Below is a list of the tight ends with the most targets from a year ago. Next to their name is the overall percentage of throws that came their way from their respective teams' quarterbacks. It's hard to make tight ends sexy, but I'll try.
1. Jimmy Graham, Saints (22.5 percent of all throws went to him last season). Call Graham the Christina Hendricks of tight ends. (See, I told you about sexy). He was someone who was under the radar until he got mega-consistent a year ago. I know Rob Gronkowski was the sexy tight end (think of Gronk as the Beyonce of tight ends), but Graham is part of an offense that simply does what it does consistently. The Saints will do the same things in 2012 as they did a year ago. He's the first tight end off the board in your draft.
2. Vernon Davis, 49ers (21.0 percent). Scarlett Johansson! Okay enough with the sexy talk. This offseason, San Francisco brought in Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and drafted A.J. Jenkins (if you watch "30 Rock" you know this). And don't forget LaMichael James out of the backfield for a few catches per game. I think Davis' value drops like a stone this season, because for the first time since he's been in San Francisco, the 49ers have other good options outside the hash marks. He's someone I draft only if the rest of the top guys are gone.
3. Dustin Keller, Jets (21.5 percent). I know, how surprised are you he's this high? In 2011 he had a couple of nice games and then would disappear for the length of the Bible at times. He doesn't belong in the conversation about the top fantasy tight ends, his production is too scattershot. There's plenty of other guys I'd rather take a chance on, especially since the Jets are determined to go back to the ground-and-pound approach.
4. Jason Witten, Cowboys (20.5 percent). He's one of those guys who you can write in every season the same way: He'll give you top-five production in fantasy, but he won't ever have any totally dominant stretches. He's someone you draft and then don't have to worry about an upgrade. What's the line -- Fixodent ... and forget it. Witten is Fixodent.
5. Kellen Winslow, Seahawks (20.5 percent). Despite the attention, he was available in far too many leagues at the end of last season and on even more benches. He's never been able to match his potential and has been in the league too long to think that's going to change. Tampa Bay has brought in new weapons for a different approach, so I think his numbers take a dive. I stay away.
Jeremiah: The Magnificent Seven
Daniel Jeremiah lists the seven most dominant players in the league today, with one caveat: No QBs allowed! More ...
6. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots (20.2 percent). By all means, draft him if you want to. But you're going to have to take him in the second round because that's where he's going to be snapped up by an overeager owner in your draft. Look, I think Gronk will have another good season, but there's no way it's going to be as good as last year. Teams will adjust and New England will spread the ball around a little bit more -- it actually has someone else now at WR besides Wes Welker to throw the ball to (Brandon Lloyd), so that will factor in. There's no way I'm taking him in the second round, so I'll let him go and grab Aaron Hernandez or Jermichael Finley later on.
7. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons (19.5 percent). You know me by now, I'm always afraid of the "I'm going to draft this guy the year he hits the wall." And Gonzalez falls into that category. I'd proceed like this: If I think another tight end is going to do better than 800 yards and five touchdowns, I'll draft him instead of Gonzalez.
8. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions (18.9 percent). Pettigrew looks better on paper than he does in your starting lineup. He's sort of like a younger Gonzalez -- because both of them are in the 800 yard/5 TD range. He's young and emerging but he's not getting the red zone targets. It's possible that changes this year, so he's worth taking after the top guys are off the board. (And now, officially, by top guys I mean Graham, Witten, Gronkowski, Finley, Aaron Hernandez and Antonio Gates.)
9. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots (18.4 percent). He is this high despite missing nearly three full games in 2011. If he stays healthy, he's over 1,000 yards in 2012 and in double digits in TDs. I give him a better than even chance to put up more fantasy points than Gronkowski this season. New England loves to use him in all sorts of different formations and he's a game-breaker.
10. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars (18.1 percent). He's really intriguing. Jacksonville added a few new weapons in the offseason (Laurent Robinson, Justin Blackmon and Lee Evans) so they'll be able to throw the football much easier than in 2011, when I believe they ran the single-wing a few games because of their lack of wideouts. He was terrific two years ago, and disappointed last season. I expect a nice bounce-back from him. I put him on my list of bargain guys, because let's face it, who's going to take a Jaguars tight end ahead of other guys you just read about? I can target him, get him late, and expect big numbers this season and not have to use an earlier pick to get him.
The rest of the top 20
- Owen Daniels, Texans (17.9 percent). 12. Brent Celek, Eagles (17.3 percent). 13. Greg Olsen, Panthers (17.1 percent). 14. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals (171 percent). 15. Jermichael Finley, Packers (16.6 percent). 16. Ed Dickson, Ravens (16.3 percent). 17. Antonio Gates, Chargers (15.1 percent). 18. Fred Davis, Redskins (14.8 percent). 19. Jared Cook, Titans (13.8 percent). 20. Heath Miller, Steelers (13.7 percent).
Take a flyer on Fleener:Coby Fleener is intriguing simply because of his relationship with Andrew Luck. Sure you can take someone like Fred Davis or Ed Dickson ahead of him, but you can get that kind of production from a lot of players. I say if the elite of the elite are gone, take a chance on Fleener.
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 his weekly Cover Two podcast with Steve Wyche at NFL.com. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.