Who’s the third best tight end in dynasty fantasy football?

Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are the two best tight ends in football. Fantasy football, real football, dynasty football, Madden football.

After those two, however, is a considerable debate. If you average together rankings from Pro Football Focus and Dynasty Warehouse you see a group of four players that are clearly ranked ahead of the pack: Kyle Rudolph, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis and Dennis Pitta (click here to see the whole list!). Let’s look at a couple different angles:

  • Age – Since you’re in a dynasty league there is a premium on age. Rudolph (24) would win that battle as he has four years on the next tight end in the group, Dennis Pitta (28), followed by VD (29) and Witten (31). However, youth also means inexperience and there is no guarantee that Rudolph will fulfill the lofty expectations he has. Personally, I need to see results before I’m convinced. Rudolph’s line of 53/493/9 is comparable to Rob Gronkowski (55/790/11). The only difference is Gronk did it in five fewer games. The lack of production may or may not be a result of Christian Ponder’s poor play but the bottom line is Ponder is back for another year which means Rudolph’s potential is limited.
  • Targets – Dennis Pitta broke out last year (as evidenced by me taking him in round 20 or later) to the tune of 61/669/11. Offseason reports indicate it’ll only get better. With the departure of Anquan Boldin and his 112 (!) targets, Joe Flacco is going to have to spread the ball around. Even, if you were to divvy up the targets evenly among the 11 players that caught a pass from Flacco in 2012, Pitta’s in line for 10 more targets and 6-7 more catches this year. However, that’s assuming defenses don’t pay more attention to Pitta which  they most certainly will. Additionally, without another receiver to take the heat off the middle of the field like Boldin did so well, linebackers are going to zero in on Pitta. I go back to my thoughts about Rudolph and want to see more before I’m convinced.
  • QB Upgrade – While Kyle Rudolph is still a year or two away from an upgrade,  Vernon Davis finally got one last year in Colin Kaepernick. Now, you could argue that VD performed well despite the lack of arm strength from Alex Smith. In fact, he was awesome: 2009-78/965/13; 2010-56/914/7; 2011-67/792/6. However, you also see a downward trend that coincides with Michael Crabtree’s rise: 2009-48/625/2; 2010-55/741/6; 2011-72/874/4. This all led to a 2012 that saw VD with 41 catches on 61 targets compared to Crabtree’s 85 catches on 126 targets. Things looked dire (fantasy-wise) for VD with the trade of Anquan Boldin but with Crabtree’s injury, we’re still back where we were last year. As a 49er fan, I hope the trend doesn’t continue but unless they make a concerted effort to get Davis the ball,  I just don’t see him getting back to 2009-2010 level.
  • Verdict – If I had to pick one out of this group to go with it’d be Jason Witten. Since his breakout, age-25-30 seasons started in 2007, he’s averaged 92/1018/5. Looking ahead, I think a fair comparison is Tony Gonzales (76/945/6 in his 25-30 years old seasons) , who’s still chugging along at age 37. Since turning 31, Gonzales has averaged ONLY 84/877/7. Hypothetically, this gives Witten five years of 84/877/7. And the fact that Tony Romo and his gun-slinging ways aren’t going anywhere, I think you the stability needed to continue a great career.
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