Top TEs excel in fantasy with lower snap counts

Fantasy football can be difficult to forecast. I mean, who would have predicted that Stephen Gostkowski, a kicker, would have scored more fantasy points than Jimmy Graham? But last season, it happened. (No, I'm serious. Look at the stats.)

On the surface, we know what it takes to be successful in fantasy sports ... scoring points. It's as easy as that. And how do players score points? Simple. They're on the field and put in a position to produce. That's why looking at a statistic like snap count is so important, though it can be overlooked at times. Let's start off this three-part series on snaps with the thinnest position in fantasy football ... tight end.

Our crack research team at NFL Digital Media came up with the top 20 players at the position based on the number of snaps played in 2014. Here are the most interesting nuggets from that list.

Rob Gronkowski ranked 12th in snap count among tight ends. Sounds weird, right? But Gronkowski was on the field for over 72 percent of New England's scrimmage plays, totaling 778 snaps. As you would expect, more than 63 percent of those snaps came on passing downs. Gronkowski also caught 82 of the 89 catchable balls thrown in his direction, according to our friends over at Pro Football Focus (PFF).

Jimmy Graham ranked 16th in snap count among tight ends. The Saints ran the third-most scrimmage plays (1,095) last season, and Graham was on the field for 68 percent of them (746 times). Of the top 20 tight ends based on snap count, Graham ranked second at the position in terms of percentage of passing plays (71.7). He also ranked tied for first in drops (eight) on catchable passes (93) thrown to him.

No tight end played more offensive snaps than Heath Miller. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Miller is a solid pass catcher and blocker, which keeps him on the field often. In fact, he saw action in 97 percent of the Steelers scrimmage plays. While Miller was utilized on passing plays in 61 percent of his snaps, he saw just 89 targets overall. He's no more than a No. 2 fantasy option.

Antonio Gates ranked 17th in snap count among tight ends. Gates was the third-best tight end in fantasy football last season, playing on 72 percent of San Diego's scrimmage plays. Of the 712 snaps he played, 72.2 percent of them were passing plays. That's the most among the top 20 tight ends based on snap count. Gates also caught an impressive 69 of 71 catchable passes thrown in his direction in 2015.

Greg Olsen was one of three tight ends with 1,000-plus snaps: That's not a surprise, as Olsen put up the best statistical season of his pro career. It also shouldn't come as a surprise that he caught all but three of the catchable passes thrown in his direction. When you consider the overall state of the position heading in 2015, it's not too hard to see why Olsen will be a top-three option.

Vernon Davis fell off the map, despite seeing 786 snaps: A former fantasy superstar, Davis was on the field for 78 percent of San Francisco's scrimmage plays. That didn't equate to production, though, as he was tied for 25th in targets (47) among tight ends and ended up as a bust in fantasy football leagues. PFF also ranked Davis 54th in run blocking at the position, making him even less of an asset.

Travis Kelce wasn't in the top 20 in snap counts for 2014: In fact, he was the lone top-10 fantasy tight end who didn't see at least 685 snaps. He also ranked an unimpressive 15th at the position in terms of targets, so fantasy fans should be able to see the kind of ceiling he'll have in 2015 and beyond. With Anthony Fasano now out of the mix, Kelce is a lock to see that snap count increase.

Martellus Bennett should remain a staple for the Bears: "The Black Unicorn" ranked fourth among tight ends in offensive snaps (904), and 67.1 percent of those snaps came on passing downs. The veteran led his position in targets (125), though he did drop eight of 98 catchable passes thrown his way. Bennett also graded out as a top-10 run blocker per PFF, so he will be on the field a lot in 2015.

Most offensive plays on field, TEs, 2014

* denotes player who has changed teams in 2015

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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