NFL's Best Fantasy Tight Ends (2012 Edition): #5-1

Deciding between Gronkowski and Graham? Don't know who to take once those two are gone? Well look inside for the answers.

After looking at the NFL's #10-6 fantasy tight ends yesterday, it's time to move on to that top five. Unless you've been living under a rock (in which case I congratulate you on figuring out how to get wifi reception), you know who the top two on this list are going to be. And you probably know that a certain Chargers tight end is going to be somewhere on this list. But it's the order and one blast-from-the-past name that might provide a shock... and allow you to get some star-caliber tight end points late if you plan your draft correctly.

numberFire's Top Ten Fantasy Tight Ends: #5-1

5. Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers
Projected Stats: 886.1 receiving yards, 6.7 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 128.25

Moving into my second tier for tight ends, Antonio Gates is Antonio Gates: if you've played fantasy football at some point since 2004, you know exactly what you're getting yourself into. If you haven't, well, congratulations on getting yourself into a league! And let me help you out with these fun stats: two 1,000 yard seasons and three 10+ TD seasons since 2004, eight consecutive seasons with 118 fantasy points or higher (an average of over seven points per game every season), and the 2011 Chargers team lead in receptions with 64. Strangely enough, Gates did not have the team lead in targets - that was Vincent Jackson - but was able to convert his targets at an unusually high 72.7% catch rate (first among TEs with at least 40 catches, even more than Gronk's 72.4% mark). If some of Jackson's old targets go to Gates rather than new #1 WR Robert Meachem, Gates could be due for a breakout season again.

4. Jason Witten - Dallas Cowboys
Projected Stats: 935.6 receiving yards, 6.2 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 130.3

As always with fantasy football, take this particular item with a grain of salt the size of Jerry World: Jason Witten's #4 only if he's healthy. According to CBS Sports, he's questionable for week one. So for now, let's just roll with the assumption that he'll actually be there, because it seems like half the Cowboys' offense is having a nice tea party on that injury list anyway (with Dez Bryant's babysitters serving the tea). In an already potent offense, Witten was the number one option in 2011, being targeted a team-leading 117 times and converting 79 receptions for an impressive 67.5% catch rate. But if you think that's something new, you don't know Jack, err... Jason: he's had over 110 targets every single Cowboys season dating back to 2007, and he's led the team in targets three times over that span and finished second twice in '08 and '07, likely letting T.O. win so he wouldn't cry later. Witten will get his targets, and even with his current injury, I wouldn't count him out of many games: he's played in every Cowboys game (and started all but one) dating back to 2004.

3. Tony Gonzalez - Atlanta Falcons
Projected Stats: 913.8 receiving yards, 6.3 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 131.65

And now in third place, using his walker to get over the final hill, barely able to see the finish line... Old Man Gonzalez! Come on, it's not that bad. When you've had the production that Gonzalez has had over the past, say, 13 seasons, there's a solid case to be made that he could keep doing this until he's 40. At the very least, he hasn't slowed down much since making the trip south to Atlanta before the 2009 season. In three years with the Falcons, Gonzalez has hit 70 receptions, 650 yards, and six touchdowns every single year. And that production hasn't gone down over his three years, it's gone up: his 875 yards, seven TDs, and 130 fantasy points last season were his highest in each of those categories since his final year in Kansas City. As I noted when I called him my #1 Forgotten Fantasy Pick, Gonzalez has had triple-digit fantasy points every season since Genie in a Bottle was a #1 hit. And while he may be developing cataracts in his old age, I think he can still see well enough: his 69.0% catch rate was one of the highest among all tight ends. I'm taking Old Man Gonzalez in the eighth or ninth round every time.

2. Jimmy Graham - New Orleans Saints
Projected Stats: 992.6 receiving yards, 7.3 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 142.13

The top two is a battle royale for the ages: Graham vs. Gronkowski, Saint vs. Patriot, Big Easy vs. Boston... wait, it's over that quickly? Just to let you decide between the two, here's the stats. The tide starts to turn a little bit when numberFire's favorite advanced analytics are thrown in to the mix:

Yards: Gronkowski 1,327, Graham 1,310 (That's a wash)
TDs: Gronkowski 17, Graham 11 (Yeah, but do you really expect Gronkowski to get 17 again?)
Catch Rate: Gronkowski 72.3%, Graham 66.4% (Now we're getting somewhere...)
NEP per play: Gronkowski +1.14, Graham +0.80 (And the knock out!)

If I get either Graham or Gronkowski in your draft somewhere in the latter half of the second round or later, I'm dancing a jig, albeit extremely poorly formed because I'm a terrible dancer. It's just that, right now, my jig would have a bit more vigor if I was dancing because of Gronkowski instead of Graham.

1. Rob Gronkowski - New England Patriots
Projected Stats: 963.3 receiving yards, 8.5 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 146.58

And we've made it to the top of our list! Yo soy fiesta! I can honestly never get enough of that clip. I've already covered much of what makes Gronkowski great in relation to other tight ends, but just what makes him worth such a high pick in relation to wide receivers? Well, for all that he did on the field, he might as well have been a star wide receiver: he finished 6th overall in receiving yards (1,327), 5th in 20+ yard catches (22), and 1st in receiving touchdowns (17). Whether it was stretching the field or in the red zone, simply nobody could stop him on the field last season. While numberFire sees his stats going down just a little bit, he's still a top option on the draft board as a whole, not just at tight end. Brady trusts Gronk, and I would too.