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2009 Rookie Tight Ends
Shawn Zobel
July 21, 2009
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Rookies: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Defensive Linemen | Linebackers | Defensive Backs

Finding a consistent tight end in fantasy football can be the difference between winning your league’s championship and not making the playoffs. Over the past three years you can ask any owner of Antonio Gates or Jason Witten and they’ll tell you that their tight end was a key piece in their success. While the position doesn’t get as much spotlight as receiver or running back, the stats and the points are just the same for the tight ends.

The 2008 class of tight ends provided fantasy owners with the New York Jets’ Dustin Keller and the Seattle Seahawks’ John Carlson, while Dallas’ Martellus Bennett also showed promise for the Cowboys. Keller developed over the course of the season and became a very important part of the Jets offense last season as Brett Favre’s safety net. Carlson has shown that he has a chance to become a very reliable player and Bennett’s talent and athleticism provides him with excellent upside over the next few years.

The 2009 draft class was a good, but not great one. There was one elite prospect who made up a tier of his own with several other players that are on their own level. I’m not thrilled with this class, but these are the key players who I think that fantasy owners should keep an eye on.

Brandon PettigrewBrandon Pettigrew – Detroit Lions

After selecting Matthew Stafford with the first pick in the NFL Draft, the Lions decided to add another weapon on offense by drafting Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Pettigrew is a unique prospect and who was one of the most complete tight end prospects to enter the draft in quite some time. He has outstanding size with a tall, lean frame and long arms. He has very reliable hands and is capable of making acrobatic catches. Brandon is a very strong player at the tight end position, which makes him good after the catch because he's so hard to bring down as a receiver. He finished his career at Oklahoma State with 112 receptions for 1,450 yards and nine touchdowns.

Pettigrew is a natural athlete who stretches the middle of the field and he has great experience, having been a four-year starter for the Cowboys. Pettigrew is also an outstanding blocker in the run game. His combination of size and strength essentially makes him another offensive lineman who is blocking on the edge on running plays. Thanks to his excellent blocking, Pettigrew likely will not leave the field while the Lions are on offense. He’s a large target in the passing game for Stafford and should be a reliable option in the middle of the field for the rookie quarterback. With Calvin Johnson on the outside drawing plenty of coverage, Pettigrew figures to receive a good amount of targets. Brandon is a sleeper to have a good season in 2009, however his potential will be highest two-to-three years from now when Stafford develops and the offense starts to click.

Jared Cook – Tennessee Titans

A rare athlete who provides extreme mismatch problems for the defenses that he goes up against, Jared Cook was one of the most outstanding performers at this year's Scouting Combine, having recorded the best 40-yard dash (4.50), best vertical jump (41 inches), and best broad jump (10'3) among all tight ends. . His 41-inch vertical jump for a tight end is unbelievable and it brings up memories from 2006 when Vernon Davis recorded a 42-inch vertical jump and became the No. 6 pick in the draft.

Cook has great hands along with the ability to make spectacular catches thanks to his athleticism. He is capable of stretching the field vertically with great speed and he really makes it hard for defenses to defend him. He's faster than any linebacker out there and he's too big for defensive back to try and cover. He has good acceleration off the line of scrimmage and he has the quickness needed to create separation in the passing game. Cook is essentially a wide receiver in a tight end's body.

While he’ll be competing with Alge Crumpler and Bo Scaife, Cook’s upside and potential is far higher than the two veterans’. Cook has reportedly looked excellent in minicamps this summer and should have every opportunity to make an impact with a team that desperately needs more targets in the passing game. Cook is a bit of a sleeper in that he could come out of nowhere and catch a few touchdowns one week and then officially be on the fantasy football radar. Hopefully you’ll have him before he does that and be able to take advantage when he bursts out.

Shawn Nelson – Buffalo Bills

Shawn NelsonA lean, athletic tight end with terrific hands, Nelson has the tools needed to get a lot of playing time at the next level. He's an excellent receiver who is a reliable target in the passing game. Nelson has good speed and quickness, is capable of stretching the middle of the field and he can create separation from the defenders. He's also athletic enough to line up in the slot at times. Nelson has very good technique and also does a good job as a blocker in the run game. Like Brandon Pettigrew, Nelson’s blocking will give him a chance to remain on the field more often than a player like Jared Cook would, considering Cook isn’t as good of a blocker.

While Derek Fine and Derek Schouman are the two players who remain from last year’s team at the tight end position, Nelson has all of the tools and talent needed to come in immediately and start right away. Nelson isn’t as explosive as a receiver as Cook is, however he’s more of a reliable target and at Southern Miss he was truly the quarterback’s best friend. With Terrell Owens and Lee Evans commanding targets at receiver, Nelson may not get as many catches as Cook and Pettigrew, however he will be the safety net for the young Trent Edwards. Nelson is a very complete player who figures to develop quickly.

Cornelius Ingram – Philadelphia Eagles

An exceptional athlete with excellent speed and quickness, Cornelius Ingram has a very intriguing skill-set that could allow for him to be a great matchup problem for defenses in the NFL. With excellent ball skills and great leaping ability, Ingram was one of the top receiving tight ends in this year's draft. He has good size with nice elusiveness and is a threat to do damage in the open field. Many scouts have Ingram pegged as a tight end in a wide receivers' body. He has good versatility and has shown that he's capable of stretching the field and being a vertical threat. While the Eagles are high on current starter Brent Celek, word is that they are also excited about the fact that they were able to land Ingram.

The former Gator tore his ACL last season and missed his senior year. If he is able to fully recover from his injury, then I could see Ingram seeing a good amount of playing time as a receiving specialist for Philadelphia. If Celek were to get injured, Ingram’s stock would soar.

Chase Coffman – Cincinnati Bengals

This offseason the Bengals brought in Ben Utecht and Chase Coffman to attempt to upgrade their tight end position. Utecht is more of a complete tight end than Coffman is, so he’ll likely see more playing time early on; however, Coffman’s receiving skills are outstanding and he could end up being a key player for a team that lost its most reliable option in the passing game this offseason in T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Coffman has very reliable hands along with a very large frame, which makes him an attractive target in the passing game. He's a great redzone threat while he also possesses excellent ball skills and body control. He's a tough player who works the middle of the field, he runs very good routes, and he also does a nice job of picking up yards after the catch.

Coffman's largest concern is his durability as he was hampered by a turf toe during his senior season before breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot on the final play of the Alamo Bowl; the injury required surgery and Coffman wasn't able to workout this offseason for scouts. He also had recurring bone spurs in his left ankle as a junior. If he is able to stay healthy, then I could see Coffman developing into a Dallas Clark type of tight end for Cincinnati.

Travis Beckum – New York Giants

Travis BeckumIn 2009 the Giants lost both Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in the offseason. At the tight end position, New York has Kevin Boss, who has been a nice target for Eli Manning. However, the team is looking for as many targets as possible with Burress and Toomer gone.

A smooth, fluid athlete, Travis Beckum possesses excellent speed and quickness and he's a versatile player who is capable of lining up in a number of different position as well as lining up in different spots on the field. He runs terrific routes with a burst in and out of his breaks and he also has very reliable hands. Beckum displays great ball skills and body control, and he's capable of going up and snatching a ball out of the air. He's also shown the ability to stretch the seam vertically.

Kevin Boss is more of a complete, old-fashioned tight end who works from the line of scrimmage; however, Beckum is far more of a receiver and works better out in the slot and in open space. The Giants drafted Beckum because they know of his playmaking ability and his potential at the next level. I’d expect to see New York move Beckum around and try to get the ball into his hands. Like Coffman, Beckum needs to stay healthy in order to reach his full potential with the Giants.

James Casey – Houston Texans

A former minor league baseball player for the Chicago White Sox, James Casey is the definition of a versatile player. In one game in 2007, James lined up at seven different positions and he has experience at tight end, receiver, running back, quarterback, punt returner, defensive end, safety, and he's held for kicks. He's also one of three players to have ever thrown for a touchdown, rushed for a touchdown, and caught a touchdown in the same game in college. A very productive player, Casey catches the ball with his hands and he also has a very good ability to run with the ball after the catch. He has very reliable hands and he is a player that you can count on when you need a big play.

While Casey was the second tight end that Houston drafted (Anthony Hill out of N.C. State was first), I think that Casey has far more potential as a fantasy player than Hill does. When you think of a player who can move around the field and make a play from anywhere, Casey would be the type of player that you would think of. The only problem with Casey is that the Texans already have Owen Daniels at tight end, a similar player to Casey. It’ll be interesting to see how Houston decides to use Casey, however he is definitely a player that fantasy owners will want to keep an eye on.

Other tight ends to keep an eye on: Richard Quinn – Denver Broncos, Anthony Hill – Houston Texans, Davon Drew – Baltimore Ravens, John Nalbone – Miami Dolphins, Zach Miller – Jacksonville Jaguars, Cameron Morrah – Seattle Seahawks, Bear Pascoe – San Francisco 49ers, John Phillips – Dallas Cowboys, Eddie Williams – Washington Redskins, David Johnson – Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Gronkowski – Detroit Lions.

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