Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Top 5 Tight End Breakouts

Eric Mack@@EricMackFantasyFantasy Football Lead WriterAugust 23, 2013

He might not look like much to write home about now, but the fantasy masses are going to be bowing to the breakout that will be Coby Fleener this season.
He might not look like much to write home about now, but the fantasy masses are going to be bowing to the breakout that will be Coby Fleener this season.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The tight end position is one we advise you pick late—unless you're jumping on Jimmy Graham—and that is because there are opportunities for breakthroughs from the depths of the position every season. It happened last year with Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Myers.

We have your next wave of late-round or waiver-wire gems right here.

Why pick any tight end before the sixth round when you can get a top-10 one late in drafts, if not off waivers? There just isn't a lot of value between the middle-of-the-pack fantasy starters and tight ends through the top 20. Only about 15 tight ends should even be drafted in a standard 12-team fantasy league anyway.

As we conclude Bleacher Report's draft preview series, we should review how we define the long-used fantasy terms "sleeper," "bust" and "breakout." Apparently, the fantasy masses still don't get it.

A bust is a premium player who has the potential to disappoint, not a middle- or late-rounder. A sleeper is anyone who slips to an unreasonably low draft position and outperforms that slot; he can be a mid-rounder or a late-rounder. A breakout is someone who posts the best year of his career, perhaps out of nowhere.

These tight end breakout picks are not on the fantasy mainstream radar. They might not even be drafted in standard leagues, but they can perform like fantasy starters at points this season.

1. Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts

This hasn't been a great preseason for Fleener. He has dropped passes, including a touchdown, lost a fumble, dealt with a concussion and come down with a knee sprain. All this does is blur a breakthrough that is about to come and suppress his already-modest draft position. Double bonus!

Fleener was Andrew Luck's primary target at Stanford and, while he failed to beat out fellow rookie Dwayne Allen for No. 1 at the position in Indianapolis last season, former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is now calling the shots with the Colts.

But don't take our word for it. Listen to what Colts GM Ryan Grigson told Scott Pioli of Pro Football Talk when asked to name a breakthrough player for his team:

The first player that would come to mind would be Coby Fleener. Knock on wood, he's a guy that you knew had speed, had size being 6-6 and running 4.51 [seconds in the 40-yard dash]. You know he could be a tough mismatch downfield because he could play above the rim.

He's doing the same things that made him that guy that we all said, "Wow!" So I think just him having that comfort with Pep being here and being back in the system, it's really come across like he's ready to have a great year. We expect that from him, too. He's got to get better as a blocker, he knows that. We want him to be a threat downfield.

It is notable Grigson immediately rattled off Fleener and not receiver T.Y. Hilton, whom everyone in fantasy is all over this season for a big Year 2. Fleener was drafted before Allen and Hilton, and he has the kind of potential at the position to really make a name for himself with fantasy owners.

Don't let his poor start to the preseason leave you more bitter than Fleener's poor rookie-year showing did.

2. Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns

You can't count off 12 random fantasy players and fail to find someone that hasn't seen what Cameron has done in the preseason. He is the anti-Fleener. He has opened eyes, not turned them away, catching touchdowns from Brandon Weeden and looking like offensive coordinator Norv Turner's next Pro Bowl tight end.

That is both a blessing and a curse here. The potential has become pretty clear, but when Matthew Berry goes on ESPN and calls Cameron a top-10 fantasy tight end, it ruins most of what makes Cameron intriguing: being undervalued.

Now, though, Cameron is at least getting drafted.

He is one of the tight ends you won't want slotted as a fantasy starter in your lineup coming out of your draft, but by midseason you will be thankful you have him. Put him in your late-round toolbox and pull his name out if you are still without a tight end and someone who hasn't bought 10 signed copies of Berry's book hasn't already picked him.

If you buy into third-year receiver breakthroughs, Cameron is a shinning example of one at tight end, too.

3. Rob Housler, Arizona Cardinals

Here is a tight end name just not getting enough love. Unlike Fleener (bad press) and Cameron (great press), Housler has gotten no press this preseason.

That's exciting news for fantasy owners, because Housler did more a year ago than Fleener or Cameron has did—with arguably the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Housler had nothing to work with in the pitiful Cardinals passing game, but his 2012 numbers almost equal that of those two mentioned above combined.

Carson Palmer made Myers a fantasy gem a year ago and Housler is twice the physical talent. In fact, new Cardinals coach Bruce Arians considered drafting Housler as a receiver a few years ago.

For those of you turned off by Housler's quiet start to the preseason, don't worry. The Cardinals know what they have here and merely aren't showing their hand.

"(Housler's) a given to me, so I don't need to see that part," Arians said. "Right now, we're not featuring Robby a lot in the passing game. It's more blocking, and I think he's improved tremendously.

You are going to be happier with Housler in the late rounds as your tight end than anyone else after the top five—almost all of which we called busts, by the way.

4. Zach Sudfeld, New England Patriots

You are like everyone; you know Tom Brady is going to turn water into wine with the sketchy set of receivers he has to work with. Danny Amendola, if he stays healthy for once, is an obvious breakthrough star, but who is going to get the tight end work that once went to Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, who is unlikely to be ready for the first couple of weeks?

The answer in the preseason has been the 6'7" undrafted free agent out of Nevada, Sudfeld.

His size makes him a poor-man's Gronk in the red zone, which is the most intriguing part of his fantasy value. Amendola is not a physical target in the end zone. Rookie Aaron Dobson choked away a slant that led to an interception and Brady's ire in the third preseason game. Josh Boyce is undersized.

Fellow undrafted rookie free-agent Kenbrell Thompkins is interesting, but the Pats offense is run-based inside the five and that leaves the tight end wide open in the back of the end zone as the linebackers and safeties come up to stop the short runs.

Sudfeld won't be a starter option in PPR formats. Amendola and Thompkins are going to suck up the targets, but as far as someone that can have a Rudolph-type touchdown breakthrough, it is Sudfeld—at least until Gronk is ready to play again.

5. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals

Fleener's disappointing rookie year was a signal you should not bank on a first-year tight end as your fantasy starter. There are just too many veterans capable of much more production.

Eifert, the No. 1 tight end picked this April, might be an exception to the rule. He still has to contend with solid veteran Jermaine Gresham on his own team, but the Bengals have designs on using some  double-tight end sets this season. While Gresham is the better blocker and a more traditional tight end, Eifert has the receiving skills that can make him a future fantasy star.

The Bengals have gone so far as to use him as a receiver in their two-tight end sets this preseason.

Some of the talk can be Jay Gruden hyperbole and justifying his stance to push the Bengals to draft a tight end in the first round for the second time in four years. You won't draft Eifert as a starter, but if he is as good as advertised from training camp, look out for some midseason rewards with this late-round pick.

Honorable Mentions

Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams

He is more likely to be a sleeper than a breakout, because he already showed quite a bit in 2011 before struggling with the inept Jake Locker in Tennessee last season. Cook is still a freakish athlete and if Sam Bradford makes the strides we expect, Cook is going to be a big beneficiary of it.

Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning already has too many receivers to throw to, but he has always liked using his tight ends. Thomas, a second-year man, has emerged as a potential starter at the position for the Broncos. Consider him a candidate to surprise off the waiver wire this season.

Zac Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

Ertz has multiple links to those above. First, he was Fleener's backup at Stanford and one of Luck's secondary tight ends. Second, he was up there with Eifert among best tight ends in this April's draft class. Ertz slipped out of the first round, but Chip Kelly knows what Ertz can do, having coached against Stanford when he was at Oregon. Ertz can push Brent Celek out of the starter's role and rise up for fantasy owners by the end of the season.

Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts

Speaking of links to those above, Allen is the Gresham of the Colts: the traditional blocking tight end who gets used as a receiver because defenses read run when Allen is in the game. Allen has been banged up in training camp, giving Fleener his big opportunity, but once Allen returns he can be a factor in the red zone and fantasy lineups.

Because of the emergence of the tight end throughout football in this pass-happy, modern-day NFL, there are dozens of potential breakthroughs at the position. In addition to the names above, read through our top five tight end sleepers as well.

Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.


    Mayfield: Tyrod Has Been an 'Unbelievable' Mentor

    NFL logo

    Mayfield: Tyrod Has Been an 'Unbelievable' Mentor

    Michael David Smith
    via ProFootballTalk

    Will Gholston: 'No Excuse' for Crappy '17 Season

    NFL logo

    Will Gholston: 'No Excuse' for Crappy '17 Season

    Report: Julio and Falcons in a 'Bad Place'

    NFL logo

    Report: Julio and Falcons in a 'Bad Place'

    Adam Wells
    via Bleacher Report

    Thomas' Seahawks Holdout Won't End Well

    NFL logo

    Thomas' Seahawks Holdout Won't End Well

    Doug Farrar
    via Bleacher Report