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2006 Fantasy Football Sleepers - Tight Ends
Huddle Staff
August 9, 2006
Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends

David Dorey's Tight End Sleepers

L.J. Smith, PHI – For the three seasons with the Eagles, Smith has increased his catches and yardage totals every season and ended with 61 receptions for 682 yards last year during the total team meltdown of the Eagles. What was hidden in that was how much better Smith played when Donovan McNabb was the quarterback through week 10. All his scores came from McNabb and he was averaging almost 50 yards and five catches per game. Consider that Terrell Owens is now gone and McNabb will welcome the chance to continue the chemistry he has already established with Smith, unlike any other wideout on the roster.

Heath Miller, PIT – The Steelers had never used the tight end in the passing game for many seasons so it was a small surprise when they grabbed Miller with the 1.30 pick as the first tight end drafted in 2005. The reasoning became quickly apparent when Miller caught six touchdowns in his first seven games.  Miller was just a rookie last year and yet ended with 459 yards on 39 catches and his six scores tied him for third best by any NFL tight end in 2005. He’ll only get better as he continues to work with Ben Roethlisberger.

Ben Watson, NE – The Patriots drafted Ben Watson in 2004 with their first round pick (1.32) and he was the second tight end taken that year, behind only the ever-fragile Kellen Winslow. Watson suffered an Achilles injury in training camp his rookie season and saw almost no action that year but he came up with 29 catches for 441 yards last year. Entering his second full season, Watson has already been touted by Tom Brady as critical to this year and with a general lack of receivers that were with the team before this season, Watson has an excellent chance to fulfill his breakout season that Brady expects.

David Dorey's Tight End Bust

Randy McMichael, MIA – After scoring in each of the first four games of 2005, McMichael only logged one more score in the remaining 12 games last year. He’s not an outright bust as the Dolphins still will rely on his for a few catches per game but he was already phased out of the game plan in most games later in the year. Throw in that OC Scott Linehan is gone and Mike Mularkey is now filling that role and it’s unlikely to improve given that two seasons in Buffalo saw only 203 yards and 17 catches as tops for the tight ends on a Mularkey team. He’ll certainly remain better than the average tight end since most do not get many receptions but in a fantasy sense, he’s unlikely to rank as any difference making tight end. McMichael will also have to mesh with a new quarterback this year as well.

Mike Courter's Tight End Sleepers

Ben Watson, NE – Newcomers Reche Caldwell (San Diego) and Chad Jackson (2006 2nd round pick) were brought in to replenish a depleted Patriots receiving corps and Tom Brady favorite, Deion Branch, is in the midst of what looks to be a nasty holdout that could slow, if not completely derail his 2006 season, leaving the emerging Watson, entering his third year with the Patriots (and in the NFL), as the lone veteran receiver familiar with the Patriots passing scheme.  Like other fantasy up-and-comers, Watson has shown the encouraging statistical increase from his first year until now to project breakout potential.  After a rookie season of starting just one game and catching two passes for 16 yards, Watson increased exponentially in year two with 29 receptions for 441 yards and four touchdowns in just nine starts, while displaying a game-breaking athleticism packaged in a 6-3, 255 pound frame.

Zach Hilton, NO – Despite entering his fourth year in the NFL, Hilton’s first true playing time came in 2005, when he started six of 15 games and caught 35 passes for 396 yards (11.3 avg.) and a touchdown.  The 6-8, 268 pound tight end has worked his way into the starting role this season and will now operate in an offense with a dramatically upgraded quarterback position after the import of free agent Drew Brees (San Diego) and hiring of new head coach (and former quarterbacks coach for the Giants and Cowboys) Sean Payton.  Brees built-in affinity for the tight end (after several seasons with Antonio Gates) and the defense-distracting presence of rookie back Reggie Bush should translate into another statistical bump for Hilton, making the former North Carolina Tar Heel a great late round bargain in fantasy leagues requiring a tight end.

Mike Courter's Tight End Bust

Jason Witten, DAL - The last two seasons Witten has benefitted from the Cowboys lack of a true No.1 receiver threat, and consequently, the fourth year tight end has received an inordinate amount of passes, particularly in the red zone, making him arguably the third best tight end in fantasy football behind Gates and Gonzalez.  The 2006 Cowboys passing attack will begin and end with Terrell Owens, which will put an immediate dent in Witten’s production and then the former Volunteer took another hit when the Cowboys surprisingly drafted Notre Dame TE Anthony Fasano in the second round of this year’s draft and announced their intention to play numerous two-tight end formations this year, all but reducing the Pro Bowl tight end to fantasy rubble this season.

Paul Sandy's Tight End Sleepers

Ben Watson, NE - The offseason departure of David Givens means QB Tom Brady is missing one of his primary targets. Look for his talented tight end Ben Watson to pick up the slack. Watson averaged 15.2 yards per reception last season to lead all TEs. He might get twice as many opportunities as he did last season. If he does, look for Watson to make the jump to become one of fantasy football’s top 10 TEs in 2006.

Paul Sandy's Tight End Bust

Tony Gonzalez, KC - Gonzalez has scored a TD in just three of his last 24 games. While he remains one of the best TEs in football, he’s overvalued. What’s worse, the Chiefs lost all-pro tackle Willie Roaf and may need Gonzalez to block more than in previous seasons. Look for the downward trend in Gonzalez’s stats to continue.

Joe Levit's Tight End Sleepers

Kellen Winslow Jr., CLE – Basically, I think Winslow will be what the Browns can count on in the passing game. That will make a difference for Charlie Frye. Even with some obvious rust and physical skill loss after two serious injuries, Winslow remains a supreme talent who could easily jump into the top five in the tight end standings.
                                   
Ben Watson, NE – Watson was making a name for himself toward the end of last year, but with Deion Branch holding out, and the Patriots losing so many receiving options in the off-season, Watson stands out even more as a really sneaky pick. He possesses tremendous speed, and will be targeted early and often by Brady.

Joe Levit's Tight End Bust

Jason Witten, DAL – Witten is a solid performer and will still be a contributor for Dallas this season, but he will lose opportunities to Terrell Owens, an improved running game and even new tight end Anthony Fasano. I just don’t think it is worth taking him as a top tight end this year. There is much better value to be had at the position in a draft where you would be forced to tab him if you want him.

Bob Cunningham's Tight End Sleepers

Jermaine Wiggins, MINHe doesn’t seem to find the end zone much, but he catches a lot of balls for a tight end and that means the opportunities could be more plentiful this year.  He’s certainly not Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez, but Wiggins is arguably as effective as any second-tier tight end… and I guarantee you that you can wait longer in your draft before you nab him.

Zachary Hilton, NO – Another reach among my sleepers, I confess, but I really like this kid’s upside because QB Drew Brees became so comfortable throwing to his All-Pro tight end at San Diego that he might force a few toward his new guys.  Veteran Ernie Conwell has trouble staying on the field, so the opportunities for Hilton, who caught 35 balls last year, could increase.

Bob Cunningham's Tight End Bust

Ben Watson, NE - This is a situational pick.  I believe Watson will fall short of being a top 10 tight end, as many sites and pundits have ranked him, because of the presence of Daniel Graham.  I simply wouldn't want to risk dedicating a draft pick to Watson unless it was in the late rounds when fantasy backups were being tabbed. Perhaps labeling him a "bust" is harsh.  Bottom line, I don't believe he will put up numbers that would justify a high ranking at the position.

Brent Clement's Tight End Sleepers

Kellen Winslow Jr - CLE - Winslow was one of the most hyped TE to come out of college in some time. He was compared to Tony Gonzales before he ever took a NFL snap, and was drafted in the top 10 of the 2004 NFL draft. A season ending injury and a motorcycle accident later, the Browns hope he can be a shell of his former hype. It is being reported that Winslow has matured and his taking a leadership role in the offense. If this is true, he could be a huge payoff for those selecting him.

Dallas Clark - IND - Clark is likely to benefit the most, by the departure of Edgerrin James, than any Colt not named Manning. Clark has a chance to put up monster stats, as defenses are forced to focus on WR’s Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, and the flavor of the month slot WR, often times leaving Clark one on one with a linebacker, or a free safety. This is a recipe for disaster for opposing defenses, and a nice luxury for those getting Clark later in the draft.

Brent Clement's Tight End Bust

Jason Witten, DAL - Witten is another great player, who isn’t likely to live up to expectations for fantasy owners in 2006. First off the addition of Terrell Owens will take away balls from every receiving option on the team. Then consider HC Bill Parcells wants to run the ball 60 % of the time, and finally the Cowboys drafted highly touted TE Anthony Fasano from Notre Dame to keep 2 TE’s in the game, and do away with the block fullback. This is suppose to keep the defense honest from blitzing every down on their statuesque QB, along with make the running game less predictable.

Todd Gray's Tight End Sleepers

Ben Watson, NE – If you get caught waiting too long to pick a tight end and Jason Witten and L.J. Smith have just been taken off the board, you may want to turn your attention to the up-and-coming Watson.  His performance during the second half of 2005, coupled with the loss of fellow TE Christian Fauria, puts Watson in position to be the Patriots’ primary tight end.  New England TEs have traditionally posted solid fantasy numbers, but the challenge has always been knowing who that would be week-to-week.  That uncertainty should be cast aside this season as Watson appears to be the clear-cut No. 1 at his position for the Patriots.

Todd Gray's Tight End Bust

Chris Cooley, WAS – Last season, Cooley rewarded many TE-starved fantasy owners with production on par with the likes of Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten.  That said, it’s hard to envision another 71-catch, 770-yard, 7-TD performance.  The addition of wideouts Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El heavily upgrade QB Mark Brunell’s options, and Cooley is first in line to lose out on looks as a result.

Scott Boyter's Tight End Sleepers

Ben Watson, NE – Watson projects as the Patriots’ main pass-catching tight end this season. With the way Tom Brady spreads the ball around, and with WRs David Patten and Deion Branch huge question marks for different reasons, Watson looks like a good late round pick in leagues that require a TE.

Kellen Winslow, CLE – A pure value pick here. A lot of guys will be enamored with his name and take him way, way too early. But he’s hungry for respect after a disastrous first two seasons, and the Browns are putting together an offense with some decent fantasy potential. Don’t take him as your starting tight end, but he could make a great No. 2.

Scott Boyter's Tight End Bust

Eric Johnson, SF – The writing was on the wall when the 49ers picked Vernon Davis. The oft-injured Johnson will probably be a largely forgotten man in the San Francisco offense.

Kevin Ratterree's Tight End Sleepers

L.J. Smith, PHI - This is kind of a no brainer.  I'm not convinced any of the Eagles receivers can step up and carry the load, so Smith becomes a fantasy boon by default.  McNabb has a good rapport with Smith, and Smith can be had cheaper than many T.E.'s that will probably put up similar numbers.  Smith might crack the top 5 for tight end fantasy points.
                          
Courtney Anderson, OAK - With Art Shell back in town we may see a revitalized interest in the tight end position.  Anderson has skills, but has been underutilized by the previous coaching staff.  I suspect he will be a bargain on draft day, or picked up off the waiver wires after he scores a couple of TD's in the first couple of games.

Kevin Ratterree's Tight End Bust

Tony Gonzalez, KC - Let me qualify this.  Gonzo is not going to fall off the face of the planet, but it is clear the TE pack has caught him and in many cases passed him.  He will be drafted too high based on his reputation, while there are other candidates that will put up similar numbers and will be available long after someone in your league has over-paid for Gonzo.  He is not a bad guy to have on your team, but he is just a bit too expensive.

Fritz Schlottman's Tight End Sleepers

L.J. Smith, PHI - With the departure of T.O., someone has to step-up and get those reception attempts and Smith may be the team’s reception leader at the end of the season.  He’s faster and more talented than many TEs and seemed to develop chemistry with McNabb before the Eagles’ signal-caller was lost to injury.

Zach Hilton, NO - 6’8” with soft hands, all Hilton does is catch touchdowns.  Hilton will benefit from the addition of QB Drew Bres who came from an offense that used the tight end (Antonio Gates) extensively.

Fritz Schlottman's Tight End Bust

Vernon Davis, SF - Davis is a victim of his own hype.  He can’t possibly live up to the expectations of 49ers fans and fantasy owners.  After running a 4.38 40 time, fantasy owners are already drafting him like he was the next Antonio Gates.  Remember, Gates benefits from playing on a team with Ladanian Tomlinson, while the 49ers don’t have anyone at QB, RB or WR you would even select in the first 10 rounds of your fantasy draft.  Davis will be a marked man until the 49ers find an offense.

Darin Tietgen's Tight End Sleepers

Dallas Clark, IND – Clark was pegged as an up-and-coming TE in a high-powered offense last season, and then dogged it for under 500 yards and only 4 TDs.  Clark is currently being drafted as the 15th TE behind the likes of Kellen Winslow and Vernon Davis, who have never seen an NFL snap.  With Edge now in the desert and the Colt RB situation cloudy as a glass of milk, the Colt passing game appears to be back on track for big-time numbers.  Perhaps Clark gets more red-zone looks (where Edge was used heavily), or perhaps Mr. Audible will favor his slot specialist Brandon Stokley.  Either way, Clark is certainly worth a gamble later in a draft after the initial TE run.

Jermaine Wiggins, MIN – I just had to put him on this list after recalling his breakdancing in the end zone 2 seasons ago.  His production dropped off significantly last season due to injury, but will be back healthy this coming season.  The WR situation in Minnesota is still really up in the air, so Wiggins may be the most consistent ball-catcher for the Vikes.  If he stays healthy, he will certainly be a consistent producer at the TE spot.

Darin Tietgen's Tight End Bust

Kellen Winslow, CLE – OK the guy has only played two games in the NFL and yet he is being drafted – on average – in the 9th round, as the 10th TE selected.  This means he’s going ahead of guys like Heath Miller and Ben Watson.  Sorry but I just don’t buy it.  Yeah, he’s a freakish athlete, but he was in a freakish accident that caused him to miss an entire season and will be catching passes from a rather green QB.

Philip Gentles' Tight End Sleeper

Heath Miller, PIT – Steelers’ TE Heath Miller did a little bit of everything last season. As a rookie he got off to a rather slow start but in Week 4 he began to emerge as a big-time red zone threat. Over the next 4 weeks he put up big numbers for a tight end catching 25 passes for 265 yards and 5 touchdowns. When QB Ben Roethlisberger hurt his knee Miller’s productive took a bit of a dip but he still had a couple of big games in the second half of the season. With the retirement of Jerome Bettis this off-season the Steelers’ running game won’t be as effective this year as it was last year so look for head coach Bill Cowher to rely more on Roethlisberger and the passing attack. Hines Ward is still the team’s top receiver, but with Antwaan Randle El gone Miller has become Roethlisberger’s number two target. And with Miller’s talent that could mean 65 catches, 700 yards and at least 8 touchdowns making him a mid-to-late round steal.

Philip Gentles' Tight End Bust

Tony Gonzalez, KC – Gonzo is still one of the most talented TE’s in the league and he will likey finish the 2006 season among the top 5 in fantasy production at his position. But he’s definitely on the downside of his career and he continues to be overvalued. According to reports the Chiefs will be asking Gonzalez to do a lot more blocking this season. New head coach Herman Edwards has expressed his desire to run the football early and often, and without Willy Roaf the Chiefs are going to need all the blocking they can get. That’s not to say that Gonzalez won’t be utilized in the passing game. As I mentioned earlier, he’ll still go on to post pretty good numbers for a tight end this year. But he’s definitely not in the same class as Antonio Gates or even Jeremy Shockey anymore and Todd Heap will probably finish the season with more touchdown catches. Bottom line, Tony Gonzalez will likely be drafted too early. So let somebody else waste an early pick on him, you can wait another 3 or 4 rounds for players like Heath Miller or L.J. Smith who will likely be just as productive.

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