For the first time in, well, forever, I will have two tight ends projected to come off the board in the first three rounds of a fantasy football draft. No longer is it possible to pass on the position's dynamic duo of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, who both posted enormous numbers that ranked them among the top-scoring fantasy wide receivers in 2011. Unfortunately for the rest of the NFL, teams aren't going to find the next Gronkowski or Graham in what is a mediocre (at best) free-agent pool.
Fred Davis, Redskins: If you're looking for a potential breakout candidate at the tight end position, look no further than Davis. Had he not been suspended for the final four games of 2011, he would have been a virtual lock to record better than 70 catches and 1,000 yards as one of the top options in the Redskins offense. Clearly one of the team's best playmakers, Davis is likely to be franchised if a new contract isn't consummated. Depending on what the Skins do at the quarterback position, Davis could turn into a great middle-round bargain.
Chris Cooley, Redskins: Cooley isn't a free agent, but NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora suggests that he could end up being a cap casualty this offseason. The veteran tight end is scheduled to make $3.8 million in 2012, but he's missed a combined 20 games due to injuries over the past three seasons and loses value behind Davis. If he's back at 100 percent, I'd like to see Cooley sign with the Broncos. He would be a nice intermediate safety valve for Tim Tebow, who obviously has had his struggles with accuracy in the vertical pass attack.
Scott Chandler, Bills: A viable option off the waiver wire, Chandler scored a combined 32.9 fantasy points in the first three weeks of 2011. Unfortunately, his production tanked for the most part during the rest of the season. No other team is going to make a major contract offer to Chandler, who had one catch in his previous four NFL seasons combined, so I'd expect him to remain with the Bills. Regardless, he's not going to have much value outside of the late rounds of much deeper leagues. Otherwise, Chandler will be waiver-wire fodder.
John Carlson, Seahawks A legitimate fantasy starter earlier in his career, Carlson missed the entire 2012 season after tearing his labrum during the summer. With Zach Miller now in the mix, the Seahawks won't be so quick to attempt to re-sign another pass-catching tight end. Enter the Giants, who lost both Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum to torn ACLs in Super Bowl XLVI and will be looking to add depth to the position this offseason. If Carlson proves to be back at 100 perent, he could re-emerge on the fantasy radar as a member of the G-Men.
Jacob Tamme, Colts: If the Colts blow things up as expected this offseason, Dallas Clark is likely to be released. After all, he's played in just 17 games over the last two years due to injuries. So if No. 44 is in fact shown the door, the team would be wise to retain Tamme as their new No. 1 tight end. He's shown flashes of brilliance in the past, and it never hurts to have a pass-catching tight end in an offense that is projected to be led by a rookie in Andrew Luck. Tamme would have late-round value as a reserve in most fantasy leagues.
Dallas Clark, Colts: Assuming that Clark is released, I'm not sure how much attention he'll draw on the open market. He'll be 33 later this year, and his increased proneness to injuries is going to be a red flag. Still, he'd be a nice option for the Dolphins -- especially if the team ends up landing Peyton Manning. The former superstar isn't likely to regain his once elite form, even in a best-case scenario, but he would have some value in South Florida. Such a move could lead to the release of Anthony Fasano, who has a high cap number in 2012.
Jeremy Shockey, Panthers: There have been some reports that Shockey is contemplating retirement, but Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Thursday that he expects the veteran tight end to return in 2012. If he is back on the gridiron, I'm guessing it's going to be back in a Panthers uniform. No longer a No. 1 fantasy tight end, the former Miami Hurricanes standout finished 25th in points at his position last season while playing second fiddle to Greg Olsen on the depth chart. He's not going to warrant much attention on draft day.
Martellus Bennett, Cowboys: Bennett is still a young player at 24, so there is some upside in signing him. However, he's got the reputation for having a two-cent head and needs to drop fewer passes before he'll have any sort of value in fantasy leagues. He could be a fit for several teams, including the Dolphins and Jets, but the Chiefs could use him as a security blanket for the oft-injured Tony Moeaki. Overall, Bennett would need to be in a starting role to warrant any sort of value in fantasy leagues. He's likely waiver-wire fodder.