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2011 NFL Position Review - Tight Ends

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2011-12 NFL fantasy season is complete and in the books. For those of you who play other fantasy sports, your attention is likely already on other things, but for many fantasy players, it's simply the NFL and the off-season.

For them, we will continue our review of this past season in hopes that a look backward will help to improve our performance as we head into next fall.

Next on the agenda is the tight end position.

As good a season as runner-up Jimmy Graham had, breaking the mark for receiving yards by a tight end, he was still 45 points behind our tight end MVP - Rob Gronkowski.

Gronkowski broke Kellen Winslow's 31-year-old single-season record of 1,290 yards, putting up 1,327 yards while scoring 18 touchdowns (17 receiving, one rushing). Throw in that "Gronk" was an 11th-round draft choice and you have not only the MVP, but the "Best Bargain Award" winner.

Next year, it will probably take a late-second or early third-round selection to put the Patriots' No. 1 tight end in your lineup.

At the other end of the spectrum is this year's "Most Disappointing Award." Throwing out injured tight ends like Dallas Clark and based on their 2011 draft position, the "winner" is Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.

It's not that Finley had a horrible season - in fact, he finished eighth among tight ends. It's just that he didn't validate his high draft position in the start of the fifth round. You could have gotten almost identical statistics with picks as late as the 15th round.

2011-12 Top-10 Fantasy Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski, New England (fantasyfootballnerd.com rank 127) - In just his second season, Gronkowski has already reached the pinnacle at his position. The second-round selection out of Arizona (42nd overall) has accumulated 28 touchdowns in 32 games (27 starts). The passing combination of Tom Brady-to- Gronkowski figures to be lethal for many years to come.

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans (89) - If not for Gronkowski's heroics, we would be celebrating Graham's virtuoso performance (99-1,310-11). Graham was actually ahead of Gronkowski's pace over the first half of the season, but was slowed in the second half due to an ankle injury. With Gronkowski going so early in next season's draft, Graham may be the better value.

Aaron Hernandez, New England (154) - While Gronkowski got the majority of attention, his teammate Hernandez was no slacker, posting 910 yards and seven touchdowns on 79 receptions. Hernandez finished 2011 as the "best of the rest," though 120 points behind Gronkowski. He won't be a 15th-round pick next season, but he could still give you top value in the seventh round.

Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta (120) - Gonzalez is no longer the focus of his team's passing offense. In fact, he's the No. 3 receiver on the Falcons behind Roddy White (179 targets) and rookie Julio Jones. As a 10th-round fantasy pick last season, his statistics were excellent (80-875-7). Unfortunately, he is well past the prime of his career and we should see his statistics continue to slide from the Hall of Fame numbers he used to put up in Kansas City.

Jason Witten, Dallas (56) - Witten is another solid tight end at a position filled with them. The result is he gets picked too high based on our familiarity and name recognition. There is no reason for Witten to be picked in the fifth round based on his numbers, which are good but not great (79-942-5). With the high quality receivers on the Cowboys and a healthy DeMarco Murray, Witten will be a better player in real life than in the fantasy world.

Antonio Gates, San Diego (41) - Gates was the first tight end off the board last year, as fantasy owners thought he was finally over his foot problems. Alas, he'll never be the tight end he once was. Gates can't run by defenders anymore and relies on cunning and guile over talent at this point. Philip Rivers still looks his way often, but he's now just a middle-of-the-road tight end and should be drafted as such in 2012.

Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit (121) - Pettigrew has improved his statistical production in each of his three seasons in the NFL and with a healthy Matthew Stafford figures to continue on the same path. After hauling in 83 balls for 777 yards and five scores in 2011, he could ascend into the top five at his position next season.

Jermichael Finley, Green Bay (48) - Despite finishing in the top 10, Finley was mainly disappointing to fantasy owners. As the second player off the board at his position, Finley never caught more than 87 yards worth of balls in any game. In fact, except for a three-touchdown game in Week 3, Finley was mostly a non-factor.

Vernon Davis, San Francisco (63) - When last we left Davis, he was having a monster playoffs, putting the 49ers on his back to almost single-handedly beat New Orleans and dominate the New York Giants secondary. But the truth is that Davis didn't have a very good regular season and failed to live up to his draft position. If he brings his "A game" to the field for 16 games in 2012, he has the talent to be a top-three tight end.

Brent Celek, Philadelphia (180) - Eagles quarterback Michael Vick discovered his tight end this season and Celek returned to fantasy relevance. His 62- catch, 811-yard, five-touchdown season made him a low-end starter in 2011, which was a bargain considering his late draft position.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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