There are a number of tight ends who are perceived as perennial top-five fantasy options, but, truth be told, there's only one tight end who's finished in the top-five at the position in standard scoring every year since 2011: Jimmy Graham. Graham is the clear-cut number one option this season, but he can only play for one team per league, so most fake footballers will be forced to search for another option.
Both Vernon Davis and Jordan Cameron finished as top-five performers in both standard scoring and PPR leagues last season. Although each of their surrounding rosters have gone through major changes, we still project both to finish as top-five tight ends again this year. But which should you draft first? Here's a look at what numberFire contributor Sam Hauss and I think.
The Argument for Vernon Davis
By Scott Barrett
Cameron has tremendous talent and is poised to see a lot of targets this season, but he's still far riskier than the proven Davis. While JC is coming off of his first productive season, VD has already topped 50 receptions five times, 750 receiving yards four times and scored 13 touchdowns in a season twice. He's still only 30 years old.
Davis was also an absolute monster last year, and no one seems to realize it. To the less fastidious fantasy analysts among us, the 49ers star only had a fantastic fantasy season last year, finishing fourth overall in PPR and second in standard-scoring leagues. But the truth is, he performed even better than that, and he did so in less than a full season.
He left early in Week 2 with a hamstring injury. He missed Week 3 entirely; the first game he's missed since 2007. In Week 10, he left midway through the second quarter with a concussion and never returned. In Week 16's aberration, he was in-and-out of the game battling vision problems and was held without catch. Despite all of this, he still had an amazing season.
If we take out Week 16 and only include the games he started and finished, he would have had a 17.2 points per game in PPR leagues, and a 14.7 points per game average in standard ones. To put that into perspective, if we do the same thing for Graham who left Week 6 early and without a catch, his points per game last year would be 20.4 in PPR and 15.0 in standard. Graham, meanwhile, is a top-10 draft pick. Davis is going in the fifth or sixth rounds.
Cameron's averages, on the other hand, were 14.2 in PPR leagues, and 8.9 in standard ones.
There's almost less separating Graham from Davis than there is between Davis and Cameron.
The Argument Against Vernon Davis
By Sam Hauss
It's undeniable that VD was outstanding last year, but even with those numbers, Davis was not in the top five among tight ends in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP), or the number of points added by a player on catches only. While VD's 47.62 Target NEP (number of points added on all targets) was fourth among all tight ends behind only Jimmy Graham (56.74), Julius Thomas (56.16) and Tony Gonzalez (53.91), his Reception NEP ranked sixth at the position because he lacked targets compared to other top-level tight ends. Cameron ranked third among all players at the position with a 80.46 Reception NEP score.
Davis simply didn't receive enough volume to have the same fantasy impact as Cameron ,and should be targeted even less this season due to the 49ers offseason additions of Steve Johnson and Brandon Lloyd. Additionally, San Francisco should have a healthy Crabtree for the entire season this year, and still have Anquan Boldin, who caught 85 balls and 7 touchdowns of his own last season.
When talking about the Niners, it's also impossible to ignore the fact that they are very much a run-first team. San Francisco rushed the ball 505 times last season, third-most in the league, and threw the ball a league-low 417 times. Additionally, VD’s biggest advantage last season was that he simply had more chemistry with Colin Kaepernick than everyone else because Crabtree was hurt, Boldin was new and there really weren’t any other viable options. This season, he won't have that benefit.
The Argument for Jordan Cameron
By Sam Hauss
Many of Cameron’s detractors will point to the fact that Norv Turner – the tight end genius – is no longer with the Browns. That point can't be dismissed. Cameron was a perfect fit in Turner's system, but with Turner's departure to Minnesota many believe a regression may be coming for the Browns' star. I'm not one of them.
Tight ends have often excelled under new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and Cameron will be the focal point of Shanahan’s passing attack. Last season Jordan Reed caught 45 balls for 499 yards and 3 scores on just 59 targets in only a little over eight games under Shanahan. Reed finished sixth among tight ends in Target NEP at 40.27, and even finished 12th at the position in Reception NEP at 55.85, despite missing seven games.
Other tight ends have seen success under Shanahan in the past few years as well. In 2011, Fred Davis had 59 receptions, 796 yards and 3 scores. Davis finished 12th in Reception NEP at 58.30 that year among tight ends. In 2010, Chris Cooley had 77 catches for 849 yards and 3 touchdowns. Cooley finished seventh at the position in Reception NEP at 61.35. Neither Davis or Cooley possess even close to the physical talent that Cameron does, and both finished in the top 12 at the position in Shanahan's system.
Last season, JC proved that it doesn’t matter who his quarterback is after posting a monster 80-catch, 917-yard, 7-touchdown stat line, while catching passes from the motley crew of Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer. This season, all signs point to Hoyer beginning the season as the Browns starter, and in the two games with Hoyer last season, Cameron caught 16 balls for 157 yards and a whopping 4 touchdowns on 23 targets. Those are ridiculous numbers.
Much of the reason why Cameron faded down the stretch last season is because Josh Gordon exploded. The Browns' receiver was unstoppable, so they fed him the ball as much as possible, leaving significantly fewer targets for the rest of Cleveland's receivers. In the first eight games of the season Gordon saw 0, 0,19, 9, 6, 9, 6 and 10 targets compared to Cameron’s 13, 7, 11, 12, 4, 6, 9 and 4. Gordon saw at least 10 targets in all but one of his final 8 games, while Cameron only saw double-digit targets once over that span.
Gordon will more than likely not be around in 2014. This is certainly horrible news for the Browns, but great news for Cameron’s fantasy owners. While Gordon’s absence probably means more focus on Cameron from opposing defenses, Gordon’s 157 targets have to go somewhere, and Jordan Cameron is most likely to accumulate them. Cameron caught 80 of his 117 targets last year. That’s good for a 68% catch rate. If Cameron catches even close to that percentage of his targets this season, he's in store for an absolutely monster season, especially considering the boost in targets he will receive from Gordon’s absence.
The Argument Against Jordan Cameron
By Scott Barrett
While Jordan Cameron was exceptional in the two games Hoyer started and finished, we still don't know for sure who the Browns starter is going to be. It could be Hoyer, but it could also be Johnny Manziel. It could be a combination of the two by season's end. Quarterback controversies and struggling rookie quarterbacks rarely bode well for a team's receivers. There’s a lot of annoyance and risk here. When you draft a wideout or tight end, you’re also buying in part their quarterback as well.
Some may argue that the loss of Josh Gordon means more targets for Cameron, but I'm less optimistic. The Browns have no other real receiving threats outside of their tight end, and if I'm an opposing coach, I'd rather give Cameron hell and let one of the Browns' other terribly sub-mediocre receivers try to beat me.
It could have just been the fact that Josh Gordon was unstoppable last year, and there was no point in feeding Cameron or anyone else the ball. Or it could be that, by Week 5 (Josh Gordon’s third game back), defenses realized Cameron was a legitimate threat who deserved more attention. If this was the case, it seemed to be a big problem for Cameron, who faded out over the stretch last year from a terrific start. In his first eight games, JC had a 49 catch, 596 yard, 6 touchdown line. In his final seven (he missed Week 16 with a concussion) he saw 31 catches for 321 yards and just a single score.
Jordan Cameron has tremendous talent, but I’m still worried about four specific things. The fact that he seemingly disappeared after Week 4 last year with only a meager 10.7 (PPR) points per game over the rest of the season is important. Second, everyone seems to be counting on him to be the top/only receiver on his team, but outside of those first four games, he hasn’t proven that’s something he can live up to. A team’s tight end being their top receiver is a rarity, and although he’s likely the best receiver on the team, it’s still a feat typically reserved for the elite at the position.
Third, who would you rather have throwing to your tight end? Colin Kaepernick, whose only competition is Blaine Gabbert, or a tandem consisting of two guys with only four career starts between them? And lastly, there's still a chance, albeit slim, that Josh Gordon isn't going to be suspended for the entire 2014 regular season. This would be a big blow to Cameron's projected stats.