People ask the Machine all the time: when should I draft a TE? The answer, much like the answer to “is she hot” and “do you think I have a shot” is: it depends. Most Fantasy Football “experts” will tell you not to draft a TE until at least Round 5. That’s sooo 2005, and the Machine is here to call bullshit on that outdated thinking. Like Shakira’s hips, the numbers don’t lie. The new-age TEs have become an integral part of the passing game…and are more than just big, dumb meatheads that block and occasionally run the seam. In some cases they are the first option in the offense (see 49ers, San Francisco). In fact, 4 of the Machine’s Top 10 are from the c2010 Draft. Fact: top flight TE’s should be viewed as #1 WRs. Here are the Machine’s Top 10 TEs for 2012 (Receptions/Yards/TDs).
1. Rob Gronkowski (90/1327/17). Gronk had more TDs than Megatron, and more receptions than Fitz. Case closed. Always thought of as having first round talent, Gronk dropped to the second round in 2010 due to injury concerns. However, in his first two years in the league, he’s never missed a game, proof that the NFL has the best trainers (and access to pain meds) in all of sport. Whatever the reason, he’s Tom Brady’s go to target in the red zone, and an integral part of the Pats offense. Look for Gronk to reign supreme as your 2012 TE fantasy champ.
2. Jimmy Graham (99/1310/11). There was a lot of hype about Jimmy at the beginning of last year, and he more than backed it up. Jimmy thing finished #3 in receptions, in the entire fucking league, trailing only Wes (“token”) Welker (122) and Roddy White (100). Perhaps even more impressive, Jimmy led the pass-happy Saints in receptions, yards, and tds. Another year in that high octane offense should only further increase his role. You heard it here first: Jimmy will top triple digits in receptions this year. Jimmy and Gronk are in a class by themselves.
3. Jermichael Finley (55/767/8). Jermichael was finally healthy for an entire season, and backed it up with some solid numbers. Although there are several TEs that had more productivity in 2011, 2012 is all about projecting baby…and the Machine likes what Jermichael’s selling…we also like saying Jermichael, it’s right up there as one of the top made up names that begin with “Jer” (a close second to Jermajesty Jackson). Anyway, Jermichael, if healthy, should shine in 2012. With Donald Driver taking on even less of a role, Jermichael is definitely the #2 passing option behind Greg Jennings. And, because the Packers rotate so many WRs in and out, he’s going to be on the field more than Jordy Nelson or James Jones, leading to more balls going his way on a consistent basis. Certainly not on the level of Gronk or Graham (now is where you start drafting a TE in Round 5) look for Jermichael to have a dramatic increase in production, surprising many, but not the Machine or its loyal fan base.
4. Jason Witten (79/942/5). You simply can’t go wrong with Witten on your team. What’s not to like about him (except that he’s a Cowboy)? He puts up consistently solid numbers, has only missed one game his entire career (and that was back in 2005) and he’s Tony Romo’s best friend. That bromance leads to action (on the field of course). While his numbers were down compared to the two previous seasons where he caught 94 balls and had 1,000+ yards each year, he’s still Tony’s “roommate” on road trips, and that close, plutonic bond should continue to produce solid fantasy numbers, and whispers in the locker room.
5. Vernon Davis (67/792/6). Vernon blurs the distinction between TE and WR, probably more so than anyone on this list. Not just because he has the speed and route running ability of a WR along with the power of a TE on his chiseled 6’3”, 250 lb frame, but also because he’s a diva, which is traditionally reserved only for WRs. Sorry Vernon, but there’s no crying in football, unless you’re Dick Vermeil or a WR, and Vernon’s post-game crying after catching the winning touchdown against the Saints is more T.O. than Vermeil. Don’t forget he was banished to the locker room DURING A GAME. Also, do a google image search for Vernon Davis and you’ll see just how into himself he is…either that, or he doesn’t realize he has enough money to buy a shirt. While this would normally get him top diva honors on most teams, Vernon ranks #3 on the niners in that regard (behind Randy Moss and wanna-be Randy Moss Michael Crabtree). Whatever, you’re not drafting for personality, you’re drafting for results, and although Vernon had career lows in receptions, yards, and tds in 2011, he’s still the best receiver (and athlete) on the 49ers offense, and even with Alex Smith at the helm, Vernon should get his. Look for Vernon to get back to his usual stats, roughly high 70’s/900/10.
6. Brandon Pettigrew (83/777/5). The Machine is a big Pettigrew fan. He had a banner 2011, with career highs in receptions, yards, and tds. He has the talent to be a top 3 TE. The only thing holding him back is Megatron, who (rightfully) is the first, second, and third option, especially in the red zone. From a fantasy perspective, this makes it unlikely for Brandon to crack double digit tds, which is what separates the great from the good. Still, there’s plenty of balls for him to catch in that offense, and he seems to have developed good chemistry with Stafford.
7. Jermaine Gresham (56/596/6). Jermaine should improve upon his 2011 stats. With Jerome Simpson no longer flipping over folks (or slinging the rock) in Cincinnati, Gresham becomes the #2 passing option behind dynamo A.J. Green. One knock on Jermaine is durability…he’s yet to play a full season. If healthy, the sky’s the limit. There’s a good, young, offensive nucleus in Cincy, think of them as a poor man’s Detroit Lions (did you ever think you’d say that?). What this amounts to is greater involvement, and production, from Jermaine.
8. Tony Gonzalez (80/875/7). At age 97 (ok 36 but still that’s fucking old for a TE) you would think Tony would break down by now. I get it. He’s old. How old? Well, when he came into the league (1997), the Machine was in college, Bill Clinton had yet to be blown by Monica (we think), and the number one song was Mo Money Mo Problems. That’s how old Gonzo is. However, the dude doesn’t break down. Out of a possible 240 regular season games, he’s played in 238. And he hasn’t slowed down like so many of his contemporaries. He’s been with Atlanta for three years, and has averaged 77/799/6. Oh, and he hasn’t missed a game as a Falcon. Look for Tony go have a 2012 similar to his three year average. Not bad for a dude born during the Carter administration.
9. Antonio Gates (64/778/7). For sure the best undrafted TE of all-time, for years Antonio has been at the top of the fantasy TE list. However, although he’s 4 years his junior, Antonio is the anti-Tony Gonzalez. Injuries have taken toll (he hasn’t played a full season since 2009), and Antonio should no longer be thought of as a top flight TE. Notwithstanding, he’s still a good TE and, when healthy, a very productive one. The Machine sees him coming into the twilight of his career. Age, plus injury concerns, means you’ll soon be talking about the games on Sunday instead of playing in them.
10. Aaron Hernandez (79/910/7). Hernandez not only bookends the Patriots on this list (something that before last year would be unheard of) but he rounds out the solid class of 2010 TEs, along with Gronk, Jimmy, and Jermaine. He makes the Top 10 even though he’s the #2 TE on his team (again, something that’s unheard of). Don’t let that scare you too much. The Patriots do things differently because they can, and Hernandez is in line to put up solid numbers again. He hasn’t played a full season yet, and that’s pause for some concern, but Tom Brady loves to spread the ball around, so, if healthy, he should have no problems putting up solid numbers.