David Dorey's Tight End Sleepers
Doug Jolley, NYJ – The Jets traded their 1.26 pick in the 2005 NFL draft to acquire Jolley and that is not just to gain another blocker. Since Heath Miller went with the 1.30 pick to Pittsburgh, the Jets had an opportunity to select any tight end they wanted from the 2005 class and opted to bring on board Jolley. The Jets were a great rushing team last year but have brought OC Mike Heimerdinger from Tennessee to install a new scheme that should include the tight end much more than the Jets have typically done. Bottom line – Jolley is a decent blocker but those tight ends are easy enough to find. He was acquired to add a presence in the passing game.
Chris Cooley, WAS – Cooley was the 3.18 pick by the Redskins in 2004 and that already carried some expectations since it was in the first season of the new Joe Gibbs regime. Cooley came to the league as a pure receiving tight end after a great career at Utah State. Most rookie tight ends receive little playing time and yet Cooley was on the field for all sixteen games including as a starter in the final eight. He ended with six touchdowns. He won’t challenge for the lead in yardage since he normally only had three receptions per game but most of those were near the endzone. His performance was rock solid and for a rookie on a team installing a new scheme, it was outstanding.
L.J. Smith, PHI – Like Dallas Clark, Smith was drafted as a high pick by the Eagles to become a receiving weapon and after two seasons, he’s on track to come into his own this season. In 2004, Smith had 34 catches for 277 yards and scored five times. Chad Lewis is out of the picture now and if the holdout of Terrell Owens causes any problems, Smith could stand to benefit all the more. The Eagle scheme is to spread the ball around (exception – Owens) so Smith won’t likely become a primary passing target but he has the right situation and opportunity to enter the top ten for tight ends for many years to come.
David Dorey's Tight End Bust
Eric Johnson, SF – His monster 162 yard game against the Cardinals is hard to forget but Johnson was almost entirely shut down for the second half of 2005. Add in a probable rookie quarterback in Alex Smith and a new offense being installed and he’ll likely need about half a season just to match what he did in one game last year against the Cardinals. Johnson’s second game against Arizona last year produced only two catches for eight yards. Even the red birds figure it out.
Philip Gentles' Tight End Sleepers
Bubba Franks, GB – I am amazed at how many TEs get drafted before Bubba Franks. Franks is one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL and he’s always among the leaders at his position in touchdowns. In 2004 he finished the season with 7 scores which was tied for second with Tony Gonzalez and behind Antonio Gates. Over the last 3 seasons, Franks is third in total touchdowns among TE’s behind Gates and Gonzo. Now he isn’t much of a yardage guy and he won’t blow you away with his reception numbers but he’s clearly Favre’s favorite target inside the red zone and he’ll continue to get opportunities to score. At 27 years old Franks is hitting his prime and he will be playing for a big contract in 2006 so don’t look for this undervalued player to fall off any time soon.
L.J. Smith, PHI – Smith, who had off-season back surgery, has made a full recovery and is ready to have a breakout year. Smith is a terrific athlete with good speed and decent hands but he has durability issues and has battled inconsistency since turning pro. However look for Smith to become a big-time fantasy TE in 2005. Smith shared time with veteran Chad Lewis last year and while the Eagles will work out of several formations that involve two tight end sets team officials have said that Smith will be the top guy. The recent injury to Todd Pinkston will open the door even further for Smith to be one of focal points of the offense. He should be drafted among the first 10 TE’s, but don’t be surprised if he ends the season among the top 5 in fantasy scoring.
Philip Gentles' Tight End Bust
Jermaine Wiggins, MIN – Wiggins is coming off of a productive season in which he had a head-turning 71 receptions and racked up 705 yards and 4 touchdowns while filling in for injured Jim Kleinsasser. Wiggins was Culpepper’s safety valve and favorite check-down target but with the return of a healthy Kleinsasser look for Wiggins’ numbers to take a bit of a dive. Kleinsasser is one of the best blocking TE’s in the NFL and he’s a decent receiver as well. Mike Tice believes that Kleinsasser is a big part of the Vikings’ blocking schemes and he is prepared to sacrifice productivity at the TE position if it means giving Culpepper more time to find his receivers downfield. The Vikings are clearly confident in Wiggins’ abilities or they wouldn’t have signed him to a 5-year contract in the off-season but don’t expect him to come close to matching his reception and yardage numbers from a year ago.
Mike Courter's Tight End Sleepers
Ben Troupe, TEN – The second year tight end out of Florida seems to have the closest physical resemblance to Antonio Gates-like ability. His production improved late in his rookie season finishing the year with 33 catches for 329 yards and a touchdown while starting six of 14 games as he admitted to finally feeling comfortable with the playbook. This season Troupe will have a good quarterback all year, be it McNair or Volek, and the departure of Mason to Baltimore and Tyrone Calico remaining an injury question provide him ample opportunity to increase his role in the offense.
Doug Jolley, NYJ – The Jets are secretly hoping to see many “Jolley Green Giant” headlines in the New York newspapers this season after finally acquiring the big yet athletic tight end they’ve been longing for since misfiring on Kyle Brady with the ninth overall pick in the 1995 draft. Ironically, the Jets traded their first round pick this year (26 th overall) to Oakland for Jolley, delivering a critical tool for new OC Mike Heimerdinger, who loves to utilize his tight ends as oversized receivers in his attack. Expect Jolley, finally freed from the pass-catchers glut in Oakland, to substantially increase last season’s 27 catches for 313 yards and two scores.
Dallas Clark, IND – Count me amongst the many fantasy football pundits who pounced on Dallas Clark as a high potential candidate for 2005 upon learning of Marcus Pollard’s exit to Detroit through free agency. A slam dunk sleeper in touchdown-emphasized leagues as five of his 25 receptions went for touchdowns (20% scoring ratio) in his rookie season, Clark should also see a considerable jump in his yardage numbers with Pollard gone and now Brandon Stokley already succumbing to the injury bug with a separated shoulder that has him iffy for the season opener.
Mike Courter's Tight End Bust
Todd Heap, BAL – In fantasy circles, the Ravens tight end should be known as Todd Hype. I can’t think of another player that has gotten more mileage, fantasy or otherwise, out of one good season since Heap hasn’t come close to his 2002 high water mark of 68 receptions for 836 yards and six touchdowns yet he continues to be ranked high in most TE rankings and always has his picture featured prominently in many football magazines. Always be leery of star players, like Heap, that teams constantly try to protect in the preseason as if saving them so they can get hurt in the first two or three weeks makes a positive difference. Heap spent most of last season and the ensuing off season mending yet as Baltimore opened camp this summer the 6’5” 252 specimen was placed on the dreaded PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list citing continued recovery from shoulder and ankle issues. Let some other team make a mistake on Heap unless he falls to you in the teen rounds of your draft, presenting little risk at that point.
Paul Sandy's Tight End Sleepers
Heath Miller, PIT – Normally I’d shy away from a rookie tight end like Miller. However, the situation seems just about perfect for a solid year from the former Virginia standout. The free agent departure of Plaxico Burress and the holdout of Hines Ward mean Ben Roethlisberger is desperate for a pair of reliable hands. Miller is known more for his receiving abilities more than blocking. At 6-5, 256 lbs., he is just what the doctor ordered.
Jermaine Wiggins, MIN – The free agent departure of Randy Moss means there are about 80-90 more balls to go around in the passing game. Even if Wiggins only adds 10 to his 2004 receiving total (71), it’ll still make him a top five tight end.
Paul Sandy's Tight End Bust
Todd Heap, BAL – When healthy, there’s no disputing that Heap is one of the top tight ends in the game. Unfortunately, Heap’s punishing style of play has landed him on the injury report too often lately. He had offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries and opened training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He is expected to be ready for the opener, but why risk a mid-round pick when you can probably find good talent later in your draft.
Joe Levit's Tight End Sleepers
Ben Troupe, TEN – Troupe is everyone’s favorite TE sleeper for a reason. He is a big, athletic target who plays in a system that utilizes its tight ends in the passing game. McNair will need targets this year. Expect Troupe to be game.
Ben Watson, NE – Watson is a smart player, playing for a smart coach. Because Daniel Graham is such a great blocker, and such an inconsistent pass receiver, Watson will become the red-zone target when Dillon isn’t busting it in down close.
Ben Hartsock, IND – Everyone thinks Dallas Clark will absorb all of the statistics that Marcus Pollard left behind. Everyone is wrong. This offense uses two tight ends a lot. Manning knows how to tear apart a defense by passing to whoever is open. Hartsock will be enough to mean something.
Joe Levit's Tight End Bust
Dallas Clark, IND – While it is clear that Clark can be a starting fantasy tight end this season, he is not going to be getting all of the receptions on this team, not even all of the tight end receptions.
Brent Clement's Tight End Sleepers
Dallas Clark, IND – With the departure of former #1 tight end Marcus Pollard to Detroit, Clark will finally be the #1 tight end in Indianapolis. Wide outs such as Reggie Wayne, Marvelous Marvin Harrison, and speedy Brandon Stokley, spreading the field, Clark will see single coverage from a linebacker, and few LB’s can keep up with him in the open field. Clark is also a solid target in the red zone and Manning has proven to use his tight end in this area of the field.
Doug Jolley, NYJ – Jolley never seemed to be on the same page with Collins in Oakland and was traded to the New York Jets this past off season. With Pennington’s ailing shoulder, Jolley will see more looks in the short to intermediate passing game. Jolley has great hands, runs nice routes, and will be a superb safety outlet for Pennington and the Jets.
Heath Miller, PIT – Big Ben lost a huge target in Plaxico Burress on the outside, but the team found a new weapon to stretch the middle of the field with rookie tight end Heath Miller. Miller is a Todd Heap clone and will be a welcome addition in Pittsburgh, who have not had a tight end of this caliber since their glory years of the 1970’s.
Brent Clement's Tight End Bust
Jeremy Shockey, NYG – Over rated is one way to describe Shockey, but the Giants OL is so bad, he must help block on passing downs, eliminating himself as an option to catch the football. Considering Coughlin is a run oriented coach, Shockey will be blocking on 1 st and 2 nd downs as well and his owners are in for another let down this season.
Todd Gray's Tight End Sleepers
Jason Witten, DAL – Witten isn’t too much of a sleeper given that he is a Bill Parcels-preferred tight end and that he caught 87 passes for 980 yards and six TDs in 2004. Still, he continues to be overshadowed by more fashionable TEs like Tony Gonzalez, Jeremy Shockey and Antonio Gates, even though he will out-produce at least one of them and maybe the whole darn trio
Ben Troupe, TEN – The odds are rather slim that both Drew Bennett and Tyrone Calico will live up to expectations in 2005. Even if they do, Troupe will most likely be asked to play a much larger role in the team’s receiving game. His end-of-year stats in 2004 prove that he is heading toward fantasy relevance, and given his talent, potential and situation, that could come soon.
Todd Gray's Tight End Bust
Alge Crumpler, ATL – The problem here isn’t Crumpler – he was the fourth-best fantasy TE in the league last year and he’s only 27 years old. The problem is most everything else: an offense with little or nothing to show for quality wideouts, a QB in Michael Vick whose fantasy credentials are suspect, at best, and, most notably, one of the best assortments of productive tight ends that the fantasy world has seen in years. No one expects Crumpler to out-produce the likes of Gonzales, Gates and Shockey, but up-and-comers including Jason Witten, Eric Johnson, Daniel Graham, Randy McMichael and a small handful of others could all gather more stats this season than Crumpler.
Dennis Leonard's Tight End Sleeper
Jermaine Wiggins, MIN – Wiggins posted a 74.7% reception ratio in last year, catching 71 of the 92 passes thrown his way: the best reception ratio of any tight end or wide receiver in 2004. Wiggins also accounted for 16.84% of Minnesota’s pass attempts (second only to Nate Burleson, but tied with Randy Moss) and 18.83% of the teams total receptions. And Wiggins should do even better now that Randy Moss is in a different uniform.
Wiggins had three awesome games in 2004. The first came in Week 6 when Moss was injured in the first half. The other two were Weeks 10 and 11 when Moss was out. The correlation between Moss’ absence and Wiggins’ production is further demonstrated by the Viking’s passing stats in Weeks 7 through 11, when Moss was only targeted once. During that span the Vikings passed the ball to Wiggins 21.55% of the time, which is significantly more than his season average. It was also during Weeks 6, 10, and 11 that Wiggins caught his four touchdown passes of the season.
Given Wiggins’ sticky paws, he should once again become a favorite possession-target. Since Wiggins can typically be acquired in the 10 th or 11 th round of a tight end-mandatory league, he offers both stability and upside, especially in leagues that award points for receptions. While the reemergence of Jim Kleinsasser is of some concern (Kleinsasser registering modest pass-catching success in 2002 and 2003), he will likely be used primarily as a blocker.
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