GO TO: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | IDP
Antonio Gates, SD - The big guy opened some eyes in San Diego last season with 389 yards and two scores, with 284 yards and a TD in the last five games. His height and basketball ability will come in handy in the red zone.
Jason Witten, DAL - The Dallas offense won’t scare anybody, but Bill Parcells loves to throw to the tight end. If you’re in a league where tight ends must be chosen, Witten will be a good backup.
Anthony Becht, NYJ - Only four tight ends have scored more TDs over the last three seasons than Becht. He’s not spectacular, but he’s worth a No. 2 TE spot on your squad.
Antonio Gates, SD - As much press as this kid is getting, this is looking less and less like a sleeper, but someone everyone thinks is going to vault into Stardom this year.
Kellen Winslow Jr., CLE - Another guy who comes in with a lot of press that I think is a top 3 TE right now, and could vault into top 2 this year.
Jason Witten, DAL - Parcells loves this guy and he is already impressing the QBs who are going to be looking to throw him the ball.
Antonio Gates, SD - The 6’4” 260 pound Gates turned heads in his rookie season ranking as the Chargers third leading receiver with 24 catches for 389 yards, including 117 yards on five catches against Green Bay, becoming the first Chargers rookie to record 100 yards receiving in a game since Wayne Walker in 1989. Teammates and coaches alike love the kid’s work ethic and enthusiasm for the game and with no established number one receiver on the outside, Gates will be relied on heavily to help move the chains and provide a capable target inside the twenty as already evidenced this preseason, catching a six yard touchdown pass against the Colts.
Jason Witten, DAL - Witten’s 35 receptions for 347 yards and a touchdown combined with his overall play helped earn him a spot on the NFL All Rookie team last season. His coach loves what he brings to the Cowboys stating recently he expects Witten to be a “very significant contributor to our team” and Parcells has always been a big proponent of the tight end in his offensive philosophy. Expect a noticeable uptick in all statistical categories in Witten’s second year.
L. J. Smith, PHI - Smith’s first year performance of 27 catches for 320 yards and a touchdown stamped his arrival as Philadelphia’s tight end right now. Aging Chad Lewis continues to fade and with the departure of pass-catching back Duce Staley to Pittsburgh and the arrival of Terrell Owens to stretch the field, Smith should see the number of balls thrown his way multiply exponentially. The addition of Owens truly opens a wide swath in the middle of the field for the Eagles to take advantage of Smith’s above average speed reflected in his 11.9 yards per catch average.
Anthony Becht, NYJ - He's not flashy, and his reputation isn't in the same class with Jeremy Shockey across town, but QB Chad Pennington likes him in the red zone.
Erron Kinney, TEN - With Frank Wycheck retired, Kinney becomes the clear No. 1 tight end for a team that likes to throw to their tight ends down the middle of the field.
Teyo Johnson, OAK - This converted wide receiver has been reprimanded by HC Norv Turner for taking off to Japan on the behalf of Reebok and the NFL but make no mistake – this is the starting tight that Turner’s offense can use. Turner had Jay Novacek in Dallas, made Stephen Alexander temporarily look fantasy relevant in Washington and last brought up Randy McMichael in Miami. Johnson is a mismatch against linebackers at 255 pounds and a mismatch against the secondary since he is 6’6”. His season will not start hot as the offense finds its’ rhythm early on but by mid-season Johnson should be a clear top ten tight end.
Erron Kinney, TEN - Somewhere lost in the notion that the Titans replaced Frank Wycheck with Ben Troupe was that Kinney is the starting tight end in an offense that has historically loved the position. Troupe will take some time and Kinney is ready now to be a contributor to an offense that has learned how to throw more. Outside of the top three tight ends, Kinney has the opportunity and situation to match any other numbers this year.
Desmond Clark, CHI - Coming to the Bears in 2003 was a bit of bad timing for Clark as the offense disintegrated until Kordell Stewart was finally and officially counted out of the equation. 2004 should prove to be very nice timing as Clark now plays for a new offense in Chicago based in part from that of Kansas City. That style of play uses the running backs and tight ends more than almost any offense and an indicator of the transition is the trading away of #1 receiver Marty Booker in return for a defensive player. Does starting the year with David Terrell, Justin Gage and Bobby Wade sound like the wideouts are a big component of the game plan? Clark is no Tony Gonzalez, but he is in an offense that will use his position on passing routes and a nice uptick in numbers is almost assured.
Antonio Gates, SD - Meet Philip Rivers’ best friend in 2004 – and what a best friend to have. It’s hard not to have visions of another – dare I say it – Tony Gonzalez when contemplating Gates’ young career. Both are 6-4, 250-pound-plus former college basketball players with similar beginnings to their respective careers. Gates showed lots of potential in 2003 and, best friend jokes aside, he could very well be the teammate to whom Mr. Rivers looks to get him out of trouble most often in 2004. After all, Rivers will have to do something with the football – even in San Diego.
Boo Williams, NO - Williams made the most of the opportunity to build his on-field relationship with QB Aaron Brooks last year when then-No. 1 TE Ernie Conwell went down with an injury. In that six-game span, Williams amassed 347 yards and four TDs and proved himself a valuable component on a high-octane offense. Could very well become the league’s No. 2 fantasy tight end.
L.J. Smith, PHI - Correll Buckhalter’s injury creates a huge new question mark for Philly’s offense, but it creates an even bigger opportunity for Smith to enter the ranks of elite tight ends. Smith showed promise as the team’s No. 2 TE in 2003, and he enters 2004 as the No. 1 option. With three-time Pro Bowl TE Chad Lewis’ productively on the decline, Smith should get enough opportunities to become a top 10 fantasy TE.
Daniel Graham, NE - I know we’ve heard the hype before about Graham, I just think this is the year it is realized. First-round choice Ben Watson hasn’t even signed, and Graham is beginning to distance himself from Fauria. The main question surrounding Graham is whether he will see enough opportunities in the wide-open offense. It is possible he won’t, but more likely that he will make an attractive large target in the red zone, making him a top-7 fantasy tight end.
Stephen Alexander, DET - Yes, I am a Lions fan, and yes, I am going to include the fourth Lions player on my list of sleepers. It just so happens that their young offense is built perfectly for the sleeper mold right now. Alexander has a real ability to garner a high number of catches, which at the least translates into good yardage. His downside is that he is out for what seems like half of his career with injuries. If he remains healthy he can be among the top ten fantasy tight ends, and that from a guy you can grab in the last round of your draft.
Eric Johnson, SF - A completely forgotten man. But don’t forget that the 49ers have need of offensive play makers. Why wouldn’t Rattay look his way often this year, as the young receivers grow up? Johnson needs to stay healthy, but is a great late-round pick, particularly as a backup at tight end if your league carries enough roster spots.
Dallas Clark, IND - First, each and every year I begin with this disclaimer: I hate tight ends; most of them are nothing but guards anyway. I’ve never had one of my sleeper picks do anything so take my selections with a grain of salt. I picked Clark less for whatever talent he personally has, but the Colts offense is so productive that he can’t help but catch a few passes even if every ball has to be stuck in his face mask to be a completion. He’ll catch enough balls in self-defense to make him useful on your fantasy team.
Jim Kleinsasser, MIN - Again, I’m going with a player from one of the best offenses in the league. Hopefully, he plays more tight end and less fullback this season and that may increase his production. An extra 100 yards and a touchdown a season and he’s an elite TE in this league. Whoo-weee we are going to the Fantasy Super Bowl now!
Jason Witten, DAL - Bill Parcells has coached some great tight ends over the years, including Mark Bavaro and Ben Coates. Word out of the Cowboys camp is that he loves what he sees in Witten. At times in 2003, Witten showcased pillow-soft hands and good down field speed. Reports indicate he has added some bulk in the off-season. Bank on a 650 yard, five touchdown season in 2004. That will put the Witten among the top 5-6 tight ends.
Jerramy Stevens, SEA - In his first two seasons in the league, Stevens was more widely known because of his off-the-field behavior problems than his on-the-field receiving skills. Fortunately, Stevens seems to have cleaned up his act. He’s looked tremendous in camp so far and Mike Holmgren has indicated the battle for starting tight end between Stevens and Itula Mili will last for the duration of the preseason. Stevens clearly has greater potential, and if he emerges as the winner, it could easily lead to a Pro Bowl season.
Eric Johnson, SF - Stay away from any and all things 49er, for they will plunge into unprecedented depths of suck this season. As a Cowboy fan, I can’t tell you how much delight it brings me to say that.
Marcus Pollard, IND - I use the word bust as he was the #10 TE a year ago, and that's with Shannon Sharpe retiring ahead of him, making him the #9 returning TE this season. But with the emergence of Dallas Clark, Pollard will be pushed at least 6-10 spots from where he finished a year ago.
Kyle Brady, JAC - Clearly on the back nine of his career, Brady seems far removed the 2002 season when he garnered 43 catches for 461 yards and four touchdowns. In Jack Del Rio’s offense last year, Brady saw his numbers decline to one touchdown with 29 receptions in a passing game plan that doesn’t rely nearly as much on the tight end the way Tom Coughlin’s did the year prior. Also contributing to Brady’s descent, 23 year old George Wrighster blossomed late in the year as the Jags tight end of the future.
Dallas Clark, IND - Will perform admirably when he's in there, but veteran Marcus Pollard is still a formidable target. If Pollard remains healthy, that can't help but eat into Clark's opportunities to make plays. I still like Clark, but beware...
Alge Crumpler, ATL - While Crumpler has certainly turned in respectable numbers in Atlanta, the reality is that a new west-coast variant is being installed by the ex-49er coaches and that does not make a heavy enough use of the position to warrant Crumpler being considered a top 5 tight end as he often is. True enough, Vick is back and healthy (as of the moment of this writing) and he did connect well with Crumpler in 2002 when there was no Peerless Price or Michael Jenkins and the offense was a far different scheme. This year is not 2002 and these Falcons will not resemble the team of two years ago – to the detriment of Crumpler.
Bubba Franks, GB - Franks has become as much of a decoy than anything else in the Packers’ loaded offense. The receivers are getting better, RB Ahman Green catches the ball well, Packers’ fullbacks have good hands, and while the offensive linemen may have hands of stone, it doesn’t matter because they comprise a unit that may not have an equal in the NFL. QB Bret Favre does like to spread it around, and Franks will continue to be a solid goal-line option, but another season like last year (30 catches, 241 yards, four touchdowns) won’t be enough to keep owners from being avid waiver wire studies.
Randy McMichael, MIA - McMichael has had some off-field problems recently, and with the double whammy the Dolphins endured by losing Ricky Williams and David Boston almost simultaneously, the team needs him to play well. I think the attention will hurt him instead, and I think it is not a good idea to take him as a top tight end.
Dallas Clark, DAL - Clark had a few great games last season and his stock is noticeably on the rise this preseason. However, Marcus Pollard is still atop the depth chart. Even if Clark emerges as the primary pass catching tight end, plenty of balls will still be headed Pollard’s way. That’s a big red flag for Clark. He probably will be a big star in the league someday. I just don’t think it’s going to happen for him this season with Pollard still in the mix. He’s worth a late round pick – same as 98% of all the other tight ends.
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