The evolution of the NFL into a passing league hasn't helped just the quarterbacks and wide receivers, it's also led to more production from the tight end position. Case in point -- last season, a total of 11 tight ends scored 100 or more fantasy points. One (Rob Gronkowski) went over 200 points, while another (Jimmy Graham) was five points from reaching that mark. That duo was so good, in fact, that it's likely both will be selected in one of the first two rounds in 2012 fantasy drafts.
After the big two tight ends, however, fantasy owners shouldn't consider any others as being worth more than a fourth-round selection. While fantasy production has increased slightly overall, there's still a lot of inconsistency that continues to plague the position. Even stars like Aaron Hernandez, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis left owners shaking their heads at times, while others like Dallas Clark, Chris Cooley, Kellen Winslow and Owen Daniels fell almost completely off the statistical grid.
Here's an early look at how the top of the position will look in 2012.
3. Antonio Gates, Chargers (2011 - 119.80 points): Gates has lost his status as the top tight end in fantasy land, but he's still a productive option. Despite missing three games, he still finished seventh in points at the position in 2011. His proneness to injuries is a concern, but it's hard to look past Gates.
6. Jermichael Finley, Packers (2011 - 124.70 points): Despite recording career highs in yards and touchdowns, Finley was prone to drops and inconsistent from a fantasy perspective. Playing in an offense with Aaron Rodgers makes him a No. 1 fantasy tight end, but Finley has to improve his game to join the elite.
7. Fred Davis, Redskins (2011 - 95.60 points): Looking for a potential sleeper tight end for next season? Consider Davis, who was on pace for close to 80 catches and over 1,000 yards before being suspended for the last four games of 2011. If the Redskins decide to part ways with Cooley, Davis' stock will rise further.
10. Brent Celek, Eagles (2011 - 111.10 points): Celek, a major fantasy bust in 2010, saw his value rise last season with over 800 yards receiving and five touchdowns. If Michael Vick continues to look in his direction, there's no reason Celek's value should tumble. He'll have middle- to late round value.
12. Jared Cook, Titans (2011 - 89.90 points): This was a battle between Cook and Dustin Keller, but I like the former's upside. He was an absolute beast at the end of 2011, posting a combined 21 catches for 335 yards and one touchdown in his final three games. Consider Cook a serious sleeper candidate.