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Fantasy Football 2010: DeTErmining when to draft Vernon Davis

Last week, we had a discussion about drafting the sixth ranked RB over a top ranked QB or WR. The key point of the debate, was that since the RB department is currently short staffed (in terms of fantasy value) was it better waiting to take a QB or WR later due to the large volume of productive players at each position? The votes rolled in for Frank Gore (57%), although strong points were made for both sides in the comments. This week, we'll discuss a position that falls in the land of in between: Tight Ends. Similar to the RB position, there aren't a lot of stud TEs to be had; similar to the WR and QB position, you'll find many servicable TEs later on in your fantasy draft. I used to draft with the philosophy: "No TE before round 6", but have since changed my stance. So, the question is, do you jump on the best available tight end early, or wait it out for a late round bargain?

Once again referring to ESPN's fantasy rankings, Vernon Davis sits 58th overall and third amongst TEs. If every fantasy draft went according to the ESPN rankings, Vernon Davis would land just before the end of round 5 (in a standard, 12-team draft format). With Antonio Gates ranked just ahead of VD (57), and Dallas Clark ranked top of the class(54), ESPN's rankings suggest no tight ends should go before round 5. Considering only three tight ends topped 1,000 yards in 2009, and just three had 9 or more TDs, I argue ESPN's rankings. Clark was the only tight end to top 1,000 yards and score 10 TDs. That's quite a feat considering 20 WRs topped 1,000 yards, while 12 caught at least 9 TDs. ESPN has 24 wide receivers ranked over the best tight end (including Michael Crabtree at 52); something just doesn't seem right about that.

Obviously your fantasy draft isn't going to go the way ESPN's rankings list, but shouldn't the top ranked player at the TE position be atleast a third round talent? After all, in most leagues, you can only start one tight end compared to the 2 or 3 WRs "dressing" for your fantasy team. Getting WR-like production from a TE is like having a 3rd or 4th WR can give your team an advantage. Last week I argued that because you have to start 2 RBs, and just 1 QB, the RB should be the choice. The difference here is that the pool of TEs is dwarfed by the pool of QBs. I'm not saying there isn't talent to be had at TE deeper in a fantasy draft, but come the back end of round 3 (picks 33+), I think it's time to consider taking one of the top tight ends available. According to Fantasy Football Caculator, you'd have the pick of the litter. Of FFC's 1023 mock drafts, Clark has an ADP (average draft position) of 40.7 (round 4, pick 5), with Gates (49.1) usually going in round 5 along with VD (53). [NOTE: FFC's projections have 15 WRs ahead of the top ranked TE, a much more reasonable number.]

After the jump I bust out my own fantasy point calculator, and see where Vernon Davis stacks up...

Top Five Tight Ends by Fantasy Points Per Game in 2009*

  1. Vernon Davis 10.9 (15.8)
  2. Dallas Clark 10.7 (16.9)
  3. Antonio Gates 10.2 (15.2)
  4. Owen Daniels 10.2 (15.2)
  5. Brent Celek 9.1 (13.8)

Top Five Wide Receivers by Fantasy Points Per Game in 2009*

  1. Andre Johnson 13.2 (19.5)
  2. Randy Moss 12.8 (18.0)
  3. DeSean Jackson 12.6 (16.9)
  4. Miles Austin 12.4 (17.4)
  5. Reggie Wayne 11.7 (17.9)

* - Fantasy Points calculated as 1 PT = 10 yards receiving, 6 PTs = TD; (PPR format, 1 PT = reception)

As you can tell by the numbers, VD doesn't average as much as the fifth ranked WR, but like the RB vs. QB debate, sometimes you need to grab a premium player at a position that isn't deep. Eleven wide outs averaged more FPPG than Vernon Davis, but again, fantasy points at a scarce position are sometimes more valuable. Consider that only 4 tight ends averaged 10+ FPPG (O.Daniels missed half the season) while 13 WRs did the same. Moreover, 24 WRs averaged at least 8 FPPG (including those averaging 10+); just FIVE tight ends managed to do so. I'd say it's safe to go after the number one TE on your board, once the top 7 or 8 WRs have fallen.

Who you've got ranked as the number one tight end is an entirely different ball game. Vernon's 2009 numbers certainly indicate he could be 2010's top dog, but Antonio Gates and Dallas Clark have been doing this for a few years now. Davis' best season prior to 2009 was no where close to leading all tight ends in points. The fact that VD is in a contract year could also mean reproduction of 2009's explosion. No matter how the rankings shake up, I think the top 3 TEs (Clark, Gates, VD) are all viable options after the top 8 WRs or pick 33.