FANTASY FOOTBALL (Tightends): Where I offer my own rankings, criticize Peter King and give you a sleeper pick

I just picked up the latest Sports Illustrated (the one with Peyton Manning on the cover) and I am several disappointed that they put Peter King in charge of the fantasy football preview. King may be an expert on the NFL but he knows very little about fantasy football. I have been consistently reading King's SI columns over the past year and he demonstrated very little knowledge of fantasy sports.

For example, King has previously put too much emphasis on drafting quarterbacks with the first pick. He has questioned why many fantasy experts advise taking a running back with your first pick, instead King believes Peyton Manning should be the first overall pick.

Which makes sense, kind of.

Peyton broke all kinds of passing records last season, and scored more points than any other player in fantasy football. But, unless you think Peyton will have another record breaking year it would be unwise to take him with the first pick. Otherwise, you should take a runningback with the first pick (and I would go so far as to recommend taking a running back with the second pick also). And if you read any of Eric Karabell (at least the stuff that is not exclusively Insider material) you find that he feels the same way. Quite simply, in a league where you can start two runningbacks (and up to a third if you have a flex position) and one quarterback, runningbacks will almost always be more valuable.

After runningback, I would argue that tightend is the most important position. What's that you say? I'm an idiot, tightends average half the points of quarterback and recievers? True, but there are a lot more good quarterback and receivers than there are dependable tightends in the league.

There are roughly 40 receivers you can depend on to score at least 7 points a game and about 20 quarterbacks who will give you at least 10 points a game. But there are only five tightends who you can depend on to score more than five points a game (when healthy), just about every game. They are: Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Todd Heap, Jeremy Shockey and Alge Crumpler. But if you read SI's tightend preview, you would think I'm an idiot (alright, I am an idiot, but not when it comes to fantasy football). Here is their ranking of tightends:

  1. Antonio Gates (Chargers)
  2. Tony Gonzalez (Chiefs)
  3. Alge Crumpler (Falcons)
  4. Jason Witten (Cowboys)
  5. Dallas Clark (Colts)
  6. Ben Watson (Patriots)
  7. Chris Cooley (Redskins)
  8. Bubba Franks (Packers)
  9. Jermaine Wiggins (Vikings)
  10. Jeremy Shockey (Giants)
  11. L.J. Smith (Eagles)
  12. Randy McMichael (Dolphins)
  13. Ben Troupe (Titans)
  14. Todd Heap (Ravens)
  15. Jeb Putzier (Broncos)

I've got a lot of problems with this list, but let me first show you my own list:

  1. Antonio Gates
  2. Todd Heap
  3. Tony Gonzalez
  4. Jeremy Shockey
  5. Alge Crumpler
  6. Jason Whitten
  7. Dallas Clark
  8. L.J. Smith
  9. Jermaine Wiggins
  10. Bubba Smith
  11. Ben Troupe

Obviously, my list has several key differences from SI's list. First, I think far more highly of Todd Heap and Jeremy Shockey than they do. Second, I'm not sold on Ben Watson.

Heap and Shockey are two of the most talented tightends in the league, only Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are better. I can understand, dropping Shockey in the rankings since he has never played a full season, but ranking Heap at #14 is just plain dumb.

In 2003, Heap caught the ball 68 times for 836 yards and 6 touchdowns. In 2004, he had 57 receptions for 693 yards and 3 touchdowns. Both years he made the Pro Bowl.

Last season Heap missed 10 games because of an injury, and had only 27 receptions for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Heap is one of the hardest working players in the league. He's a no nonsense guy, who stands in stark contrast to many of the more flamboyant personalities on the Ravens (*cough*, Deion Sanders). As a result, Heap is one of the more over-looked players in the NFL because he is not a me-first guy. Additionally, he has become Kyle Boller's primary target when the Ravens reach the endzone (as evidenced by his 3 touchdowns in 6 games last season). With the additions of Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason, and the return of Jamal Lewis, expect the Ravens to make it into the red zone far more frequently than they have in the last couple of years.

Peter King once again displays his bias for the Patriots by declaring Ben Watson to be a top three tightend. This undoubtedly influnced SI editors to rank Watson #6 in their rankings. Watson wasn't even the best tightend on his team last year (that honor belonged to Daniel Graham who is still on the Pats). If I was going to draft a second year tightend I would go with Ben Troupe out of Florida. I saw him play when he was senior and the guy looked impressive, plus he plays in a tightend friendly offense.

Tightends are the most important position in fantasy football other than runningbacks, for much the same reason that runningbacks are so valuable. There only five or six elite tightends in the league. An elite tightend will get you about seven points a game, while a second tier will only get you two or three points. This may not seem like a big difference but I have seen many fantasy footballs teams lose championships because of their tightend. When the championship game is decided by five or six points an elite tightend can make all the difference between first and second place.

Finally, my sleeper pick: Heath Miller (Steelers). I saw Miller play last year for UVA and he was clearly the best offensive option on an offensively starved team. The guy came up with big third catches to move the chains and you could tell he was his quarterback's first option.

Miller comes into a situation in Pittsburgh where he can make an immediate impact. He will be the third receiving option behind Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El, and the still developing Ben Roethlisberger will depend on Miller to move the chains for the Steelers. In fact, I would draft Miller ahead of Ben Watson.

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