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Draft Day strategies: Get a TE early, or wait for bargains

The tight end game in fantasy is tough to project, seeing wild variance from year to year. A top 3 security blanket last year could be your 13th best tight end this year.

It's why spending a high draft pick on anyone not named Jimmy Graham generally is not advisable. You want some semblance of safety and/or upside with one of your first five picks.

But at the same, if your at the end of your standard snake draft, how comfortable are you taking Graham and bypassing a bunch of running backs and wide receivers that could explode this season?

If you look at current ADP , taking Graham means you have to leave behind someone along the lines of Le'Veon Bell, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray or Giovani Bernard.

Tough to do, especially if you have a couple tight ends you're targeting slightly later or dramatically later in your draft. Insert appropriate smiley face emoji.

So who to target? If you want a comparable stud at tight end, you're either in the Gronk camp or the Orange Julius camp. I'll gladly pass on the guy who has had 72 surgeries in the past two years (slight exaggeration). Give me Julius Thomas all day.

Rob Gronkowski is on average going a full round before Thomas which is to me just plain silly.

We know Peyton Manning has the power to turn average pass catchers into All-Pros and All-Pros into hall of famers. I'm not sure where Julius Thomas falls on that scale but I do know Thomas is going to see more targets.

In 2009, the first season after Marvin Harrison retired, Dallas Clark went crazy, putting in one of the all-time great fantasy tight end seasons by compiling 100 receptions, more than 1,100 yards and catching 10 touchdowns.

Manning collected his fourth most valuable player award that year, but if you were in a PPR league that season, in the words of Kevin Durant: Dallas Clark, you the real MVP.

You look at that and can't help but make the parallels to Eric Decker's departure in Denver and think to yourself that Julius will explode and improve on his numbers from last year, numbers that were stellar.

I think a 70-catch, 900-yard and eight touchdown season is pretty much a given should Thomas stay healthy. That's his floor. His ceiling might be Jimmy-Graham-esque with 90 catches, 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns.

You might argue such a season is unrealistic considering other than Dallas Clark for a single season, no tight end has ever racked up 1,000-plus yards with Manning. But I think it's fair to say Julius Thomas is easily the most athletic tight end Peyton has ever played with. Snapping up Thomas with your third round pick is the smart play.

Such a strategy could yield you a top flight running back, a stellar wide receiver, Thomas and a super solid RB2 along the lines of Rashad Jennings or Toby Gerhart.

But let's say you want to wait on tight end or miss out on Thomas and want to play the tight-end sleeper game. Kind of like Adam Rank in Vegas, I got a guy.

To help with the aforementioned tight end sleeper game, let's play the "Player X versus Player Y" game.

Player X: 65 receptions, 788 yards, 12 touchdowns
Player Y: 65 receptions, 759 yards, 5 touchdowns

Player X as you might have guessed is Julius Thomas. Player Y is, believe it or not, Martellus Bennett. Somehow, some way, Bennett caught the exact same number of balls as Thomas and trailed by a mere 29 yards. The touchdowns were the difference, in a game where touchdown totals from year to year are anything but stable.

Here's what we know.

If his practices are any indication, he could potentially have a career in MMA.

What we don't know of the 27-year-old is if he can improve on his top-10 positional campaign from last year.

Wait. Was Martellus Bennett really a top-10 fantasy tight end last season? Fact check that bad boy friends. He was.

The perception that Bennett is not a top-10 guy most likely stems from the fact that for the first four years of his career he was completely irrelevant for fantasy purposes.

Bennett and his scraggly beard never eclipsed 300 yards during that time and while he snatched four touchdowns his rookie year, his last three years in Dallas saw ZERO scores.

There were glimpses of potential when he played in New York. In his lone season with the Giants, Bennett caught 55 balls for 626 yards and five scores. Respectable numbers.

Then in his first year with Chicago, Bennett saw solid improvement under Marc Trestman with career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns (tied).

It's entirely reasonable to expect Bennett to improve in Year 2 under Trestman, Jay Cutler and company. A 70-catch, 800-yard, eight touchdown season is totally feasible as defenses look to limit the damage of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

Such a season has generally been good enough to crack the top five in terms of tight end play in our beloved fake game.

And even if Bennett were to fall completely flat, you've risked nothing given his current ADP has him at the 115th overall selection and the 11th tight end off the board.

But given the price, Bennett has the look of a player that could pay serious profits.

James Koh is an anchor/reporter for NFL Network and a proud Cal alum. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDKoh

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