Posted: 7:00 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013
By Dan Ciarrocchi
It's OK, Vernon Davis owners. You didn't miss a whole lot by having your top tight end out of the lineup last week. In standard leagues, only Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron had games of over 20 points.
Otherwise, just three tight ends even got into double-digit territory, and they were Antonio Gates, Scott Chandler and Zach Miller. For the sake of fantasy owners everywhere, let's hope things become a little more predictable this week.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (vs. Miami Dolphins): Duh. It's no surprise to see Jimmy Graham atop the ranks once again, but he's doing it at a level that has not been seen in a while. Graham has two 100-yard games this season, which is a mark that took him 15 games to do in 2012. He has totaled 16 and 15 targets over the past two weeks, with the latter mark being matched by him just once in 2012 during a meaningless Week 17 contest. His 38 targets are tops in the NFL aside from Cecil Shorts' 39, and there's no reason to think Drew Brees won't continue to frequently target his talented tight end this week in a clash of two 3-0 teams.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (vs. Atlanta Falcons): For this week, if Gronkowski is healthy enough to play for the Patriots, then he is healthy enough to play for your fantasy team. The Patriots are in no rush to get Gronk back at 3-0; despite their dearth of receiving weapons, the team has the long-term health of their elite tight end in mind. Gronkowski has practiced in full pads this week, and though he will face a Falcons defense that has kept Graham and Jared Cook in check, he has all the tools to get it done despite a tough week.
Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos (vs. Philadelphia Eagles): With four touchdowns in three games, Thomas has proven himself to be a valuable red-zone target as well as a threat to score from long distances. And as long as Peyton Manning continues to perform at another level, Thomas will be a must-start each week. A regression is likely in order for Manning, who has thrown for an NFL record 12 touchdowns in his first three games, but if anyone could sustain a similar pace, it's him. In the meantime, owners can pen Thomas into their lineups versus the Eagles this week, and just watch him do the rest.
Owen Daniels, Houston Texans (vs. Seattle Seahawks): With the Seahawks up next on the schedule, it may be a long day for the Texans offense, and potentially the longest day of all will be that of Owen Daniels. The Seahawks lead the NFL in VOA versus tight ends according to Football Outsiders, and have also allowed the fewest yards per game to them as well. Daniels will continue to be heavily targeted, especially with Richard Sherman blanketing Andre Johnson, but there isn't much to suggest that Daniels can win these matchups with any consistency.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers): With the exception of one 61-yard catch and run by Tyler Eifert, the Steelers defense has done a good job of keeping tight ends in check this season. Eliminating that long completion, the Steelers are averaging just 49 yards per game to tight ends thus far. Making matters worse, Kyle Rudolph is 16th in targets among tight ends this season behind guys like Charles Clay and Scott Chandler, and it would be lower if Vernon Davis and Jermichael Finley had played a full three games. As long as Rudolph continues to play second fiddle in an anemic passing game, he deserves to be benched versus a respectable defense.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Minnesota Vikings): It's not that Miller can't capitalize on his opportunities if given the chance -- but that's the problem. His chances may not come as often as his owners in deep leagues would like. After returning from a torn ACL, his snap counts may be limited in his first few weeks back. Miller played 59 percent of the Steelers snaps in his first game back and was targeted just four times in Ben Roethlisberger's 39 attempts (eliminating spikes and throwaways). Miller was fantasy football's fourth-highest scoring tight end in standard leagues in 2012, but until he proves his feet are back underneath him, he's best left on the bench.
Let's take a look at the top 25 tight ends for Week 4: