While multiple tight end sets and pass-catching hybrid tight ends are all the rage in today’s NFL, for the most part teams didn’t raid each other’s rosters to stockpile at the position. The top eight fantasy scorers all stayed put, and only three tight ends who ranked among the top 20 at the position are wearing a new uniform in 2013. Here’s a closer look at what they—and other tight ends with new teams—bring to the table.
Martellus Bennett, Bears
It’s been a while since the Bears had an impact tight end; even when they had Greg Olsen, they didn’t know what to do with him. And while new coach Marc Trestman runs a version of the West Coast offense, he traditionally hasn’t done much with the tight ends: only once in nine years of Trestman’s play-calling has a tight end topped 33 catches or scored more than four touchdowns.
However, Martellus Bennett gives Trestman a unique piece to work with. He has the size and strength to be a solid in-line blocker—help the Chicago offensive line could certainly use. But as he demonstrated in a mild breakout season with the Giants last year—55 catches, 626 yards, five TDs—Bennett also offers mismatch problems in the passing game. The Bears indicated when they signed Bennett that the plan is to move him around, line him up outside and in the slot as well as in a traditional in-line role; moreover, Trestman prefers big targets for his quarterback and the 6-foot-6 Bennett offers exactly that.
No team threw fewer passes to the tight end last year than the Bears, but it’s a new regime and a new target. Bennett offers some definite upside in Trestman’s WCO, and he may wind up being Jay Cutler’s number two target behind Brandon Marshall.
Brandon Myers, Giants
Replacing Bennett in New York is Brandon Myers, who as the eighth-most productive fantasy tight end last year is the most productive player at his position to be switching teams. Myers emerged mid-season as the Raiders’ most consistent target, seeing double-digit balls in four of seven games between Weeks 7 and 13. He also packed all four of his touchdowns into that time frame before limping home with just 10 catches for 85 yards in the final month of the season.
Myers becomes the Giants’ fourth different starting tight end in as many seasons, and despite the revolving door the role has consistently produced stats that rank in the top half of the league; when housed under one player, the yield is a low-end fantasy starter. Specifically, Myers can fill the middle-of-the-field role in Eli Manning’s passing game while Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks work down the field. He also intends to improve his blocking, something he’ll need to do to stay on the field in New York. Myers cited playing the entire 2012 season with a separated shoulder as one reason his blocking suffered last year.
Volume-wise Myers is likely looking at a reduction in targets from the 105 he saw in Oakland; Bennett’s 90 targets last season was the most for a Giants’ tight end by a significant number since Jeremy Shockey saw 93 in 2007. But Myers will also see an upgrade at quarterback and likely more scoring opportunities in New York. He’s a more talented pass-catcher than Bennett—perhaps the Giants’ best receiving option at the position since Shockey left—so low-end fantasy starter numbers feel like Myers’ productivity baseline.
Jared Cook, Rams
Jared Cook may be the most buzzed-about tight end this offseason, and not just because Jeff Fisher convinced the Rams to give the former Fisher draft pick $35 million for a reunion tour in St. Louis. Fantasy owners have long salivated over Cook’s potential; he’s freakishly athletic, a physical mismatch too fast for linebackers and too big for cornerbacks.
However, much of that salivating is due to Cook’s propensity for closing seasons with a bang: 17-272-1 in Weeks 15-16 of 2011, 12-154-1 in Weeks 16-17 of 2010. It’s that lingering memory, that tangy zip of upside that inflates Cook’s fantasy value throughout the offseason… right up until the games start again. Remove those two two-game stretches from Cook’s resume and he’s had five or more catches just thrice and scored six touchdowns in four NFL seasons.
So the question is, will St. Louis use him enough to justify the salary and allow him to live up to his potential? The plan is for the Rams to get faster and spread the offense out more, so Cook’s deficient blocking shouldn’t be an issue. He’ll likely line up in the slot; whether that means he and first-round pick Tavon Austin are complementing each other or competing for looks and playing time remains to be seen. There are bound to be Cook lovers in your league, with a small sample size of what could be and big hopes for his future. If so, he’ll be overvalued; if not, maybe you can acquire his upside without paying a premium price.
Backups of note
Delanie Walker will no longer steal Vernon Davis’ touchdowns; he moved cross-country to replace Jared Cook in Tennessee. He’s there because he can block, but as the Titans’ every-down tight end he should top his career high of 29 catches in a season; however, his personal prediction of 70 grabs seems aggressive, as Tennessee tight ends as a group caught a total of 73 last year. Plus no tight end dropped a larger percentage of passes thrown their way than Walker… The Dolphins weren’t afraid to throw money at their passing game this offseason, and they directed $4 million of it in a one-year “show me” deal to former Jet Dustin Keller. There is certainly financial motivation for Keller to perform, as well as facing his former team twice, but only two teams completed fewer passes to tight ends last year than the Dolphins. That should change, as Keller might be Miami’s second-best pass catcher next to Mike Wallace, but it’s still tough to see him getting the 100-plus targets he received in 2010 and 2011, when he was a low-end fantasy starter… Former Dolphin Anthony Fasano upgrades his situation, joining the suddenly pass-happy Kansas City Chiefs. The tight end is a staple of Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense; problem is, Fasano will be sharing looks and snaps with Tony Moeaki and rookie Travis Kelce. And while Fasano is no slouch as a pass-catcher, in this triad he’ll be the blocking tight end—or, in fantasy terms, wasted… James Casey is every bit the athletic mismatch Chip Kelly dreams about when envisioning the tight end in his high-octane offense. That’s the good news; the bad news is, so is second-round pick Zach Ertz. At least Casey won’t fall behind Ertz, as both will be missing OTAs—Ertz because he’s still in school and Casey because of an arthroscopic procedure on his knee—but that also means both will be behind the rest of the team in reps in the Eagles’ new offense. Brent Celek is also still in the mix, at least for now, so even if Kelly is using multiple tight ends to create mismatches that’s a lot of forks digging into one pie.