Word to the Winners: Fantasy Football Advice from the Experts

Fantasy Football Picks: 2006 'Sleeper' Tight Ends -- By Russ Bliss

2005 was a good year for the TE position in terms of fantasy football news. I can’t recall any other year in which no fewer than 7 TE’s scored 100 or more points in your typical performance style fantasy football league. It could be a trend that we’re seeing better athletes at the position, or it could be that we’re seeing a trend of teams targeting this once after-thought of a position more often. Likely it’s a combo of both. For years the rule was that if you didn’t get one of the top 3, you were best served waiting until the last few rounds of your fantasy football draft to get one. Now that rule has changed since there are easily 10 TE’s who are worthy of drafting before the later rounds. But don’t fret if you don’t get one of those top 10, as there are several TE’s who could be big surprises in terms of fantasy production in 2006.

Here are 5 candidates for sleeper status in 2006.

Ben Watson: Although the New England Patriots tend to spread the ball around to all of the TE’s and WR’s, Watson is emerging as a legitimate big play threat and the Patriots can’t be blind to that. No TE in 2005 with more than 3 receptions had a better yards per catch average than Watson. Watson’s currently about the 14th TE taken in most leagues and that’s obscene for the upside he has. With Tom Brady likely to rely more on the TE position while he gets comfortable with a new #2 WR, Watson stands an excellent chance of being a top 8 fantasy TE and a great later round steal.

Zach Hilton: Over the last 8 games of 2005, Hilton was a better than average fantasy option in most leagues. In those 8 games, he caught 32 passes for 373 yards and 1 TD. New Saints head coach Sean Payton worked with Jason Witten in Dallas the last 2 seasons and new QB Drew Brees knew to take advantage of elite TE Antonio Gates in San Diego. Standing 6’8”, Hilton is a monster sized target who showed last year he was capable of being an effective pass catcher. Hilton’s currently being drafted in the last few rounds of most fantasy drafts as a top backup E. If you’re one of those who waits to take a starting TE, Grabbing Hilton late before the run on backup TE’s starts in the last 3-4 rounds is a great sleeper move for you in 2006.

Alex Smith: After starting the 2005 season with a 4 catch, 2 TD performance, Smith was shut out of the end zone the rest of the season. But considering he was a rookie last year, and sharing time with Anthony Becht, the mere fact Smith finished the year with 41 receptions is a feat on a team that hadn’t had a TE catch 40 or more passes in a single season since Jackie Harris had 62 in 1995. Smith is a big (not Hilton big, but still 6’4”) target and sure handed receiving TE. As he continues to gain the trust of the coaching staff and his QB, Smith will get even better. Currently being drafted in the last few rounds, Smith is a guy who probably is going to fly under most fantasy radars until the season begins as people are unsure of Chris Simms.

Jeb Putzier: A disappointment in 2005 after a solid 2004 season, Putzier traveled with Gary Kubiak to Houston this off-season. Obviously the problem Putzier had in 2005 was with someone other than Kubiak, otherwise Kubiak wouldn’t have brought him in after Denver waived him. Putzier knows the offense Kubiak is installing and should quickly become a security blanket for David Carr. With the other weapons in Houston, there’s not a great chance Putzier puts up big numbers, but he could. It’s certainly a better gamble as a late round pick than many other mediocre retreads as Putzier isn’t being drafted in most leagues. Perhaps they’re scared of Mark Bruener getting more than 20 catches (something he hasn’t done since 1995)?

Joe Klopfenstein: Everyone knows that Vernon Davis is the top of the rookie chart. But if you’re one of those guys who really likes to gamble on the upside of an unknown player, Klopfenstein is your pick in the last round of your draft. Klopfenstein is currently atop the depth chart for St. Louis and although the old regime rarely threw the ball to the TE position, the new regime will. Scott Linehan’s top TE the last 4 years as an offensive coordinator in Miami (2005) and Minnesota (2002-2004) has averaged 56 receptions per season. In the last 2 season combined under Mike Martz, Rams TE’s have caught a total of 53 passes. Klopfenstein was considered one of the more surer handed TE’s in the draft and although the Rams also selected Dominique Byrd, it’s Klopfenstein who will surprise with solid numbers.

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