One doesn't need to look far to see that the NFC is stacked with TE talent. The NFC East has Jason Witten, Brent Celek, Chris Cooley, and Kevin Boss. The NFC South has Tony Gonzalez, Jeremy Shockey, and Kellen Winslow. Even the NFC West has two budding stars in Vernon Davis and John Carlson. While the NFC North has its fair share of talent at the TE position, the real secret to their fantasy success hinges on the defenses of the division itself. The NFC North was the worst TE defending division in football, with all four teams falling outside of the top-20 in points allowed. Take a look at the numbers surrendered to opposing TE's by NFC North teams in '09:Team Rec Yds TD Pts Allowed NFL Rank
Detroit 74 789 13* 142 30
Minnesota 85 918 9 134 28
Chicago 70 681 10 117 24
Green Bay 62 751 8 112 22
While the statistical correlation of strength of schedule isn't strong from season to season, you can feel confident that these defenses will be in the bottom half of the league with respect to TE scoring. With any of the TE's in this division meeting a subpar defense at least six times -just over 40% of the regular season fantasy schedule- there will be plenty of opportunity for the names below to give you value at the position, from the early rounds as a top tier choice, to recommended bye week fillers that will often be available on your mid-season waiver wire.
Jermichael Finley (5.01) Let's see. The guy plays for an emerging offensive juggernaut. He's young, athletic, and has been taking snaps from the slot position. His last seven games had him on a torrid pace, projected over the course of a 16 game season to be a thousand-yard, 10-touchdown producer. And oh yeah, he plays the worst of the three TE defenses within the division. Finley carries a hefty fifth round asking price, but if you are considering taking a TE early, use a selection on the pro-bowler-to-be after a few other of the big-name TE's have been taken.
Visanthe Shiancoe (9.04) The return of Favre (did he ever leave?) makes him an instant value, and good bet to post double digit TD's, as #4 has made TE's his red-zone top target over the years. Sure the loss of Sidney Rice will probably mean some more defensive attention, but lets face it, defenses will always have their hands full with Adrian Peterson. In fact, the tenderness of Favre's surgically repaired ankle means more quick passes to Shiancoe. It's not inconceivable that the well-hung, er, well-heeled 7th-year pro could lead the team in any receiving category this season.
Brandon Pettigrew (13.01) Word out of Detroit is that the Lions will employ a 2TE set with Pettigrew seeing most of the blocking duties. While this news, coupled with his return from offseason ACL reconstruction, puts a serious damper on a sophomore breakout campaign, it will be hard to keep the play-making man-child off the field during the second half of the season. With contests against CHI, GB, TB, MIA, and MIN (the 24th, 22nd, 21st ,23rd,and 28th ranked defenses against Tight Ends) to close the season, Pettigrew could turn into the kind of player that wins fantasy GM's fantasy hardware. His 13th-round price tag also makes him an excellent keeper option.
Greg Olson (13.05) We've all heard it before. Mike Martz doesn't utilize his tight ends. He'd rather just toss another speedy wideout on the field. But while his history of using TE's is plain to see, we know that after a slow start, Cutler and Olsen developed a nice rapport by season's end. And while Martz is arrogant, he has to know that he has a viable weapon in his TE. While it would be too risky to endorse Olsen as a starting option, he is still worth stashing as a second option with upside. And should Martz show a willingness to use Olsen as more than just a blocker, he has a juicy week 16 match-up against the Vikings and their 28th rated TE defense of a year ago.
Tony Scheffler (14.01) The news that Scheffler has secured the starting TE spot is plenty encouraging for a guy who could see plenty of looks on an upstart offense. While Detroit did well to upgrade at the second WR position this season, they still don't have a credible slot receiver. For Scheffler, this could mean an increase of snaps where he sheds pass rushers and breaks free in open space. Scheffler will be lining up with the likes of Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, and Javhid Best, so opposing defenses will have plenty to think about besides the TE position. If Tony can hold off Brandon Pettigrew, he represents an excellent late-round flyer that could post low TE1 totals. The fact that Scheffler has already secured the starting job out of camp means that he can safely be given a look as a starting TE option for at least the first half of the season. Should he hang onto the starting job, he could post nice TE1 totals.