The 2013 season left fantasy owners with a lot of holes in lineups at the tight end position. What appeared to be a great season with many stars destined to breakout resulted in a season of what may have been the toughest spot to fill for fantasy owners. Charles Clay was a nice surprise along with Tim Wright and Jordan Reed when healthy. Some disappointments included Kyle Rudolph, Rob Housler, and Jared Cook.
Tight ends were also decimated by injury before the season even started. Rob Gronkowski came into 2013 with a back injury that forced him to miss the first six weeks and ended with a major knee injury that may force him to miss the beginning of 2014. Dwayne Allen appeared to be ready to breakout before his season ended with a hip injury. Owen Daniels suffered a fibular fracture that forced him out of 2013. Finally, Dennis Pitta suffered a dislocated and fractured hip during training camp, but he was able to return before the season finished for the Ravens.
Where does that leave the tight end position heading into 2014? With rookies growing a year older and coaching changes that affect the offensive side of the ball, 2014 leaves us with plenty to look forward to. The addition of some quality NFL draft talent (Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, Austin Seferian-Jenkins) will also add to the tight end crop, which is quickly becoming a heavily used position in a pass heavy NFL.
Some tight ends to target in 2014 with upside (in no specific order) include:
Kyle Rudolph – Norv Turner loves to utilize the tight ends in his offenses. He transformed Jordan Cameron in Cleveland and can do the same with the talented Rudolph. The Vikings are likely to add a rookie quarterback which means a value increase for the tight end in the offense. Rudolph should be a hot name in the off-season to acquire or draft for the upcoming season.
Jordan Reed – Reed may have been the most utilized rookie tight end prior to his concussion in 2013. He was on pace to finish as a top seven tight end before missing the last five games of the season. Reed was one of Robert Griffin III’s top targets in 2013. If Jay Gruden can make Andy Dalton a top five fantasy football quarterback, I am excited to see what he can do with Robert Griffin III and his pass catchers in Washington.
Tyler Eifert – With another year under his belt in Cincinnati I expect Eifert to take another step in becoming a top target for the Bengals. Jermaine Gresham still has one year left on his contract, but the Bengals will be working to get the young tight end more involved in 2014. This could mean better numbers and should put him in low TE1 category.
Ladarius Green – The former fourth round pick was seeing more snaps and producing for the Chargers late in 2013. They started to give the Chargers an idea of what life will be like after Antonio Gates. Green and Gates are both locked into contracts through 2015. Gates will be a great mentor for Green moving forward, but I expect Green to see more snaps and produce solid fantasy numbers.
Dennis Pitta – Bringing in Gary Kubiak to be offensive coordinator of the Ravens gives Dennis Pitta an immediate upgrade. Kubiak made Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham relevant fantasy football tight ends. Expect Pitta to be a top ten fantasy tight end moving forward with top five potential.
Zach Ertz – There is not much I can say about Zach Ertz that DLF writer Karl Safchick hasn’t already said. Ertz may be one of the most attainable names on this list. He is in a great offense and will likely take more snaps than Brent Celek moving forward. The former second round pick showed signs of putting up elite numbers (vs. Arizona Cardinals), but to be fair a lot of tight ends put up elite numbers against Arizona. Numbers aside, Ertz has phenomenal potential and is in one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Enough said.
Dwayne Allen – Allen was set to have a breakout campaign and his season ended early with a hip injury. Allen had a solid rookie season where he appeared to be steps ahead of teammate Coby Fleener. Allen finished as a top 25 tight end and should bounce back in 2014 and put up top 20 numbers.
Joseph Fauria – In a pass heavy offense like Detroit, why is the use of the tight end so limited? With no true WR2 opposite of Calvin Johnson, it limits targets to running backs and tight ends. Joseph Fauria showed his value in the red zone in 2013 and should see more snaps in 2014. Fauria finished 2013 with 18 total catches, seven that went for touchdowns. Fauria has an offseason to work with Matthew Stafford and new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Lombardi was Drew Brees’ quarterback coach in New Orleans and we know how much Brees like his tight end. Hopefully this gives Fauria owners something to look forward to.
Travis Kelce – The Kansas City offense was explosive in 2013, but still lacked a consistent tight end. Kelce was a third round pick for Chiefs in 2013 and did not play in the regular season after sustaining a knee injury in the preseason. The result was microfracture surgery that sent him to IR in October. Kelce should be ready for the 2014 season and only has to beat out Anthony Fasano in order to start at tight end. Kelce’s knee injury is serious and will take time to heal. His value is as low as it could be if he comes back healthy and is able to produce for the Chiefs.
The tight end pool should continue to add depth in a pass heavy league. Volume in an offense dictates production in most cases. The addition of new coaches as well as maturity in the position are important factors in obtaining a valuable tight end in fantasy football. All of the above tight ends have value that could increase greatly heading into 2014. With an entire off-season ahead of us let the “hype train” begin on many of the names on this list to breakout in 2014.
You'll find Brian on Twitter at @Brian_Bulmer