Tight end sleepers with top-10 potential

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's time to go deep with the position that often stays underneath as a safety blanket for the QB: the tight end.

Last week, I explained why it would be beneficial to pass on TEs going in rounds 4-6 if you decided to let Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski slip away in rounds 1-2. My reasoning: TSN doesn't project much of a drop off between the TEs being drafted in 4-6 and the ones going from 7-9.

However, if you want to go even deeper than that, there are three tight ends going in round 10 or later with TE1 potential (average draft position (ADP) courtesy of fantasyfootballcalculator.com).

Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 10.04) - In 16 games, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton targeted second receiver Jerome Simpson 104 times, 37th most in the NFL and just 12 less than rookie phenom A.J. Green. Gresham was targeted 92 times, catching 56 passes for 596 yards and six touchdowns. Simpson is gone, as are Andre Caldwell (67 targets) and Jordan Shipley (missed 14 games last season but received 75 targets from the same coaching staff in 2010).

The names competing to replace those players: rookie Mohamed Sanu, return specialist Brandon Tate and former practice squad player Armon Binns.

Even if Green receives 34 more targets this season to take him up to 150, that still leaves 137 targets unaccounted for. So if Gresham simply gets 20 more targets than last season and posts the same catch percentage and same yards- per-catch and touchdowns-per-catch rate, that would give him 68 receptions for 720 yards and seven scores. And that's without even considering that Dalton is likely to attempt more passes in his sophomore season.

Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 12.04) - The Panthers heavily utilized the tight end position last season, and that shouldn't change this year. What is likely to change is Olsen's usage rate. Last season, Olsen split time with former Miami Hurricane alum Jeremy Shockey and the two combined for 82 catches, 995 yards and nine touchdowns. Panthers coach told the Associated Press this week that with Shockey gone and fullback Mike Tolbert in the fold, Olsen will be doing less blocking and more catching.

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 13.06) - Rudolph is a physical specimen, standing at 6-foot-6 with 34-inch arms and bigger hands than rookie left tackle Matt Kalil. His ball skills and catch radius have been praised this preseason by Vikings coach Leslie Frazier -- according to ESPN Stats & Information, Rudolph dropped just one of the 37 passes thrown his way last season.

The Star Tribune reported that second-year QB Christian Ponder has been looking for Rudolph a lot in camp and said it wouldn't be suprising if Rudolph led the team in targets this season. While we wouldn't go that far with Percy Harvin still around -- Harvin had 123 targets last season and led all receivers with 100 offensive touches after Ponder took over in Week 7 -- Rudolph still should be a major part of Minnesota's offense.

The way the tight end position has evolved, every team seems to field a squadron of 6-foot-6 athletic monsters these days, so we have to look less at talent and skills and more at opportunity when trying to unearth sleepers.

There are other talented late-round tight ends -- Jared Cook, Coby Fleener, Brent Celek, Martellus Bennett -- who could have some big weeks, but the three players above are the guys with the greatest potential to be this season's Gronkowski or Graham because they're in position to be targeted most heavily on a week-to-week basis.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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