If you have read any of my previous posts, you know I am a fan of yards and not so much of touchdowns when it comes to fantasy. TDs are too unpredictable, but yardage production tends to gravitate toward a player's mean from year to year. So, while trying to find a Big Boy for the tight end position (e.g. someone who is being undervalued but actually will provide you steady production) I found myself ruminating about two players who I really didn't think would be considered 'sleepers' or undervalued by most people. But then I checked out ESPN's tight end rankings for the upcoming season and realized that in fact my two players are not being given nearly the credit I think they should be. So, without further ado, here are two TEs who I think will definitely break out this season:
Greg Olsen (Carolina TE) and Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati TE)
Let's start with Olsen. Olsen is currently being ranked the #9 overall TE by Matthew Berry of ESPN. So, again, not much of a stretch here, but I think he has top 5 potential. Why? Well first of all, he used to play for my beloved Bears, so I am biased (and still upset that Mike Martz was allergic to TEs). Secondly, as a parent, reading this story made me appreciate him as a human being. How can you not root for this guy?
Secondly, I examined 20 tight ends who I felt would be worthy of being drafted this coming season and averaged their receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. I tried to see how many players met or exceeded the mean in each category. The only players who did so last year were Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Heath Miller. I certainly don't see Miller repeating the season he had last year (which was aided by 8 TDs), and I don't think I'm alone in my thinking. Then, I checked who met or exceeded the mean in at least two of the three categories and here is what I found:
Meet/Exceed in Receptions and Receiving Yards: Jason Witten, Greg Olsen, Brandon Myers, Jermaine Gresham
Meet/Exceed in Receiving Yards and Touchdowns: Owen Daniels
And that's it. Now, I know much of preseason rankings is based on speculation about production, which is why you will see Matthew Berry rank Vernon Davis, Kyle Rudolph and Dennis Pitta ahead of Olsen. I certainly think Davis will be good, as much of his production spiked once Colin Kaepernick became his quarterback. Pitta I worry about because he still shares some receptions with Ed Dickson, and if you take away just two of his touchdowns from last season, his remaining stats rival those of Brent Celek, Martellus Bennett, Jermichael Finley and Brandon Pettigrew, hardly top 5 material. Kyle Rudolph scored a lot of touchdowns, which is why people are gaga over him. On the other hand, he has Christian Ponder throwing him the ball, which having been a Bears fan for life, and knowing what it's like to have a 'game manager' at quarterback, I am very frightened of drafting Kyle Rudolph. Also, the Vikes added a big target in Greg Jennings this year which could eat into his targets (conversely, you could argue that Anquan Boldin's absence from the Ravens boosts Pitta's stock, and I agree, I never said Pitta wouldn't be good, I just don't think Olsen is getting enough love).
So, back to Mr. Olsen. Everyone knows Witten is awesome and had a crazy good year last year. Brandon Myers goes from the wasteland of football productivity that is Oakland to the New York Giants, where I certainly think he will succeed. That leaves Olsen. Call me crazy, but I am all in on Carolina making the playoffs. I watched the Bears play them last year, and the Panthers defense is better than people realize. They have a lot of young talent, and Ron Rivera, former Bears defensive coordinator, coaching them. Secondly, I am sold on Cam Newton. Of all the mobile quarterbacks that emerged last year (RGIII, Kaepernick, Russell Wilson) I am still most confident in Newton. His surge at the end of last season was what we expected him to do the entire season, which is why people may view his sophomore season as a disappointment. But he's freakishly good, and I think the Panthers will put up stats and points this year. Having watched Olsen his entire career, he has definitely been improving each year, and I think he's a steal being ranked where he is.
Next up, Jermaine Gresham.
I like Jermaine Gresham, because his name sounds like John Grisham. And although I've never read a Grisham novel, I can FIRMly state that the (runaway) JURY is not quite out on the (pelican) BRIEF career of Gresham (while wikipedia-ing John Grisham titles, I came across one called 'Playing for Pizza' which I can only assume is about Jermaine Gresham's love of pizza, thus making him way cooler).
Also, side note: Does anyone remember the episode of 30 Rock in which they kept quoting The Pelican Brief because everybody had been watching it on cable all week? Liz Lemon mentions how The Pelican Brief is always on tv, but frankly, I think Tom Hanks' movies are contractually obligated to be on some network at all times of the day. I think Forrest Gump and Cast Away must be on some channel a minimum of once a week, and I've already seen Big and The Ladykillers show up while scrolling through channels recently.
So, back to football. I think the Bengals are legit too. They have made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, and they seem to have balance on both sides of the ball. Now, I know the Bengals just drafted Tyler Eifert, but again, this is my ranking of Big Boys - guys whose expectations are low but will produce. How the hell is Gresham ranked 22nd by Matthew Berry??? He has Jake Ballard, the new TE for New England, ranked ahead of Gresham.
I must digress again, but trust me, this one is football related:
I hate the idea of handcuffing your running back (for those unfamiliar, this is the theory that you should draft the backup of your stud running back when drafting because should your RB get injured, you immediately have his backup in place before someone else can claim him off waivers). Well, this theory is awful because there is a reason someone is a backup - they aren't as good as the starter. There is no way in hell I am going to waste a draft pick on Toby Gerhart in case Adrian Peterson gets hurt, because if Gerhart does play in AP's place, he is certainly not going to put up AP numbers. I have only seen a backup RB be as productive as a starter in cases where a team has a scheme (such as Mike Shanahan with Washington who we detailed plenty in my last post, or his former staff member Gary Kubiak in Houston). It was only a few years ago that a rookie named Steve Slaton was a fantasy Big Boy, until he was deemed too fragile to be a full time back. The Texans went on to have success (or should we say fantasy football success) with the likes of the immortal Samkon Gado and Ron Dayne (Big Ten shout-out, woo woo!) before drafting Ben Tate as their next big RB. People forget that Arian Foster was given the opportunity to start the season due to a fantastic finish in Week 17 the year before Tate's draft, and the fact that Ben Tate was injured for his entire rookie season due to an injury sustained in the preseason (and ironically, right before my fantasy draft, which threw a dent into my brother's plans to draft him that year as a sleeper). Anyhow, Arian Foster happened to be in the right place at the right time, and the rest is fantasy history.
The other side of the handcuffing coin I shall call the Glen Coffee Phenomenon. A few years back, Frank Gore was having a great year and sustained an injury which would sideline him for roughly four weeks. Every fantasy expert on Earth said that Glen Coffee needed to be picked up pronto, and I followed suit. However, I was hoping someone would buy into the hype and agree to a trade with me, because I really didn't need Mr. Coffee (actually, who doesn't need a Mr. Coffee, they are fantastic machines that often retail for about $10 in Black Friday sales at Menards). Anyhow, nobody bit on my trade bait, so I felt obligated to play Glen, and he had a modest 30 or so yards rushing with a TD in his first week as a starter, and that was the highlight of his career. He then went on to RETIRE THE NEXT SEASON! This phenomenon can also be called the Rashad Jennings, Ken Darby, Jerious Norwood Phenomenon for similar reasons.
SO....how does this relate to Jake Ballard? Ballard is talented, no doubt, he had some productive seasons with the Giants. However, just because New England has been able to utilize the TE like no other team the past couple of seasons, and happens to have two very giant question marks at that position going into the 2013 season, that doesn't mean Jake Ballard will now become Gronk 2.0 because he's running the same routes Rob Gronkowski did last year (we certainly don't expect Ballard to party like Gronk, so why should we expect him to perform like him on the field?). Belichick was able to make the TE so effective because had the personnel (i.e. good tight ends). He is a remarkable coach when it comes to playing to his strengths, as well as going against the grain. I wouldn't be surprised to see Belichick give a proverbial middle finger to the pass-heavy modus operandi of the NFL by playing to his breakout running back Stevan Ridley and going old-school, rushing and using the running back in more unique ways instead of passing the ball 50 times a game. Well, I think Tom Brady and Gisele would have something to say about that, but I definitely think Ridley gets used more often, and that Ballard does not instantly become good just because of the position he is in.
That being said, Gresham has seen his receptions, targets and yards all increase each season, while maintaining an average of about 5 touchdowns per season. Also, Gresham is clearly the number two target behind A.J. Green, so I don't see him ceding too much of his productivity to Eifert. And, how cool is it that Gresham's quarterback, Andy Dalton, has hair that matches his helmet color? It's as if the Bengals drafted him partly because of his sweet rust colored buzzcut.
So, if you are unable to pick up one of the obvious studs at tight end (Witten, Graham, maybe Tony Gonzalez, but come on, this guy is like 50 years old, I can remember getting his rookie card when I was a kid) Good-time Gronkowski or Vernon Davis, you could be in for a steal if you watch your friends pass up Olsen or Gresham on draft day, only to then show them this blog and how insightful it was and how they should have been reading it all along!
Until next time,