Fantasy Football Top 10 TE Rankings - 2012

by Russ Bliss (6/6/12)

The first 2012 fantasy football projections from our Starters Draft Analyzer are in and the Tier Rankings and stat predictions are up for our Championship Plan members. In this installment I'll focus on the TE position. Where the TE position used to lack quality depth in the past, it's full of depth in 2012. Time was a few years ago that the top scoring TE would barely rank in the top 15-20 WR's; but in 2011, the top 2 fantasy TE's finished with more fantasy points in the non-ppr format than all but 4 WR's. No surprise those two TE's (Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski) start the season atop the rankings in 2012. And there are no real surprises in the top 7 as they are fairly well defined. It's rounding out spots 8-10 that produces debate. No Brandon Pettigrew, Dustin Keller, Owen Daniels, or Brent Celek. Good arguments could be made for guys like Tony Moeaki (returning after missing all of 2011 with injury), Jared Cook, Jacob Tamme, Jermaine Gresham, and possibly rookie Coby Fleener. But that's what our fantasy football forums are for and I encourage you to go there and voice your opinion on who should the top 10 fantasy TE's be in 2012.  

1) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints:
Graham emerged as a dominating fantasy force at the position and although Drew Brees spreads the ball around, Graham caught at least 4 passes in every game in 2011. He also scored at least 1 touchdown in 9 games. No TE caught more passes than Graham and his star is clearly on the rise.

2) Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: While a good argument can be made for Gronkowski to rank 1st on the list, it just seems unlikely that he will duplicate last season's 17 touchdown receptions now that the Patriots have a more legitimate WR in Brandon Lloyd lining up on the outside. Gronkowski will still be amongst the elite TE's in 2012, but the combination of Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez are likely to bring his TD total down some.

3) Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers: Once the elite TE in fantasy football, injuries have prevented Gates from making it thru a complete 16 games season the last couple of years. But in terms of fantasy points scored per game in 2011, he ranked 4th overall at the TE position and it now seems like his bothersome foot injury is behind him. Entering his 10th season, he's not as young as he used to be, but still should have plenty enough left in the tank for another season or two at an elite, or near elite, level.

4) Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers: Despite having dropped a lot of passes in 2011, Finley managed to finish the season as the 5th highest scoring TE in 2011 in the non-ppr format. Expectations have been great for Finley the last 2 seasons and there's an excellent chance that he comes closer to realizing them in 2012. There's some concern as he did have 5 games in 2011 with 2 or fewer receptions, but as both he and Aaron Rodgers mature, there's a chance for a Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski type of connection finally coming to fruition.

5) Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys: While he had the fewest receptions and receiving yards in 2011 that he's had since 2006, it still amounted to 79 catches (5th most of all TE's in 2011) and 942 yards (3rd most; behind only Gronkowski and Graham). Witten continues to be steady in these two categories. If there's a drawback with him, it's his inconsistent touchdown totals from season to season. Like with Gates, Witten is entering his 10th season and while he lacks the TD's that could make him an elite TE, he's very solid.

6) Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers: After spending most of the 2011 season as a fantasy disappointment, Davis took his game up big time in week 17 and throughout the 49ers playoffs run. Was that a sign that he is ready to return to the outstanding 2009 season (when he had 965 yards and 13 TD's)? Or is the truth for 2012 somewhere in between then and his 2011 season (792 yards, 6 TD's)? While there's no doubting his tremendous abilities and upside, there's room for doubting an elite TE season from Davis with Alex Smith as his QB.

7) Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots: Hard to believe there are two TE's from the same team in the top 7 rankings, but Hernandez is the beneficiary of a Patriots passing attack that is lethal. It doesn't hurt that he, like Gronkowski, is an exceptional athlete. Tom Brady has no problem throwing to all his weapons and while Hernandez may suffer a slight dip in yardage production in 2012 with a true outside WR threat, he should still flirt with close to 800 yards and 7 TD's.

8) Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons: I expected Gonzalez to fade away in 2011 after a poor 2010 season, but he bounced back and with the Falcons looking like they are about to take their passing attack to the next level in 2012, Gonzalez, despite entering his 16th season, could be able to continue to produce like solid TE1 for fantasy purposes. He doesn't have many big games any more, but he's very steady and should still have another year or two left as a top 10 fantasy TE.

9) Fred Davis, Washington Redskins: Having clearly established himself as the pass catching TE over Chris Cooley in Washington, Davis averaged nearly 5 catches for over 66 yards per game before missing the last 4 games of the 2011 season due to a suspension for a failed drug test. While that raises some concerns, if he stays clean, Davis could be deserving of a much higher ranking than this. Besides the character concerns, Davis must also overcome an improved WR corps, and a rookie QB in 2012. But it's fairly certain that Robert Griffin III will be an improvement over the tandem of Rex Grossman and John Beck from 2011.

10) Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers: Perhaps a huge fantasy football sleeper TE in 2012, Olsen is in a prime position to surprise and finish as a top 10 fantasy TE. While there's always the chance of a sophomore slump, Cam Newton should be a little better in 2012. Jeremy Shockey and his 37 receptions from 2011 are gone, meaning there should be an increase in Olsen's stats at the position. The WR corps for the Panthers is still fairly weak outside Steve Smith. If Olsen just gets half of Shockey's stats from 2011 added to him in 2012, he should finish with over 750 yards and 7 TD's.