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Daugherty: Fantasy Top 25s

by Patrick Daugherty
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

In a perfect world, we’d wait until after the third preseason game to draft. Depth charts are finalized, and the injury risk for fantasy-relevant players plunges as they sit out the exhibition finale. Since we do not live in a perfect world, we’ve probably all been drafting for longer than we’d like to admit. (April? May?) So there’s never been a better time to release even more rankings into the world. The question I tried to ask myself was, “would I really take so-and-so over so-and-so?” These ranks are how I’m going to approach my drafts. Without further ado, here are my top 25 players for each main position.

Editor’s Note: Our 2014 online DRAFT GUIDE is now live! Inside you’ll find exclusive columns, rankings, projections, eight different mock drafts and tons more.

Quarterback


1. Peyton Manning


Unless Manning invents a heretofore unseen level of football, the regression is coming. You don’t follow up a 5,477-yard, fifty freaking five touchdown season with an even better campaign … I think. The money people insist it’s not possible. Either way, I’m through doubting Peyton. Whether it’s his neck surgeries or Duck Hunt 2013 Divisional performance, all previous red flags have been red herrings. And besides Manning’s age, 38, there are no red flags heading into 2014. Manning is king of the castle, and he’ll abdicate when he damn well pleases.  


2. Drew Brees


My heart says Aaron Rodgers at No. 2. Everything else says Brees. Somehow, someway, Brees has become underrated. I repeat the new iteration of this stat every year, but that’s because it’s never not amazing. There have been eight 5,000-yard campaigns in NFL history. 50 percent of them belong to Brees. Brees has averaged 4,842 yards across his eight years as a New Orleans Saint. That number would rank 12th most all time for a single season. Brees’ floor is literally historic. He’s the safest bet in fantasy football.   


3. Aaron Rodgers


Rodgers is the most naturally-gifted quarterback in football. Whereas Manning and Brees bring clinical precision to sports’ most glamorous position, Rodgers brings feel. He makes big plays appear obvious and effortless, and he makes big plays quite often. Last year, his feel got him into trouble. Stepping up in the pocket and rolling out as he tried to extend a play in the red zone, Rodgers got mowed down from behind and crunched from the side, breaking his collarbone. Three years after Rodgers’ freelancing earned him a concussion, the injury had some wondering if he was “injury prone.” He’s not. Rodgers has missed starts with injury only two times in six seasons, and just eight total games. Now 30, maybe he should be more careful when he leaves the pocket, but Rodgers is a durable quarterback. End of story. Sporting a typically strong supporting cast, he’s going to continue to make it rain on opposing defenses.   


4. Andrew Luck


Luck has had a career of narratives. First, he was the Chosen One. Next, he was the Overrated One. He’s simply forged ahead not caring, turning in back-to-back 11 win campaigns while taking a big step forward last season despite a questionable supporting cast and even more questionable coaching. Both should be improved in 2014. Reggie Wayne is healthy, T.Y. Hilton is coming off a breakout year and Hakeem Nicks … well, he’s not Darrius Heyward-Bey. Dwayne Allen is back, and third-rounder Donte Moncrief is waiting in the wings. Luck is ready to be unleashed, and the smoke signals out of Indy suggest the coaching staff is begrudgingly ready to oblige. Aggressive “special assistant” Rob Chudzinski will be there to hold OC Pep Hamilton’s hand as he opens up his staid and nonsensical playbook. An improviser in the mold of Rodgers, and a thinker in the mold of Manning, Luck isn’t going to be denied.  

5. Matthew Stafford


This isn’t a rank I make with overwhelming confidence. Like many, I’ve been smitten with Stafford’s raw throwing ability since he first set foot on an NFL field. Also like many, I’ve watched helplessly as Stafford’s shoddy mechanics torpedoed not only the Lions’ season, but mine. But it’s not time to throw in the towel on a player who, despite everything, was fantasy’s No. 4 overall quarterback last season. Gone is stale OC Scott Linehan, and in is a trio of new mentors, coach Jim Caldwell, OC Joe Lombardi and QBs coach Jim Bob Cooter. Together, they have set about cleaning up Stafford’s fundamentals. The early results have been promising. A top-flight fantasy quarterback simply by virtue of having Calvin Johnson to throw to, Stafford finally has some other weapons at his disposal, including Golden Tate and rookie TE Eric Ebron. Stafford is never going to be a Sunday afternoon leisure ride, but the bumps and lumps are usually worth it as he stuffs the stat sheet with the best of them. 

6. Matt Ryan


With six seasons and 3,288 career passes under his belt, we know who Ryan is. He’s not an elevator, but a conductor. Take away his weapons — like injury did in 2013 — and he’s a glorified game manager. Give him a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White, however, and he’s a quarterback more than capable of winning games in style. Even were injury to again befall Ryan’s supporting cast, he’s piloting a team with a shaky run game and no defense. In other words, he’s still going to be throwing all day long. In a worst-case scenario, you may have to bench Ryan for 2-3 bad matchups, but he’s someone you should be able to snatch in the middle rounds and leave alone at quarterback without a second thought.  


7. Cam Newton


Here’s the deal: Newton has never had a great supporting cast. Yes, on paper, it’s shakier than ever this season, but this has always been a player who’s more or less gone about establishing his dual-threat will all by his lonesome. And when you delve a little deeper, things aren’t as dire as they seem. Kelvin Benjamin appears poised to compete for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, while Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant will at least offer strong hands over the middle. Perennially underrated, TE Greg Olsen is still in his prime. Newton is a threat to get off to a slow start, but as they’ve been every year since Newton broke into the league, the numbers are going to be there at the end.    


8. Tony Romo


No one could blame you if you were a bit squeamish about taking a 34-year-old quarterback who’s undergone two back surgeries over the past 15 months. But throw out his collarbone-marred 2010, and Romo has missed only four games with injury since taking over as the Cowboys’ starter in 2006. With his usual bevy of weapons, a pass-happy play caller and a defense that would struggle to stop Baylor, Romo is going to do what he always does: Throw a lot and put up points. His bargain ADP (typically around QB12) is just the icing on the cake.  


9. Colin Kaepernick  


Kaepernick was a false start in 2013. Primed to explode in his first full season as starter, he instead failed to detonate, struggling with his lack of targets while falling behind arch-rival Russell Wilson. It should be a different story in 2014. For all his issues last season, Kaep still had healthy averages across the board, managing 7.69 yards per pass and 5.7 yards per rush. He scored 25 touchdowns while committing only nine turnovers. With Michael Crabtree now healthy and Stevie Johnson in the picture with Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, Kaep has easily his most-talented supporting cast. Chastened by last year’s struggles, and leading a team that’s going to have to open up the offense thanks to absences on defense, Kaep is going to improve on last year’s QB12 finish, and likely in a big way.


10. Tom Brady


For the first time in forever, Brady’s fantasy prospects are a bit of a toss-up. Now 37, his passes have lost some of their zip and accuracy, while the Patriots have been stockpiling run-game weapons. Throwing out Brady’s ACL-ruined 2008, his 2013 YPA slipped below 7.0 for the first time since 2006, while his passing scores (25) were also a seven-year low. But it wasn’t just an excuse: Brady lacked weapons, while many of the ones he did have were raw and inexperienced. There are still question marks with Brady’s supporting cast, but it should be much stabler than it was a season ago. Danny Amendola is healthy. Rob Gronkowski will be soon. Aaron Dobson (foot) has resumed practicing and is ready to build on his strong rookie campaign. Even Brandon LaFell will be an asset one year after the Pats constantly found themselves short at wideout. Brady’s days of weekly air raids are over, but this is still a durable future Hall-of-Famer who passed for 4,343 yards last season, finishing as the QB14 in fantasy. Brady is a veritable lock to rebound to 30 scores, and rejoin roto’s top 10 passers.    


11. Jay Cutler — Injury the only concern for a player who’s finally poised to live up to his hype six years after throwing for 4,500 yards with the Broncos.  

12. Ben Roethlisberger — Experiencing a nice mid-career renaissance as the Steelers embrace the no-huddle, Big Ben could match last year’s QB8 finish.  

13. Russell Wilson — An extremely valuable “real-life” quarterback, Wilson doesn’t appear ready to hit his fantasy stride in the Seahawks’ run-heavy attack.   

14. Robert Griffin III — Massive ceiling, terrifying floor.

15. Nick Foles — Far less of a finished product than his absurd 27:2 2013 TD:INT ratio would suggest, Foles has to prove he can counter the league’s offseason adjustments.   

16. Philip Rivers — An ideal matchup play who’s embraced “less is more” as a passer.       

17. Andy Dalton — Simultaneously overrated and underrated, Dalton should settle into his natural middle ground under sharp OC Hue Jackson.  

18. Ryan Tannehill — Needs to fine tune his connection with deep-threat Mike Wallace to ward off Bradford-itis.   

19. Carson Palmer — The definition of a matchup play, keep Palmer on your bench against divisional foes.   

20. Alex Smith — A flat-out underrated player — by me especially — Smith’s game is not the kind that translates to fantasy on a consistent basis.   

21. Eli Manning — It’s hard to tell if Manning’s skill-set or supporting cast is deteriorating at a faster rate, but either way, he’s a tough rebound bet despite the G-Men’s attempts at a Rivers-style reinvention.    

22. Johnny Manziel — He’ll be RGIII lite with a hint of Tebow once he inevitably dispatches Brian Hoyer.  

23. Joe Flacco — All the excitement of a used, mid-size sedan.

24. Josh McCown — Believe the repeat when you see it.  

25. Sam Bradford — Little upside even as a matchup play thanks to brutal division.  


Running Back


1. LeSean McCoy


McCoy and Jamaal Charles are the two most dangerous backs in the NFL right now. There’s not a right or wrong answer at No. 1 overall. But running behind an elite offensive line for perhaps the league’s most run-minded coach, McCoy and his Sanders-lite cuts get the nod over Charles. Still somehow only 26 years old, McCoy has dropped a few pounds off his 2013 weight, and looked even more explosive in camp, where he’s been catching an “absurd” amount of passes. Gunning for 2,000 yards, someone has to be No. 1. McCoy is my pick.  


2. Jamaal Charles


Like Manning, Charles is unlikely to repeat last season’s all-purpose bonanza, but he should come damn close to equaling it, particularly if he doesn’t get rested for Week 17. Still in the thick of his prime at age 27, Charles remains the centerpiece of the Chiefs’ offense, and a mega-threat in all phases of the game. The world’s greatest consolation prize if McCoy goes No. 1 in your league.


3. Adrian Peterson


There’s an argument to be made for Matt Forte over Peterson, but what would you rather bet on: Forte repeating his all-world 2013, or Peterson “bouncing back” from his “disappointing” campaign? Forte is going to be good, but Peterson has always been great. Now he’s playing for OC Norval Turner, a play-caller who’s overseen three separate rushing champions in Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams and LaDainian Tomlinson. Despite missing two games in last year’s “down” season, AD was still fifth in rushing yards (1,266), fourth in scores (10) and second in yards per game (90.4). Maybe Forte has the edge in PPR formats, but it’s still not time to bet against this generation’s best runner.   


4. Matt Forte


McCoy, Charles and Peterson are the “Big Three” in the minds of most fantasy owners, but if anyone can crash the party, it’s Forte. No running back played more snaps (940) last season, while only two caught more passes (74). Forte’s 1,339 rushing yards were a new career best. He put to rest the durability concerns that began creeping in over 2011-12, and is simply a match made in heaven with coach Marc Trestman. Long a safe and boring fantasy pick, Forte is now just the former.  


5. Eddie Lacy


Want a dark horse for No. 1 overall status? Lacy is your man. A three-down back who touched the ball on 319 of his 689 snaps last season, Lacy could easily lead the league in carries and rushing scores, and should ease by last year’s 35 receptions. If you get Lacy anywhere after No. 5 overall, it’s a steal.   


6. DeMarco Murray


Murray is where things start to get tricky. Few NFL players are better when they take the field, but Murray’s injury issues are well documented. He’s missed at least two games in each of his three NFL seasons, and averaged 3.6 absences. When he has suited up, Murray has managed 4.9 yards per carry. He averaged 19.2 touches per game in 2013, and 105.1 yards from scrimmage. Elite stuff. He’s a classic risk-reward proposition. Is Murray more likely to make or break your season as an RB1? Only you can decide. Considering the drop off behind him, I’d take the plunge.    


7. Marshawn Lynch


You could maybe argue for Lynch to be higher. You could definitely argue for him to be lower. As a back who’s still clearly going to be the foundation of Seattle’s offense, I’ll just leave him where he is. Concerns about the uber-talented Christine Michael stealing work are somewhat valid, but would the Seahawks have given Lynch a $1.5 million raise if they weren’t planning on using him in much the same way they have since 2011? Almost certainly not. Lynch has peaked, and is likely heading into the final year of his prime. But he’s still a workhorse in a game that thrives on them, and shouldn’t fall to the land of the RB2s.


8. Giovani Bernard


Nos. 8 and 9 come down to Bernard’s upside and Montee Ball’s role. I’ll gamble on the former. Instead of worrying about Jeremy Hill, maybe focus on your own shadow. You may forget that Bernard sniped BenJarvus Green-Ellis for touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line four times in 2013. He was fantasy’s No. 16 back despite touching the ball only 226 times. The Bengals have hinted that number will grow to at least 260 this season, and perhaps 300. Bernard is no longer a change-of-pace rookie for pass-first Jay Gruden. He’s the No. 1 back for run-minded Hue Jackson. Be not afraid.   


9. Montee Ball


All you really need to know about the No. 1 running back in a Peyton Manning-led offense is that Knowshon Moreno was fantasy’s No. 5 runner last season. Knowshon Freakin’ Moreno. Then you need to know that Ball is better. Ball showed better than you may have guessed as a rookie, averaging 4.7 yards on his 120 carries, and catching 20 passes despite playing only 314 snaps. The Broncos saw enough to not only let Moreno walk, but decline to add competition in the draft and free agency. And before you bring up Ball’s emergency appendectomy, you could argue it’s more of a relief than a concern. Now he’ll be spared from an unnecessary August pounding. I’ll roll with Bernard’s upside, but Ball is the safer bet.   


10. Zac Stacy


Instead of poking holes in Stacy’s résumé — he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry as a rookie, his 2013 workload isn’t repeatable, the Rams talked up Tre Mason in the offseason, etc. etc. etc. — maybe focus on the obvious instead of fixating on the possible: He’s a foundation back for a run-first offense. Stacy enters the season with miles of rope after almost singlehandedly making the Rams’ offense watchable in the absence of Sam Bradford last season. He’ll be a work-horse, one who monopolizes goal-line touches. Stop overthinking things.     


11. Andre Ellington — Owner of almost unfathomable upside, but an injury risk until proven otherwise.    

12. Le’Veon Bell — A poor man’s early-career Matt Forte, Bell has to worry about LeGarrette Blount crashing his goal-line party.

13. Doug Martin — Martin has more to prove than almost anybody, but is unlikely to get a chance to do so on third down, cutting into his upside.  

14. Alfred Morris — Probably being underrated, but the departure of Mike Shanahan and the ZBS scheme he handpicked Morris for is a legitimate concern.  

15. Arian Foster — Despite mouth-watering role, Foster is simply growing too brittle to trust.

16. Frank Gore — Obviously on the decline, but Gore is hard to kill, at least in September and October.  

17. Toby Gerhart — Limited track record and propensity for nicks and bruises makes him hard to trust, but Gerhart is being groomed as a true three-down back.  

18. Ryan Mathews — Essentially out of the picture on passing downs, Mathews needs to stay healthy for 16 games to repeat last year’s RB12 finish.  

19. C.J. Spiller — Highwire act who could still explode for top-five season.   

20. Joique Bell — RB2 who will hit and miss.   

21. Shane Vereen — Value pick with little downside at current ADP of RB24.

22. Lamar Miller — Post-hype sleeper who was better than numbers indicated last season.

23. Ben Tate — RB2 for as long as he can outrun harrowing injury history.

24. Bishop Sankey — Rookie backs are perennial disappointments, but Sankey’s role makes him a legit RB2.   

25. Reggie Bush — Easy to be pessimistic about, but guy you’ll be glad to have most weeks.


Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $100,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 1's games. It's only $10 to join and first prize is $10,000. Starts Sunday, September 7th at 1pm ET. Here's the link.


Wide Receiver


1. Calvin Johnson


The only thing Megatron can’t outrun is his past. It creates unreasonable expectations. What is not unreasonable, however, is calling Johnson the league’s safest wideout, and a worthy first-round pick in a year with little clarity beyond the top five running backs.


2. Demaryius Thomas


Thomas is the league’s premier YAC threat playing with its premier quarterback. Translation, any questions? Not that Thomas can’t beat you at any level of the defense. He can, and with Eric Decker gone, figures to be even more of a powerhouse in the red zone. Thomas is a bulletproof first-rounder, one barely behind Megatron as the favorite to be fantasy’s No. 1 receiver.   


3. A.J. Green


Dez Bryant always finds himself just ahead of Green in these kinds of rankings, but Green always finds himself just ahead of Bryant on the league-leader board. You can fret about OC Hue Jackson’s new run-heavy offense, but systems simply don’t hold players like Green down. And there’s just as much reason to believe Jackson’s presence will be a positive instead of a detriment. Jackson proved masterful at maximizing his personnel in Oakland. I consider him far more likely to coax a career year out of Green than send him back below 1,300 yards.   


4. Dez Bryant


There’s just as good an argument to be made for Bryant at No. 1 as there is at No. 4. Perhaps the most thrilling player in the NFL, his 25 receiving touchdowns over the past two seasons are tied for the most in the league. Bryant lets nothing stand between him and his next catch, putting his body on the line in a way most would consider crazy. It’s what’s led to a countless number of nicks and bruises over his four-year career, if no missed games over the past two seasons. That’s as good a tiebreaker as any to drop Bryant to No. 4 when his résumé could put him at No. 1. You can take Bryant in the first round and never look back.   


5. Alshon Jeffery


Jeffery or Brandon Marshall is one of 2014’s great debates. I’ll let ascendancy tiebreak it. When was the last time you didn’t want to own a 24-year-old receiver coming off a 1,421-yard campaign? Much is made of Jay Cutler and Marshall’s Apatow-style bromance, but Cutler targeted Jeffery nearly as much as Marshall last season. Marshall is still one of the league’s very best receivers, but more volume dependent than his younger teammate, and not as much of a home-run threat. I’m not betting against Marshall, but I’m certainly betting on Jeffery.  


6. Jordy Nelson


You could close the case at “No. 1 receiver in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense,” but why stop there? Nelson averaged 6.1 catches for 101.2 yards in Rodgers’ eight full games last season, scoring seven touchdowns. That extrapolates out to 98/1,620/14 over a full campaign. Instead, Nelson had to “settle” for career highs in yards (1,314) and catches (85). Fantasy’s No. 11 and No. 2 receiver in his past two healthy seasons, look for Nelson to split the difference in 2014.     


7. Brandon Marshall


The league’s best compiler, Marshall’s worst season over his past seven was his 86/1,014/3 in 2010 with the Dolphins. Having averaged 106/1,348/9 in four full seasons with Cutler at the helm, Marshall remains an unimpeachable WR1 heading into his age-30 campaign, even with Jeffery there to steal some of his thunder.  


8. Julio Jones  


There’s a simple reason Jones is so “low”: His twice-broken left foot. Even in a league with an injury risk around every corner, Jones’ can’t be ignored. By all accounts, Jones’ foot has not been an issue in the run up to 2014. But with so many other capable WR1 options, not even Jones’ mammoth upside can close the gap on the floors of those ahead of him. I hope Jones stays healthy and makes this one of my biggest misses, but I’m not willing to bet on it considering the options in front of him.   


9. Antonio Brown


How much depth is there at receiver? Last year’s No. 2 in receptions (110) and yards (1,499) can be No. 9 and no one will really bat an eye. Brown could easily make us all pay. Coming off a season where he became the first player in NFL history to catch at least five passes for 50 yards in all 16 games, there’s little reason to expect Brown to crater as the No. 1 option for an offense committed to the no huddle. It may be easier to project upside for the eight guys ahead of him, but Brown is as good of a WR9 as you’re ever going to find.   


10. Keenan Allen  


Just the eighth receiver over the past 20 seasons to surpass 1,000 yards as a rookie, Allen accomplished the feat despite playing zero snaps in Week 1, and entering Week 4 with three catches for 30 yards. Unleashed afterwards, Allen finished as fantasy’s WR17 on the back on truly elite route running. Now supposedly faster and fully entrenched as Philip Rivers’ go-to guy, Allen is in position to take a massive sophomore leap.  


11. Andre Johnson — Harder to kill than a Twitter rumor, but age and Ryan Fitzpatrick will test his WR1 limits.  

12. Michael Floyd — This is admittedly aggressive, but what, you think Floyd is taking a step back from his 2013?

13. Vincent Jackson — Always underrated, but always unpredictable.  

14. Michael Crabtree — Healthy and gunning for a new contract, Crabtree will prove to be one of this year’s most undervalued players.   

15. Pierre Garcon — A target monster, but one who didn’t have to contend with DeSean Jackson last season.   

16. Torrey Smith — A slow but steady riser, Smith is ready to take another step under new OC Gary Kubiak.   

17. Victor Cruz — Could re-erupt in an offense placing an emphasis on quick, short passes.  

18. Randall Cobb — Show me health, and I’ll show you love.

19. Roddy White — Ageless before last year’s ankle injury, White could be the latest elite WR1 to be left for dead too quickly.

20. T.Y. Hilton — His upside should overcome his play-calling and elderly target competition.   

21. Cordarrelle Patterson — Obvious breakout candidate, but was much rawer than people realized last season. Could be a year away.  

22. Larry Fitzgerald — On the downslope, but should compensate with red-zone targets.  

23. Marques Colston — Always there, little reason to believe he won’t be in 2014.  

24. Mike Wallace — Prime bounce-back candidate, but his fate rests in Ryan Tannehill’s hands.

25. Eric Decker — Has gone from certain overdraft to being underdrafted. Will soak up targets in New York.  


Tight End


1. Jimmy Graham


Graham is without peer, both at the tight end position, and in the Saints’ offense. One of fantasy’s biggest difference makers, he should not fall beyond the first round.


2. Rob Gronkowski


What we don’t know: If Gronk will play Week 1. What we do know: Gronk has scored 42 touchdowns across 50 career games. Gronk’s body has become an Operation board, but four years after he helped kick start the tight-end revolution, there’s still no one who can match his physical dominance. Gronk is injury prone, but let’s be real. How many other players in the top 25 can be slapped with that label? At least 3-4. Sometimes you have to pay the cost to be the boss. Gronk’s risk doesn’t come cheap, but it has nearly unrivaled upside.  


3. Julius Thomas


A late bloomer if there ever was one, Thomas returns from his breakout 2013 as the No. 3 option in Peyton Manning’s historic passing attack. Durability was the concern through Thomas’ first two NFL seasons, but he’s no bigger injury risk than the player immediately ahead of him. Thomas will be an elite TE1 as long as he can stay on the field. It’s that simple.  


4. Jordan Cameron


The loss of tight-end maestros Norval Turner and Rob Chudzinski is a concern, but Cameron comes off his breakout as the Browns’ de facto No. 1 receiver. Meanwhile, new OC Kyle Shanahan is all of one year removed from overseeing the promising development of Jordan Reed. Playing for a new contract, Cameron will make hay regardless of who’s at quarterback for the Browns, just like he did in 2013.  


5. Vernon Davis


Davis has never exactly screamed consistency, but remains one of the top athletes and red-zone threats at a position that’s in the midst of a huge infusion of young talent. There will be the occasional zero, but more weeks than not, you’ll be happy to have Davis as your TE1.  


6. Jordan Reed


Reed’s only mistake as a rookie was foolishly concealing his concussion issues. Otherwise, he was a bright spot for the moribund Redskins, and has reportedly looked even better this offseason. Despite his injury issues, Reed is an upside talent worth gambling on at a position with little clarity beyond the top-dog Graham.  


7. Greg Olsen


At worst, Olsen will be Cam Newton’s No. 2 option, a designation he’s turned into an average line of 71/830/5.5 over the past two seasons. Always underrated, Olsen is still in his prime at age-29. There are far sexier options down the ranks (Ladarius Green, Zach Ertz, Dennis Pitta), but expect Olsen to keep on chugging as an excellent TE1.


8. Jason Witten


Every great player starts to lose steam somewhere. For Witten, it’s likely to be 2014. In a situation similar to Antonio Gates’ 2013, Witten remains a top-notch chain mover, but has a super-talented backup nipping at his heels. In Witten’s case, it’s Gavin Escobar. Coming off seven-year lows in both yards (851) and catches (73), Witten should make it eight-year lows, even if he remains a perfectly-serviceable TE1.  


9. Kyle Rudolph


Rudolph has been a mountainous tease through his first three NFL seasons, but at the very least, tight-end whisperer OC Norval Turner should be able to harness his red-zone potential. Rudolph’s ceiling is a Cameron-style breakout, one he’s had the talent for since arriving in the NFL. Now he might finally have the play-caller.   


10. Dennis Pitta


Forever on the verge of breaking out, Pitta might finally be at the right confluence of health, coaching staff and supporting cast. Few coordinators are more tight-end friendly than Gary Kubiak, while the additions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels should ensure Pitta doesn’t get smothered in the middle of the field. Pitta lacks a top-five ceiling, but is a safe bet to finish in the 8-10 range.   


11. Ladarius Green — The biggest threat to be this year’s Thomas.

12. Zach Ertz — Improved blocking could mean more snaps could mean more targets could mean more receptions could mean more fantasy glory.  

13. Charles Clay — An ideal plug-and-play.  

14. Martellus Bennett — If all you want out of the tight-end position is touchdown potential, Bennett is an every-week starter.   

15. Heath Miller — Miller is a shop-keeper. There’s not much upside in that, but there’s not much downside, either.  

16. Travis Kelce — Kelce has top-eight upside, but Anthony Fasano is a road block.

17. Delanie Walker — Should remain a matchup play.

18. Antonio Gates — More name than game at this point.

19. Dwayne Allen — Will threaten for touchdowns, but won’t compile in other categories.

20. Tyler Eifert — Probably a year away.

21. Jared Cook — Waiver wire fodder you add for a juicy matchup.

22. Eric Ebron — Someone to monitor, not someone to draft.

23. Coby Fleener — The step forward probably isn’t coming.   

24. Austin Seferian-Jenkins — Has upside, but too many other mouths to feed in an offense that wants to run the football and dominate the sidelines.  

25. Jace Amaro — The bottom of the TE2 barrel.  

 

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Patrick Daugherty
Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .