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A Different Breed

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.

Latest posts by Doug Veatch (see all)
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Jordan
9 years ago

This article came at a good time when I’m looking at roster stashes for next season and who to cut to make room for them. I’m staring at Jared Cook on a couple of my teams and wondering if he’s still worth holding on to or if he’s droppable to pick up another stash on the wire.

Tim
9 years ago

This is really good stuff and I think spot on. I’ve been feeling this way for a while now but hadn’t completely put my finger on it. Thanks for the clarity.

Peter
9 years ago

I recall reading something a year or three ago that the reason TEs take longer to develop than many positions is they have to master both blocking and receiving to get consistent high snaps and thus be fantasy-relevant/desirable.

Zach Levitt
9 years ago

V Davis is killing me right now…I also have Celek (Out) and Dwayne Allen. Kendricks, Housler, Pitta, and Jordan Cameron are all on the WW. Any of those guys worth picking up over my 3 TEs? Which guy would you drop?

Cyrus Miller
Reply to  Zach Levitt
9 years ago

I think I would pick up Pitta over Celek, but it would be close. I just like Pitta’s upside over Celek, without looking at the stats for this year. Both are inconsistent.

Wouldn’t drop Davis because he has the most talent, despite the lack of production. Wouldn’t drop Allen because he is a rookie and who knows what he will do.

I would consider trading Davis if anyone still values him.

JBlake
Reply to  Zach Levitt
9 years ago

If this is a dynasty league, those are some shocking TE names to see on waivers. Pitta is the best of that group for the rest of the season, but probably no better that Allen. Make sure Tony Scheffler is not available…

SJ
Reply to  JBlake
9 years ago

Indeed. all of those are way gone in most leagues imo.

That said, Id take Pitta, Housler over Allen, eventho i really like him. Pitta distanced himself from a timeshare, and Housler looks like he has taken a fulltime spot as well. Makes a big difference in consistency.

Zach Levitt
Reply to  SJ
9 years ago

It’s a 12-team 35 player roster (IDP) league. About half the teams have 2 TEs and the other half has 3 (max limit). For some reason, no one pays attention to the TE position.

I’m gonna pick up Pitta but I like Kendricks potential…so I’m little torn

Cyrus Miller
9 years ago

Olsen changed hands midseason this year in my favorite league. Part of a deal to get JPP, so it isn’t clear what his standalone value is.

Bennett was traded midseason for a 3rd and a 4th. I thought that was low value, but then he stopped producing for a bit.

Gresham was traded for a 3rd in 2014, which I thought was insanely low value. I would have offered a 3rd this year had I been given the chance, maybe even a late 2nd.

Rudolph and Kendricks went in the 2nd and the owners haven’t considered trading them.

Of all of them, I would probably go after Gresham the hardest, Rudolph second hardest and Kendricks if he was the cheapest. I think Gresham will continue to catch more and that Rudolph will be more consistent.

I anticipated TE being an advantage and traded the 1.01 in a deal to get Graham before the season. He hasn’t been as dominant as I expected, but he has been consistent, and that is worth a lot. Sad I missed out on Richardson, but I got a haul in return, so I think I made a good trade. Graham and Gronk are ways to give your team an edge.

Mike D
9 years ago

No mention of Housler? I’d take a shot on him before Kendricks. I love Housler’s skills (size, speed) and just needs a QB to get him the ball.

SJ
Reply to  Mike D
9 years ago

I’ve given up on Kendricks long ago. Housler is producing higher than Kendricks ever has

SJ
Reply to  Doug Veatch
9 years ago

What has Kendricks done to warrent upside? Please convince me.

There’s no in depth over him in your article and he’s far less established than the tes you have listed

SJ
Reply to  SJ
9 years ago

I understand what your saying, it just doesnt sound very convincing. With that analysis, it sounds like your saying hes on pace to grow to only a 36/380/3 stat line at this point next year. That pace doesnt sound like hes a player on the cusp and ready for a breakout.

Without being defensive, its hard to ask people to give up picks for someone like that, especially when it comes to Kendricks, in particular.

Coming out of college he was thought of as a athletic pass catching TE who needed to work on his blocking. He was a high pick (round 2) that had little competition for a starting job in STL.

He elevated to starter almost immediately his rookie year. But was marred with drops and inconsistency his the whole season. Hes relatively durable and missed few games, but never “wowed” reporters covering the team in this offseason or over the course of the season. He still having trouble with drops and hasnt done anything to impose Bradford to target him significatly. That bothers me as Bradford has had a better season than last year almost in spite of using Kendricks more. Kendricks role and usage seems to have plateaued. I argue that his numbers show that and I think thats a fair assumption. Of bigger concern is the lack of exemplary reports on his over the last years time.

When talking about the aforementioned Te’s in the article, they’ve all had positive buzz about them on the practice field and in season before experiencing a breakout. I worry that Kendricks lack of explosiveness, drive or offensive significance is causing this. I think thats a fair belief.

Chris R.
9 years ago

Great post. I cannot count how many times I have declined deals for Graham or Gronkowski. Even as of recent I had an offer of Brandon Marshall and Vernon Davis for Graham + a 2nd and while it was tough I passed. Marshall is a stud sure, but it’s just so much easier finding big time WR production then it is elite TE production.

How often do you think you’ll come across a TE who is under 25 and can post a 90/1300/12 stat line? That’s extremely valuable for a position that plays well into their mid 30’s at least without dropping off too much. In leagues I own those guys, they are un touchable. Not that I wouldn’t be able to improve elsewhere, but that’s a weekly advantage I have I am not willing to lose.

Ryan ebert
9 years ago

Not one mention of Hernandez?

JBlake
Reply to  Ryan ebert
9 years ago

How should he have fit in this article? Hernandez is the consensus #3 TE. He’s not as good as Gronk/Graham, and he’s not a breakout candidate you can get for a 2nd round pick.

Hernandez almost deserves a separate article because he’s completely different, basically a slot reveiver who’s categorized as a TE. Hernandez is rarely asked to block in the traditional “6th lineman” way, so he was able to break out muck quicker. I can’t think of any others in that category except for maybe Fleener, Niles Paul converting from WR, and Scheffler who the Lions use in the slot.

Rob Spaulding
9 years ago

Just picked up Kendricks off waivers. Already have Daniels and Olsen.
Won my division (9-4) with strong QB, WR and TE play and virtually nothing from my RBs.

Rob Spaulding
9 years ago

Forgot to add that this is a dynasty league.

Brad Roberts
Reply to  Rob Spaulding
9 years ago

Glad I stumbled on upon this article. I drafted Kendricks with pick 13 in my dynasty draft, based on the extremely good pre-season he had his rookie year. I thought he would be the next big thing, still waiting. I nearly dropped him several times, but luckily did not based on the price I payed for him.
This article gives me a glimmer of hope going into the upcoming years. In hind sight I would never take a TE before round 3 in a rookie only draft, especially now that I’ve seen a plethora of TE’s come and go on the waiver wire since drafting kendricks. The latest being Pitta and Myers

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