Fantasy football owners love it when their tight ends put up 80 yards and score a touchdown in a single game. But the true test of a player's value exists not in one performance but in his level of consistent production.
With that in mind, we've examined which players were the most consistent last season, and whose final numbers were more deceptive. The parameters of our examination revolves around the final numbers of the position's top players based on a 12-team league that utilized NFL.com's standard scoring system. All the tight ends listed played in at least 10 contests, but time missed due to injuries or being benched counts against his final percentage.
The foundation for consistent production was based on the average fantasy points of the sixth-rated (or middle tight end of the top 12) on NFL.com. That player is Kellen Winslow, who averaged 6.4 points per game. Those tight ends that recorded six or more points in a single game were rewarded, but a week with fewer than six points was rated as less than consistent. Also remember that a consistent level of production is relative to the position's overall output, so 40-50 percent (half of the time or less) can be labeled as being consistent in some cases.
Vernon Davis, 49ers: Davis failed to duplicate the immense fantasy point totals he recorded in 2009, but he was still the most consistent tight end in the league based on our parameters. The veteran out of Maryland scored at least six fantasy points in 11 games, including five games where he recorded double-digit points. Based on the number of injuries to stud tight ends and the low parameter for this position, Davis' totals do lose some luster.
Jason Witten, Cowboys: In his first five games of the season, Witten scored double-digit fantasy points once and hit our mark for consistent production once. But down the stretch, there wasn't a better tight end in fantasy football. He put up double-digit points in each of his final five games and finished as the most productive player at his position. Overall, Witten scored six or more fantasy points nine times throughout the 2010 campaign.
Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars: Lewis was drafted as a No. 2 fantasy tight end in most leagues, but he turned out to be much more. The U.C.L.A. product finished fourth in fantasy points at his position, based on the strength of a career-best 10 touchdowns. Overall, Lewis scored six-plus fantasy points nine times -- he also put up double-digit points on five occassions. Despite his success, Lewis won't be a more than a low-end No. 1 option this season.
Brandon Pettigrew, Lions: Pettigrew failed to post huge numbers in most weeks -- in fact, he scored 13 or more fantasy points just once all season. However, he was still considered reliable based on the fact that he reached our six-point mark nine times. This is the most glaring example of how injuries to studs like Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley decimated the overall quality of the tight end position in most fantasy leagues.
Antonio Gates, Chargers: Despite missing six games due to injuries, Gates still finished second in fantasy points among tight ends. He was on a rampant pace after eight games, averaging a ridiculous 15 fantasy points. If you project those numbers over a full 16 games, Gates would have scored more fantasy points than Adrian Peterson! Had he not missed so much playing time, Gates would have easily been the most consistent tight end in 2010.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots: Gronkowski had a slow start to his rookie season, hitting our mark for consistent production just three times in his first eight games. He turned it around in the second half, though, scoring six or more fantasy points five times. Gronkowski will continue to share time with Aaron Hernandez, but he'll still be a top-10 option at his position next season. Ben Watson tied Gronkowski with eight games at six-plus points.
Aaron Hernandez, Patriots: New England's "Wonder Twins" at the tight end position, Gronkowski and Hernandez, were surprisingly both consistent fantasy options based on our parameters. The Florida product hit the six-point mark seven times, including four games where he scored in double digits. While Gronkowski will be drafted ahead of Hernandez in most 2011 leagues, both of these talented players can be useful fantasy starters.
Jacob Tamme, Colts: Believe it or not, Tamme didn't score a single fantasy points until Week 8. But once Clark went down and he was thrust into a prominent role, Tamme became a reliable option for Peyton Manning and fantasy owners alike. Over his final 10 games, the once unknown tight end scored six or more fantasy points seven times. With Clark back in the mix in 2011, though, Tamme will once again be an afterthought in drafts.
Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers: Winslow finished sixth in fantasy points among tight ends last season, but he was not at all consistent. In fact, 54 percent of his points came in just four games. The Miami (FL) product hit the six-point mark six times and reached it only twice in his first eight games. Keep that in mind when before you decide to make Winslow your No. 1 fantasy tight end in 2011 -- he's no more than a borderline starter.
Chris Cooley, Redskins: Cooley finished a mere 0.10 fantasy points behind Winslow last season, and he wasn't any more consistent. The Redskins tight end also put up six-plus points just six times, and he did it just once in his final six games. Much of that had to do with the fact that Cooley found the end zone a mere three times. Tony Gonzalez, Zach Miller and Todd Heap tied Winslow and Cooley among tight ends based on our parameters.
Dustin Keller, Jets: Keller opened the season on absolute fire, scoring 14.8 or more fantasy points in three of his first four games. Unfortunately, he couldn't keep up that level of production once Santonio Holmes returned from suspension. Over his final 12 games, Keller reached our six-point mark for consistent production just twice. Overall, 55 percent of Keller's total fantasy points came in just three games last season.
Brent Celek, Eagles: Celek finished 2009 as the fourth-most productive tight end in fantasy football, but that was with Donovan McNabb or Kevin Kolb under center. Once Michael Vick took over the offense, Celek's numbers declined. In fact, he scored six or more fantasy points just five times. Based on those numbers, Celek will be drafted as a fantasy reserve in 2011. Kevin Boss and Greg Olsen matched Celek's lack of consistent production.