The tight end position has become all the rage in the NFL. Their numbers are exploding and football fans and fantasy football addicts better take notice. Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski have shattered NFL records and changed the way tight ends need to be drafted in fantasy leagues. Even old standbys have gotten in on the act as Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten are putting up huge years in the twilight of their careers. In this week’s column I will discuss the New York Giants’ newest tight end, Brandon Myers, and where he rates in the ranks of today’s super tight ends as well as look back fondly at some of the New York Giants’ tight ends of the past.
Let’s start with a little background on the Giants latest man to try and fill Mark Bavaro’s shoes. Myers was selected in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of Iowa by the Oakland Raiders. He measures up at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, which are both adequate measurements for the position of tight end in the NFL. While some may look at the fact that he beat out an injured Kevin Boss in 2011 as positive, I see it for what it really was. The replacement of Boss with Myers was an organizational decision to play a league average affordable player over an overpaid free agent mistake. The Raiders were up against serious salary cap restraints (they currently have over $46 million of dead money going against this year’s cap) and needed to evaluate every position while putting every dollar they spend under the microscope. If Myers could play at the level of a league average tight end and save the organization some money over Boss they were going to have to make that move. Myers put up team leading receptions (79) and yardage (801) numbers in his walk year, but the Raiders never tried to lock him up long term because they were going through a complete overhaul. I actually think Terrelle Pryor is the best tight end on the Raiders’ roster, but that’s a story for another time.
Last year Myers became a hot name on the waiver wire as he was often described by fantasy pundits, including yours truly, as the poor man's Jason Witten. He was getting huge target numbers and producing nice stats as he was Carson Palmer's only option in the passing game. Remember in fantasy sports a tight end's blocking skills don't really concern us, unless they are so poor as to keep them off the field. The only other reason to look at a tight end's blocking skills is when evaluating running back potential, and when Myers was put under that microscope he was more like a destitute man's Jason Witten.
The Giants’ signing of Myers was a great risk-reward scenario. They signed him to a four-year deal worth $14.25 million with a $1.75 million signing bonus, but the first year is the only one that is guaranteed and is for an affordable $725K. If he improves and money frees up with long-term deals for other more important positions he could stick, but if his play is along the lines of 2012 he will be one and done. The Giants obviously can’t pay everyone over a long period of time, but still need to get the same production out of each position. They have a ton of money tied up on defense and at quarterback while the talented duo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are preparing to break the bank. Tight end is not a position the Giants can afford to pay huge salaries to with the current makeup of their team. Luckily the Giants have an ace up their sleeve as they possess arguably the best tight ends coach in all of the NFL in Mike Pope.
Myers graded out as a slightly below average blocker, per www.ProFootballFocus.com, during the 2011 season and showed glimpses of soft hands and decent route running. The sample size was small as he only played 407 snaps during the 2011 season, so there was reason to be apprehensive heading into 2012. During the 2012 season, where he saw the field for 1,034 plays, Myers graded out as one of the worst blocking tight ends in the league yet put up above average numbers in catches and yardage for tight ends. His blocking problems can somewhat be attributed to a change in offensive philosophy from a power running game to a zone move scheme. While his team-leading reception and yardage totals are an indictment of the talent on the Raiders’ roster.
Brandon Myers' 2012 Stats
The Giants, meanwhile, had Martellus Bennett man the position of tight end in 2012. Bennett has prototypical tight end measurements of 6-6 tall and 265 pounds and used them to play at a relatively high level during the 2012 season. Bennett got off to fast start in 2012 as he averaged five catches and 61.6 yards to go along with a touchdown in each of his first three games with the Giants. If his fast start had held up over the course of the season he would have ended up as one of the top tight ends in fantasy football with 80 catches and over 980 yards. As we all know that was not the case.
Bennett finished the year with 55 catches 626 yards and 5 touchdowns, which put him right around the average for a draftable fantasy tight end during the 2012 season. The top 21 fantasy tight ends averaged 62 catches 698 yards and 5.1 touchdowns which mirrored Bennett’s numbers. Martellus has all the talent in the world, but played only slightly better than Jake Ballard, an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State, did during the 2011 season. The Giants used a motivated Bennett to get an upgrade at the position on the cheap while Bennett used the Giants to finally get out from Jason Witten’s shadow and showcase his talents for a long-term contract, which he eventually got from the Chicago Bears.(four years, $20.4 million with $9.215 million guaranteed).
The Giants theory on tight ends showed itself when they chose to trade Jeremy Shockey to the New Orleans Saints. Shockey put up better numbers than league average and deserved to be paid for it, but the Giants realized that investing at quarterback as well as on the defensive side of the ball was going to help them sustain after winning the Super Bowl in 2007. Boss’s play also shed a light on the fact that Shockey was only slightly better than his replacement. The Giants refusal to draft a tight end at the top of the draft since they took Shockey with the 14th pick in the 2002 NFL entry draft also shows their organizational focus.
Giants’ tight ends as a whole have played nicely over the last few years, but have not been fantasy football studs since Mark Bavaro was carrying 49ers down the field. Bavaro had a dominant run from 1985 to 1988, but his numbers pale in comparison to the top tight ends today. Even during Bavaro’s 1986 season where he reached 1001 yards he was still second to Todd Christensen who had 1,153 yards and 8 touchdowns. Christensen played well above league average that year and in today’s world would have been drafted in the second round of fantasy drafts the next year.
The Giants tight ends have put up an average of 52.1 catches 630.9 yards and 4.7 touchdowns from the 2002 through 2012 seasons. Those numbers take a little bit of a dip after Shockey was traded, but overall make any player manning the Giants tight end position a solid TE2 in most fantasy league formats. In PPR (point per reception) leagues the Giants tight ends have been an afterthought since Shockey left town, but Myers could become a solid TE2 in PPR leagues or any other format if he hits the high end of his projections.
The importance of the tight end in fantasy football has never been higher. As more and more GMs in fantasy leagues are embracing sabermetrics and looking at where they can win at each round of the draft the tight end has found himself going from only being drafted in the third round and later to being drafted at the end of first rounds in some formats. The numbers of Jimmy Graham (99 rec, 1310 yds, 11 TDS) and Rob Gronkowski (90 rec, 1327 yds, 17 TDS) during the 2011 season made everyone reevaluate the way tight ends were being drafted in fantasy leagues. For example I have a keeper league where a GM kept Jimmy Graham going into the 2012 season and a lot of people shook their heads. Most GMs in my league hold onto running-backs like children hold onto their special blankies. I looked at his roster and realized he made the absolute perfect choice as he had an aging running-back in Steven Jackson and no franchise worthy receiver or quarterback. He eventually went on to win the league in 2012. If you look at the disparity in (basic league) fantasy points scored between Gronkowski (234.7) and Graham (197) in 2011 versus the average of drafted tight ends (100) in 2012 it is quite startling and makes his decision almost a no-brainer. Gronkowski was more than twice as valuable as the average starting tight end in fantasy football and Graham was almost as good.
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson put up huge fantasy numbers in 2011 (96 receptions, 1685 yards, 16 TDs) as well , but was not as valuable as Gronkowski when you weigh it versus the average of the top 10 wide receivers from 2011 (85.6 receptions, 1,375 yards, 9 TDs). Gronkowski and Graham forced a fundamental shift in fantasy thinking and have made the tight end position much more scrutinized. Gronkowski’s injury issues have made Graham the go-to guy for this coming year, but if Gronk can ever stay off the surgeon's table long enough to make it through a season he should be considered 1B to Graham's 1A.
Every fantasy GM is looking for the next breakout candidate at tight end. We look for the next ex-basketball player turned football player who is going to take the league by storm. Vernon Davis and Jermichael Finley are just two of the tight ends who have teased fantasy GMs with their potential, but have often fell short. Jermaine Gresham of the Cincinnati Bengals looked to be making strides towards the upper echelons of fantasy tight ends only to have the Bengals draft Tyler Eifert in the first round and put a question mark next to his expected numbers. The door is open for a new fantasy stud tight end to step up, but I don’t see a Giants' tight end walking through that door anytime soon.
As a Giant fan I want Myers to continue to develop as a blocker and as an overall player. As a fantasy football fan I want him to put up similar numbers to what he did last year with the Raiders. And as a realist I suggest you draft Myers as your back up tight end somewhere in the 14th to 16th rounds of standard fantasy drafts as I project him to produce 48 catches for 498 yards and 6 TDs. If everything goes perfectly his high end projections could be 60 receptions with 680 yards and 7 touchdowns. I suggest you wait until the Giants hit it big with a late-round pick to consider drafting a Giants’ tight end as your fantasy starter. (I’m looking at you Adrien Robinson)
Come back next week as I will go over the prospects for the New York Giants’ receiving corps. I will also explain how we as Giant fans and fantasy players are currently reaping the benefits of a Golden Age for Giants’ fantasy receivers.