The 2011 NFL season saw the emergence of the tight end as players who could dominate games week in week out. We saw Rob Gronkowski score 18 touchdowns and Jimmy Graham go for 1,300 yards. And that's without a mention of studs like Vernon Davis, Aaron Hernandez and Antonio Gates. \
But in fantasy football, it's the late-round options who can give your team the boost it needs.
For your fantasy team, however, there may be better options out there then the typical studs. By better I don't mean based purely on points, but rather value when selected and breakout potential.
There are viable starting options at TE late in the draft and I'm going to give you three solid options who will give you value, production, and consistency.
Fred Davis, TE Washington
Fred Davis is a player who has the potential to go off this year. He has the physical tools to be a star, standing 6'4" and weighing 245 pounds, and really started to come on strong last season with 59 grabs, 796 yards and three touchdowns.
It's not out of the question for Davis to be a fantasy stud at TE in 2012. With an average draft position (or ADP) of 98.4, Davis will likely be selected somewhere around rounds 9-10 on average. At this point he provides fantastic value as it allows eight rounds to fill in key positions like RB, WR and QB.
He is currently being selected behind Broncos TE Jacob Tamme and Cowboys TE Jason Witten, both players Davis could easily finish ahead of.
According to statistics provided by CBS' Nathan Zegura during his time at The Fantasy Consultant, Davis was solid in the red zone. He saw only nine opportunities inside the 20, but he converted on three. While this is a limited sample size, if Davis can even slightly raise his 33 percent TD rate, he could be among the league's best at TE.
All of that without a single mention of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. It has long been known that rookie quarterbacks love to find their tight ends. They are a security blanket for a young QB, and with the potential of RGIII, Davis could be very good this year.
According to KFFL, Davis was the 18th-most-targeted tight end in 2011, yet he finished as the No. 13 TE.
With RGIII at the helm, Davis can expect to see increased targets, which should lead to increased production. Fred Davis has proven he can be reliable; he just needs the ball in his hands.
Jared Cook, TE Tennessee
Jared Cook is an intriguing player. He was decent last season, catching 49 passes about 760 yards, and with Jake Locker now stepping in at quarterback for the Titans, Cook could see increased production.
Cook has looked solid, if not spectacular, in the preseason. He isn't putting up gaudy numbers, but he is showing the ability and potential that have fantasy owners drooling.
In his last three games of 2011, Cook had 21 catches for 335 yards while finding the end zone once.
Standing at 6'5" and weighing 250 pounds, Cook is hard to miss on the field, and he runs an impressive 4.5 40-yard dash to boot.
He has all the things you look for when trying to predict a breakout players. Locker is going to look to him a lot, especially in the red zone, where his large frame should allow him to hawk touchdowns.
With an ADP of 138.7, Cook is giving you ridiculous value if he is selected there. I don't think it is out of the question for him to finish the season in the top eight for tight ends in 2012.
I love Cook's potential, and he is not a high-risk player so late in the draft. It might be risky to rely on Cook to be your fantasy starter from Week 1, but he could make you look like a genius.
Look out for Jared Cook.
Jermaine Gresham, TE Cincinnati
Jermaine Gresham always seems to be in the discussion for breakout fantasy tight ends. This year he could finally bring those predictions to fruition. Last season saw Gresham total 56 catches for about 600 yards and six touchdowns—good for 12th among fantasy tight ends.
This season, Gresham could be in for much more. According to Nathan Zegura's red-zone rate, Gresham converted 36 percent off his chances for a touchdown inside the 20-yard line.
This was better than both Aaron Hernandez and Jimmy Graham. With increased opportunities, it's expected that percentage will drop, but if he can stay around the 30 percent mark, Gersham could be a stud at TE.
Back to the reliable ADP, Gresham is currently projected as the No. 12 tight around pick No. 122. Even with last season's statistics, Gresham is providing great value where he is being picked, and he should be even better this year.
Yet another thing that all three of these tight ends have in common is a young quarterback. For Gresham, it's second-year man Andy Dalton.
Jermaine Gresham should be able to see mismatches on linebackers, and defenses will have to focus on future star A.J. Green at wide receiver. Dalton will continue to look his way, particularly in the red zone, where Gresham already proved he can be reliable.
Gresham could finish among the top 10, and if you can snag him near or after his ADP, he will be well worth the selection.
Fred Davis, Jared Cook and Jermaine Gresham can all be grabbed late in fantasy drafts. They have breakout potential and have proven they have the abilities to be fantasy studs.
All three have young quarterbacks throwing them the ball, and with the love that young signal-callers give to their tight ends, all three could be poised for big seasons.
I cannot recommend it enough, but don't fall in love with tight ends. Let the big names get drafted early while you stock up on reliable skill-position players. Look for Davis, Cook and Gresham after you find starters and backups at positions like RB, WR and QB.