For the final installment of “A Closer Look”, I’ll reveal my initial tight end rankings and highlight players that I’m especially high or low on. Quarterback, running back and wide receiver rankings have already been released, and you can find Mike Braude’s free player projections here.
Apex Tight End Rankings:
Greg Olsen (My Rank: 4, ECR: 6)
Only four tight ends had more targets than Greg Olsen in 2013: Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, Jordan Cameron, and Antonio Gates. Gonzalez is retired, Cameron is the lone weapon on an offense that wants to be run heavy and is likely to start a rookie at quarterback, and Gates is expected to lose targets to Ladarius Green.
With a new crop of receivers in Carolina, Olsen should be one of Cam Newton’s favorite targets, especially around the goal line, where Cam is the Panthers’ only other real red zone threat to score on a consistent basis. After the top tier of tight ends, Olsen should be one of the most utilized and targeted tight ends in the league.
Jason Witten (My Rank: 6, ECR: 8)
Analysts that are down on Jason Witten point to his drop in overall production in 2013 as an indication that he is on the decline. Witten had a similar down year in 2011 and returned in 2012 with one of his top three career years.
Despite his lowest catch total since 2006, Witten still finished as TE6 in PPR leagues, and had his most efficient year of his career with Tony Romo in terms of Adjusted Yards per Attempt. We, at Apex, have been gushing over the Cowboys offense with the addition of Scott Linehan, who brings a system that could see Witten return as a top five tight end.
Dwayne Allen (My Rank: 17, ECR: 22)
If I’m picking a very late round tight end, I prefer upside over safety, and Dwayne Allen is the ultimate upside tight end. In his rookie season of 2012, he posted 1.75 FP/target on 66 targets, the rare early career scoring efficiency that often predicts breakout tight ends.
Unfortunately, he missed all of 2013 due to an injury, but he returns to what should be one of the best passing attacks in the league coupled with a star quarterback that he was drafted with.
He’ll have to compete for targets with Coby Fleener and three talented wide receivers, but the Colts don’t have a clear go-to red zone threat. The Indianapolis offense should find itself near the goal line frequently and Allen could end up being the biggest beneficiary.
Vernon Davis (My Rank: 8, ECR: 5)
There may be no player that fantasy owners should expect to regress more in 2014 than Vernon Davis. Davis’ success in 2013 was predicated largely on an unsustainable touchdown rate, scoring once every 6.5 targets. The league average targets per TD for tight ends with at least 50 targets was 21.4.
Only 3 tight ends in the top 10 had less than 100 targets, and Davis was the only one with less than 90. Even if the 49ers increase their passing volume, Michael Crabtree will be healthy for the whole season, and they added a legitimate number three receiver in Stevie Johnson.
Add the chance that Davis may end up being a training camp holdout, and he seems like a clear player to avoid on draft day.
Dennis Pitta (My Rank: 10, ECR :7)
I’m not so much down on Dennis Pitta as a player, as I am on the entire Baltimore offense. The running game is in shambles and Joe Flacco has trouble finding the end zone. Last season, 40 quarterbacks threw at least 150 passes, and only 5 had a lower TD rate than Joe Flacco; those quarterbacks were Christian Ponder, Matt Schaub, Geno Smith, Chad Henne, and Terrelle Pryor.
Even if Flacco does regress positively, the Ravens added Steve Smith, Marlon Brown is a second year breakout candidate, and Torrey Smith is the clear number one. At this point it’s difficult to gauge where Pitta will fit under new OC Gary Kubiak, who fluctuated his use of tight ends in Houston.