Way Early 2009 Tight End Fantasy Football Rankings - By Russ Bliss

This part of the year keeps me busy especially while I prepare our free fantasy football software for the upcoming 2009 NFL Season. Be sure to register now so you can stay in the know all season long!

1) Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys. Being Tony Romo’s best friend has its privileges. Despite battling various injuries Witten did not miss any games and still managed to catch 81 passes for 952 yards and 4 TD’s. The TD total was disappointing, but if Terrell Owens is out in Dallas, that will free up many more opportunities for Witten to improve on that. There is debate on what order the top TE’s should be placed on for 2009 fantasy football cheat sheets, but of all the options, Witten seems to be the best combo of “safe” and “upside for improvement”.

2) Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers. Gates spent most of 2008 playing thru various injuries and that helps explain why he posted the fewest receptions, yards, and TD’s in a season in the last 5 years in 2008. But consider his final 2008 numbers (60-704-8) and you can see that a poor year for Gates is a great year for most players at the position. A healthy Gates in 2009 should mean solid fantasy football projections for him and happy fantasy owners who draft him.

3) Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts. Clark may have had 5 fewer TD’s in 2008 (6) than he did in 2007 (11), but he set new career highs in receptions (77) and yards (848). Clark is as reliable a pass catching weapon in Indianapolis as anyone. He caught a TD in each of week’s 14, 15, and 16 in 2008 and had over 100 yards receiving in two of those games. When it counted the most for fantasy owners, Clark produced. With Peyton Manning’s trust, Clark looks ready to step up amongst the elite TE’s in the 2009 fantasy football rankings.

4) Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City Chiefs. Gonzalez had a stellar 2008. He led all TE’s in receptions, yards, and TD’s with a stat line reading 96-1,058-10. Entering his 13th NFL season, you have to wonder how much the future Hall of Famer has left. But it’s likely he has plenty to be a top 5 fantasy TE again. The big concerns are that Gonzalez has been unhappy in Kansas City and may want to be traded. He may also decide that he wants to stay in KC and be in new head coach’s Todd Haley open style of offense. There’s just enough questions for Gonzalez to not be in the top 3 as of right now, but that could change as we get closer to when fantasy football draft time happens.

5) Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins. Cooley scored only 1 TD leading to many to think Cooley’s 2008 season was a fantasy disappointment. But that ignores the fact he set new career highs in receptions and yards with 83-849. The lack of TD’s is the exception and not the rule with Cooley as he had scored 6-7-6-8 in his first 4 NFL seasons. I’ll be watching the fantasy football mock drafts with a keen eye to see where Cooley is being drafted as I think some will likely place Cooley lower on fantasy football rankings than he really should be because of his TD production in 2008. If that’s the case, it just means Cooley becomes one of those 2009 fantasy draft steals for smart owners in the middle to late rounds.

6) John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks. My favorite fantasy football sleeper at the TE position in 2009, Carlson surprised everyone as a rookie in 2008 by catching 55 passes for 627 yards and scoring 5 TD’s. The Seahawks have wanted a great pass catching TE for years and they finally have one. There’s no doubting he benefitted from the injuries that devastated the Seahawks WR’s in 2008, but it also allowed him to gain a lot of experience quickly and develop trust with the QB’s and coaching staff.

7) Owen Daniels, Houston Texans. Entering his 4th season, the only thing Daniels (a restricted free agent) is missing from his stats are TD’s. In the last 2 seasons Daniels has caught 133 passes for 1,630 yards, but has caught only 5 TD’s. Daniels isn’t speedy and doesn’t make big plays, but he is reliable and puts up yards more weeks then not.

8) Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans Saints. More was expected from Shockey than 50 receptions for 483 yards and no TD’s in his first season in New Orleans, but it was a transition for Shockey and it needs to be noted that missed 4 games with hernia and ankle injuries. Shockey has vowed to work with Drew Brees during the off-season and that should help build a rapport and trust. In the Saints explosive passing offense, Shockey should rebound in 2009 and be a good starting fantasy TE. There’s even a chance after his disappointing 2008 that Shockey could get overlooked in many fantasy football drafts and slip to the middle to late rounds making him a great high upside draft selection.

9) Kellen Winslow, Cleveland Browns. Between a shoulder injury, staph infection, and ankle sprain, not to mention a one game team imposed suspension, Winslow managed to only start 8 games in 2008. In those 8 games he started he caught 40 passes for 400 yards and 3 TD’s. Pro-rated out for 16 games and Winslow would have finished as a top 5 fantasy TE if he had stayed healthy. Winslow is as talented as any TE in the league, but he’s not a great locker room guy and how he meshes with new head coach Eric Mangini will dictate whether he gets traded before the 2009 season or not.

10) Tony Scheffler, Denver Broncos. Scheffler was a roller coaster of inconsistency in 2008. He missed 3 games with a groin injury, and had no receptions in 2 games he did play in. He had 2 or fewer receptions in 4 games (not including those 2 blanks). In 7 games though he had at least 4 receptions, and had 50 yards or more in 8 games. What stands out most is that his 16.1 yard per catch average was the most of any TE who caught more than 2 passes in 2008. Scheffler is a downfield threat and if the new offense being installed in Denver is TE friendly at all, Scheffler should be able to put up solid, and hopefully more consistent, fantasy numbers.

11) Greg Olsen, Chicago Bears. Olsen is quietly emerging as a prime pass catching weapon for the Bears. The lack of quality WR’s again in 2008 made the TE combo of Olsen and Desmond Clark combine for 95 receptions 941 yards and 6 TD’s. Olsen had the better stats than Clark and should push him to the side in 2009. Olsen finished 10th in receptions for all TE’s with 54, 11th in yards with 574, and only 6 TE’s caught more than Olsen’s 5 TD’s. Even a moderate bump up in stats should make Olsen a solid fantasy option in 2009.

12) Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles. Entering his 3rd NFL season, Celek is poised for a breakout 2009 season. Lost amidst Larry Fitzgerald’s record setting post-season numbers and Santonio Holmes Super Bowl 43 heroics was that only Fitzgerald caught more passes than Celek’s 19 and more TD’s than his 3 in the post season. Celek’s regular season numbers weren’t inspiring, but he showed flashes of what he is capable of in week 9 when he had 131 yards. Going into 2009, Celek is set to be the starter at TE for Philadelphia and it’s easy to see him with over 50 catches, 600 yards, and 5 TD’s.

13) Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders. With a more capable QB and offense around him, Miller would place higher on this list for 2009 fantasy football rankings for the TE position. Despite those limitations in 2008, Miller caught 56 passes for 778 yards and 1 TD and showed consistency by having 30 or more receiving yards in 13 of 16 games. If the Raiders offense is better than anticipated, Miller is probably lower on this list than he’ll finish.

14) Dustin Keller, New York Jets. Despite being the 3rd TE on the depth chart for the Jets at the start of the 2008 season, Keller emerged as the best pass catcher of the group and that should continue in 2009. Keller’s 48 receptions for 535 yards and 3 TD’s scratched the surface of his talent and only the fact that the Jets head into 2009 with questions about their QB situation prevents Keller from being higher on this list.

15) Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers. Miller hasn’t emerged as one of the top fantasy TE’s that many thought he would turn into, but he has been pretty good. If you take his 2007 numbers (47-566-7) and his 2008 numbers (48-514-3) and average those (47.5-540-5), you get a pretty good idea of what to expect from Miller in 2009 fantasy football. You could even say his numbers should be better than that since he missed 2 games in 2008 because of an ankle injury.