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Fantasy football tight ends were more reliable in 2011

Fantasy football is all about numbers, statistics and trends. It made guys like Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez even more popular during their illustrious careers. It's contributed to the fame of once less-heralded players like Owen Daniels and Brent Celek. Unfortunately, often times the obvious isn't so obvious in fantasy land. Some fantasy owners might have thought that Marcedes Lewis was a cinch to put up huge numbers in 2011, especially after he was such a statistical monster the previous season. Well, we all know how that played out -- Lewis didn't even crack the top 30 players at his position based on fantasy points.

The point here is that there are very few sure things in fantasy football, and we have the data to prove it. Think Rob Gronkowski is a lock to be an absolute star in 2012? Is Vernon Davis a no-brainer as an elite tight end? Think again. Below is a look at the top 10 tight ends (based on points) in the last six years, and how those players fared the following season. The turnover percentage of players who returned to essentially the same statistical level was better last season, but overall it's still is a bit low.

All of the numbers compiled are based on NFL.com's standard scoring system.

Top 10 fantasy football tight ends since 2006
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
Alge Crumpler
Dallas Clark
Dallas Clark
Ton Gonzalez
Todd Heap
Kellen Winslow
Chris Cooley
Chris Cooley
Visanthe Shiancoe
Kellen Winslow
Dallas Clark
Visanthe Shiancoe
Kellen Winslow
Jeremy Shockey
Kellen Winslow
Chris Cooley
Desmond Clark
Donald Lee
Chris Cooley
L.J. Smith
Randy McMichael

Positional overview: No tight end has finished No. 1 in consecutive seasons since 2006. That doesn't bode well Gronkowski, who finished at the top of the position last season. Still, he's in a good position to remain in the top five. He is also the lone tight end to finish in the top five in both 2010 and 2011. ... No more than two tight ends have finished in the top five in back to back seasons over the last two years. A maximum of three went back to back in the three previous seasons. ... Gates has finished in the top seven in each of the last six seasons, including 2010 when he ranked second despite missing six games. He's the lone player to accomplish this feat. ... Witten has ranked in the top 10 in five straight seasons, including first-place finishes in 2007 and 2010. ... Gonzalez has finished in the top eight in five straight seasons and was an impressive fourth in 2011. ... Winslow has ranked in the top seven in four of the last six years, but his value has fallen off the map in Seattle.

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Breakdown: The tight end position has been the most reliable among the top four fantasy positions, but it still hasn't been consistent overall since 2006. In fact, a total of five players (Lewis, Gronkowski, Keller, Hernandez, Pettigrew) finished in the top 12 in 2010 that weren't there the previous season. However, eight players who ranked in the top 12 in 2010 also ranked at the same level last year. Gronkowski and Graham are the surefire top two players at their position heading into 2012, and both will be drafted in the second round at worst. The players most likely to drop out of the top 10 this season include Gonzalez, Celek and Keller, but none of those three hold an average draft position of higher than Round 8 on NFL.com.

New faces for 2012: If these trends continue, we should see two to three new faces in the top five and around five in the top 10. So ... who is most likely to rise to fantasy stardom? Among the top five, I think Witten (assuming he's back from an injured spleen), Gates and Vernon Davis are good bets to reach that level of success. Gates, who has slimmed down and is now 100 percent, could be a steal in drafts. Moving deeper into the top 10, look for Fred Davis, Jacob Tamme and Jared Cook to make a push into that tier this season. I also wouldn't be shocked to see deep sleeper Kyle Rudolph move into the top 10 based on fantasy points.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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