The tight end position in fantasy football is ridiculously top loaded. Sure, Jimmy Graham is worth a first round pick. If you select Rob Gronkowski or Julius Thomas in the third you won't get any complaints from me. Drafting a tight end after that becomes a leap of faith and makes me feel a lot like this little guy. We (the raccoon) know there is salvation (the wall) somewhere in the bunch of lowered tiered tight ends, but there is the real chance we flame out and end up with this year's Coby Fleener.
Despite a terrific 2013 season, Vernon Davis is finding himself on many "Do Not Draft" lists; a difficult feat for a guy coming off a 13 TD season (2nd best among tight ends). 2014 brings plenty of changes to the San Francisco passing attack. Michael Crabtree is back and healthy. Stevie Johnson is now in the mix and Anquan Boldin will certainly be a factor. There just aren't enough passes to go around for Davis to duplicate his 2013 campaign.
So how far does Vernon fall and who rises to take his place? Let's take a look at the group being drafted immediately below Davis to see if we can find a replacement or at least discover a few players with better value:
1. Vernon Davis
Davis finds himself in an unappealing position in regards to fantasy football. If you want him, you'll have to give up a fifth round pick. Not a terrible price, but there are a few candidates going several rounds later that are in position to outperform Captain Torpedo. In 2013, Davis was the second passing option in San Francisco and still finished 14th in targets among tight ends. This year his targets are sure to drop and so will his touchdown total (he also accounted for 13 touchdowns in 2009, but never more than 7 throughout the next 3 years). His floor is pretty low given his overall lack of receptions, making him too touchdown dependent for my tastes. If you still need a starting WR, RB or QB in the fifth round, then his services don't seem all that appealing.
2. Jordan Cameron
The QB controversy in Cleveland is settled...for now. For fantasy purposes, Brian Hoyer getting the start is actually a good thing for Jordan Cameron. With Hoyer at the helm, Cameron was second among tight ends for fantasy points per game. It was a small sample size, but with Josh Gordon expected to miss at least a few games; he stands to be the primary receiver for the Browns. I think he'll out produce Davis this year, but unfortunately there currently isn't much value as he is only going a few picks behind #85.
3. Jason Witten
Witten is often criticized by the fantasy community due to his low TD totals. The Cowboy actually finished tied for 4th in touchdown receptions (8) last year, but saw his normally reliable reception count take a significant hit, loosing nearly 40 receptions from his 2012 season. He finished fifth among fantasy tight ends last season and he continues to be one of Tony Romo's most trusted weapons. His current average draft position puts in the 6th round, so if you are choosing between a tight end or WR3 then Witten represents a pretty good value. He could easily put up more fantasy points than Emmanuel Sanders, Julian Edelman or Marques Colston and give you a significant advantage at the position.
4. Jordan Reed
Reed's 2013 season was cut short by a concussion, but if you project his 2013 numbers based on the games he did play he would finish with around 80 receptions, 887 yards and 5 touchdowns (around 6th best for tight ends). Washington has three quality wide outs, which is a concern for Reed's targets. However, in 2013 Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham combined for 85 receptions under Jay Gruden in Cincinnati. Reed should have a huge role in Washington's passing attack. Currently going in the 7th, targeting Reed allows you to fill up your roster with quality options while making room for an intriguing wild card at tight end.
5. Kyle Rudolph
A fantasy disappointment in 2013, Rudolph reenters the break out conversation in this season. Like Reed, his previous season was cut short due to injury. Unlike Reed, he wasn't doing much before the injury. The Vikings QB situation has held him back to a certain degree. Matt Cassel will probably start, but Teddy Bridgewater is a real threat to take over so the instability drops Rudolph a few picks. On the positive side, our old friend Norv Turner is expected to work his magic on the Minnesota offense. Often credited for the emergence of Jordan Cameron last year, Norv loves him some tight ends (I refuse to rephrase that, grow up). If Cordarrelle Patterson can live up to the hype it should open up opportunities for Rudolph, who is a tempting mid round option currently going in the 8th. Don't forget, he did put up 53/495/9 during his only 16 game season of his three year career and that was with Christian Ponder. A 70/700/8 season is not out of the question.
If you aren't lucky enough to grab Graham, Gronk or Thomas in the first three rounds then my advice is to wait. There isn't much separating the 4th ranked tight end from the 10th. Use those rounds to select quality starters at the other positions.
As for Vernon, he'll be a fine option at tight end in fantasy. I just don't want to use such a high pick on the guy. Let another manager enamored with his 2013 numbers have him. I'll be okay with Kyle Rudolph going 3 to 4 rounds later.
Projected Stats: 42 receptions, 700 yards, 8 TDs
Good luck fellow raccoons and keep jumping for that wall.
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