Hello to all the fantasy football fans across the nation. This is your tight end expert Dan Gilman reporting from Cleveland, Ohio and I am back to talking about the top tight ends for the 2014 season. In 2013, the tight end position grew in the amount of influence it had on your fantasy football team. More and more tight ends are making offensive impacts throughout the NFL and these guys deserve the attention of fantasy owners as a major component of their teams. Today, we are going to go through my top 15 tight ends for the 2014 season.
1. Jimmy Graham (NO/7): Simply put, Graham is the best fantasy tight end in the NFL. He put up 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns (by far the highest in each category among tight ends in 2013) while battling injuries throughout the year. There are questions regarding his ability to stay fully healthy across a 16 game season, but I have no concerns with the toughness of Graham to fight through whatever aliments he will face. The only question for me is in regards to his contract situation with the Saints. There is still not a long-term deal in place and there is a fight among Graham and the Saints of whether his franchise tag should be for a tight end or as a wide receiver. I believe they will get that issue hammered out by the beginning of the season (he will not miss training camp) and he will be putting up similar numbers in 2014 as he did in 2013.
2. Jordan Cameron (CLE/10): Jordan Cameron broke onto the scene last season despite the sub-par quarterback play in Cleveland. He had 917 yards (second best among tight ends) and seven scores with a bunch of backup quarterbacks in the starting role for the Browns. There is still room for major improvement as the quarterback situation will improve in 2014 with a little Johnny Football (I mean he cannot be worse than the last group of quarterbacks the Browns have thrown out there). With more consistent play around him, Cameron will be able to keep up his numbers steady across a full season and produce some more top fight numbers.
3. Vernon Davis (SF/9): It seems like Vernon Davis became lost in the 49ers offense throughout multiple games in the 2013 season. He only grabbed 52 passes on the season, but when he did get the ball, he made some major damage. With 850 yards and 13 scores with such a low reception total, there is major room for an explosion in his numbers. The 49ers will focus more on the passing game in 2014 with Colin Kaepernick and use Davis’s athletic explosiveness for big plays and more receptions per game.
4. Julius Thomas (DEN/9): Thomas was the top breakout fantasy player in the 2013 season with 788 yards and 12 scores while not playing in all 16 regular season contests. Thomas is a raw player that has shown the ability to improve week by week as a season progresses. He still has room to grow (especially as a blocker) and could be in line to get in the passing game more. But, to put up those numbers in his first full-time season is remarkable. He will get better and Peyton Manning will continue to use him as a major red zone threat, especially with the loss of Eric Decker. But, temper your expectations as a fantasy owner: Peyton Manning likes to share the wealth among his many targets in the passing game.
5. Jordan Reed (WAS/5): I believe that Reed will be the breakout tight end in the 2014 season, ala Julius Thomas. He caught 45 passes for 499 yards and three scores in nine games in the tumultuous Redskins’ season. He is a freak athlete that is a major matchup problem for opposing defenses, a Swiss army knife that has the speed to fly by linebackers and the size to go over defensive backs. If RGIII returns to health (and that is a major if), he will open up the defense with the run threat and find Reed in some one-on-one situations in either the slot or off the line.
6. Rob Gronkowski (NE/10): When healthy, Gronk is a no doubter in the top two of these rankings. But, I’m really starting to wonder whether he can make it through 16 games without getting hurt in one way or another. Thus, he lands this low in the rankings. He is a true beast when healthy, a major matchup issue for opposing defenses no matter who they have covering him. He will rack up yards and is Tom Brady‘s prime red zone target for touchdowns. But, how often will he make his way on the field to get those catches and touchdowns? Only time will tell for the Gronk.
7. Greg Olsen (CAR/4): Olsen is Cam Newton‘s favorite target and only proven target (since Steve Smith is now gone). Who does Newton really trust out there in the receiving game but Olsen? Jerricho Cotchery? Jason Avant? The rookie Kelvin Benjamin? Tiquan Underwood? No, no, no and … nope. Newton will have to lean on his veteran tight end for consistent targets in the passing game. And Olsen has been a consistent threat in his last two seasons in Carolina, about 800 yards and 5-6 scores. He will not wow you week-in and week-out, but he will continue to be a prime member of your starting lineup with slightly more receptions in 2014.
8. Jason Witten (DAL/11): Witten is one of the consistent options at the tight end position with his great connection with quarterback Tony Romo. He usually gets you a top 10 yardage total and touchdown total. He has had over 1,000 yards in four of his ten seasons and will put up a nice haul in the touchdown department. Witten is getting up there in age, but that is no reason to pass on him in your fantasy drafts. Witten is a top 10 guy at the tight end position with the spread, passing-heavy offense he is in and the number of targets he gets regularly (111 last season).
9. Eric Ebron (DET/9): For those of you that have not seen my draft write-up on tight ends, I see Ebron as a top ten tight end in 2014 and for many years to come. As a member of the Lions, he will get his one-on-one looks early and often as Megatron will command double teams throughout the game and Golden Tate some attention as well. Ebron will be in a crowded core of tight ends with Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew, but he is clearly the best in that bunch and will command most of the throws to the tight ends. He is a great fit in the offensive system in Detroit and has the skills and athletic ability to be a slot receiver-type of tight end that will be gold among fantasy players.
10. Dennis Pitta (BAL/8): Pitta suffered a setback in his development with the off-season injury that limited him to four games in 2013. He ended up catching 20 passes on his 33 targets for 169 yards and one score across those four games. But, there is no doubt that quarterback Joe Flacco likes to target the former BYU Cougars star on key passing downs and in the red zone. That connection will continue in 2014 with a top ten fantasy season that will see new highs in receptions and receiving yards.
11. Garrett Graham (HOU/8): Gone from Houston is Owen Daniels and his injury-prone seasons. Garrett Graham is now the starter and agreed this offseason on a three-year contract with the Texans for $11.25 million. He snagged 49 passes for five touchdowns last season and now finds himself in Bill O’Brien’s offense, one that likes to spotlight tight ends. Major upside is in the cards for Graham this season as the Texans will look to improve the passing game under Ryan Fitzpatrick or Case Keenum.
12. Charles Clay (MIA/6): Clay was targeted 102 times last season … 102 times! Not too many people think of Clay when considering the top tight ends in the league (maybe because he came in as a hybrid fullback/tight end), but the former Tulsa star has found a good situation in Miami. The coaching staff likes to get him into great one-on-one matchups against the opposing defense to use his athletic ability in the open field (remember he played running back/fullback/tight end at Tulsa). Ryan Tannehill will need to use Clay early and often in games as the offensive line needs to continually improve. Thus, expect another high reception total in 2014 for Clay.
13. Martellus Bennett (CHI/8): Marc Trestman has greatly improved the offensive production in Chicago since his hiring. He has also greatly improved the value of Bennett, who recorded career highs in receptions, yards and fantasy points in 2013. While he is not the top option on the board in Chicago, he will get his share of looks and slots in as a low TE1/high TE2.
14. Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TB/5): Seferian-Jenkins is now in a situation where he will compete for the tight end job with Brandon Myers, the free agent pickup from the Giants. He has the size and ability to make defenses pay. The questions coming through the draft process surrounded his injury proneness and his motivation. He is an interesting prospect to monitor through the preseason to see what his role will develop into. I project him as the starter at tight end over Myers and thus a top 15 tight end in 2014.
15. Coby Fleener (IND/8): It was an up-and-down year for Fleener in Indy. He had some remarkable games and some where you wonder where he was. He has the college connection with quarterback Andrew Luck and will look to become a more consistent threat in the passing game in 2014. I think he improves in the consistency and route running as he will post highs across the board.