In many ways, you could say that we're in a golden age of tight ends in the NFL. The position itself has certainly changed over the years from an extra offensive lineman to now being an extra wide receiver. There were probably eight TEs last year that put up numbers worthy of a No. 1 WR. When you consider guys Jermichael Finley and Brandon Pettigrew are primed to break out this season along with impact rookie talent like Jermaine Gresham, we could see 10-12 guys putting up No. 1 WR numbers from the TE position this season.
So while these are your top five tight ends, there really isn't huge dropoff between the top eight or so players. That means more than half of the teams in your league are probably going to have a top level TE on their roster.
1. Dallas Clark, IND: If you're in a PPR league, then Dallas Clark is a no-brainer as the top TE. He's probably the consensus No. 1 TE in a traditional league as well, but in PPR he's unmatched. He caught a hundred passes last year and probably earned more points than all of your WRs. The fact that he often lines up as a WR and is kind of a TE in name only doesn't bother us. You don't get points for blocking(which is good because he can't do it)... Fact is with a 100 catches, over 1,000 yards, and double digit TDs he was a fantasy stud last year, but it is fair to point out that it was a career year for him. I wouldn't expect him to put up those gaudy catch and yardage numbers again, but a line of 70-80 catches for 800 or so yards with 8-10 TDs would still be a fantastic year for your TE spot. Finally, with Peyton Manning at the helm in Indy you know Clark will never be short of opportunities to make plays. He just might be the best and the safest pick of all the TEs.
2. Antonio Gates, SD: The most consistent fantasy performer on this list is Antonio Gates. Over the past six seasons he's averaged 76 receptions, 972 yards, and 9.5 TDs. We're not talking about a guy with a career year in there to skew his averages either. There's not very much variation in his performance over the past six seasons. You can pretty much take it to the bank that he'll put up those numbers for you, numbers which are full of win for your squad. Plus, with the possibility that Vincent Jackson could sit out the season & Ladanian Tomlinson is gone, Antonio Gates may get even more opportunities in the Charger offense than he already does.
3. Vernon Davis, SF: Davis exploded in a big way last year and finally justified the the top 10 pick the 49ers used to get him. He also made someone who used a mid to late round pick on him in your league look like a genius. He'll be no sleeper this year and just might be the first TE taken in a lot of leagues. However, like with Clark I expect some regression here. He's not going to catch 13 TDs again, seven or eight sounds more reasonable. Plus, with San Francisco having more weapons this year like a present Michael Crabtree and the newly acquired Brian Westbrook (who will probably take some of the security blanket throws that Davis got last year) expect Davis to be negatively affected by them spreading the ball around a bit more. Still, 60+ catches for 700+ yards will make him a nice contributor at the TE position.
4. Brent Celek, PHI: Brent Celek had a breakout year last season, his first as a full time starter for the Eagles. In fact, he was better fantasy wise than his NFC East counterpart Jason Witten ... but he's only done it the one year, which is why he's still a riskier pick. He hauled in 76 passes, 8 TDs, and was just shy of a thousand yards. Given that he even missed a game last year with an injured thumb, those numbers are all the more impressive. The big question mark with Celek is how the Eagles change at QB from Donovan McNabb to Kevin Kolb could affect his performance. I'd say if anything, it'll probably help him. In the two games Kevin Kolb started last year Celek caught 16 passes for 208 yards and a TD. They were probably his two best games of the season. Kolb and Celek are roommates on the road and good friends off the field, plus the TE position is always an important security blanket for a young QB.
5. Jason Witten, DAL: Witten was somewhat of a fantasy enigma last year. In a PPR league he was was still money though. He caught a ton of passes(94) for a ton of yards(1,030) but only got himself into the end zone twice. What's kind of scary is that he only caught four TDs in 2008. See the downward trend here? If he's not going to get as many throws his way in the red zone that he once did in the Dallas offense, that will hurt his fantasy value. In fact, he was targeted only seven times in the red zone last year and only six times in 2008. Who knows why the Cowboys are so averse to throwing to a weapon like Witten in the red zone, but they haven't. He's still going to catch a lot of passes for loads of yards, but the decline in TDs is worth keeping an eye on.