Over these midseason weeks, we’re going to take our preseason draft board and break down the top players at each position in an effort to determine which players are living up to their draft status, which are surpassing their draft status, and which are falling below their draft status. We’ll use our Applaud or a Fraud titles to compare these players vs. preseason expectations, but you’ll want to read each player’s report to see what the verdict means for him.
We’ve already done this with the top 35 running backs and emerging running backs and with the top 35 wide receivers and emerging wide receivers. Now we turn to the top 10 tight ends from our preseason draft board.
As a companion to this piece, we’ll look at the top tight ends who weren’t in our top 10 before the season and try to determine whether we should applaud them or consider them frauds for the rest of the season. Watch for that post tomorrow.
1. Jason Witten, Cowboys – As the Cowboys have struggled, Witten has been perhaps the biggest victim. He has 259 yards receiving, which is OK for a player who’s already had a bye, but just one touchdown. He’s not the No. 1 overall tight end that we expected before the season, but he is still a guy you must start each and every week. So as a starter going forward, we’re going to clap, despite the disappointment those who drafted him high must have. Verdict: Applaud
2. Dallas Clark, Colts – Clark has always been a terrific fantasy producer, but thus far this year he’s taken it to another level. With Anthony Gonzalez missing so much time, Clark has stepped up into an even bigger role in the offense, and the results are stirring. Even though he’s had his bye, he leads all tight ends with 441 yards (that’s 84 yards per game) and he also has two touchdowns. He deserves not just applause but a standing ovation. Verdict: Applaud
3. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons – In his first year in Atlanta, Gonzalez has proven he still has it as a top-tier fantasy tight end. His yardage total of 267 is a little lower than usual (just 46 yards per game), but he does have three touchdowns, all in the Georgia Dome. Those touchdowns make Gonzalez still a reliable fantasy tight end for those who invested a high draft pick in him. Verdict: Applaud
4. Antonio Gates, Chargers – Gates has quietly piled up a whopping 419 yards on the season (that’s 70 per game), and although he has just two touchdowns, he’s still one of the top fantasy producers at tight end. Owners might wish that the Chargers looked to Gates more in the red zone, but they can’t complain about finally having him healthy and productive once again. Verdict: Applaud
5. Greg Olsen, Bears – We figured that Olsen would emerge as Jay Cutler’s favorite target, and so we moved him up to the top of the second tier of tight ends. So far, that has been a dicey move. Olsen is producing fantasy points because he has three touchdowns in the first six games, but he has just 151 yards. That 25 yards-per-game average has to go up, and if Olsen keeps getting in the end zone it this will turn out OK for fantasy owners, but it’s still hard to make ourselves clap for Olsen because we expected so much before the season. Still, Olsen is a solid fantasy starter, and so we’ll clap. Verdict: Applaud
6. Owen Daniels, Texans – Daniels was the other tight end we put in the second tier, and that has paid off. Daniels has been a terrific yardage-producer in recent years, and he’s done that again with 374 yards through six games (that’s 62 per game). But after scoring just two touchdowns last year, he already has four in ’09. That’s a huge blessing for Daniels owners who find themselves with one of the most productive fantasy tight ends around. Verdict: Applaud
7. Chris Cooley, Redskins – Cooley, like Daniels, is a long-time top receiver who saw his touchdown total dive in ’08. That trend appears to be continuing in ’09. He has 311 yards (52 per game) and 2 touchdowns, which is OK production, but given the Redskins’ problems at quarterback and their widespread offensive line injuries, fantasy owners have to be worried about whether Cooley can continue to produce starting-caliber numbers going forward. Given how good a player Cooley is, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but this is a close call. Verdict: Applaud
8. Dustin Keller, Jets – We figured that Keller, who had a nice rookie season with Brett Favre as his quarterback, would prove to be Mark Sanchez’s safety net this year. Plus, the Jets didn’t have top receivers, and so Keller figured to help fill in that gap. But the addition of Braylon Edwards and Sanchez’s recent meltdown have limited Keller’s fantasy production. He’s averaging just 31 yards per game (187 total) and has just one touchdown, and things don’t look to be getting better soon. If you have Keller as a starter, it’s time for a change. Verdict: A fraud
9. John Carlson, Seahawks – Carlson’s numbers look OK, with 294 yards (59 per game) and two touchdowns. But since his six-catch, 95-yard, two-touchdown game in Week 1, Carlson hasn’t had more than 55 yards in a game. We don’t like that trend, and that leads us to pass on Carlson as a fantasy starter going forward. Verdict: A fraud
10. Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers – In a lost season in Tampa Bay, Winslow has emerged as a solid threat for the Bucs. He has 286 yards (47 per game) and four touchdowns, which is solid for tight ends. Since Winslow is the only thing going in Tampa, it seems like he can keep producing no matter who’s at quarterback for the Bucs. As a result, we’ll continue to recommend Winslow as a fantasy starter. Verdict: Applaud