A Look At Three Breakout Tight Ends
Fantasy football is a game of disappointments. We know that around 40 percent of first-round picks don't return value, that running backs crumble like mortar and that wide receivers are one misstep away from an ailing hamstring that keeps them on the bench all year. In general, the average fantasy owner is going to be wrong just about as often as they are right. It's the nature of the game way play.
Sometimes, however, we are gloriously correct. Week 1 turned out to be one of those glorious times, as practitioners of tight end streaming where overwhelmed with fantasy point goodness. The first week of the 2013 season brought the highest week of tight end scoring that fantasy football has ever seen, even if Zach Sudfeld didn't want to join in on the party.
Some of the usual suspects, like Jason Witten and Vernon Davis, had huge weeks, but guys with double digit ADPs like Jordan Cameron and Jared Cook performed just as well. In 12-team leagues,Julius Thomas was barely drafted but ran out for his first career 100-yard game (including college) and caught two of Peyton Manning's seven touchdown passes.
We generally know that the Wittens and Tony Gonzalezs of the world are going to keep up their production. The real question worth asking is: Can Thomas, Cook and Cameron keep it going?
Cook has long been a fantasy football tease, but on Sunday, all of the hypotheticals flew out of the window as he had seven catches on 10 targets for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Cook actually could have had an even better fantasy day if he hadn't fumbled what would have been a touchdown very early on in the game. The ex-Titan was clearly Sam Bradford's best weapon and that's a trend I expect to continue.
Jared Cook's reception net expected points (NEP) total was 8.15 on Sunday, which put him in the range of Marques Colston and tight end counterpart Jason Witten. NEP is a metric used at numberFire to determine the value - in terms of real points - that a player gives to his team on each and every play. Comparing Cook to other options on the team, Tavon Austin had 2.56 NEP on his six catches and Chris Givens had a 2.83 NEP score. The efficiency metrics are obviously reliant on volume, but even on a per play basis, Cook was right on pace with his teammates, which should be expected. Cook's physical profile has always been a dominant one, whereas Givens and Austin lack those prototypical gifts. He is precisely the type of player that Bradford has never had and it changes what Bradford is capable of doing.
Bradford is obviously tied to Cook's value, which is a positive thing. Bradford had an outstanding college career and was the top pick when he came out. He's had three lousy years in Saint Louis, with passing NEP's of -29.01, -70.05 and 10.10. But Bradford's NEP against the Cardinals alone was 6.75. Sure, he'll have some tougher matchups against Seattle and San Francisco that will drag his cumulative total down, but we already seeing positive returns on Bradford.
Out of all of the guys who broke out on this list, I like Cook's odds of finishing in the top-5 of tight end scoring the most.
I don't think anyone who is addicted to fantasy football was particularly surprised by Jordan Cameron's performance against the Dolphins. He is Rob Gronkowski's size with arguably better athleticism than Jimmy Graham. He is a big, fast dude playing in an offensive system that we know is geared towards tight end fantasy point scoring. With Josh Gordon out, Cameron is the number one option in the passing game for the Browns, and even when Gordon returns, I expect he will probably remain the top redzone option.
Brandon Weeden isn't Tom Brady or Drew Brees, but he is capable enough to make Cameron more than fantasy relevant. Weeden's -19.66 passing NEP in 2012 belies what is likely close to his skill level, but that doesn't mean he can't make a fantasy superstar out of Cameron. Guys of Cameron's athletic profile can, to some extent, create fantasy points on their own. With Trent Richardson marching the ball down the field, I expect there will be a number of redzone opportunities for Cameron this year.
Josh Gordon returning will obviously put a ceiling on what Cameron is capable of doing, but there is no doubt that he is a top-10 week in, week out option. While other players (like the next guy on this list) have to fight with numerous receivers or even tight end rotations on their own team, Cameron is truly all the Browns have outside of Gordon. Davone Bess and Greg Little are fine players, but they aren't any threat to eat into Cameron's stats.
Thomas and Cameron actually finished right next to each other in Week 1 receiving NEP. Cameron was 13th with 10.56 and Thomas was 10.42. However, there is an air of repeatability around Cameron's performance that just isn't there with Thomas. While there is basically no way you are benching Thomas in a 12-team league, there are going to be weeks where he gets you less than five PPR points. Thomas actually had the same amount of targets as Eric Decker; despite Decker's horrifying performance, it isn't as if he isn't going to be an involved part of that Broncos offense.
What gives me the greatest amount of pause for Thomas is usage. Demaryius Thomas is clearly the top option in the passing game, both as the most-talented and the most-utilized receiver. What was unexpected was Wes Welker's early and often usage. I had previously assumed that Welker would become who should have always been: a guy who was used to move the chains and have around 80 catches. Welker is already far off that pace and Peyton Manning has no qualms going to him in the redzone. This offense will have much more volatility week to week than we previously expected and Thomas is another wrinkle in the system
Whereas Cook and Cameron are athletic marvels, Thomas really isn't that guy. He possesses good size and slightly above average speed, but nothing about his physical measurables shout superstar. And even on his two touchdowns, they were mostly a function of the defense leaving him uncovered. Will there be more two-touchdown weeks? If I was a betting man (and I am) my money would be on no. Manning clearly has a history of using his tight ends (17 percent of his career touchdown passes are too Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark) but Manning also hasn't ever had three wide receivers as talented as Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker.
In ranking Cook, Cameron and Thomas going forward, I would put them in that order. Cook has a chance to establish himself as the number one option in a surprisingly productive passing game, Cameron will play number two to Josh Gordon, but Thomas could find himself further down the totem pole, despite playing in the most productive offense of the bunch.