everything seems set up for Robinson to succeed, so dynasty leaguers need to closely monitor the Giants offseason acquisitions and keep his name on their radar.
Travis Kelce, TE KC
With an early third round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Kelce, one of the premiere tight ends in last year’s draft. Kelce, like Robinson, played collegiately at Cincinnati. At 6’5″ and 260 pounds, he possesses great size, athleticism and can block and catch the ball. He had all of the traits that NFL teams were looking for when trying to find the next great tight end. The only reason he lasted until the third round of the draft was because of some character and off the field concerns. He was drafted to provide Alex Smith a big time weapon over the middle of the field and to complement Dwayne Bowe in the passing game. Most expected him to become a starter immediately in year one, but that never panned out due to injury. He injured himself during training camp and then in the early part of the season needed microfracture surgery on his knee. He appeared in zero games in his rookie year. If healthy, he will compete with Anthony Fasano and Sean McGrath to be the opening day starter in 2014. Both Fasano and McGrath have their limitation as players, as Fasano is more of a blocking tight end and McGrath has limited athleticism and upside. While Kelce is most likely on someone’s dynasty roster, their owner may be willing to sell low after an injury plagued rookie season. Before he has a chance to display his potential, target him now in all offseason trades, as his value to obtain may never be lower.
Ladarius Green, TE SD
One important trait to have when playing in dynasty leagues is to be patient with some of your younger players and give them time to develop. The truth is not every owner has the patience needed to wait for their players to get their opportunity. The last name on my list of potential sleeper tight ends, Ladarius Green of the San Diego Chargers, fits this profile. Green was drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Louisiana-Lafayette. He barely played his rookie year, appearing in only four games and securing four receptions. This past season, while still playing behind Antonio Gates, the Chargers found ways to get Green more involved. He played in all 16 games and had 17 receptions for 376 yards, including three touchdowns. His 22.1 average yards per reception illustrates the athleticism and upside potential Green possesses. At 6’6″ and 240 pounds, he is nearly impossible to defend and can create mismatches all over the field. Gates will turn 34 prior to the start of next season, so the Chargers will continue to get Green on the field more this upcoming season. With Gates still producing, the time is now to target Green in all trades as his owner may be growing impatient waiting for him to finally get his big opportunity as he enters his third season. When he does get that chance, whether it be this year or sometime down the line, Green has the ability to turn into one of the next great pass catching tight ends in the entire league.
Follow Paul on twitter at @paulie23ny