In short, the tight end position was an absolute disaster in 2012. The highest-scoring player was Jimmy Graham with just over 150 fantasy points. That was almost 90 fewer fantasy points than the 2011 leader, Rob Gronkowski. The position also went from having a high level of consistent options in 2010-2011 to very few. In fact, a mere four tight ends who finished in the top 12 in 2011 reached that level again in 2012.
This season saw the fall of several "name" options, a list that includes the likes of Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis, while several younger tight ends such as Greg Olsen, Dennis Pitta and Jermaine Gresham made their mark. Still, no one outside of Gronkowski and Graham were very reliable in the stat sheets, and even Graham had more than a few down weeks. As I said, it was a forgettable season for the position overall.
So, what can we expect from tight ends in 2013? Here's an early look at how the top of the position will look before there's been one free-agent move, one rookie drafted or one offseason trade.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (2012 - 143.00 points): Gronkowski saw declines in all of his totals compared to 2011, due in large part to the fact that he missed five contests with a broken forearm. Still, he found the end zone 11 times and will remain the cream of the crop at the position in 2013. I'd expect to see Gronkowski come off the board in the second or third round in most fantasy drafts.
2. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (2012 - 152.20 points): Like Gronkowski, Graham saw a drop in stats across the board last season. Still, he finished as the top-scoring tight end based on fantasy points and is the lone true competitor to Gronkowski's title as fantasy's best tight end. With Drew Brees under center and coach Sean Payton back in the mix, Graham should continue to be a star for owners.
3. Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots (2012 - 78.80 points): There is no doubting Hernandez in terms of his skills and potential to be one of fantasy football's elite tight ends. The problem is with his durability, or lack thereof. Hernandez missed six games in 2012 with a bum ankle and has never seen more than 14 games of action as a pro. Still, he's going to be one of the top tight ends drafted in 2013.
4. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons (2012 - 141.00 points): There is a good chance that this year could be the last for Gonzalez. In fact, he's said that there is a "95 percent" chance that he will, in fact, retire. Until that announcement is made, though, I'll keep the ageless wonder among the top five tight ends in fantasy football. Only Gronk and Graham outscored him at the position this past season.
5. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys (2012 - 121.90 points): Witten might have scored just three times in 2012, but he still had one of his best statistical seasons. The veteran caught a career-high 110 passes and recorded his second 1,000-yard campaign. He'll continue to be one of the top options in the pass attack for Tony Romo in 2013 and will warrant middle- to late-round consideration in most formats.
6. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (2012 - 114.30 points): Olsen posted the best fantasy season of his career with personal bests in both receptions (69) and yards (843) in 2012. Those totals helped him finish sixth in fantasy points at the position, despite the fact that he was drafted as a backup (or not at all) in most NFL.com leagues. I'd expect Olsen to be a late-round pick in most 2013 fantasy leagues.
7. Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens (2012 - 108.90 points): Pitta had a career year with a solid 61 catches, 669 yards and seven touchdowns for the Ravens. Unfortunately, he suffered from inconsistency along with many of his tight end brethren. In fact, Pitta scored fewer than six fantasy points on eight different occassions during the fantasy season. This is what owners will have to deal with for 2013.
8. Owen Daniels, Houston Texans (2012 - 107.60 points): Daniels was one of the five best tight ends in fantasy football in the first half of the season, but his numbers took a nosedive late. In fact, the veteran failed to score six fantasy points in six of his last seven games. That's the reason Daniels now resides outside of the top five heading into 2013. Still, he'll be drafted as a fantasy starter.
9. Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals (2012 - 101.70 points): Gresham has seen his reception and yardage totals increase in each of his first three pro seasons, culminating in a 64-catch, 737-yard line in 2012. His problem though, much like a lot of players at his position, is that Gresham rarely put up big totals and would disappear in the stat sheets at times. There is still some upside left here.
10. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (2012 - 105.30 points): Gronkowski was the lone tight end to score more touchdowns than Rudolph, who tied Graham with nine visits to the end zone. When he failed to find the end zone, however, Rudolph scored more than six fantasy points just once. It's that up-and-down sort of production that will keep Rudolph from being drafted among the elite fantasy tight ends in 2013.
11. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers (2012 - 131.60 points): A veteran out of Virginia, Miller re-emerged as a top-notch fantasy option in 2012 with a career-best 816 yards and eight touchdowns. Had he not suffered a late-season ACL tear, Miller would be projected as a top-10 tight end for next season. Be sure to keep tabs on his status during the offseason, as ACL repairs haven't been as detrimenatal.
12. Brandon Myers, Oakland Raiders (2012 - 104.60 points): Myers had a bad finish to what was a nice season overall, as he posted career bests across the board and ranked among the top 10 tight ends in fantasy football. The likes of Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis and Fred Davis will also be considered at this level next year, but at this point I'll go with Myers as the 12th-best tight ends for 2013 drafts.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!