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A tight end's revenge

By Jesse Pantuosco, Fantasy Sports Writer

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When Grantland's Bill Simmons inquired about tight ends in his annual fantasy football podcast, Matthew Berry had this to say: "I either want to be the first guy in my league to draft a tight end, which is Jimmy Graham, or I want to be the last guy."

Interesting theory ... but is it the right one?

Not if you watched Week 1.

Playing with a Matthew Berry-sized chip on his shoulder, Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (five catches, 110 yards, two touchdowns) had the game of his life on Thursday.

And that was only the beginning.

Vernon Davis, Jared Cook, Jason Witten and Jordan Cameron all performed well above expectations in Week 1. As it stands now, all four are ranked in the top 40 in fantasy points, with Cook and Davis at 11th and 15th, respectively. Thomas is sandwiched between them at No. 13.

Last season, no tight end finished higher than 77th in total points (Graham).

With two games left to play in Week 1, tight ends across the league have already combined for 17 touchdowns, an average of 1.21 per game. If that continues, the tight end position could produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 touchdowns this season. That's almost 100 more than they generated last season (202).

And crazy as it may seem, I think they can keep it up.

It's a passing league, folks. Want proof?

Seventeen players have collected at least 100 receiving yards this week. Only two players have rushed for that same amount. And one of them was a quarterback (Oakland's Terrelle Pryor).

Denver's point total, a 49-spot against Baltimore on Thursday night, wasn't an outlier. It's the new norm.

Quarterbacks are running wild, which means that tight ends who can catch the football are more valuable than ever.

Just ask Thomas.

In Denver's star-studded offense, you'd think a guy like Thomas, a player with one career catch before this season, would slip through the cracks.

But that's the whole point. Because Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are all well-known commodities, they're going to draw tons of coverage. Which leaves Thomas wide open, like he often was against the Ravens.

Witten's upside is tied to the same theory. Dez Bryant drew a heap of defenders against the New York Giants Sunday night, as did go-to-guy Miles Austin. Witten may not be the swiftest character in the league, but if you give him enough space, he can burn you. And that's just what he did (eight catches, 70 yards, two TD).

Davis (six catches, 98 yards, two TD in Week 1) is another guy fantasy owners need to watch for. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds with a 4.5 40 time, he's always been a physical specimen. But now that Davis is catching passes from the best quarterback he's ever played with, Colin Kaepernick, the sky is the limit.

He's essentially playing wide receiver right now while Michael Crabtree recovers from an Achilles injury. The career-highs Davis set in receiving yards (965) and touchdowns (13) back in 2009 won't be career-highs for long if this keeps up.

Which brings us to Cook, who has emerged as Sam Bradford's top target in St. Louis. He hauled in seven of his 10 targets for 141 yards Sunday in a come- from-behind win over Arizona. It was Cook's highest yardage total since 2011 (169 yards in Week 16 against Jacksonville).

With Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson gone, it's slim pickings for Bradford in the Arch City. That would be fine if the Rams had a workhorse back to hand the ball to 30 times a game, but they don't have that either (just 3.2 yards per carry for Daryl Richardson in Week 1). That means Cook and rookie Tavon Austin are the Rams' only offense. If Week 1 is any indication, Cook is more than equipped to handle his new role.

Cameron, one of three tight ends to cross the 100-yard barrier in Week 1, was one of the bright spots for Cleveland in an otherwise disappointing season- opening loss to Miami.

True, Cameron might see fewer targets when wide receiver Josh Gordon returns from his suspension, but there's plenty to like about his skill set. And with Cleveland sure to be losing late in games on a near-weekly basis, the passes should keep coming his way.

It's kind of ironic, isn't it? Ten of the first 11 players in my fantasy draft were running backs and only one of them (Adrian Peterson) scored more than 15 points this week.

In that same draft, even Graham wasn't taken until the fourth round. Yet five tight ends produced at least 15 points in Week 1.

So maybe limiting the tight end discussion to "Graham and everybody else" is painting with too broad a brush.

Or maybe we just need to give Graham more time. Though he only registered 45 receiving yards Sunday against the Falcons, Graham did manage to score a touchdown, his 21st since the start of the 2011 season.

One thing's for sure. The tight end position isn't short on talent this year. In fact, it's full of it.

09/09 18:26:25 ET


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