Risers at TE through preseason

As we all know, the tight end position is in a state of flux this season (and could very easily be described in much less polite terms). Instead of spending a high or mid round pick on one of the “big 5″ – Graham, Gronkowski, Witten, Gonzalez, Davis – I’ve been looking for late round TEs to target. Obviously, preseason games don’t necessarily dictate how a player will be utilised during games that matter, but at such a volatile position, I’m willing to take a shot on players who have flashed huge upside. None of these players should be taken as an every-week starter, but can be paired with a cheaper, more established tight end like Martellus Bennett or Fred Davis, to create a nice 1-2 punch.

Julius Thomas, Broncos

Thomas appears to be moving inexorably towards a starting position with the Peyton Manning-led Broncos offensive juggernaut. While Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreesen ahead of him on the depth chart, both have struggled with injury this season, and neither offer anything close to the athletic upside Thomas possesses. He may be on an offense with many rivals for targets, but a combination of Manning loving to air the ball out, combined with Denver’s defensive problems means the team look to be involved in plenty of shootouts. There will be plenty of targets to go around.

Through the preseason, Thomas had 123 yards on 12 receptions – the same amount of yards as Demaryius Thomas. FantasyPros has Thomas as the 23rd tight end being drafted.

Travis Kelce, Kansas City

Kelce is a bit of a projection, as tight end is typically a position that rookies normally do not impact significantly. However, following Tony Moeaki’s shoulder fracture, Kelce sits only behind Anthony Fasano on Kansas City’s depth chart. While Fasano is a strong blocker, Kelce has far better receiving skills, as well as being considered an above average blocker coming out of college. Andy Reid has been running lots of 2 TE sets through the preseason, further enhancing Kelce’s likelihood of being on the field. Furthermore, Alex Smith’s weak arm and conservative play style mean he should see plenty of targets over the middle of the field.

Kelce did leave the last preseason game with an injury, but by all accounts will be fine by the week 1 opener against Jacksonville. He is going undrafted in many leagues, and should make for a fine waiver wire pickup or bye week replacement, at the very least. In my estimation he may be a much bigger contributor than that.

 

Ladarius Green

Green is my favourite player on this list, and one I’m targeting in every league this year. Green has been on the radar in deeper and dynasty leagues for a couple of seasons, never realising his immense potential. This season, as a result of Antonio Gates’ steady decline and the Chargers’ wide receiving corps being decimated by injury, Green has a chance to shine.

Much like Thomas, Green came into the league as a hyper athletic pass catcher, but with blocking deficiencies. Green has since bulked up and improved on this, adding another facet to his game. Of all the players in the league in the offseason, Green caught the 5th most yards with 210, along with two touchdowns.

With breakaway 4.5 speed and standing 6′ 6″, it’s not hard to see Green quickly passing Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, Vincent Brown and a breaking down Gates as San Diego’s most potent weapon through the air.

 

Vance McDonald, San Francisco

While McDonald is behind the wildly talented (though maddeningly inconsistent) Vernon Davis on the depth chart, he has a chance to contribute this season. Even though he’s another rookie tight end, the 49ers are sorely lacking receiving options. In the three preseason games he played, McDonald caught 7 passes for 96 yards, including one play where he hurdled the Vikings’ Jamorca Sanford. With the only established pass catchers on the team being Davis and Anquan Boldin (Kyle Williams’ 35 career receptions don’t really count), McDonald has the chance to make an impact as a rookie.

 

Again, don’t be expecting any of these players to single handedly win you your league. Draft them for what they are – cheap backups with the chance to perform as much more than that.

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