There's no bigger role of the dice than drafting a tight end. After all, how many of them can you really count on? All you can really ask for is to have a tight end who is a big enough part of the offense to give you six to eight points a week. Let's take a look at the top 10 tight ends from last season when it came to targets, and what it means heading into 2013.
The 'sure things' from a tight end perspective are Witten, Graham and Rob Gronkowski (if healthy). You're hoping to squeeze another great season out of Tony Gonzalez as well. After them? You should wait to draft a tight end, because the drop off from that group to the next is steep. Once you're hitting the eighth-round or so might be a good time to look their way.
Brandon Myers has the potential to be THE breakout candidate of the year at the position. Eli Manning has always found a way to involve his tight end, whether or not it was Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard or Martellus Bennett. Myers will have some heat on him come draft day, and he may be the fifth tight end to come off the board, but you'll be able to wait a few rounds to nab him.
Owen Daniels and Greg Olsen are cut from the same cloth. They're very solid and once in awhile can give you a pretty monstrous game at the position (12-15 points). I'd be content with either of them - but I'd probably go with Olsen by a hair, as he's rapidly becoming more of a go-to guy for Cam Newton.
Dennis Pitta was great early last season and tailed off late, but he's on the upswing as well, especially with Anquan Boldin gone from Baltimore. Pitta will get more 'move the chains' looks than ever before. He's a comer and the guy I draft after Myers.
Brandon Pettigrew and Jermaine Gresham scare me for different reasons. Pettigrew still has trouble holding onto the football, and in a year where Matthew Stafford threw over 700 passes, the fact that Pettigrew was the second most dangerous pass catcher on the team and only totaled 567 yards receiving and 70 fantasy points is not encouraging. I'm nervous about drafting him, especially now that Reggie Bush will get some of those short passes that used to go Pettigrew's way. Gresham has done nothing but get better each of the past three years and what does Cincinnati do? Draft Tyler Eifert in the first round. Unless your last name is Gronkowski, two-tight end formations don't portend a big season. I don't know that I can draft either Bengals player.
Kyle Rudolph is just off this list with 93 targets from 2012. He's out of the same mold as Myers. He's young and had a terrific 2012 (nine touchdowns). He's just scratching the surface and his talent reminds me of a younger, more athletic Jason Witten. He'll be a bigger part of the offense this season in Minnesota, guaranteed. Rudolph will likely be my sixth-ranked tight end for this fall. However, the possibility exists that I'll move both he and Myers up as the summer goes along.
I also expect a big bounce-back season from Vernon Davis, who suddenly re-appeared late last year to become a main target of Colin Kaepernick's. While Michael Crabtree may now officially be the number one option in the passing game, Davis will be a terrific number two, especially with defenses having to roll coverages towards Crabtree more and more.
I have different levels of concern about drafting Heath Miller, Antonio Gates and Jermichael Finley. Miller's knee is a major concern, considering he's 31-years-old. It took Owen Daniels three years to come back from his knee injury to become a big weapon again. Meanwhile, Gates is slowly hitting the wall in San Diego. As he gets older he gets more banged up and less effective. This could be the year his numbers fall off a cliff. As talented as Finley is, there are still three wide receivers who are going to see the football ahead of him in Green Bay. He went from elite at the start of last year to being waived midway through the season. I can't trust him.
Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for nfl.com. He hosts NFL Fantasy Live during the regular season on the NFL Network, and you can download the weekly NFL Fantasy Live podcast with him alongside Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison. Talk to him on twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.